For Ingrid Mattson, the defining moment of President Barack Obama's inauguration came during one declarative line, in the middle of his speech.
"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers," Obama said.
And in that moment Mattson, who was one of the lucky few to be sitting in the presidential box at the Capitol as the new president spoke, was nearly moved to tears.
"It felt very liberating and empowering for a community that has felt in many ways marginalized, under suspicion and out of place over the last few years," said Mattson, who is president of the Islamic Society of North America and director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary.
Mattson knows of what she speaks.
As has happened during past public appearances, Mattson's inclusion in the Obama inauguration — she was one of a dozen or so clergy invited to participate in Wednesday's National Prayer Service at the Washington National Cathedral — recently sparked some intense public criticism.
In this case, the criticism was related to a federal prosecutor's decision to list the Islamic Society of North America as an "unindicted co-conspirator" in a plot to fund the terrorist group Hamas. The designation was included in the government's terrorism case against the Holy Land Foundation, which was convicted last November of funneling millions of dollars to Hamas.
The Islamic Society of North America has denied any connection to Hamas and is seeking to have its name removed from the government's list. Also named in the federal case were two other prominent Islamic organizations in America — the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the North American Islamic Trust.
Although much of the past criticism of Mattson has been relegated to blogs, the high-profile nature of the inaugural celebration coupled with the seriousness of the government's accusation led this time to a whole new level of scrutiny.
The Associated Press put out a story, which was then picked up by some major news organizations, last weekend, that detailed Mattson's connection to the group and its inclusion in the Holy Land case.
The publicity didn't derail Mattson's participation in the prayer service — a spokeswoman for the inaugural committee instead defended Mattson's "stellar reputation in the faith community" — but it did serve as a reminder of the criticism she so frequently faces.
Hartford Seminary issued a statement of support for Mattson on Tuesday, saying that she has worked consistently to promote interfaith dialogue and "prepare peacemakers." The seminary also said Mattson has repeatedly denounced terrorism.
"I have to say that every time this happens I feel disheartened for a little while until all the expressions of support come in," Mattson said Wednesday shortly after her participation in the prayer service. "It's an opportunity for growth, and to have more empathy for others and experience the true grace of friendship."
Mattson said the Islamic Society is fighting both the substance of the government's claim against it, as well as the legal designation of "unindicted co-conspirator" — because it allows the government to levy the accusation without publicly disclosing its proof.
"There's also no forum to publicly defend ourselves against any charge," Mattson said.
According to news reports last July, federal prosecutors said they had a "wide array" of evidence linking the groups to Hamas. But the picture the government painted of Mattson's organization also detailed its collaborative work with the Bush administration.
Mattson said members of the organization have received awards from the federal government for their work.
"There's this really bizarre quality to the whole thing because, on the one hand, many people in government value our work, ask for our advice and support and have even honored us," Mattson said. "On the other hand, because of this one federal prosecutor's decision to put us in this category for the trial, we have this legal stigma around our neck."
Mattson said she believes the criticism of her comes from two distinct groups: those who "don't like Muslims to be involved in or recognized in society in any way" and those who "oppose anyone in academia or the clergy who advocates in any way for Palestinians."
Her position, and the position of the society, rubs the wrong way anyone who sees the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a "zero-sum game," she said.
"We believe the pro-peace position is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine," Mattson said. "We advocate that American Muslim and Jewish communities should understand each other and communicate with each other."
Mattson, 44, has been president of the Islamic Society since 2006, which is when the public criticism of her really heated up, according to David Barrett, spokesman for Hartford Seminary.
Tuesday's statement of support for Mattson is "unfortunately not the first time" the seminary has had to publicly defend the scholar — and by extension itself — against accusations of being sympathetic to terrorists, he said.
"There's been criticism of the seminary for the same reason there's been criticism of Ingrid Mattson, which is 'You're supposed to be a Christian seminary. What are you doing getting into bed with Islam?'" Barrett said. "Our answer is that we think this is important and we will continue to teach about the three Abrahamic faiths because people will understand their own faith better if we do that."
Mattson, who is from Canada, converted to Islam as a young woman. She has been a professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary since 1998, Barrett said.
Wednesday, as President Obama, his wife and other high-ranking officials lined the front pews of the National Cathedral, Mattson stepped to the front of the altar in a row of other interfaith clergy and recited her brief prayer:
"On this day of new beginning, with hearts lifted high in hope, may we be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations."
Afterward, she reflected on how the new president has been a source of comfort and inspiration to her.
"Having seen him go through his campaign and face all the attacks and insinuations he faced with such dignity was a good example for me," Mattson said.