A View from the Edge

Ingrid Mattson, the Face of American Islam

A little more than a year ago, in November 2011, Catholic and Muslim leaders from around the world convened in Jordan for the second forum hosted by A Common Word, an organization created in 2007 to promote interfaith engagement by highlighting similarities in the teachings of Christianity and Islam. While the inaugural forum had been held at the Vatican in 2008, this time the group met along the Jordan River, near the site of Jesus’ baptism. Among the Muslim delegates was Ingrid Mattson, a Canadian citizen, U.S. permanent resident, and convert from Catholicism who served as president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in 2006–10. She was the first woman elected to that office, and this distinction had helped propel her into the global spotlight.

The Jordan assembly was small and “very friendly,” Mattson recalls, and its main topic—shared concern over disrespect for religious symbols—a reasonably safe one. But knowing there can be barriers between two such delegations, Mattson had brought an icebreaker: her eighty-year-old Catholic mother, who was making her first trip to the Middle East. “Here we were, mother and daughter, Catholic and Muslim,” Mattson recalls. “It was interesting how we were able to humanize the relationships.” She enjoyed imagining what further interreligious...

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About the Author

Bethe Dufresne, a frequent contributor, is a freelance writer living in Old Mystic, Connecticut.