American Islam

The True Face of American Islam?

I found Bethe Dufresne’s profile of Ingrid Mattson quite troubling (“A View from the Edge,” February 22). She provides us a sanitized version of Islam. Mattson reassures us by noting that “American Muslims have generally been more critical of injustices committed by the American government than of injustices committed by Muslims.” That must change, she says. And when she mentions the diversity of the Islamic world, and the high levels of education for women, it is impossible not to find her account of Islam appealing. (Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women—who cannot drive, vote, or travel—is “not a representative example.”) While Mattson embraces an obligation to speak out against “abuses of Muslim ‘leaders’ in other countries,” she does not condemn them. My major concern is sharia law.

Dufresne writes that Mattson “argues that sharia is a ‘concept, not a codified set of laws, so there’s a lot of diversity’ globally in its application and emphasis.” But the five hundred Qur’anic verses that constitute the basis of sharia are precise; they cover specifics such as wearing gold jewelry and how to respond to a sneeze. They outline specific punishments for many actions, such as adultery and drinking (but nothing for homicide). If you are open to those laws, how do you support a secular government? We need a broader discussion of citizenship and religion. While Ingrid Mattson may be the public face of Islam, I wonder whether she’s truly representative. When she accuses critics of “cherry-pick[ing] a statement from some extremist,” it seems like she is doing the same thing in order to make Islam more palatable to the masses.

Mary Fadhl
Danville, Calif.

Ingrid Mattson Replies

Mary Fadhl makes a number of false assertions about Islam and about me. Despite her attempt to lend an air of credibility to her claims by citing facts, instead she demonstrates her ignorance of Islam by getting them wrong. The Qur’an, for example, says nothing about wearing gold or sneezing, nor does the Qur’an specify any punishment for drinking. Fadhl wonders whether I am “representative” (of Islam? of Islamic scholars?). If it is possible to make such an assessment, certainly Fadhl is not qualified. Thousands of American and Canadian Muslims elected me to speak for them in religious matters. I speak globally to Muslim audiences, and I am a member of widely representative, orthodox scholarly bodies such as the Aal al-Bayt Foundation for Islamic Thought in Jordan. Fadhl’s claim that I have not condemned human-rights abuses and terrorism in the name of Islam is easily disproved. As president of the Islamic Society of North America, not only did I issue numerous statements condemning terrorism, bigotry, and violence in the name of Islam (statements that are available online), I spent a great deal of time and resources developing programs to prevent these injustices: partnering with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding to combat anti-Semitism, working with Peaceful Families Project to stop domestic violence in the Muslim community, and working with Women in Islam and others to fight for an equal place for women in the Muslim community. As a signatory to the Amman Message (2004), I opposed violence against Shiites by Sunnis, and as a signatory to A Common Word (2007) and as a scholar writing and lecturing on pluralism, I have argued passionately for equal rights for religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries. Bethe Dufresne had to be selective in choosing which of my publications and views to cite. Anyone who is interested in a fuller look at my views can easily find them. Rather than expressing my views only in academic publications, I have made them accessible to the general public through multiple means: denominational magazines, recorded lectures, blogs, public-radio interviews, and Twitter (@IngridMattson).

Published in the 2013-04-12 issue: 

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