Monday, August 26, 2013

Inspiring women

In three days last week I heard three remarkable women:  New Zealanders Helen Clark and Helen Anderson, and Canadian Ingrid Mattson.

Dr Ingrid Mattson was raised a Catholic and became a Muslim in her twenties.  A lecturer in Islamic Studies she was, remarkably, president of the Islamic Society of North America for four years post 9/11.  At this challenging time this diminutive, white woman was speaking for the North American Muslim community.

With her background she is well placed to speak on gender and leadership in the Islamic world and she applauded the local Wowma  programme which is successfully developing the leadership skills of young Muslim women in Hamilton. 

She also spoke of the range of Islamic communities across the world with their widely varying cultural practices and the resulting complexities of identity.

She has experienced the shift from being part of the dominant group to being recognisably one of a minority group.  She encouraged Muslims, who are a minority group in this country, to build bridges of understanding with the wider community.  She emphasised the importance of neighbourliness and contributing generously to the place where one lives. 

Informed by a deep scholarly knowledge of the Koran, she spoke with a quietly compelling voice for moderation and inclusiveness.