I’m trying to finish this blog from Chile before I travel by bus over the Andes Mountains in to Buenos Aires. This is me: ticking things off my bucket list. It makes me look forward to what I want to do and back to what I’ve done. Perhaps the right stars aligned in the heavens; the forces of the universe synchronized, or my day is done–but this year, International Women’s Day was one of the happiest days of my life. And I just want to celebrate!
(It didn’t matter that my US Facebook and Twitter friends spent this week chasing down the perpetrator of some misogynist jokes on the occasion of IWD. This could not move me from a
place of joy, my blessed repose and moment of extraordinary grace.)
It started when I delivered the Paul Lamont Thompson annual memorial lecture at Kalamazoo
College. I presented my thoughts, experiences and contributions to the diversity of Muslim
women’s activism, scholarship and perspectives on Islam, justice and gender reform. Well, this
IS the SAME topic I’ve been plugging away on for four decades. But, it was the first time since
1988 that I had been invited to speak in the state of Michigan, home to my MA and PhD alma
mater where I hammered out the textual exegesis that would become my greatest contributing
part to Muslim women’s reform. It took a long to come back as an authority in the very area.
Interestingly enough, my ex-husband, who was also a graduate student there when we married,
drove from Detroit to hear my lecture. It was the first time he had heard me speak since our
divorce some 20 years ago. “It’s nice to hear how your work has developed” he said. When we
first saw each other we hugged. That was also a first. We have never voluntarily touched at all
since our divorce. In fact, at the time of our divorce I was pretty formal about keeping away
from bodily contact with all non-relative males: nope, not even a hand shake. I’ve change on
that and now give hugs abundantly to all who can manage it.
On my way home the sun rose on International Women’s Day in Malaysia where the secretariat
for http://www.musawah.org began to re-posted tweets that had been generated during a two day
intensive workshop I had given last August in Kuala Lumpur: “Reading for gender in Islamic
sacred texts” (#femquran). As it stood, I was in and out of planes, airports, and the car ride over
the Bay as this was going on, so I could only check in sporadically. I was there when they asked
for those following to tweet their location. The synchronicity of this day started to hit: strangers
and friends from all over the world were following then, and would continue to retweet through
out the day!
It was the 106th INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day. In this time of instant communication it no
longer matters how this day was first committed, only that the celebrations are now truly
international and interactive. One of my male friends and colleague dedicated his blog to
commemorate the day, listing some of the recent themes as dedicated by the United Nations.
So many of those themes are about eradicating violence against women. It is still life
threatening to be a woman or a girl, every where in the world.
On this International Women’s Day, Zainah Anwar, the executive director for Musawah and my
friend for 25 years was honored by the French government with their highest national award, the
Legion of Honor.
Together with half a dozen other women we co-founded the organization Sisters in Islam, 25
years ago. It was one of the first pro-faith feminist organizations in the world. While I was there
in August, 6 of the 8 original co-founders met for dinner.
When I look at our photo I cannot help but think how we worked from relative obscurity on a
voluntarily basis but with diligence towards Muslim women’s human dignity; sometimes against
opposition from conservative male elites who assigned themselves the unilateral privilege of
speaking as authority about Islam. Today, we are all still committed to the same issue, working
towards them with our love and honor. Today, we are the authorities.
None of us got rich; none who was ever accused of stealing, cheating or LYING; but none of us
lost hope. It brings me so much pleasure to think about our humble beginnings and look out
over the trajectory of our life’s work. It made me smile to reflect back on that and to know we still have great taste in food: dinner was delicious!
I am elated by the recognition that my friend Zainah she was given, because the hard work is
paying off, not just because of the award but because we continue to work for and to stand with
the dignity of all women. Our greying hair and more vulnerable bodies are like light shining
through our 25 year friendship and the on-going efforts for women all over the world. This
International Women’s Day I felt, I don’t know…like I had been part of a miracle, where time and
space moved forward and backwards, spinning into infinity: the greatest gift: a love that works.
We are at a most important juncture with regard to Islam and gender: more women than at any
time in history are leaving their mark on what it means for Islam to live through us and for us to
live through Islam. Once upon a time, people tried to tell us we had to choose: either Islam or
human rights. We not only declined that either/or dichotomy we helped craft the theology of a
greater synthesis and went on to impact policy that makes the correlation apparent. I hope you
join in my celebration.
amina wadud is Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies, now traveling the world over seeking answers to the questions that move many of us through our lives. Author of Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad, she will blog on her life journey and anything that moves her about Islam, gender and justice, especially as these intersect with the rest of the universe. amina can be followed on Twitter @aminawadud.