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Apologists or Extremists

Ingrid Mattson

Updated January 21, 2009

Ingrid Mattson and the Islamic Society of North America

As part of the inaugural festivities for President Barack Obama, Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) President Ingrid Mattson participated in a prayer service at Washington's National Cathedral on January 21, 2009.

Given her organization's historic connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to establish Islamic law, or Shari'ah, as the basis controlling society, Mattson's invitation is generating some criticism.

Her organization was founded in 1981[1] by Muslim Brotherhood members who had been part of the Muslim Students Association.[2] ISNA was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the Hamas-support prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), which ended in the conviction of five former HLF officials on 108 counts. Federal prosecutors identified ISNA as a "member organization" of the "U.S. Muslim Brotherhood" on its list of "Unindicted Co-conspirators and/or Joint Venturers."[3]

It is important to note that none of the activity related to ISNA's involvement in the HLF case occurred under Mattson's leadership. However, she has an established pattern that should be known in advance of her inaugural participation of making statements which minimize the nature of extremist forms of Islam and rationalize the actions of Islamist terrorist movements.

The Investigative Project on Terrorism has assembled this report on Mattson.

Ingrid Mattson

Ingrid Mattson became ISNA's president in 2006 after serving as its vice president since 2001.[4] She is also the director of Islamic Chaplaincy and a professor at the Macdonald Center for Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut.[5]

A Washington Times article written two weeks after 9/11 reported that Mattson (then ISNA Vice President )[6] asked an organization of religion news reporters to not use the term "Islamic terrorism."[7]

Additionally, Mattson has similarly avoided any pointed criticism of Wahhabism,[8] an austere form of Islam that seeks to revive a literal interpretation of the Koran. Mattson has compared it to Protestant Christianity. For example, at a CNN-sponsored online town hall forum in October 2001, she was asked about Wahhabism and if it was "an extremely right wing sect." She responded:

"This is not a sect. It is the name of a reform movement that began 200 years ago to rid Islamic societies of cultural practices and rigid interpretation that had acquired over the centuries. It really was analogous to the European protestant reformation. Because the Wahhabi scholars became intergreated [sic] into the Saudi state, there has been some difficulty keeping that particular interpretation of religion from being enforced too broadly on the population as a whole. However, the Saudi scholars who are Wahhabi have denounced terrorism and denounced in particular the acts of September 11. Those statements are available publicly.

This question [sic] has arisen because last week there were a number of newspaper reports that were dealing with this. They raised the issue of the role of Saudi Arabia and the ideaology there. Frankly, I think in a way it was a reaction to the attempts of many people to look for the roots of terrorism in misguided foreign policy. It's not helpful, I believe, to create another broad category that that becomes the scape goat [sic] for terrorism."[9] [emphasis added]

At a November 2003 roundtable sponsored by Center for Strategic and International Studies, Mattson sounded the same theme, stating that the relationship between Wahhabis and other Muslims is a "very old struggle …between the more theologically austere Muslims who, like Protestant Christianity, believe that there should be no saints, there should be no intervention between you and God."[10]

In an article, Mattson quoted the Malaysian Islamist Anwar Ibrahim when he addressed political repression in Muslim countries and stated that, "Bin Laden and his protégés are the children of desperation; they come from countries where political struggle through peaceful means is futile."[11]

Mattson then offered her own rationalization for the violent methods of al Qaeda, saying, "Such individuals rarely limit their attempts to change state behavior through speech, because they have seen it to be ineffective. Indeed, in such circumstances, ‘extremism' might seem to be the only rational choice, because extreme actions are the only actions that seem to have an effect."[12]

At a 2007 event at Harvard University, Mattson was asked for her "thoughts on some of the nascent political groups in the Middle East such as Hamas and Hizballah."[13] The United States has designated each to be a terrorist group since the mid 1990s. Mattson did not mention this fact in her response:

"I don't think they are new. I mean, I am not a Middle East expert; my focus is based in Canada, North America. But I think they have been around for a long time. What are you asking? Historically?"[14]

The questioner elaborated:

"What are they representing now in terms of…trend-wise, do you see it as part of a larger issue? Do you see it as more of a national, political thing, or do you see it as a religious component?"[15]

Mattson's response ducked the bloody means each group applies, and tried to minimize their violence:

"My understanding is that both groups represent their own, I mean they are not global like Al-Qaeda for example. Al-Qaeda has global claims and universal claims. It claims to be speaking on behalf of the whole Muslim world, right, Muslim ummah; whereas I haven't seen the same kind of statements from Hamas and Hezbollah. As I say, I don't particularly follow them. I think that it is tragic what's happening and I just hope that the United States will play – my main concern is because I live here and the role that the United States plays in those conflicts, that the United States will play a helpful role in resolving what is going on there in Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, that region."[16]

At that same event at Harvard, Mattson was asked a question about a defamation lawsuit filed by the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) against several organizations and individuals, including Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), the David Project, the Boston Herald, and the local Fox News affiliate in Boston. She replied:

"And unfortunately it's part of a broader problem of some organizations trying to discredit any Muslim organization or any Muslim leader who is in a particular [unintelligible word] or profile. And the reason this happens is what I feel is a false assumption on the part of the many American Jews who are supporters of Israel. And the assumption is that if Muslims have political empowerment, American Muslims are politically empowered, then they will influence American foreign policy towards Israel in a negative sense in that all Muslims must be anti-Israel."[17]

But the issue that triggered the ISB litigation had nothing to do with policy or political power, but was a response to legitimate questions about an ISB land deal and connections of some of the players. The ISB had known ties to terrorists and pro-terrorist individuals including Abdulrahman Alamoudi, a member of ISB's "Executive Committee."[18] Alamoudi is now serving a 23-year prison sentence for sanctions violations and his ties to an al Qaeda-tied plot to kill then-Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.[19] Yusuf al Qaradawi, a central spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, was an ISB board member,[20] and Dr. Walid Fitaihi, also an ISB board member,[21] has called Jews the "murderers of prophets" and has written that Jews were to be punished for their "oppression, murder, and rape of the worshipers of Allah."[22]

The ISB ultimately dropped its lawsuit with no settlement. Instead of acknowledging that the defendants in this lawsuit had the right to point out these factual ties, Mattson blamed a fictional campaign driven by misguided American Jews to discredit any and all prominent Muslim leaders and organizations.

Mattson taught a course called, "The Qur'an and Its Place in Muslim Life and Society," in the summer of 2007, at Hartford Seminary, where she is a professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations.[23] Among the readings she requires of her class are Sayyid Qutb's In the Shade of the Qur'an and Syed Abu'l-`Ala Maududi's The Meaning of the Qur'an.

Qutb was a Muslim Brotherhood luminary who was executed by the Egyptian government. His two major works, In the Shade of the Qur'an and Milestones have been heavily influential on Islamist terrorists. The 9/11 Commission Report noted that Osama bin Laden "relies heavily" on Sayyid Qutb.[24] Maududi founded the Pakistani Islamist party, Jamaat-i-Islaami in 1941.[25] Like the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat-i-Islami seeks to establish an Islamic government with a constitution based on the Quran and Shari'ah.[26] Mattson gave another endorsement of Maududi when she recommended his tafseer, or commentary on the Qur'an, during a speech at a 2000 ISNA conference in Canada.[27]

In an April 2007 interview with the Baltimore Sun, Mattson denied the existence of sleeper cells in the American Muslim community despite several convictions and guilty pleas since 9/11 that involved American Muslims being involved in terrorist activity. Attacking portrayals in of terrorism in movies and the wider media, she said:

"There's a prejudgment, a collective judgment of Muslims, and a suspicion that well ‘you may appear nice, but we know there are sleeper cells of Americans,' which of course is not true. There aren't any sleeper cells. But they're all over TV, and in the movies. There's that veil of suspicion that falls over individual Muslims."

The interviewer asked her, "There are no sleeper cells in the world?" Mattson continued:

"In the world, certainly. I'm not in intelligence ... but it's not the reality of American Islam…There has not been any in the six years since Sept. 11, and Sept. 11 itself was committed by foreigners, by people who were not in this country at all. That isn't the reality of the Muslim American community."[28]

Sami Al-Arian was a founding member ISNA.[29] On April 14, 2006, Al-Arian pled guilty to "conspiracy to make or receive contributions of funds, goods or services to or for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a Specially Designated Terrorist."[30] His 57-month prison sentence was frozen for more than a year after he was found in civil contempt for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury investigating terror financing in Northern Virginia, despite repeated court orders to do so and a grant of immunity in exchange for his truthful testimony.[31]

When asked about Al-Arian[32] at a 2008 conference, Mattson stated, "It's totally un-American. None of the agreements that he made with his lawyers and the judge have been followed. This is America. How could this be?"[33]

In addition to his support for the PIJ, Al-Arian expressed his own attitude about America in a 1991 speech, saying "we must continue with the Resistance . . . let's damn America, let's damn Israel, let's damn their allies until death."[34]

As a leader of a major Muslim organization in America, Mattson's refusal to acknowledge the existence of radical Islamists in the United States, and her avoidance of criticism of international terrorists, is very troubling.

She will sound a note of moderation to the public, as she has assiduously done for years, while secretly harboring and championing a radical agenda that supports Wahhabism, supports terrorists, denies the existence of Islamic extremism and blames the West for the rise of terrorists like Osama bin Laden. Is that who the Obama Administration really wants to set as an example for the rest of the country?



[1] Islamic Society of North America, North American Islamic Trust, "Memorandum of Law in Support of their Motion for Equitable Relief from the Government's Naming of Them as Unindicted Co-Conspirators," USA v. Holy Land Foundation, 04-CR-240, (ND TX, June 18, 2008) p. 3.

[2] USA v. Holy Land Foundation, 04-CR-240, Exhibit Elbarasse Search 1, (ND TX, September 25, 2008) USA v. Holy Land Foundation, 04-CR-240, Exhibit Elbarasse Search 3, (ND TX, September 25, 2008).

[3] USA v. HLF, CR NO. 3:04-CR-240-G, Attachment A: List of Unindicted Co-conspirators and/or Joint Venturers, (ND TX), http://www.investigativeproject.org/documents/case_docs/423.pdf

[4] "Faculty Profile of Ingrid Mattson," Duncan Black MacDonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, Hartford Seminary, http://macdonald.hartsem.edu/mattson.htm (accessed January 19, 2009).

[5] "Main Session Speaker Bios," Islamic Society of North America Website, http://www.isna.net/conferences/annualconvention2007/speakers.html#11 (Accessed January 30, 2008).

[6] "ISNA Board of Directors," http://www.isna.net/majlis/default.asp (accessed March 17, 2005).

[7] Larry Witham, "Reporters Asked to Handle ‘Islamic' Jargon with Care," The Washington Times, September 24, 2001, A8.

[8] Wahhabism is the Saudi brand of Salafism, which is a movement within Islam that seeks to realize Islam as it was practiced by Muhammad and his Companions.

[9] "Ingrid Mattson: What is Islam," October 18, 2001, http://archives.cnn.com/2001/COMMUNITY/10/18/mattson.cnna/
(accessed February 13, 2007).

[10] Ingrid Mattson, "From Guantanamo Bay to General Boykin," Center for Strategic and International Studies Conference, Washington D.C. November 5, 2003.

[11] Ingrid Mattson, "Stopping Oppression: An Islamic Obligation," Speaking of Faith, http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/newvoice/mattson_stopping-oppression.shtml (Accessed August 20, 2008).

[12] Ingrid Mattson, "Stopping Oppression: An Islamic Obligation," Speaking of Faith, http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/newvoice/mattson_stopping-oppression.shtml (Accessed August 20, 2008).

[13] Ingrid Mattson, The Kennedy School at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 12, 2007.

[14] Ingrid Mattson, The Kennedy School at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 12, 2007.

[15] Ingrid Mattson, The Kennedy School at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 12, 2007.

[16] Ingrid Mattson, The Kennedy School at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 12, 2007.

[17] Ingrid Mattson, The Kennedy School at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 12, 2007.

[18] IRS Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption, Islamic Society of Boston, 1983.

[19] Department of Justice Press Release, "Abdurahman Alamoudi Sentenced To Jail

In Terrorism Financing Case," October 15, 2004, http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2004/October/04_crm_698.htm

[20] IRS Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt from Tax, Islamic Society of Boston, 1998, 1999, 2000,

[21] See 28, plus years 2001 and 2002

[22] Andrea Estes, "Islamic group repudiates trustee's anti-Semitic quotes," Boston Globe, October 14, 2004, http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2004/10/14/islamic_group_repudiates_trustees_anti_semitic_quotes/.

[23] "Course Information and Syllabus for The Qur'an and Its Place in Muslim Life and Society" Hartford Seminary Website, http://www.hartsem.edu/academic/COURSES/summer2007/sc621.html (Accessed August 25, 2008).

[24] The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. W.W. (New York: Norton & Company, 2004), 51.

[25] Charles Allen, God's Terrorists (Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press, 2006), 270.

[26] Ibid., 271.

[27] "Reviving the Muslim Mind - A balanced approach to gaining knowledge," Young Muslims, Canada Website, http://www.youngmuslims.ca/lecturesummaries/display.asp?ID=3 (Accessed August 25, 2008).

[28] Ingrid Mattson, interview with Liz F. Kay, "The Face of Islam," Baltimore Sun, April 22, 2007.

[29] "Biography of Sami Al-Arian," American -Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) program of Speakers, Moderators, and Award Recipients, 17th National Convention, Arlington, Virginia, June 8-11, 2000; and

Yasmin Moll, "A Shattered Dream," Egypt Today, December 10, 2003, 10.

[30] http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2006/April/06_crm_221.html

[31] Josh Gerstein, "Judge Rejects Pleas to Free Al-Arian," New York Sun, June 21, 2007, http://www.nysun.com/article/57065.

[32] Al-Arian was indicted in February 2003 on charges of establishing and operating a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) network in the United States. In December 2005, after a six month trial, Al-Arian was acquitted of eight charges, while the jury deadlocked on the nine other charges, including conspiracy to provide material support to PIJ. On April 14, 2006, after more than a decade of denying any involvement with PIJ, and five months after the conclusion of his jury trial, Al-Arian pled guilty to "conspiracy to make or receive contributions of funds, goods or services to or for the benefit of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a Specially Designated Terrorist." As part of the plea agreement, Al-Arian admitted that he "performed services for the PIJ in 1995 and thereafter" and that he was "aware that the PIJ achieved its objectives by, among other means, acts of violence." In June 2008, Al-Arian was indicted for criminal contempt in the Eastern District of Virginia for refusing to testify before a grand jury, purportedly investigating the alleged terrorism ties of a Northern Virginia-based think tank. U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema set a March 9, 2009 trial date.

[33] Ingrid Mattson, ISNA East Zone Conference, Baltimore, MD, May 24-26, 2008.

[34] USA v. Al Arian, et al, 03-CR-77, "Exhibit" (MD FL), Video, Sami al Arian, Islamic Center of Cleveland, April 7, 1991.