The first female president of the largest Muslim organization in North America believes nothing in Islam prohibits her from issuing religious opinions on issues from dietary restrictions to the proper place for women in mosques.

Ingrid Mattson, a Canadian convert to Islam who was elected last week to lead the Islamic Society of North America, said women should participate fully in Muslim life, whether that means sitting next to men during mosque lectures, but not at prayers, or contributing to the rules that govern religious observance.

“I want to make sure women are fully engaged,” Mattson said Tuesday. “They should sit on boards and in mosques in space equal to men so they can participate in discussions.”

Not everyone was pleased with her election, which came a week before the Islamic society’s annual convention that begins Friday in Rosemont. Mattson said she has received a few angry e-mails from people opposed to a woman holding the office, which has a two-year term.

But most of her colleagues lauded her victory as a sign that the Muslim community in North America was open to change. Mattson, who ran unopposed to lead the 20,000-member society, was voted in with a majority of 1,500 votes that were mailed in and counted Saturday.

“Given the situation in the Muslim world, it’s progressive,” said Assad Busool, a professor at the American Islamic College in Chicago. “But there’s nothing in Islam to ban women from leadership positions.”

Few Muslims across Chicago said they were surprised at Mattson’s selection to lead the organization, an umbrella group founded in 1963 that represents about 300 Muslim student, social and professional groups.

Mattson has spent two terms as the society’s vice president, earning a reputation as an Islamic authority and an adept administrator, colleagues and members said.


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