Despite controversy and threats, Muslim singer/songwriter turned spiritual leader Ani Zonneveld takes a stand for justice through activism and a progressive practice of Islam. As one of the world’s only female imams (Muslim religious leader) and founder and president of Muslims for Progressive Values, Zonneveld advocates for universal human rights and interfaith initiatives within Islam. Often met with resistance, she endures death threats, excommunication from close family members, and vocal opposition from many fellow Muslims. Still, she insists that the Qur’an is a progressive text and believes in an egalitarian view of Islam, working tirelessly at her faith-based activism and music to counter both Islamic extremism and Islamophobia.
Whether leading a coed, inclusive prayer for a small community of like-minded Muslims, singing Islamic prayers in a Jewish temple, encouraging her daughter to think independently, officiating an interfaith marriage, or going head-to-head with opposing views in the media, Zonneveld is committed to reform within Islam. A timely and lyrical portrait, this film gives voice to a Muslim perspective not often heard by the mainstream. With unprecedented access to Zonneveld’s daily life, al imam presents a personal view of her work and beliefs, examining what it means to stand up for what you believe in the face of great resistance.
al imam was student produced at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, and was fully funded by the university, with support from the Chip and Kathleen Rosenbloom Endowed Fund for the Support of Documentary Film and the Les Blank Endowed Fund for the Support of Documentary Students. Each semester, advanced graduate students are invited to pitch short documentary projects to faculty in a competitive process. Three films are selected to be developed, produced, and completed with crew comprised entirely of students under the guidance of faculty.
Faculty supporting al imam include Amanda Pope, Lisa Leeman, Kate Amend, ACE, James O’Keefe, Richard Burton, and Reine-Claire, ACI. Over the course of the semester, documentary students were visited by outside documentary professionals, who shared their own work and guidance. Students working on this film enjoyed visits from Joshua Oppenheimer (The Look of Silence), Derek Boonstra (Editor, The Hunting Ground), composer Miriam Cutler (The Hunting Ground), Jeff Malmberg (Marwencol), and Ina Fichman (The Wanted 18), among others.