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Saturday, 02 June 2012 17:58

Meet Ani Zonneveld, Aslan Media’s Newest Columnist

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My name is Ani Zonneveld, I had a privileged upbringing, privileged in that I was raised in many countries and in the richness that it colored my life, my outlook on people, religions and cultures. Privileged too because my parents raised me to think that the sky was the limit and that only I can short-change my own aspirations.

At the age of 5 my parents taught me that we all pray to the same God, just in different ways. “So substitute ‘Jesus’ with ‘God’ and you’ll be fine,” they said. They didn’t pull me out or insist the school allow me to sit it out. That would have made me stick out even more and being a minority in a predominantly White school in Germany was a very uncomfortable experience as it was.

I was born and raised Muslim, and yes, to some in the Western world, Islam is a religion that oppresses its women and discriminates against anyone and everyone outside the Muslim fold. That, however, wasn’t my life or my Islam—until I came to America.

It was in America that I found my true identity. I discovered that I was not Shiite, or Sufi but a Sunni; that there were people who didn’t believe in the existence of a God, or simply believed in a “greater being”. And there are plenty of people, Muslim and otherwise, who believe that their religion is “the right” religion. This is a country where you are allowed to express yourself, where cultural baggage can be cut loose and where you can create your own identity and destiny. This is the freedom that secular America nurtures. But there is also an America where peoples’ taboos, prejudices, and superiority complexes are lived out under the pretext of religion, and as such, protected by the American Constitution.

I discovered a parallel universe in the Muslim community of which I was temporarily a member. There is a religious switch that gets flicked on when you enter a mosque. Muslim women, well accomplished in the secular world and their careers, accept their spiritual inferior status. Men who need to over-compensate their masculinity direct women to the backdoor entrance, and gay Muslims go back into the closet.

I have always had a seed of doubt on how Islam should be defined and by whom. I believed a lot of what my parents taught me, but there were some teachings that didn’t sit well with me. As a young girl I had an issue with the understanding that menstruating women are deemed ‘dirty’, and as a result are not allowed to pray, or touch the Quran. And at 12 years old, when I tried to do the call for prayer, my mother quickly forbade me, stating “girls are not allowed to do that!” How could God discriminate against girls and women? It just didn’t make sense. Life has a way of helping you ignore nagging and difficult questions about one’s own identity; it is easier to just sweep it under the rug. But 9-11 forced me to reanalyze my Islam, to expose it for what it truly was, to relearn it in a way that forced me to completely surrender to that process, making my faith very fragile. In the aftermath of 9-11 America became an ugly place for Muslims, but the beauty in that was that it tested me. With the freedom to think and read, for the first time, I allowed myself to discover pure Islam.

As a songwriter, fresh out of college, I was no activist. I wrote pop and commercial music, and with 9-11 I decided to write pop songs about Islam. That would be my contribution. I thought the Muslim community was going to appreciate my efforts, but was instead rejected simply for being a female singer. This rejection awoke the prejudices I learned from my mother. In revisiting Islam, I not only discovered the roots of these prejudices but also discovered a plethora of other damaging beliefs camouflaged in Islam. With this knowledge of injustice, my activism was born.

So come my Ummah of Humanity, Wake Up!

By Ani Zonneveld, Aslan Media Columnist
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+2 # Shanaaz 2012-06-04 13:27
SubhanAllah! The spiritual inferiority of women in Islam?! That's not the Islam Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam taught. Islam is not in need of reformation, but Muslims DO need to return the sunnah. ALL of it.
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0 # Ali-Imran 2012-11-08 04:40
Dear Shanaaz,

I do not think that there is a single person in this world who has the capacity of judging the spiritual nature of a person, leave alone the wonderful faith of Islam. I do most of my readings on Islam from site related to scholarly information. And they are clever to end their interpretations , judgements, likes and dislike etc etc with Allah Knows Best. You perhaps may find it even in the comments here. This hypocritical approach is damaging to the Sunnah as I feel that we have been accustomed to be technically correct for egoistic reasons. I have read many souls biography from all faiths and those like the prophets before them had one thing in common. Their faith in Allah superseded their technical understanding of the words of Allah. I agree, we muslims need to return to the Sunnah. Peace and Love is our Sunnah. As a converted muslim, this is my reasoning and my Faith. The choice is yours to reject my vision. :) Be well.
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0 # Shanaaz 2012-11-08 17:39
As-Salaamu 3alaykum Brother Ali-Imraan

I'm not sure what vision of your's you're suggesting I either accept or reject (?). None of my comments say ANYTHING about judging each other's spiritual nature. I CLEARLY stated that we should each analyze our OWN motives and make no mistake, when I say that "Allah knows best" about what will serve us in the Aakhirah, it means just that. Who would know better, but Allah Azzawajal? Where is the confusion here and why is it hypocritical to acknowledge that Allah is All-knowing in this matter?
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-3 # Ani 2012-06-04 23:21
Quoting Shanaaz:
. Islam is not in need of reformation, but Muslims DO need to return the sunnah. ALL of it.

That is what I said. Please read what I wrote carefully! Historically women in Islam have never been inferior to men but we are constantly pushed downward.
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+2 # Shanaaz 2012-06-05 01:22
Thank you for your response. I most assuredly read your post carefully. No need to condescend. To be clear, Ukhti, Allah does not 'discriminate' against women in His commands. Islam recognizes the differences between men and women. 'Equal' is not synonymous with the 'same'. If anything, the status of women in Islam is elevated, but cultural, tribal, national identities seep into how some communities practice Islam and impose misguided notions that women are 'spiritually inferior'. Conversely, and ironically, we find Muslimaat in Western societies adopting the Western construct of feminism in their interpretation of what constitutes gender equality in Islam. We need not battle each other as we seek to facilitate better understanding of our roles, but we most assuredly need to constantly evaluate our motives, purity of intentions and how any of what we do will serve us in the Akhirah. Allah knows best. May we all seek and find hidayat and please Allah Azzawajal above all else.Ameen
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