Good Faith Media was invited to attend the 2023 Conference of the Muslims for Progressive Values at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
Muslims speakers and leaders convened to discuss advancing progressive values within the Muslim faith, educate non-Muslims about Muslim diversity, and advocate for progressive Muslims beliefs within the larger world.
Ani Zonneveld, founder and president of Muslims for Progressive Values, began the conference by stating MPV’s mission statement, “As Muslims for Progressive Values, we advocate for human rights, social justice, and inclusion in the United States and around the world.”
Concerned over the recent rise of radical conservative beliefs taking hold within the Muslims communities in the United States, MPV seeks to combat this rise of right-wing extremism with progressive (rooted in traditional Islam) beliefs and practices.
Aspen Institute participant Zaki Berzinji warned conference goers, “Right-wing Muslim leaders are learning from the Christian Right.” They are turning to “family values” to court Muslim votes, citing the traditional Muslim family is under attack.
Zonneveld showed a photo of disgraced general Michael Flynn speaking to Muslim leaders, noting that Christian Nationalists see their message melding well with the Muslim faith.
Berzinji continued, “Mainline Muslims do not think the conservative policies are harming their community but are embracing the ‘family values’ line from the right.”
Speakers demonstrated how their progressive values are really an extension of traditional Muslim belief as found in the Quran. Prophet Mohammad advocated for pluralistic communities, caring for the sick and reducing the wealth gap between the wealthy and poor.
Listening to the speakers, I found more in common with this group of Muslims than the White Christian Nationalists within my own faith tradition.
MVP is guided by ten core principles:
Collective Identity — While we accept as Muslims anyone who identifies as such, the veracity and integrity of that claim is between the individual and God, and is not a matter for the state nor an issue which other individuals can or should change. We welcome all Muslims and Non-Muslims who share our belief in a world where each person has value and deserves respect.
Equality — We affirm the equal worth of all human beings, regardless of race, sex, gender, gender identification, ethnicity, nationality, creed, sexual orientation, or ability. We are committed to work towards societies that ensure social, political, educational, and economic opportunities for all.
Separation of Religious and State Authorities — We believe that freedom of conscience is not only essential to all human societies but integral to the Qur’anic view of humanity. We believe that secular government is the only way to achieve the Islamic ideal of freedom from compulsion in matters of faith.
Freedom of Speech — We support non-violent forms of expression and freedom of dissent, and believe no one should be prosecuted, imprisoned, detained, or persecuted for exercising their right to free expression in ethical and law-abiding manners. We simultaneously rebuke expressions and narratives of discrimination and bigotry, hate speech, and incitement to violence, and affirm that the rights to free expression and freedom of religion or belief cannot be invoked to justify such narratives.
Universal Human Rights — We are committed to social, economic and environmental justice. We believe that the full self-realization of all people, in a safe and sustainable world, is a prerequisite for freedom, civility, and peace. We support efforts and policies for universal health care, public education, dismantling structural anti-Black racism, the protection of our environment, and the eradication of poverty.
Gender Justice — We support women’s agency and self-determination in every aspect of their lives. We believe in women’s full participation in society, economically, politically and socially, at every level. We are committed to reproductive justice and empowering women to make healthy decisions regarding their bodies, sexuality, gender identity, and reproduction.
LGBTQI Inclusion – We support full equality and inclusion of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, in society and in the Muslim community. We are committed to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We proudly advocate for the human and civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQIA+) individuals.
Critical Analysis and Interpretation — We believe that critical thinking is essential to spiritual and social development. We promote interpretations that reflect traditional Qur’anic principles of inclusiveness, mercy, compassion, and fairness. We call for critical engagement with Islamic scripture, traditional jurisprudence in current Muslim discourses and denounce those who would persecute those who engage in critical dialogue as heretics or apostates.
Compassion — We affirm that justice and compassion should be the guiding principles for all aspects of human conduct. We repudiate the use of violence whether on an individual, organizational, and/or national level.
Diversity — We embrace pluralism and the diversity of inspirations that motivate people to embrace justice. From our local communities to our international coalitions, we affirm that one’s belief system is not the exclusive source of truth. We engage with a diversity of philosophical, spiritual and non-spiritual traditions to pursue a more just, peaceful and sustainable world.
Zainab Tanvir, MPV New York, told the crowd, “When we injected harmful religion into our Muslim faith, we lost our Muslim identity.”
Working with younger Muslims, Tanvir offered hope for the future: “Young Muslims are feeling isolated from their Muslim community, but Muslims for Progressive Values is giving Muslim youth a way to connect to their faith and culture.”
Zonneveld informed the group, “Some Muslims have left the faith but are now returning because of MPV. They left because of hate but are returning because of love.”
The love principle was on full display during a panel for queer Muslims, as they spoke about the importance of their faith and sexual orientation.
“Accepting myself as a queer Muslim, I have come a long way,” Kandeel Javier, MPV Boston said.
“Being a queer Muslim I am ‘translator’ to my family and community,” Wazina Ali London, queer writer and advocate shared.
Muslims for Progressive Values are “translating” their interpretations of the Quran and their beliefs to the world.
Leaving Union Theological Seminary this weekend, I came away with a renewed sense of hope. People of good faith are coming together to advance progressive values.
Progressive people of faith are working together while maintaining their unique perspectives.
With White Christian Nationalism becoming more vocal across the world, it’s more important than ever for progressive people of faith to combine our efforts to confront this heresy and offer a better way.
Muslims for Progressive Values and Good Faith Media are two organizations working to make certain that a better way is clearly communicated in the public square.
CEO of Good Faith Media.