Winy Haryanto lost both of her parents unexpectedly in 2008. They died on the same day — her mother, Enny, 58, had a stroke and went into a coma, and her father Haryanto, 63, had a heart attack. Winy wasn’t there when it happened and missed the funerals — according to Muslim tradition burials take place within 24 hours, and she was home in Valley Stream.
“In our faith, when you die, your deeds are not cut off,” said Winy, 42. “If you have a child who keeps praying for you, if you did charity in your life that people still benefit from, then you still get the blessings from it even after you die.”
“I wanted to do something huge.”
Winy decided she would memorize the entire Quran — more than 6,000 verses of Arabic text. She’s been taking lessons on and off for nine years, but started working at a consistent pace recently with a new teacher.
Muslims who memorize the Quran are called Hafiz or Hafiza, which translates to “guardian.” It’s believed that Quran reciters receive rewards and blessings for themselves and loved ones in the afterlife for this accomplishment.
“It’s very hard, but I found a teacher who is willing to go very slowly with me,” Winy said.
She practices three or four times a week, for one hour each day, and her teacher works with her over the phone. “When you want something bad enough and you try to find a way, I guess you’ll find something.”
Learning to listen
Growing up, Winy and her mother used to argue about clothes all the time. Winy’s favorite outfit consisted of a baggy T-shirt and tight jeans, much to mom’s disapproval.
“You know, like MC Hammer, that type of shirt,” Winy said with a laugh. “I didn’t like MC Hammer, I’m just saying, that’s how everybody dressed.”
Years later when Winy visited her mother back home in Indonesia, Enny gave her a red blouse with tiny floral stitching and a scarf to match.
“I hate red,” Winy said. “Not as a color, but I wouldn’t wear red. And I looked at it and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m 30 and we’re still talking about clothes.’
“I didn’t make a fuss. I just took it and I wore it.”
Winy and her mother spent the day visiting relatives. “At the end of the day, I literally had a headache. Maybe I was tense that it was on me and I don’t like it, I don’t know,” said Winy.
“At some point my mom turned to me — we were in the car — and she said, ‘Wow, you listen to me now.’”
After her mom died, Winy was going through her belongings and came across a business proposal. It caught her eye because of how formal it appeared. She figured out that it was typed up by a restaurant server Enny met, and it detailed his plan for a small business he wanted to start, including the merchandise he would sell and the amount of money needed to get going.
Winy laughs while imagining her mother dining out and having an in-depth conversation with her server, eventually telling him to “write something up” for her.
“She’s that kind of person who would just talk to anyone, and her demeanor is very open and people would just open up to her. When I saw that, I broke down because it was just this random thing.”
At her mother's memorial, Winy said she was approached by two women she had never met, both widows, who said Enny helped them through difficult times.
“I mean, I’ve always known that she was really generous. But that was kind of surprising for me I guess,” she said.
Now, Winy contributes to crowdsourcing campaigns on Facebook whenever she can, and does good deeds for those in need, particularly single mothers and divorced women. She is also a part of a home-school co-op, which includes her children, and they often band together to help each other.
“We heard about this lady, she had six boys and her husband just died and we made a care package for her,” Winy said. “I painted on this mug and just had some words of support for her and we raised some money and gave gifts to her boys.”
‘Work on your heart’
Winy’s father was a diplomat working for the Indonesian government, so growing up, she lived in various places, from Italy to Suriname to Malaysia. She got more in touch with her Muslim roots when she came to the United States to obtain her master’s degree in agricultural economics at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
She told her father, Haryanto, she wanted to start wearing the hijab. (Many Indonesians use only one name, and oftentimes a father’s first name also becomes the family surname.)
Winy says she had never really talked about whether she should wear the hijab with her parents before. She said her father was always “very devout and spiritual,” but “I had a very liberal upbringing, because of his personality,” she said. “He was kind of conservative for himself, but he wanted [my brother and me] to find our own way.”
When Winy put on the hijab for the first time, she said she “couldn’t step out the door.” She didn’t understand why she felt that way, so she called her dad and tried to talk it out with him.
“I thought, ‘Something’s wrong with me,’” she said. “Why can’t I wear this when I want to? Before this, I didn’t want to. Now I want to, but why can’t I do it? And I called him and I cried.”
Winy remembers her dad telling her three things: spend extra time praying, don’t get angry and “don’t let your thoughts be empty” when you could be thinking of God.
“And that’s all he said. I was like, OK, well I’m talking about hijab. He’s not talking about that at all.”
But she took all of his advice, and after a month, she began to wear the hijab regularly.
“Looking back, I understand that he was trying to say, ‘You have the will to do it, but now you have to work on your heart.’”
Through the generations
Winy now goes to Masjid Hamza in Valley Stream with her husband and their three children. She admits she envisioned herself being “a bit stricter” with her children than her own father, but has come to understand his parenting method.
“We’ll pray together but as my kids have grown older — my oldest one is 13 now — I realized that our kids, they’re not something that you mold. They’re their own people,” she said. “And now I realize that my dad was right. That you can’t just force things into them.”
When Winy was considering wearing the hijab, she remembers something her father said in passing: “If you do it, maybe your mom will follow.” Winy laughed and said, “So you do want me to wear it!” though he never explicitly said it.
He was right, though — Enny began wearing the hijab after her daughter did.
Looking back on her visit a decade ago to see her mother, Winy is glad she didn’t protest wearing that scarf and blouse, although she didn’t like to wear red. That was her last time in Indonesia with her mother.
“She passed away a year after,” Winy said. “And I thought, ‘Thank God I didn’t say anything. I didn’t make a fuss.’ Because if that was my last visit and I argued about color, I would have regretted it.”
Holding the blouse, she said, “I don’t wear it, but I still keep it.”
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