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Wednesday, 22 May 2013 00:00

Care To Ijithad?

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Over the years, as a singer/songwriter/activist, and as a progressive Muslim woman, I am often confronted about the ugly injustices perpetuated in the name of Islam. The questioning, challenge and the conflation of “what Muslims do is therefore Islam,” is totally understandable given Allah-hu-akhbar (God is great) is often a precursor to an awful deed. Fact is, that proclamation by a Muslim is no more weighted than your average Christian exclaiming, “Jesus Christ!

So. What is a Muslim woman such as myself to do?

Fortunately there are progressive Muslims in Denmark and a phenomenal non-Muslim ally – journalist/director Nancy Graham Holm. Together we released a DVD of interviews of progressive Muslim activists, scholars of Islam, women and men (including Reza Aslan), offering an alternative- and challenging the interpretations that are accepted to be the norm in the mainstream.

This so called ‘norm’ is so unjust and abhorrent, it has rotted the core belief system of justice in Islam; so rotten that it has made countless headlines; so sick that Muslims themselves have started to leave Islam.

We often hear Muslims claim “Islam is a religion of peace.” Well how is peace attained if there’s no justice?! Maybe, justice for them but certainly not for women, LGBTQ, the poor, the environment, and the list goes on.

The project Ijtihad: Feminism and Reform was born out of three needs. The first was to offer an alternative set of tools for high school teachers in Denmark, rather than the intolerant and hate-filled discourse and information abundantly available.

The second was to offer an insight into what progressive Muslims are thinking and doing, which in itself counters the misconception that the only Muslim out there is a radical one!

The third need was a way for us to re-educate Muslims themselves. And here’s why this is important: if as a Muslim you were raised on a misogynistic interpretation, such that the Quran verse 4:34 gives the man a religious right to beat his wife, or even more problematic, when you as a woman buy into it, what we now have is a collective community where domestic violence is acceptable. After all, that is what the cleric taught you. Right?


What the imam, cleric, mullah, didn’t teach us is that there is another meaning to the verb. At the other end of the spectrum the verb “deraba” in Arabic also means “to walk away,” which by the way is precisely what Prophet Muhammad did when he got into a disagreement with his wives.

Here’s another example of gross miss-interpretation: “Apostasy in Islam is punishable by death.” In a recent Pew Research report The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society, published April 30th 2013, 86 percent of Malaysians believe Sharia Law should be the law of the land and out of that 86 percent, 62 percent support the death penalty for apostasy.

How did such a myth become the norm for Muslims worldwide? This is not rooted in the Quran what-so-ever, which actually advocates for “free will,” stating that “there’s no compulsion in faith,” and that to be a Muslim is to also believe in the preceding holy books.

How it got so “off,” to put it politely, traces directly to politics, economics and power during the reign of the Islamic Empire. After all, would you really want “free will” for your subjects?

What needs to happen is the complete overhaul of the understanding of Islam, especially by Muslims themselves. It won’t happen in a void, and the challenge needs to come from within. Yes, young women like Malala Yousafzai and her friends get shot at and acid is thrown at them and other Afghani girls for insisting on education. Yes, Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, is ridiculed by some Muslims for his micro-financing initiative that has empowered millions of women.

They are not afraid. ….We are not afraid.

We hope critical thinking (ijtihad) will enlighten Muslims to a more inclusive, loving interpretation of Islam. It needs to happen. And it needs to happen for the good of humanity because, we are in it together.

By: Ani Zonneveld, Aslan Media Columnist

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+1 # William Shelton 2013-05-26 18:11
I would love to Itjihad... that is what brought me to Muslims for Progressive Values and to your writings. Salaams!
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0 # Ani Zonneveld 2013-05-27 23:20
Thank you thank you thank you William. :-)
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+1 # Aziz 2013-05-27 17:48
Dear Ani,
You make me so proud to identify myself as a progressive Muslim.
Go all the way with the positive work you doing, and don't ever be dissuaded by the negative criticisms of ignorant and malicious people.
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0 # Ani Zonneveld 2013-05-27 23:23
Awww Aziz...thank you so much for your words of support.
Appreciate it.
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0 # Bill Anderson 2013-05-28 10:10
Hi Ani,
I've just discovered your writing.
From a muslim in Australia, keep it up. We need more writers and thinkers like yourself.
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0 # Ani Zonneveld 2013-06-08 09:56
Bill, we have an MPV in Australia now! Contact Shawon at .
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