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Muslim activist to speak at Hingham monastery

Ani Zonneveld was born a Muslim in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.Handout

Grammy-winning songwriter and Muslim activist Ani Zonneveld is scheduled to appear at a Hingham monastery this month to talk about Islam and misconceptions surrounding the religion.

Zonneveld will give a speech titled “The Pursuit of Justice in Islam and Understanding How It Got Away” on Nov. 16 at Glastonbury Abbey.

The presentation, free and open to the public, is part of the Benedictine Catholic monastery’s seven-part monthly series, “Listening to Other Voices,” that takes place from October to April. The themes and speakers in the series, now in its 19th year, are chosen a year in advance, said Hayes Shea, the monastery’s director of mission advancement.


“The timing is good,” Shea said of Zonneveld’s presentation. “With everything that’s happening in our country — immigration, borders, and discrimination — Ani will speak about the egalitarian heart of Islam.”

A practicing Muslim born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Zonneveld spent some of her formative years in Germany, Egypt, and India as the daughter of an ambassador. She went to Northern Illinois University in 1981, where she double-majored in economics and political science.

“It was such a difference from my upbringing in the metropolis,” she said of her time in Illinois.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Zonneveld became “self critical” of her faith, she said. “I came to the conclusion that it all depends on your intent. Many of what were taught to us completely contradict what the Koran says.”

Feeling a need to speak up, Zonneveld formed the group Muslims for Progressive Values in 2007.

“There was so much hatred and mistrust of Muslims in the aftermath of every terrorist attack,” she said. “We saw conservative Muslim imams say they represent all of Muslims. But they do not, because a vast majority are progressive. That’s why many do not even go to mosques. We as progressives needed to represent ourselves and speak out on social issues.”


Her organization has defended same-sex marriage, LGBTQ rights, and female-led prayer. The nonprofit has expanded its presence over the past decade to more than 11 countries and 17 cities through its chapters and affiliates. More recently, it has held panel discussions with the United Nations Human Rights Council.

A songwriter and singer for more than 25 years, Zonneveld received a Grammy certification for her role as a songwriter in blues musician Keb’ Mo’s “Keep It Simple” album in 2004. She said she plans to sing a few songs with the monks at Glastonbury Abbey as part of her presentation.

“I will speak about the inception of Islam, how the religion got manipulated, and the issue of the hijab,” she said, referring to the traditional dress code for Muslim women that calls for the covering of the body except the face, hands, and feet.

Zonneveld’s speech will begin at 7:15 p.m. Glastonbury Abbey’s Morcone Conference Center is at 20 Hull St.

Jonathan Ng can be reached at Jonathan.Ng@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanNgBOS.