Sunday, May 18, 2008

Meeting Amatullah Armstrong - a woman who answers her call

I met Amatullah Armstrong yesterday at the quietly peaceful home of my Reiki teacher, Firdaus. Finally. I meet the woman whose story, in some subliminal way, gave me the courage to undertake my own journey to South Africa on a quest for learning. A month ago, when I first met Firdaus, she somehow broached the subject of her friend Amatullah's visit to her place a day earlier. "Amatullah is your friend!?," I yelled in delight. I made Firdaus promise me that when Amatullah was back from her tour to Lahore, I would be invited to meet her.

Amatullah came into my life some two years ago when I bought her book Sufi Terminology (Al-Qamus Al-Sufi). The author's biography caught my attention: apparently this woman, an art teacher, had left her homeland, Australia, and started traveling the world on her personal quest.

She cycled 5000 kilometers from Paris to Tunisia, where an encounter with Islam awaited her. She welcomed Islam into her life in the Algerian Sahara Desert. Later, Amatullah - her name literally means "the (female) slave of Allah" - joined the famous African Sufi tradition, Shadhiliya. Amatullah married and settled in Africa, and went back to Australia to get a Master's Degree; her thesis was the first on Tassawuf (aka Sufism) in Australia. Later, intrigued by a dream that called her to Pakistan, Amatullah left all behind in Africa, and came to Paksitan to start a new life.

In short, she became a perfect inspiration for me.

I was trapped in an ordinary life that was at once falling apart around me, and yet enslaving me in a most dreadful way, when I found Amatullah's story. So. A women travels the world on a daring quest for Truth. Seemed like my kind of destiny, except I wasn't living it. Trapped by dogma, fear, and a great sense of loss and anxiety, I wasn't getting anywhere in my life. I am not even sure if it was my life at all, or some randomly scripted drama filling up a void that I had left.

Reading her biography reminded me of a future I had seen in my memories: of myself taking a journey - I didn't know when, to where, and exactly-worldly why.

Then a man entered my life the next year, in 2007, and I accepted him as my teacher as much as he accepted to help me learn and grow. This year, I was waiting for the fulfillment of a prophecy about "a journey [I] would take to a foreign land which would change [my] life forever." I usually do not set much stock by these kinds of things - prophecies and predictions, for I think the human themselves is a Prophecy. However, this one rang true with me. So while I was meandering through a few usual choices of immigrating? traveling for pleasure? traveling for learning? - I realized I had been most quietly invited to the journey I was destined to take. The invite had almost slipped under my attention that was so focused on my own expectations.

Yet finally, lucidity came. I left for Africa. I went to love, live, learn. That sojourn in a foreign land marked a point where the life before it completely died and I came alive in a life after that point.

When Firdaus called me on Friday and said, "Come! Amatullah is coming to my home!," I could not resist the invite despite being dreadfully sick. Indeed, in Amatullah's company, I forgot the terrible ache that was rendering my body unable to stay happy. Amatullah is that ray of light from this world of no-mind, no-care that we are fortunate to catch a glimpse of. She is famously seen in her photographs as this Sufi doll, all bedecked in dervish green clothes. When I met her yesterday, she was hip in her kurti and carpenters with a chic fuchsia ethnic scarf, looking ready to jump on the next adventure. In the course of the conversation, it was revealed she is finally going to move on from Pakistan.

Amatullah has always followed her heart. She trusted Allah before she became "officially" Muslim, she was never afraid to live on the world during her fantastic voyages. We have made a random plan to go somewhere else together. I think I may now have a truly eccentric travel partner - one I prayed for a few days ago!

How charming.

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