The story of how she came to get her Master’s degree and give birth to her second son, Zihan, on the same day, was reported in the campus magazine as “The Incredible day of Alimatul Qibtiyah”.
Alim, one of nine children was born in Ngawi, East Java, in September, 1971. When her mother was pregnant with a tenth child, Alim went to live with her childless aunt and uncle in Madura at the age of five.
They were kind, until about a year later when their own child was born. From then on, she had to do her own laundry and a lot of housework and they were strict on her.
Unhappy, she gathered her belongings in a sarong and left on foot to return to her parents. But not far down the road, she realized that Madura is an island and she had no money for the boat fare. She endured her hard life for three years, until her parents came for her.
“I think maybe that experience made me resilient and helped me,” she says.
Back with her family, Alim, who went to religious schools, worked briefly in the rice-fields and realized she didn’t want that kind of hard-working life.
She was offered a job as a baby-sitter with a family who were moving to the USA, but it wasn’t possible to get her a visa. The woman gave Alim Rp 50,000, to help with her dream of furthering her education at university in Yogyakarta.
“My mother cycled 15 kilometers to sell all her gold jewellery. I always cry when I think about that, but it still wasn’t enough,” recalled Alim, who finally raised enough money herself.
“In Yogya I lived in a tiny, damp room for one year, and sold food and typed up other students’ work on a typewriter which someone gave me.”
From the third semester onwards, she had a scholarship to last until her graduation.
“I was a radical Islamist, wearing the long hijab. However when I consulted my lecturer, she told me that it was not necessary to wear this in Indonesia. Now I think that if it were necessary, there would have been an instruction about it. I wear a jilbab now, because I want other Indonesian Islamic women to listen to me, and take me seriously, but I think it’s just cultural clothing.”
In 1995, Alim graduated and became a lecturer at the same university in 1996.
“I met my husband at English classes. He was the teacher. There was also another man interested in me, so I decided to leave the decision to God. I decided that I would marry the first one who came to visit me at my home.”
Alim and Susanto, a petroleum engineer, were married in 1997.
Their son, Fakhri was born in 1998, and Alim applied to do a Master’s degree in Social Psychology at Gadja Mada University.
In 2003, Alim succeeded in getting a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the University of Northern Iowa.
‘So, after 13 years, I was in the USA, not as a baby-sitter, but studying for my second master’s degree,” Alim said, triumphantly.
Culture shocks followed when, enrolled in Women’s Studies, she found that several of her teachers were openly lesbian, and when she was required to attend a performance of “The Vagina Monologues”, as well as a workshop entitled “Viva la Vulva”, which was about how to attain sexual pleasure.
“Actually, I got benefit from that, because now I understand my own body,” Alim commented.
And she was required to view the pornographic movie Deep Throat, and to visit an adult sex store with a female friend to view the merchandise.
Her courses had such titles as “Human Relationships and Sexuality”, “Sexuality and Religion”, and “Feminist Response to Pornography”.
When Alim’s husband joined her in the USA, the next item on her agenda was to get pregnant again.
As it happened, she started her labor on the day she was scheduled to publically defend her thesis, entitled “Sex Education from an Islamic Perspective”. Alim went to the mosque in the morning, because it was the day of ID, and then turned up at noon, before a panel of five examiners and an audience of about 30 people. Her contractions were coming only ten minutes apart. Her audience and the examining panel included quite a few lesbians, who were impressed by her courage in the situation. She passed with an “A”.
She rushed to hospital, where her waters broke, at 4:30 p.m. “I was thankful that it happened at the right time and place,” she said. A boy, Zihan, was born at 7 p.m.
Alim serves as a National Board Member of the Muhammadiyah women’s organization, ‘Aisyiah. She is a lecturer at State Islamic University in Yogyakarta. Her goals are to help marginalized people, and she prays that her family will always have a happy relationship. During her education, she has become a more moderate Muslim.
“Although I call myself an Islamic feminist, it does not mean that I want to dominate my husband. There is something wrong if a feminist wants to do that. It is not the way.”
Alim is now studying for her PhD at University of Western Sydney, Australia.
Artikel ini merupakan tulisan dari Cynthia Webb, kontributor The Jakarta Post untuk daerah Brisbane, dan dimuat di website dan versi cetak The Jakarta Post pada 7 Juni 2011.