New Perspectives: Yearning for A-amina W-wadud

One thing that this microscopic creature routinely does to stop the movement of the world is to walk in the morning. Previously, I only did this when I had the chance, and only on weekends. But since April 2020, nearly every day, unless it’s raining, I walk three or four thousand steps near where we live at the foot  of Mount Salak in South Bogor.

I walk as the sun is rising. My feet are striped already, matching the pattern of my shoes. Recently, since the virus became fiercer, I have changed my schedule to even earlier,  and especially in the fasting month. I’m always having my morning walk when the birds are sounding their welcome from the mango tree in front of the house. They never break their promise; they start making noise at exactly 5.30 every morning.

Just like other mornings, this morning I got ready to leave the house after swiftly reading two ‘ain of the Qur’an. I put on my late husband’s favorite shirt – faded green Indian cotton with long sleeves frayed at the ends. Because it was still quite chilly, I left the sleeves down, covering the tips of my fingers as they rhythmically rotated my tasbih. The morning walk gives me a feeling of freedom, since I don’t need to wear a mask.

And so this morning I again undertook the walk ritual. While walking, I usually repeat prayers or verses of Suratul Fatihah. This really helps my breathing, and I also feel happy because there is an added benefit from walking. Usually, as I walk my mind is running as well – thinking about certain ideas, or material for articles, or even composing sentences that swiftly pass by.

This morning, I walked a bit further along the parallel road behind my house. This is the street that leads to a house that was occupied by A-amina W-wadud for two years (2019-2020). The house is situated on a corner, above the road, so it has very comfortable lighting and air circulation. The house had been left empty by its owner for quite a long time, with no one renting it. But Amina chose it and turned it into a very beautiful little home.

When we had an appointment to meet, we would meet on the street, or I would drop in on her. And this morning, I miss her so much, as if I expect to see Amina’s shadow striding toward me. We usually walked along together, picking the yellow frangipani blossoms that she would use every day to decorate her altar full of knickknacks and amulets, tiny candles, and glowing incense. The room was always fragrant with the aromas of natural flowers she brought from San Francisco or Bali.

It’s been a year now since A-amina moved to Jogjakarta, where she lives in retirement. From Jakarta to Jogja seems so distant, impeded by the virus. I and our dear friend, Amanda Damayanti always get news about her various activities. She is still active in frequent meetings with academics, researchers, and women’s activists. How lucky the universities there are to receive contributions( sadaqa) of knowledge from A-amina about gender and Islam and other issues such as sexuality, and recently queers.

As I walked, I tried to remember the first time I met A-amina. Maybe it was in 1989 or 1990 when WLuML held a regional meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. At that time I was still wet behind the ears, while Amina was already a professor and had published her dissertation as the phenomenal book Qur’an and Woman.

After that, we met many times in forums on issues related to gender and Islam. As I recall, we met again in Kuala Lumpur for an event on Islam and Reproductive Rights in 1995 conducted by Sisters in Islam. And then a limited meeting of international partners of The Asia Foundation in Nepal in 2003, and more recently we met nearly every year in Kuala Lumpur. In these forums, I gradually got “promoted” to be a facilitator for training on Islam and feminism together with Rozana Isa for the Musawah global network. Meanwhile, A-amina, Zaina Anwar, Nur Rofiah, Ziba Mir- Hosseini and Ustadz Khalid Mas’ud served as the resource persons.

Over the past ten years, A- amina stayed longer and more often in Indonesia, and now she is living here in retirement. For her, Indonesian Islam is an Islam that is friendly toward women. She feels like this is a second home that always welcomes her in, not just as a visitor.

When she had a sabbatical in Jakarta a few years ago, we met more often at the home of  Amanda Damayanti. A-amina’s presence in our very limited circle seemed to bring us even closer together. I, Ulil Abshar Abdalla and Mbak Ienas, Trisno and Evelyn and Amanda became a unique “cluster” of friendship with Ibu (A) amina.

I think I am probably the Indonesian who has been a friend of A-mina’s the longest. I was delighted when she obtained a residence permit and got the opportunity to dive in various hidden islands. Imagine – she has gone diving at Karimun Jawa, while I, as old as I am, have never even tried it. She loves the moon and always wonders at the signs of the power of Allah – the constant change from day to night, the rotation of the planets, sun, and stars. We have chased a solar eclipse together in Jambi and waited for the full moon at a temple at the slopes of Gunung Salak. This is what made me miss her so much this morning – when a slim beam of the moon appeared like a smile, greeting the sixth day of the month of Ramadhan.

Ultimately, friendship is the best thing from a meeting. Always preserve your friendships, because we do not always have good friends. And when we do have a friendship, protect it, for there we will always have longing. It’s not hard to maintain a friendship – respect it and honor it. Dear A-amina, stay healthy …

#Lies Marcoes, 7 April 2022.