It’s About Time!

In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

What a welcome development! The Islamic Society of North America, the largest American Muslim umbrella group, has elected its first female president, Dr. Ingrid Mattson. I know Dr. Mattson personally, and she is an excellent choice. It is about time our sisters took their rightful spot in the leadership of our community.

“I want to make sure women are fully engaged,” Dr. Mattson told the Chicago Tribune on August 29. Assad Busool, professor at the American Islamic College in Chicago, also told the Tribune, “There’s nothing in Islam to ban women from leadership positions.”

Here here! I agree wholeheartedly. Dr. Mattson, for those of you not familiar with her, was born into a Canadian Catholic family. She converted to Islam in 1987 and moved to Pakistan to work with Afghan refugees, where she met her husband. She then moved to Chicago and studied Islamic law and legal theory. She is currently a professor of Islamic studies and Christian-Muslim relations at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

I have consulted her on religious affairs, and I must tell you that she is very knowledgeable. I deeply admire and respect her, and I am very happy she was selected to lead the largest American Muslim organization. It’s about time.

Which brings up an important question in my mind: would this have happened in any other country in the world? My guess is probably not. Which is one of the great things about being Muslim in America: you can live and practice Islam without the ugly cultural baggage of many of the Muslim countries from which our parents and grandparents hailed.

Unfortunately, many women in the Muslim world are terribly oppressed. They are denied many basic rights, and in some countries where “Islamic law” is implemented, women are frequently unfairly targeted. Contrary to the contention of many in America, this occurs despite – not because of – Islam. Here in America, however, we Muslims are able to practice Islam as it should be practiced – and elect a woman to lead the Islamic Society of North America.

Yet, all is not dark and gloomy in the Muslim world when it comes to women and leadership. In the recently held Kuwaiti elections, women were allowed to run and vote for the first time. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, elected its first female president – Megawati Sukarnoputri – in 2001. Before that, Pakistan also elected a female prime minister, Benzir Bhutto, in 1988 and again in 1993. We in the United States have yet to elect a female president, and we are a much older country than either Indonesia or Pakistan.

Come to mention it, Iraq has a higher proportion of females in parliament than does the United States! In fact, the United States ranks 67th in the world in terms of the proportion of women in national parliaments, according to the Inter-parliamentary Union. We are behind several Muslim countries, such as Iraq, Tunisia, Senegal, Guyana, Bosnia, and even Pakistan! In fact, we have less women in parliament than both Cuba and China!

Once again, it is a great day that American Muslims have elected a woman to lead its largest umbrella organization. It is testimony to both the greatness of America and the maturity of the American Muslim community. It is also testimony to the beauty of the religion of Islam, especially when it is allowed to flourish unstained with the cultural shames of the past. I hope I get to congratulate her personally when I attend ISNA’s annual convention to be held in Chicago this weekend.


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