The Canadian-born scholar, academic and author works against extremism and calls for Muslims to join together to solve social problems
Dr Ingrid Mattson is a rare case in the history of Islam in America. In 2006, she was elected President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). It was a watershed moment: a convert, a woman and a non-immigrant rising to the post of North America’s biggest Muslim umbrella organisation. But this was no token gesture: Dr Mattson, a role model for Muslim women across the West, is an articulate, intelligent scholar of Islam, an academic, author and has been an advisor to the US government.
There was something refreshing about seeing Ingrid Mattson, 51, as a leader of the Muslim community in America. Here was someone who brilliantly fused together what it meant to be both American and Muslim. Not a menacing leader, nor a bearded male donning long traditional garments, but someone who served as a reminder to non-Muslims and Muslims alike that Islam is not something foreign, but an integral part of the modern American experience.
In 1987, while she was doing her undergraduate degree in philosophy, she converted to Islam. Unlike her older sister who had converted to Judaism after meeting her husband-to-be, Dr Mattson’s conversion wasn’t influenced by marriage. The year before her conversion, she was in Paris studying for a short period where she met a group of poor Senegalese students who had a profound effect on her and ultimately changed the direction of her life. She found them warm, generous and deeply spiritual; an encounter that would lead her on a quest to find out more about the faith they followed. After reading the Qur’an, her outlook on life began to change, and she began to see her role in the universe in a different light. She furthered her investigation into Islam until she fully embraced the religion…