Mattson talks real, potential roles of women in Islam

Hartford Seminary Islamic Studies professor Ingrid Mattson discussed the role of women in Islam at a Trumbull College Master’s Tea Thursday. The talk was one of several events hosted by the Muslim Students Association to celebrate Islamic Awareness Week.

MSA political action co-chair Arafat Razzaque ’06 said the MSA hopes to educate the greater Yale community about the role of women in Islam with a series of talks and panels this week.

“Our goal is to inform the Yale community about Islam,” Razzaque said. “We felt there should be more awareness about women [in the religion].”

Razzaque said Mattson, who serves as vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, exemplified the potential extent of a Muslim woman’s influence.

“She is in a position of power as a female Muslim leader,” Razzaque said.

At the talk, Mattson proposed ways to integrate women into Islamic religious leadership. She said she thinks the best way to do this is by re-examining ancient law as it existed before Islam split into sects.

“I believe that the solution is to some extent in looking at pre-classical law,” Mattson said.

Mattson said the ambiguous role of women in Islam is often due to the problem of “categorization.” She said many Muslims oppose female leadership for political reasons, not because of any religious justification, which she said can only come directly from the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

In fact, Mattson said there are several indications that Muhammad organized prayer groups so there was “more variety in these groupings than is [currently] believed.”

“Muhammad appointed a woman to be prayer leader of her household, even though there was an elderly man [capable of leading],” Mattson said.

Mattson said many “theoretical issues” must be explored in order to clarify the role of women in the Islamic faith.

Mattson said she gained insight into this issue while she was in China, where saw examples of female-only mosques. Although she said several of her fellow companions were uncomfortable there, Mattson said she felt the mosques adequately served the needs of the Chinese Muslim community.

With this in mind, Mattson said she started a program for Muslim chaplains from the U.S. who were attempting to meet the needs of a society that is not traditionally Muslim.

“I was looking for a way to avoid the whole traditional debate and to establish a new form of leadership suitable for the United States,” Mattson said.

Curtis Perry ’07 said he appreciated Mattson’s talk and her unique stance on women in Islam.

“She had a lot of information and a viewpoint I hadn’t heard before,” Perry said.

Sumiya Khan, a Muslim from Westville, Conn., who attends MSA events regularly, said Islamic Awareness Week has been a success so far. She said she was impressed by the diverse group of students and community members who attended the talk as well as other events earlier in the week.

“This [week] is both for Muslims and non-Muslims,” Khan said. “It is a way to share voices.”

Khan said the activities gave people a chance to see an alternative portrayal of Muslim life.

“It’s a different perspective on Muslims than what is given in the media,” Khan said.

Professor of Islamic studies Ingrid Mattson converses with a mixed audience of students and community members at a Trumbull College Master’s Tea on Thursday afternoon.
Yusef Syed
Professor of Islamic studies Ingrid Mattson converses with a mixed audience of students and community members at a Trumbull College Master’s Tea on Thursday afternoon.

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