MPV’s President Ani Zonneveld’s response to congresswoman ilhan Omar

July 25, 2019                                                                                                                       

There has been much coverage about an exchange between Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and myself that needs clarification. 

The inaugural conference of Muslim Collective for Equitable Democracy in DC July 23 and 24, 2019 was an event to bring Muslims together, to raise issues that potential Muslim political candidates should know about. It was meant to be a space for us Muslims to discuss issues that concern both our community and the broader American public. No topic or question was to be considered “off limits.”

At this conference, I spoke on a panel, and the issue I spoke on was that of religious freedom, particularly Religious Freedom Reformation Act and abuses of the Religious Right of this act to justify discriminatory acts in the name of religion.  

On another panel, I asked Congresswoman Ilhan Omar a two-part question.  My first question, which was completely edited out of media reporting, was about a bill she introduced, the Brunei Human Rights Act, which would use the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to ensure that any official who implements this draconian penal code would be unable to travel to, or do business with, the United States—and would hold accountable any official who institutes similar provisions in any other country. The law would also mandate reports to Congress on the Brunei penal code and how it affects those fleeing the country as refugees. Congresswoman Ilhan's response to that question was: "we would love to get your support on that." Given Muslims for Progressive Values’ position on stoning and sharia law, we stand in full support for the Brunei Human Rights Act.

The second part of my question asked for her response on a recent FGM/C (female genital mutilation, cutting) case. It was asked as a result of work we have been doing with the End FGM U.S. Network to address FGM/C in the United States. Regrettably the Congresswoman did not respond to the substance of the question but rather attacked me for asking it. I would have hoped that she instead had used this as an opportunity to educate everyone about what she has done on this issue, using her powerful voice to advocate against this and to help others to see the real harm of this cultural practice.

In the aftermath, Maryum Saifee, an FGM survivor had hoped Representative Omar could have used the moment as an opportunity to push for justice.  She wished she could have said: "I'm horrified that girls in the United States, constituents of my state, went through this systematized form of child sexual assault. It is a travesty that the federal ban was recently overturned.  These girls deserve justice.  As their representative, I will do everything in my power to make sure the federal ban is restored."  It was a missed opportunity for her to use her platform on an issue that I know matters to her. 

As a human rights advocate, my job is to advocate for progressive policy change and to ask politicians of all faiths and backgrounds to stand with the most vulnerable and disenfranchised in our communities. No one gets a “pass” on these issues:  I, and MPV, will continue to ask all politicians to stand with us against FGM/C, regardless of their potential reaction to the question.  I ask that those drawn in by clickbait headlines leading to a heavily edited video excerpt take the time to understand both the full context of this exchange as well as the underlying issues being discussed: the welfare of far too many girls and women are at stake for us not to.

Even though Muslims are questioned constantly about things by non-Muslims with ill-Intent, the same should not be assumed for Muslims who are genuinely trying to advocate for issues of deep concern to our community.  We are not the enemy.


Ani Zonneveld

Founder, President

Muslims for Progressive Values