MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


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Saturday, June 24, 2017


Malaysian female imam Ani Zonneveld has come under criticism for doing a “man’s job”. In this first of a two-part series, Zonneveld hits back at her critics and reveals her journey, from being an award-winning singer-composer, to an imam.
MALAYSIAN Ani Zonneveld has hit back at Muslims here who have denounced her for leading Muslim prayers, a task that is currently only performed by men, calling it “despicable” and “fitnah” (slanderous).
Ani, who was born Zuraini Abdul Khalid, now lives in the United States.
She said the criticism she received for becoming a female imam was “typical” of Muslims who were unable to think critically.
Female imams existed during the early days of Islam but this history is unknown to most Muslims who are taught a misogynistic interpretation of the faith, she said.
Ani made headlines recently when she performed the “azan” (call to prayer) at the opening ceremony of Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque in Berlin. Female imams (prayer leaders) are a rarity in the present day Muslim world.
Malay tabloid, Kosmo, ran a front-page story criticising her and identifying her as the daughter of a Tan Sri and former politician.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Malaysian Insight, Ani, founder and president of Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), shared how she got started in the movement.
She also shared her experiences in the journey from songwriter to imam and community leader.
Before she founded the MPV, Ani had written songs for several famous artistes, such as Siti Nurhaliza and Ziana Zain. Her songs have picked up a slew of local and international awards.
She said her spiritual journey started at a young age when she felt that something was wrong in the present practice of Islam.
Ironically it was in the US – a country depicted as the “Great Satan” by ultra-conservatives – where she found an interpretation of Islam that emphasised equality, rationality and justice.
Below are excerpts from the interview:
Q: How did you end up in Berlin? What prompted you to leave Malaysia for Germany and when was this? Was it work or marriage? Do you have children? How old are you?
A: I live in the US and have been since 1981. Upon graduating in economics and political science, I decided to stay and work in the music business. I will not answer personal questions as it will endanger my family.
Q: Tell us about your life in Malaysia before Germany. Some reports said you worked in the entertainment industry as a composer. What were your roles?
A: I was born in Malaysia but left at the age of 2½ years old to Germany, Egypt and India for a total of 16-plus years. At 17, I returned to Malaysia briefly before moving on to study in the US.
While I was in Malaysia, I was a dancer with the Kementerian Kebudayaan, and a band member of AsiaBeat. My connection with the Malaysian music industry started with writing and production work with many big-name Malaysian artistes – Ziana Zain, Ramlah Ram, Siti Nurhaliza, Fara, Kori, Ella and many others.
I have been a songwriter/producer for more than 25 years with 60 songs published and with several awards under my belt, including a Grammy certification for song-writing with contemporary blues artist Keb’ Mo’ and AIM awards.
Q: What did you do in Germany before you became president of Muslim for Progressive Values (MPV) and got involved in the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque? What made you want to get involved in the mosque?
A: I am not part of the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque. Because I have led our community in the US in prayer for over 11 years, I was invited to simply do the azan. I did (that) to show solidarity in our global collective progressive movement.
Q: What made you change from being in the entertainment industry to becoming an imam and religious leader? What made you find God or what we call hidayah?
A: Being in the entertainment business, I kept my faith private. There were already too many prejudices to deal with as it is.
After 9/11, I decided I needed to “come out of the closet” as a Muslim but I needed to be prepared for the hard questions.  Before studying Islam, I made a niat (stand) that if I leave Islam, so be it and if I come closer to Islam, so be it.
What I discovered was a Quran that was uplifting, not oppressive, liberating – I was mentally unshackled from many cultural practices that have nothing to do with Islam. My heart and intellect became free.
I don’t consider myself to be a religious leader, but a community leader of the progressive Muslim movement. And it was not my intention to become an imam.
But as a result of being a movement leader, you have to fulfil many community needs and as such, I reluctantly became an imam, one with a small “I” and one chosen by my community.
Q: Were you always religious when you were a composer? And why choose a different interpretation of Islam than the more common, conservative interpretation?
A: I dislike the word “religious” because the more “religious” people become, the more arrogant they are in usurping the role of God, the judge.
No, I am not religious but am and have always been in tune with God, at every waking moment, including in songwriting.
Even at a young age, I knew that the practice of Islam as we know it wasn’t right, because it favoured men over women. Living in America, you have access to many scholarly writings about Islam from many perspectives.
Many of these books are unavailable in Muslim countries. So if God is just, merciful, then why are we taught such an oppressive interpretation of Islam?
If the Quran dictates Muslims to think, then why are we taught not to question? I could go on and on… So, no, I knew the Islam we are taught is manmade.
Q: Do you fear that your work as a liberal Muslim will attract reprisal from conservative Muslims? Have you received threats through phone calls or messages?
A: I am void of fear. Alhamdullilah. “Conservative” Muslims are just tyrants. Their behaviour is like the Quraish. As for threats, yes, and it comes from the youngsters our “religious” authorities have brainwashed.
During the early days of Islam there were free, healthy debates. Prophet Muhammad was often challenged but never did he threaten them with death or accuse them of “murtad” for being disobedient or leaving Islam even.
I say to most of you religious leaders, you have strayed the ummah from the right path.
Look at the High Religious Committee of Morocco and their edict that apostasy has nothing to do with Islam but is a political tool. I bet none of the Muslims in Malaysia have heard this earthquake news, and it’s because Muslim governments are corrupt and want to keep oppressing the Muslim population in the name of Islam with the help of the religious leaders.
Q: What do you think of the criticism that you have received from some conservative Muslims in Malaysia? Will this deter you from your work?
A: Kosmo is a media outlet void of any intellect or moral correctness, and they cater to their audience of the same calibre. Not only do they have the facts wrong but dragging my father’s name into it is absolutely despicable.
The article about me in Kosmo is typical of the Muslim world. If you don’t agree, you create fitnah about the person. It is fake news.
The Quran is clear – character assassination is worse than murder. As far as I’m concerned, many Muslims in Malaysia and in the world for the matter, are void of critical thinking.
They just follow what the imam say without questioning, which the Quran dictates us to do – to question, even your grandfather’s traditions. We don’t, and as a result, look at the Muslim world. It is a disaster, and it has everything to do with the false teachings of Islam for centuries, which we have not questioned.
And of the critical thinkers in the Muslim world who debunk fake hadith that contradict the Quran, they are silenced or killed.
Muslims don’t follow the Quran, they follow manmade hadith. So no, I will not be deterred because the work we do saves lives and empowers people.
Q: Do you still return to Malaysia? How’s Hari Raya celebrations where you live?
A: Yes. All my family and many good friends are there. Raya here is simple, we go to prayers in the morning and get together with friends for the day.
– https://www.themalaysianinsight.com

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