Are you interested in the role Imams play in ending female genital mutilation in Central Africa? Learn more about our member Muslims for Progressive Values work in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
Tell us about yourself and your organization.
My name is Ani Zonneveld, a transplant from Malaysia, born and raised into a Muslim family. In a round-about way I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. For a good 25 years in the industry, I was a songwriter and producer solely focused on my career, and not much else mattered. 25 years on I did well, and garnered a Grammy certificate for songwriting, which oddly enough, didn’t move me, but left me wondering what life is really about.
In America, as a female singer/songwriter I was ostracized because according to this new interpretation of Islam, a woman’s voice, skin, hair is supposed to be covered, as all of it is deemed sexually enticing to men. Never mind that for centuries Muslim women were the leaders, teachers, warriors, poets, Queens, but yet in the 21st century they were relegated to being a sexual object. I found my purpose.
I founded Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) in Los Angeles in 2007 with the purpose of creating an inclusive and egalitarian community, with universal human rights as its foundation. We promoted our values through the arts, music and various educational forums. As we promoted these values it became apparent we needed to be more targeted and purposeful in our work. We concluded that, if religion is at the root of harmful cultural practices, then that interpretation of religion needs to be challenged at all levels of society, including the family unit, the courts, laws, and religious institutions, as well through the U.N.’s legal mechanisms.
How is your organization working to end female genital mutilation in the United States?
Sometimes laws are just not enough to curtail the practice of FGM. In the United States we saw how FGM/C was being practiced secretly simply because the cultural and religious justification over-ruled the law of the land. Therefore, regardless whether we work in the US or in Muslim societies, whether FGM is illegal or not, our work is focused more on prevention. Our initiative #ImamsForShe is to address misogynist interpretations of Islamic scripture and traditions that have led to human rights violations against women and girls, and the sub-human status of women and girls across Muslim-majority countries and within Muslim communities in the West.
Our partners in #ImamsForShe are made up of religious and community leaders, and currently we have 150 #ImamsForShe Champions operating in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. With these positive influencers, we have implemented workshops to educate and therefore grow the network of Champions. We also implement overnight camps for young women called #ClubsForShe where we empower them with Islamic human rights language to enable them to defend themselves and others against harmful cultural and religious justifications for FGM, child/forced marriages and many other practices. This initiative owes its success solely due to the support from Wallace Global Fund.
What are the challenges and opportunities in trying to end female genital mutilation?
The challenges vary depending on where we work. In America, when we challenge harmful practices within the context of Islam, we have been accused of being self-hating Muslims or even “Islamophobes” not just by some Muslims but also from self-righteous non-Muslims. While when we do the same work in Muslim societies, our Muslim partners which include religious leaders and advocates, welcome us and see our counter narrative approach as legitimately true to the teachings and the spirit of the Quran — one that lifts up their societies.
How is the network helping you to achieve these goals and why is it important to be in the network?
Being in a network with the many different approaches, and from all over the world, including the U.S. lends to the moral support the advocates of this work needs. Learning from others and of course helping lift up each other’s works is equally important.
We can end female genital mutilation in the United States because it is our responsibility to protect the rights of a child.