Monday, April 30, 2007

A New Voice for Islam - Prof Ingrid Mattson

Salaams All. I recently heard the radio interview by Krista Tippet with Prof Ingrid Mattson, on Speaking of Faith. Ingrid is the first woman, the first non-immigrant, and the first convert to lead the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the largest Muslim organisation in North America. She came to Singapore in 2005 along with some visitors from the Nawawi Foundation (USA). She delivered a couple of lectures in Singapore as well under the banner of Darul Arqam. I was fortunate enough to have volunteered for the event series. I also hosted Prof Ingrid for dinner at my residence together with Prof Abdal Hakim Murad (Cambridge University) who also happened to be in Singapore at that time. Masha'Allah!

In the interview, she mentioned about the circumstances of her embracing Islam:

I was really surprised the first time I prayed as a — in a Muslim prayer. I was not a Muslim at that time. I was just starting to study the Qur'an and study some Arabic, so I could have some sense of the scripture. And, you know, the people who were teaching me said, 'Well, you know, do you want to join us in prayer?' I said, 'Well, OK. I don't know how to do it.' They said, 'Just follow along with us.' So I did. And, of course, you know, it feels, at fist, very awkward. You're looking, trying to see what they're doing. These movements are different. But as soon as I prostrated and had my — my head to the ground and felt that sense of connection with the earth, of blocking everything out, because when you're prostrating you, you don't see anything around you. And so, really, it is, the words that you're saying in your mind, glorifying God, I felt such a holistic connection to God. I mean, it's a full-body connection, you know?


The following are her thoughts about wearing the hijab:

While I was convinced by those who were teaching me about Islam early on that a head covering for women is part of what is required in Islamic law, I was not convinced of the reasons for it. I mean, people talked about, you know, society and gender mixing and all these kind of things. So when I first heard about that, I said, 'Well, that didn't make much sense to me.' But I did it as an act of obedience.

And once I started wearing it, I did notice the benefit in terms of being treated in a more, I would say, professional manner by even, you know, those people who I'd known earlier, whether they were professors or others. I was surprised at they way that the kind of, you know, language that I'd become so used to, with sexual innuendo and, I mean, now, you know, I wasn't around people who were very vulgar. Just talking with people, at work or at school, how many jokes and things have, have this sexual innuendo, how they're kind of just dropped away. And I hadn't been aware of it — well, you know, really aware of how pervasive it was 'til I started wearing hijab. And I felt that, you know, an advantage, and I was surprised at that. It doesn't mean it's not difficult sometimes. I mean, it is difficult at times and it does present its own challenges. But more than the social dynamics, I would say, for me it has spiritual benefit. You know, it's interesting, I was teaching a class earlier this week, and I have an African priest in my class. And he was talking about how, in African Christianity, still, women, and even men, will feel that some gesture of covering…


Quite an interesting interview on the whole, I must say.
Go to Speaking of Faith [click here] where you can listen or read the entire interview.

It was certainly an honour for my friends and I to have hosted Prof Ingrid and her husband while she was in Singapore. She is really a nice woman and I wish her all the best for her appointment as President of ISNA. May Allah subhanahu taala give her strength, success and guidance for all her affairs, Ameen.

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