OMG, it’s a Muslim! Call the terrorist police!

Okay, good news first: Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and professor at Hartford Seminary, among other things, will be among those offering prayers at the National Prayer Service this Wednesday of (soon-to-be) President Barack Obama’s inauguration.  Dr. Mattson will be part of a multi-faith group of prayer leaders of various Christian denominations, as well as from Jewish, Hindu and other faith traditions.

Dr. Ingrid Mattson. Image via Hartford Seminary website.

Dr. Ingrid Mattson. Image via Hartford Seminary website.

I was impressed to see the number of female speakers listed, and especially excited to see that the Muslim representative was a woman.  Dr. Mattson has done a lot of awesome work (see some of her writing here – I highly encourage checking it out if you’re not familiar with her), and she is obviously highly respected as a leader by many Muslims.  Plus, after all the Islamophobia that arose during the election campaign, part of me is just glad to see that the people organising the prayer service didn’t find some kind of strategic excuse to exclude Muslims from it (as you can tell, my expectations are so low that it doesn’t take much to surpass them.)  Of course, there are probably questions to be asked about Dr. Mattson (as a white woman with an English-sounding name) potentially being seen as less “threatening” than a whole lot of other Muslims, and that’s another discussion, but overall I think she’s a good person for the task and I was happy to see her name on the list of speakers.

So that was the good news.  The bad (and just plain ridiculous) news is that very shortly after Dr. Mattson’s participation in the prayer service was announced, articles started coming out with headlines like “Obama prayer leader from group US linked to Hamas.”  Or this one, which has an identical headline to the first one, but leaves out the “US” bit, so it just reads that the group is “linked to Hamas” (because if the U.S. has linked the group to Hamas, it must be true, right?)  The basic gist of both of the articles is that ISNA has been accused by federal prosecutors in the United States of supporting the Holy Land Foundation, which in turn has been convicted of sending money to Hamas.  However, as the American Civil Liberties Union has pointed out (several months ago), ISNA was never formally charged, and nor was an official investigation ever opened into its alleged involvement with the Foundation; despite this, the naming of the organisation in the investigation has created a huge level of suspicion, regardless of the total lack of evidence (according to the ACLU).  ISNA’s so-called “links” to Hamas are links alleged by government officials, and no such actual links have been proven.

Moreover, both of these articles also mention that Dr. Mattson has previously met with with other high-up U.S. government members, including officials from the Bush administration.  If ISNA truly was involved with Hamas, then following the logic of those accusing Dr. Mattson, does this also mean that the U.S. government has been consorting with (cue dramatic music) terrorists???  She can be used when it’s convenient, but when people are looking for a news story, all of a sudden she’s the enemy?

These headlines seem like such a blatant example of discrediting prominent Muslims by publicly linking them with the terrorist flavour of the month.  If this was a couple years ago, I bet it would have been Hizbollah instead; before that, probably al-Qaida.  For that matter, twenty years ago, I’m sure they would have found a way to expose her hidden Communist sympathies.  And so on.

Here’s hoping that the prayers offered on all sides at Wednesday’s service call people to higher standards of justice and responsibility than have been observed in recent times, insha’Allah.

  • bint alshamsa

    Yeah, I have mixed feelings about this, too. I think that it’s good for Americans to see that “muslimah” is not synonymous to “Arab” because (sadly) there are many people who still don’t seem to understand that Islam is a world-wide religion that includes people from many, many backgrounds. However, women of color are so under-represented in EVERYTHING that it would be nice for the person offering this prayer to be one of us. Still, I’m mostly glad that there will be a muslimah given how many organizations do find excuses to exclude anyone and anything Islam-related.

  • Safiya Outlines

    Asalaam Alaikum,

    I’m a big fan of Ingrid Mattson too. It’s depressing that someone can very open and honest in the public eye and still get smeared as often as she does (this isn’t the first time such allegations have been made about her).

    Have you read her poem about Waterboarding (Warning- graphic language):

  • musicalchef

    Ah, the wonder that is the American media! Never fails to come up with something stupid.

  • souvenirsandscars

    I feel you! Our expectations are seriously so low those days, I feel shock bordering quite pathetically on gratitude at the slightest mention of us in relation to something positive!!

    I can’t really blame them for throwing in that terrorist bit, though. First, they probably don’t want to shock us dead after all, eh? We’d all probably have a collective heart attack if they just left it at “Dr. Ingrid Mattson, President of the Islamic Society of North America, to participate in inauguration prayers.” And besides, they have other expectations to live up to. Muslim(ah) must be somehow linked to terrorist behavior. Or else, they’d be linked as terrorist supporters themselves! Because, as Bush once said, “either you are with us or the terrorists.” And they definitely don’t want that!

  • Krista

    @ bint alshamsa: Agreed. I really like Ingrid Mattson, and this isn’t about her personally, but I think that white Muslims end up being asked to represent all Muslims disproportionately often (I’m thinking Hamza Yusuf et al. as well), which is definitely problematic.

    @ Safiya: Thanks for sharing the poem. I had seen it before, and it is really powerful. On another note, if I remember correctly from your comment on another post recently, you are due to give birth any day now, right?? I hope all goes well for you and the baby, insha’Allah.

    @ souvenirsandscars: LOL. Good point – I’m not sure any of us are ready for the shock of them treating Muslims like normal people :P But as for linking people with terrorists, if she is labelled as a terrorist but also invited to the inauguration, does that mean that they are “with” her? Does that make them “with the terrorists” too? Ugh, okay, forget it, I’m not even going to try to understand their logic.

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  • Sarah

    i see your point about white muslims disproportionately being asked to represent us, and i agree it’s problematic, but then i think of all the stories i’ve heard of white muslims being marginalized by the immigrant muslim communities in the US because they aren’t “muslim enough” and are not arab/south asian-o-phile enough, and i think it’s good that those muslims have to now be humbled seeing a White Convert Woman (YES, Triple Whammy!!!) represent them.

    just as non-muslims need to realize that muslims are not of only one or two ethnicities, plenty of muslims apparently need to realize that too, and having dr. mattson at this event is hopefully serving both those needs.

  • Sarah

    oh, i forgot to mention that we may be reading too much into this. dr. m is after all the president of the largest american muslim organization in america. who’s to say that fact didn’t play the most significant role in their choice? and that they wouldn’t have chosen the current president regardless of ethnicity or sex?

  • Krista

    @ Sarah: You bring up some good points, thanks for your comment. And you’re right, maybe Dr. Mattson’s role in ISNA is the biggest factor here, and we’re just overanalysing.

    But then, if the president of ISNA was, for example, an Arab man named Muhammad who had a really thick Arabic accent, then I don’t know, I really couldn’t picture them inviting him.

    @ everyone: Go read Crypto-Muslim’s post that’s linked in comment #6. She brings in a really interesting angle that I hadn’t even thought about.

  • Sobia

    Ugh!…Why do these jerks have to rain on our parade? The right-wing in the US truly believe that every single Muslim on this earth is linked to terrorism. They’re such a-holes! How is it that they can be taken seriously?

    I actually think having Dr. Mattson lead the Muslim prayer may be a good “start” in the sense that it will show Americans that Muslim can look just like them – White! (Non-Whites don’t look like “real” Americans, or Canadians for that matter). She’s great for easing Americans into being comfortable with Muslims. I wish it wasn’t this way, but unfortunately it is.

    Ironic? – The Christian president named Barack Hussein Obama and the Muslim prayer leader named Ingrid Mattson.

    And for us Canadians – Mattson is Canadian too ;)

  • Rochelle

    “(Non-Whites don’t look like “real” Americans, or Canadians for that matter).”

    Will all due respect, Sobia, a black man was just inaugurated as President of the United States.

    I know there’s still a lot of work to do, but can we celebrate the greap leap forward for racial equality in the United States today?

  • Rochelle


  • Fatemeh

    @ Rochelle: I believe Sobia was speaking to the fact that American is often assumed to mean “white” in mainstream discourses, not saying that non-white people are not Americans. Since I and most of our contributors are people of color who were born/are citizens of the U.S. and Canada, that sort of thinking is directly opposed to our existence as Western Muslims.

  • Sobia

    Thanks Fatemeh. That is what I meant. Traditionally Canadians and Americans are thought of as White regardless of who makes up the demographics of the country. Both countries are still fairly racist nations.

    And although Obama’s win is a great leap forward, it is not the end of the view that real Americans are White. Just rewind to the election itself where “real” America was defined, by the Republicans, as rural, small town America, aka White America. This racism was a part of their campaign.

    And when it comes to Muslims the US still has a long way to go. Obama is beginning the process by hopefully bringing Muslims back to human status at least. He’s shutting down Guantanamo Bay (or “The Muslim prison”) and he’s actually against using torture (which was pretty much being used mainly on Muslims).

    Within the context of de-humanizing Muslims I think it would be good to see that Muslims can look “non-threatening” – ie non-POC/Arab/South Asian etc. – because someone who looks stereotypically Muslim is still feared in the US. That is how Islamophobic the US is. It is unfortunate that this is the way it is, and it would be wonderful if someone who looked stereotypically Muslim wasn’t feared, but that is not reality.

    But I do still like Obama :) We’ll see how things go with him as president.

    Btw…did anyone see Mattson today? I was only able to watch from oath onward.

  • Krista

    @ Sobia: Mattson’s thing isn’t until tomorrow, so you haven’t missed it yet :) I don’t know what time it’s at though or whether it will be broadcast…

    Thanks everyone for the comments, I’ll say more later, but wanted to clarify that the prayer service doesn’t happen until tomorrow.

  • s.c.

    I hope you guys are watching the prayer service, the whole this is live on Hopefully we can find a video for Mattson’s prayer and link it up here later :)

  • Sarah

    i saw part of the service, but wasn’t able to wait to see Dr. Mattson. (@s.c.: let’s hope there is a video! i would love for you guys to put in on the site :) )

    But I did catch the female Reverend’s speech. They made a point of saying she is the first female Reverend to give an inaugural prayer, so it’s interesting that Dr. M is also the first female Muslim representative too. Coincidence? Intentional? Race and ethnicity aside, this is a good day for women, no?

    I thought it was really great that this Reverend discussed “A Common Word” – which was put together by Muslim scholars to lay out the commonalities between Christianity and Islam and how, based on them, we can work towards peace. Check out the website:

    This, along with Obama’s prominent mention of Muslims in his inaugural speech, will hopefully set a tone for the next four years and beyond that allows for Muslims to be seen and appreciated in a more nuanced way.

    Lastly, I just wanted to say that I really appreciated Crypto-Muslim’s post. I will try to comment on it soon.

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