Bronxville, NY/Los Angeles, CA: The progressive Muslim movement in the United States took a significant step forward as a diverse collection of activists, organizers, and academics gathered at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, June 15-17, for the first conference of Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV, website: www.mpvusa.org). Coming together in fellowship, they joined in communal devotion, shared the various personal, intellectual, and spiritual journeys that brought them there, discussed how to formulate their positions on political, social, and cultural issues and how to interact with other progressives and other Muslims. They also elected an Executive Board to lead them for the next two years.
The progressive Muslim movement in the United States has been a work in progress for a few years now. The first prominent, tangible manifestation was probably the publication of a collection of essays seeking to challenge the visions of Islam held by both xenophobic Westerners and conservative, or radical right-wing Muslims. Online communities, mailing lists and Meet-Ups also built a community of people who self-identify as progressive Muslims, or just consider themselves progressives who happen to be Muslims--or vice versa. Various organizations, including the Progressive Muslim Union (PMU), were later formed. Then, in 2006, Muslims for Progressive Values was founded by former PMU board members Pamela Taylor and Zuriani "Ani" Zonneveld.
MPV's first conference brought together a diverse gathering of people from the local area and across the nation, as well as friends and allies from north of the border in Canada. From Boston to Los Angeles, and Miami to the San Francisco Bay Area, people who had developed deep friendships online met each other for the first time. The conference was themed "Finding our Voice", and its agenda ranged from the very personal--discussing participants' personal spiritual paths, views, and experiences--to passionate debates on human rights and political issues. The conference also included organization-building items such as board elections and the planning of future MPV activities.
The event kicked off with an evening zikr, a Sufi devotional ceremony, led by the Sheikha (leader) of the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Order based in New York. The first order of business on the following day was the discussion and adoption of a Mission Statement. MPV formally defines itself as seeking "to bring together Muslims and others who share progressive values to work for a more humane world," welcoming "all who are interested in discussing, promoting and working for the implementation of progressive valuesb�social justice, human rights, economic opportunity, separation of church and stateb�as well as tolerant and inclusive understandings of Islam."
Over the next two days, the organization discussed resources, achievements, issues, activities, and plans for the future. The group resolved to expand its online and offline community building efforts and--in collaboration with established like-minded groups--take them to the next level by creating physical spaces where the community can come together and put down roots. Los Angeles and New York were defined as the first two sites where the group will set up centers. The mandate is to provide open, welcoming, non-judgemental spaces for members of the community.
The Executive Board, elected for the 2007-2009 period, includes Pamela Taylor (Chair), Kareem Elbayar (Vice Chair), Zuriani "Ani" Zonneveld (President), Nooreen Dabbish (Secretary), Vanessa Karam (Interfaith Coordinator), Raquel Evita Saraswati (Human Rights Coordinator), and Sabahat Ashraf (New Media Coordinator).
MPV's plans for the coming year include activities such as creating a curriculum for religious education that is progressive in content and spirit, putting out position papers, building membership, and working to bring a tolerant and inclusive voice to the table--both within the Muslim community, and in the progressive and wider communities.
One conference highlight was the announcement of the winners of the First Annual Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) Memorial Khutbah Writing Competition. This competition is focused on excellence in sermon writing and is held in memory of one of the strongest and most respected voices of Islam in America. This year's winning entry, titled Women's Rights in Islam, was written by Dr. Lena Al-Sarraf and submitted by the Muslim Women's League.
In the immediate future, MPV is co-sponsoring God Loves Beauty, an interfaith visual and performing arts festival in Los Angeles from June 30th to July 8th, 2007. Other planned events discussed at the conference include establishing four dates for annual nationwide female-led prayers, and a family summer camp in 2008.
Progressive Muslim, feminist, mom, writer, mystic, lover of the universe and Doug Schmidt, cellist, theologian and imam.