Most Influential Seattleites of 2017: Aneelah Afzali

By Alison Krupnick

October 15, 2017

Seattle Magazine presents the Most Influential Seattleites of 2017.

This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Seattle Magazine.


The words of justice exhibit at Harvard Law School includes a quote from the Quran calling on believers to stand as witnesses for justice. For Aneelah Afzali, a 2003 Harvard Law graduate, these words not only reinforce the responsibility that comes with her faith, but also serve as a reminder of the many ways that Islam is part of America and its history.

Last December, Afzali was named executive director of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound’s newly launched American Muslim Empowerment Network (MAPS-AMEN). In this role, she does more than just bear witness. She builds coalitions to combat injustice, provides education to counter Islamophobia, encourages the media to challenge negative Muslim stereotypes and empowers future leaders. 

That’s a tall order in an era of escalating hate rhetoric, but the effusive Afzali is energized by the work. “I’m an optimist,” she explains. “My faith teaches me that, and it’s in my nature. It’s exhilarating to be able to do the work we do. We have the opportunity to influence history.”

Afzali attended President Trump’s first State of the Union address as a guest of U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal, clad in her trademark stars-and-stripes hijab. She says the garment reflects pride in her American Muslim identity and demonstrates that a person can be both without conflict.

Daily demonstrations that love is stronger than hate give Afzali hope, as does the arc of history. “If l lose hope, it would be insulting to people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela,” she says. “They endured much worse.”

Read about the rest of 2017’s Most Influential Seattleites here.