Shortly after September 11th, 2001, Ani Zonneveld, a Malaysian-born singer-songwriter, released a pop album. Ani is a lifelong Muslim, but several American Muslim retailers and organizations refused to promote the album release. The problem? Ani is also a woman, and according to traditional Muslim beliefs, only men are permitted to sing publicly. Ani was outraged by the situation. “I found it to be completely unacceptable,” she says. “There have been centuries of Muslim women teachers, leaders, scholars, poets, and singers, and yet, the woman’s voice within the Muslim community was being silenced even here within America.”
Ani was certain she wasn’t alone in her frustration with the traditional Muslim community. “I knew from statistics that only 25% of Muslims attended mosque. I knew there were a lot of Muslims that were disenfranchised with the traditional mosque, but I didn’t know why they were or where they were. I thought: there’ve got to be Muslim Americans like me who are inclusive in nature, and in favor of gender equality and freedom of artistic expression. I knew they were out there, so it was just a matter of ‘someone’s gotta start this’—so I did.” On January 6, 2006, Ani founded the Muslims for Progressive Values Meetup in Los Angeles.