Muslim convert takes on leadership role
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Most important, though, she says, "it was through reading the Koran that I became aware of the presence of God and was convinced of it - that is what touched my heart."Skip to next paragraph
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Given the importance to her of individual choice, Mattson is well aware of the major questions Westerners have about religious freedom in Muslim countries - and whether Muslims have the right to convert to other faiths. A few converts have had their children taken away or have been persecuted as a result. A specialist in Islamic law, Mattson says this is an area that is now being widely examined and contested.
"Many scholars have convincingly argued that apostasy is not a crime, while treason is, based on cases from the early days of Islam, where people who left the community for other religions were not punished, while those who left the political community and betrayed it were."
What happened historically in some Muslim societies, she says, was that no distinction was made between community affiliation and religious affiliation. But today's world makes other demands, and she supports the case being made for separation of the two.
Mattson's own research relates to application of Islamic law in society. Most recently, she's written on how poverty is defined when distributing the charitable funds Muslims donate in zakat - the annual almsgiving that is one of the five pillars of Islam.
At the center of her full life of teaching, research, and community activity, however, is her family - her husband and two children.
She and Amer Aetak met in the refugee camp in Pakistan, where he, an Egyptian engineer, was digging wells and constructing housing. One of her most touching memories is the response of refugee families when they learned the two had quietly married.
"When they heard I hadn't had a dress, they were so sad; they pooled what little money they had and presented me with this outfit of satin pants and a red velveteen dress with pompoms - it was incredible!" she says.
They now have a daughter, Soumayya, and a son, Ubayda, whom her husband helped care for while she completed her doctorate at the University of Chicago. The children attend public schools in West Hartford, where Mr. Aetak is a systems application engineer.
Since Sept. 11, life has become even fuller with the need to respond to constant calls from community groups and the press about Islam and where US Muslims stand. Besides giving talks and interviews, Mattson joined with her seminary colleagues in offering a Web course on Islam via Beliefnet.com.
When the terrorist attacks occurred, she found herself thinking, "It's all over - all the work you have done has gone down the drain." Just the week before, she had left ISNA's annual convention, attended by 40,000 people, "full of optimism, confident that American Muslims had begun to find a way to contribute positively to the public life of this country, while preserving our distinct identity."
Now, clearly weary with the strain of the past few weeks, she is committed to keeping the communication going.
"Ingrid always wants people to communicate, to keep the dialogue open," whether it's between family members or across faith communities, says Annie Higgins, a close friend from graduate-school days in Chicago.
Ms. Higgins remembers a small incident that occurred when she stopped to say goodbye to the family before going away for two years. Little Soumayya, unhappy about the day's events, wouldn't speak to her. But later that evening, the child phoned to say, "Annie, I love you."
She wasn't under pressure to do so, Higgins says. It's simply that her mother quietly talks things through. "Ingrid just doesn't like to see any door closed and has a way of always bringing about positive communications."
Mattson sees this difficult time as the opportunity to do that. Many Muslim Americans have shied from interactions with those of other faiths, she says. Now, some recognize they have an obligation and really want to get involved. "In some ways, this crisis has given many people the push they needed."