Ani ZonneveldOne of the things that has often bugged me over the years, as I’ve studied the effects of fundamentalist religion on the world and on the LGBT community, has been the knee-jerk anti-Muslim sentiment expressed by some gay people. It’s, of course, not been limited to the gay community — the United States, as a whole, has a knee-jerk anti-Muslim problem. What I’ve noticed, though, is that, of the three Abrahamic religious traditions — Christianity, Judaism, Islam — you have three distinct religions in three different places when it comes to being welcoming to all people.

Judaism is the furthest along, perhaps because it’s the oldest. With the exception of a few fringe, insane rabbis who consider gays the cause of all the evil in the world, the American Jewish community is pretty progressive and pretty welcoming to gays. Christianity is in the middle. On a media level, Christianity is still too often represented by fundamentalist wingnuts like Tony Perkins, who use their platforms to advance the lie that their medieval, hateful views are representative of average Christians. But within Christianity, there are indeed millions of people advocating for a loving, inclusive, welcoming version of Christianity.

And then there is Islam, which arguably has the longest way to go. But here is the thing that a lot of people probably don’t understand. Though there are certain teachings which still predominate, American Muslims have a similar problem to American Christians, which is simply that the Islamic equivalent of Tony Perkins gets up and spouts hate and religious teachings that are, quite simply, not what many or even most American Muslims believe. However, the average American knows more, culturally, about Christianity than they do about Islam, so it’s easier for Americans to see the diversity in Christianity than to see it in Islam.

Ani Zonneveld, a Muslim-American singer-songwriter and activist, is trying to change that, and she’s profiled in an MSNBC piece this morning:

Like other aspiring reformers before her, Ani Zonneveld takes positions that make her unpopular with her religion’s spiritual leaders, in this case America’s Islamic elders.

Not only does she lead prayers — a task normally reserved for men — but she is an outspoken advocate for gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims. Later this year, she plans to officiate at the Islamic wedding of a lesbian couple, which is perfectly acceptable by her reading of the Quran.

“The community we are building is very different from most of the mosques you would walk into,” said Zonneveld, a 49-year-old Malaysian-born singer-songwriter. “We are very inclusive of all Muslims, gay Muslims, mixed-faith couples. … We also don’t segregate (the genders) when we pray, and we allow women to lead prayer. Our values are very egalitarian and we really live those values out.”

Her organization is Muslims for Progressive Values, and the piece points out that their advocacy for LGBT people separates them from the pack. Every movement has to have its pioneers, you know, and the movement for equality within Islam has to start somewhere, and it seems that Ani is taking on that role.

Several other Islamic leaders are interviewed and quoted in the piece, and you can see a bit of the diversity we’re used to with Christianity. You have the “gay is an abomination” set, you have the “it’s a sin, but we love everyone” set, and all other somewhere-in-betweens. Also interviewed is the United States’ only gay imam [yes, there is a gay imam in the United States!]. Ani touches on the problem of having the most conservative leaders speaking as if they speak for everyone here:

“The vast majority of American Muslims believe in an Islam that is so different from the people (who have been) representing us,” said Zonneveld. “It would be like if you had an ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbi representing all American Jews; they would be up in arms. … It would be complete misrepresentation of the American Jewish community.”

Rabbi Yehuda Levin comes to mind.

Anyway, the word needs to get out about the work Ani Zonneveld is doing, and we all need to do a better job of assisting the reformers among us, with whatever set of circumstances they have to deal with. There is a lot to be done yet, in the Islamic community, to create a climate of welcoming and love for LGBT people, just as there is a lot to be done yet for kids living under the thumb of American Fundamentalist Christianity. To find out more about Ani’s organization and their ten guiding principles, click here.