The founder of Muslims for Progressive Values criticizes ‘deviant, draconian, and hateful’ variants of Islam and advocates for LGBT and gender equality.
As in Christianity, some Muslims may point to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a justification for anti-LGBT beliefs. And as in Christianity, others disagree with that interpretation.
“It was rape; it was inhospitality; it was going against the prophet Lot’s teaching” that were the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, not homosexuality, says Ani Zonneveld. The Koran, she said, prescribes no punishment for being gay or transgender.
Zonneveld founded Muslims for Progressive Values in Los Angeles in 2007. Singer-songwriter Zonneveld felt that in many Muslim communities “a woman’s voice was forbidden,” and she wanted a progressive Muslim community to belong to. The groups has monthly spiritual gatherings, open mikes for youth, and social events for its LGBT members. In addition to the flagship L.A. chapter, MPV now has U.S. chapters in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. There are also MPV chapters in several other countries.
The progressive values that Zonneveld and MPV champion include gender equality, LGBT rights, freedom of expression, and freedom of (or from) belief. According to Zonneveld, who is straight, those ideas are not new to Islam. There have long been female scholars, artists and singers in Islamic tradition, she says, and anti-homosexuality laws in modern Muslim states are the legacy of British colonization.
Today, Zonneveld says she sees some nations hiding behind Muslim law to justify human rights abuses — and she sees wealthy governments using their influence to spread intolerance.
“This new interpretation of Islam is deviant as far as I’m concerned,” says Zonneveld, pointing to the influence of Saudi Arabian Wahhabism as “a very draconian, very new teaching of Islam — very intolerant … of different cultures, very hateful, I would say, even.”
She says Saudi money has gone into every corner of the world and influenced cultural shifts in Muslim countries. For instance, she says, many mosques where men and women once worshipped together now require women to enter from the back or to worship in a separate room from the men.
“It’s a bastardization of Islam,” she says, referring to the “true spirit of Islam” as “interfaith and inclusive.”
Zonneveld emphasizes that she is calling out governments and institutions — not individual Muslims. There are progressive Muslims all over the world, she says, and in many places they face the threat of imprisonment or even death for speaking out. That’s why Zonneveld thinks that, as a Muslim in the western world, she has a duty to “highlight those voices.”
In fact, MPV obtained consulting status with the United Nations in order to advocate for the granting of individual rights regardless of cultural beliefs.
If Zonneveld is quick to call out what she perceives as a deviant form of Islam, she also has some pointed words for critics of Islam itself.
“Stop demonizing Islam in the liberal media like we’ve seen with Bill Maher … you’re empowering the radical Muslims that we are fighting,” she says.