Ingrid Mattson knows the media drill well.

She has done the “We condemn ”¦ (fill in the terrorism incident)” speeches – as if, she says, that’s all anyone needs to hear from the president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).

She has done the profiles of her as first woman/first convert/first North American-born head of the continent’s largest Muslim group.

She has done the talk shows retelling how 20 years ago, she left the Catholicism of her Canadian childhood and her college focus on philosophy and fine arts to find her spiritual home in Islam.

“It’s time now to move the focus back off me and back on the issues,” says Mattson, a professor at Hartford Seminary, where she directs the first U.S.-accredited Muslim chaplaincy program at the Macdonald Center.

Mattson begins the second half of her two-year term at the society’s Labor Day weekend national conference outside Chicago. The annual event draws 40,000 Muslims of every sect, culture, age, race and ethnicity for scores of sessions on faith, family and society and a massive multicultural bazaar.

But two weeks before the conference, sitting with two women in her tiny, book-stuffed office, Mattson has a moment to kick off her shoes. She sheds the long brown jacket stifling her tailored blue blouse, leans back and talks about her vision of American Muslim life and her visiting friend, Heba.

Heba Abbasi, 31, a faithful young Muslim in her snug black headscarf, is a Chicago inner-city public school teacher, a fitness trainer, a Palestinian-American wife with an equally observant mosque-going Indian-American husband. Both are also triathletes training for an event.


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