Ingrid Mattson is the president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), one of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups named as unindicted co-conspirators in the federal government’s successful prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation for financing terrorism. Alarmingly, Mattson and her organization were given the honor of speaking at the invocation of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. Mattson’s own radical views went unremarked by both the press and the convention attendees. Here is a primer:
If Muslim Americans are to participate in such a critique of American policy, however, they will only be effective if they do it, according to the Prophet’s words, in a “brotherly” fashion. This implies a high degree of loyalty and affection. This does not mean, however, that citizenship and religious community are identical commitments, nor that they demand the same kind of loyalty. People of faith have a certain kind of solidarity with others of their faith community that transcends the basic rights and duties of citizenship.
The first duty of Muslims in America, therefore, is to help shape American policies so they are in harmony with the essential values of this country. In the realm of foreign policy, this “idealistic” view has been out of fashion for some time. Indeed, the American Constitution, like foundational religious texts, can be read in many different ways. The true values of America are those which we decide to embrace as our own. There is no guarantee, therefore, that Americans will rise to the challenge of defining themselves as an ethical nation; nevertheless, given the success of domestic struggles for human dignity and rights in the twentieth century, we can be hopeful.
There’s a prejudgment, a collective judgment of Muslims, and a suspicion that well “you may appear nice, but we know there are sleeper cells of Americans,” which of course is not true. There aren’t any sleeper cells.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: What can you tell us about the Wahhabi sect of Islam? Is it true that this is an extremely right wing sect founded and funded by the Saudi royal family, and led by Osama bin Ladin? What is the purpose of the Wahhabi?
MATTSON: No it’s not true to characterize ‘Wahhabism’ that way. This is not a sect. It is the name of a reform movement that began 200 years ago to rid Islamic societies of cultural practices and rigid interpretation that had acquired over the centuries. It really was analogous to the European protestant reformation. Because the Wahhabi scholars became integrated into the Saudi state, there has been some difficulty keeping that particular interpretation of religion from being enforced too broadly on the population as a whole. However, the Saudi scholars who are Wahhabi have denounced terrorism and denounced in particular the acts of September 11. Those statements are available publicly.
This question has arisen because last week there were a number of newspaper reports that were dealing with this. They raised the issue of the role of Saudi Arabia and the ideology there. Frankly, I think in a way it was a reaction to the attempts of many people to look for the roots of terrorism in misguided foreign policy. It’s not helpful, I believe, to create another broad category that that becomes the scapegoat for terrorism.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Osama bin Laden made a reference that Muslims have been living in humiliation for 80 years. Did he refer to the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 that dismantled caliphates and sultanates?
MATTSON: Yes, he is referring to that, to the overthrowing of the caliphate, which was a plan of European powers for many years. This deprived the Muslim world of a stable and centralized authority, and much of the chaos that we’re living in today is the result of that.
6) Mattson teaches the jihadists Sayyid Qutb and Syed Abu’l-`Ala Mawdudi in her course at Hartford Seminary – see the syllabus here.
In response to another question, “Please suggest any comprehensive work of Tafseer (Qur’anic commentary) for us Muslim youth,” she said, “There are different kinds of Tafseers. For e.g. there are ones that contain detailed interpretations of grammatical aspects of Qur’anic language. And there are others that serve to explain the general message of Qur’an, coupled with the experiences and insights of the author of the Tafseer. However, there aren’t really any Tafseers that combine the both aspects. So far, probably the best work of Tafseer in English is by Maulana Abul A’la Maududi.'”
Maududi on jihad (Jihad in Islam, page 9): “Islam wishes to destroy all States and Governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and programme of Islam regardless of the country or the Nation which rules it. The purpose of Islam is to set up a State on the basis of its own ideology and programme, regardless of which Nation assumes the role of the standard bearer of Islam or the rule of which nation is undermined in the process of the establishment of an ideological Islamic State. It must be evident to you from this discussion that the objective of Islamic ‘Jihad’ is to eliminate the rule of an un-Islamic system and establish in its stead an Islamic system of State rule. Islam does not intend to confine this revolution to a single State or a few countries; the aim of Islam is to bring about a universal revolution.”
Maududi on denial of rights to non-Muslims (Jihad in Islam, page 28): “Islamic ‘Jihad’ does not recognize their right to administer State affairs according to a system which, in the view of Islam, is evil. Furthermore, Islamic ‘Jihad’ also refuses to admit their right to continue with such practices under an Islamic government which fatally affect the public interest from the viewpoint of Islam.”
Maududi on Shariah Law’s precedence over any other legal system (Islamic Law and Its Introduction, p. 13): That if an Islamic society consciously resolves not to accept the Sharia, and decides to enact its own constitution and laws or borrow them from any other source in disregard of the Sharia, such a society breaks its contract with God and forfeits its right to be called ‘Islamic.'”
8) Although she recommends and teaches Abdul ala Maududi, who advocates violent jihad against non-Muslims (see above), Mattson is highly critical of Christians who make the factual statement that texts by Muslims support violent jihad against non-Muslims — and she equates Christian critics of violent jihad with Osama bin Laden, who wages violent jihad. Mattson on critical statements by Christians about Muslims:
“These kinds of statements are really irresponsible, because they can lead to violence against ordinary people……I don’t see any difference between that and al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden [using] Islamic theology to justify violence against Americans. What’s interesting is if you compare [their] statements about what Islam is and what Muslims believe, you’ll find they are almost identical, and I reject both interpretations — both the non-Muslims who are saying that Islam justifies violence against Christians and Jews, and the Muslims who are saying it. Certainly these statements have a very unnerving effect, especially when they continue, when more than one person says it.”
“As a practicing Muslim, I believe that there is a core of fundamental beliefs and practices that distinguish authentic Islam from deviations. I also believe that apart from this essential core, the task of interpreting the application of Islamic norms to human society is an enormously complicated task, which inevitably leads to a broad range of opinion and practice. I agree with ” Sunni” Muslims, the majority of the Muslim community worldwide, that after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, no one has the right to claim infallibility in the interpretation of sacred law. At the same time, this does not mean that all opinions are equal, nor that everyone has the ability to interpret law. Without the intense study of Islamic texts and traditions under qualified scholars and without the presence of a stable Muslim community through which one can witness the wisdom of the living tradition, the chances of an ordinary believer arriving at a correct judgment about most legal issues are slim.”
Ingrid Mattson, the first woman president of the Islamic Society of North America, said Friday at the opening of the group’s 43rd annual convention that labeling terrorism as “Islamic” was not helpful to people of her faith.
“I’m convinced that it is not only inaccurate, but unhelpful. If our major concern is security, security of this country, this is a term that has very bad resonance in the Muslim majority world and makes us feel uncomfortable here,” Mattson said.
Bush and other Republicans have been using the term “Islamic fascism” in recent speeches. White House aides and outside Republican strategists have said the term is an attempt to more clearly identify the ideology that motivates many organized terrorist groups.
Mattson said her group would argue for a change in rhetoric away from “Islamic fascism.” U.S. officials are attending the meeting here, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England….
…..As an alternative to “Islamic fascism,” Mattson suggested the words “terrorism, crime, violence,” adding that she and other Muslims don’t understand why the label “Islamic” is included when Bush and other leaders talk about terrorism.
“The products that are coming from the Muslim world are not being called ‘Islamic products’ or ‘Islamic oil,'” she said.
11) Mattson denies the actual state of women’s rights under Shariah law:
“I believe that many Americans believe that Muslim women don’t have any rights in Islam. Perhaps they see images of Muslim women being oppressed in different parts of the Muslim world and believe that that is because of their religion. But in fact we know that Muslim women have the same rights as Muslim men and virtually all the same duties and obligations.”
“One of the popular misconceptions about Islam is that women are seen as lesser figures, that they don’t have rights.
“This perception that women in Islam are oppressed is based both on misinformation as well as am amplification of certain unfortunate tendencies in some parts of the Muslim world. It’s true that people have seen some Muslim authorities using Islam as a justification for the oppression or suppression of women. That’s a reality, we can’t deny it. But we have to balance those incidents with what’s going on in the rest of the Muslim world, in which most women are participating in their societies. We’ve seen that within recent times four Muslim-majority nations have had female heads of state. In most countries that I’ve traveled to, Muslim women are involved in all aspects of society.”
“MATTSON: Muslim women have the same legal rights as Muslim men. The Prophet Mohammed’s wife was a businesswoman. In fact, he met her working for her as her agent. The legal rights of women were enshrined in Islamic law. However, cultural practices in many societies have prevented those rights from being enforced.”
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Does the Taliban place blame upon women for the weakness of men in their society? Is that why they place such restriction upon them?
MATTSON: The Taliban place restrictions on everyone in their society, men and women. They’ve extended their authority over individuals far beyond traditional government in Afghanistan. In their minds, they are protecting women from other men by placing these restrictions on them.
13) Like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Mattson condemns terrorism in general but avoids criticizing Hamas or Hizballah:
“That can be frustrating. I want to also make sure people understand that although American Muslims do have a responsibility to clarify their views on terrorism and violence done in the name of Islam, we don’t have control over these situations. We don’t have some sort of magic power over all Muslims in the world.”
“‘Right-wing Christians are very risky allies for American Jews,’ Mattson said, ‘because they [the Christians] are really anti-Semitic. They do not like Jews’ and enter into the alliance on the basis of fundamentalist beliefs that it would be desirable for all Jews to return to Israel. She suggested that fundamentalist Christians might turn against Jews or that there could be backlash from ordinary Americans against Jewish and fundamentalist Christian supporters of Israel.”
“The American government has not criticized sufficiently the brutality of the Israeli government, believing that it needs to be “supportive” of the Jewish state. The result is that oppression, left unchecked, can increase to immense proportions, until the oppressed are smothered with hopelessness and rage.”
“Thus, it is not permitted for a Muslim to maintain a close friendship with a highly intelligent person who engages him or her in stimulating conversation, if that person continuously derides the sacred (Qur’an 5:57-58). Indeed, since preserving faith is the highest priority, it is important that Muslims avoid demoralizing dependence on other faith communities for their protection and material needs….Clearly there are groups among American Christians and Jews who are so hostile to Muslims that we should not join with them even in shared concerns, lest we lend any credibility to their organizations. There are many other groups within those communities, however, who are eager to work respectfully with Muslims to further just causes.”
17) Mattson and ISNA have been criticized by those who identify themselves as American Muslim reformers and moderates:
ISNA, which URJ has accepted, apparently uncritically, as a “partner,” has a long history of association with extremist trends in Islam. ISNA has served as a front group for Wahhabism, the official sect in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia; the jihadist ideologies originating in Pakistan with the writings of a certain Mawdudi and the Deoband schools in that country — the latter of which produced the Afghan Taliban, and the Ikhwan al-Muslimun, or Muslim Brotherhood.
Ingrid Mattson, president of ISNA, revealed the style of radical rhetoric with which the organization is saturated when, in addressing the URJ’s recent convention, she declared that in the current U.S. presidential primaries, “we see candidates being asked to prove that they comply with an ever narrower definition of what it means to be a Christian — forget about being a Muslim or a Jew.”
This is an inexcusably irresponsible, inflammatory charge. Although Christian affiliations have been a topic among some presidential candidates, none has been compelled to “comply” with a Christian religious test and no such criterion is reasonably possible in the American electoral process.
Many Islamic mosque congregations, Sufi orders, and Muslim personalities have called for intelligent and sincere discussion with Jewish individuals and groups, to further interfaith civility and cooperation. This noble goal, to which we as Muslims are called by our revelation and our traditions, cannot be served by flattery toward groups like ISNA, in which radicals are camouflaged as moderates.
We therefore appeal to Rabbi Yoffie and other Jewish leaders to conduct a serious and thorough survey of the situation in Western Islam, identifying authentic moderates, and enabling them as interlocutors with Jews and other non-Muslims. We do not believe that ISNA qualifies for such a role. We fear that heedless acceptance of ISNA as an ally of URJ does harm to both our communities, by legitimizing a radicalism that, regardless of ISNA’s rhetorical claims, is fundamentally hostile to Jews and suppresses the intellectual and social development of Muslims.
Nawab Agha, president, American Muslim Congress
Omran Salman, director, Aafaq Foundation
Kemal Silay, president, Center for Islamic Pluralism
Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, executive director, Center for Islamic Pluralism
Salim Mansur, Canadian director, Center for Islamic Pluralism
Jalal Zuberi, Southern U.S. director, Center for Islamic Pluralism
Imaad Malik, fellow, Center for Islamic Pluralism
M. Zuhdi Jasser, president, American Islamic Forum for Democracy
Sheikh Ahmed Subhy Mansour, president, International Quranic Center