Nadiah’s way

For one Reno convert, being a Muslim is all about women’s rights and religious tolerance

Photo By David Robert

W hy oh why, several feminist friends asked me recently, would any woman want to be a Muslim? They’ve read how the closer-to-God-than-thou Taliban treats women, and they recoil. It’s not just the Taliban, they say, it’s Iran and Saudi Arabia, too.So I called one of the most intelligent women I’ve met, a Muslim convert living in Reno named Nadiah Beekun. Why oh why, I asked her, would a woman want to be a Muslim? (An interviewer is nothing if not brash.)

“Because it is the best religion in the world for a woman,” she said immediately. “It has rights for women right there in black and white in the Koran and the Hadith.” (The Hadith is a body of Muslim law and commentary.)

What has gone wrong in Afghanistan and other countries, said Beekun, is the politics of power.

“Some people for reasons of power deny women their rights, and they take away what people know about their own religion—that’s where misuse of women occurs.”

The anti-woman mullahs interpret the Koran for their followers. That is totally wrong and against Islamic principles, Beekun said.

“I’d be dangerous in [Taliban] Afghanistan,” Beekun said. “I’d be put in jail because I know what my rights are. I’d say, ‘Show me where it said that in the Koran,’ and they’d say, ‘The Imam said,’ and I’d say, ‘That’s not in the Koran.’ “

Beekun would not go gently into the night of ignorance, a

mindset that she said was a female tradition dating back 14 centuries in Islam. Before Mohammed, women were chattel, female babies were killed, and husbands sometimes even killed their wives. Mohammed stopped those practices and added guarantees for female freedom.

However, after Mohammed died, Beekun said, “One of the first caliphs said women should reduce their mahr"—the money guaranteed by a husband to assure a woman’s independence—"so more men could afford to marry.” The caliph claimed that’s what the Koran said.

“This woman stood up right in the middle of all this and said, ‘Excuse me, that’s not what it said.’ And the caliph said, ‘She’s right. I lied. The woman can ask for whatever she deems.’ We are talking 14 centuries ago—Islamic women had rights that didn’t exist in the West until 100 years ago.”

There are interpreters of Hadith that are as woman-hating as anything you’ll find. Do an online search for “Hadith,” and they pop out of the ether like vicious little cockroaches. Of course, there are also modern interpreters of Torah and New Testament who quote verses to justify their poor treatment of women.

What counts, Beekun said, is not interpretation but the original text.

“In Islam, it is right there. This is not a mystic reality. It said specifically that women have the right to own and control their own property—how clear does it have to be? It’s right there.”

Until she reached her 20s, Beekun seemed anything but destined for Islam. She was born and raised in California: “I got my first surfboard at 9.”

Later, she became a born-again Christian. She became discouraged about Christianity when churchly authorities disagreed on what was a proper baptism for her—"Sprinkle of water? Oil? Full immersion? Full immersion in a river? Full immersion in a pond?” So she got a Bible and a Strong’s Concordance and started studying for herself.

Then she met a group of people in a park. They were praying. She asked what they believed. They asked what she believed. They listened to her beliefs.

“And they said, ‘You are a Muslim.’ I said, ‘No way!’ “ Beekun started learning more about the religion. “The more I learned, the more convinced I was.”

The pile of clothes known as the burka isn’t for Nadia Beekun. She does dress modestly and comfortably, however, in scarves, cloaks and slacks.

Photo By David Robert

She learned to dress modestly, because the Koran said to. However, the walking pile of clothes called a burka that is women’s lot in Afghanistan and other steely-eyed countries takes the concept of modesty too far, Beekun said.

“Have you ever seen anyone sneeze in one of those things?” she asks. “I have, and it’s not pretty.”

These days, Beekun wears a variety of attractive scarves over her head, slacks and long tunics. She wears scarves even in her house if people might see her. (Orthodox Jewish women have a similar proscription about covering hair.)

Beekun, who served in the U.S. Navy, said the World Trade Center bombings were absolutely wrong and against Islamic law. Those who did the bombings were appallingly misled. Beekun explained why, talking of what’s in the Koran: “You are never to kill innocent people and non-combatants—that is an absolute. There is no wriggle room on that. These people in New York were not attacking, not doing anything. They were just living their lives.”

Islamic text covers the spectrum from ethical war to the most intimate details of family life. Beekun likes that. She had been a convert for several years when she met her husband-to-be, a born Muslim from halfway around the world.

“The reason we’ve been married for 20 years now is because whenever we disagree, we go back to the texts, and that makes the final determination,” she said. “That’s what we agreed to before we married.”

She laughed.

“I don’t always like the answers.”

The answers for Beekun included not only nurturing and motherhood, but being an entrepreneur and owning her own business, Realty Hot Wheels, which delivers flyers to and from real estate agents.

“I’m not going to get rich, but it gives me a little extra money. As a Muslim woman, I can use it however I want—for example, I can kick in if the family goes on a trip … or I can have my own IRA.”

The income from her business allows Beekun to do pro bono work for nonprofit groups. After what Beekun calls “the 9-11 holocaust,” she helped local realtors raise money to help victims with mortgage payments, “so no one would lose their homes because of that.”

As a Muslim, she did not feel threatened by misdirected hate after that tragedy. “I have great neighbors, and the Sparks police made sure everyone felt protected.”

Her son Issa, 12, recently won an essay contest with the subject, “I’m proud to be an American.” Her sons Muhib, 15, and Abdallah, 14, are enrolled in their high school Navy ROTC programs. Her 9-year-old daughter Sumayya gets straight A’s in school “and is just a really nice little person.”

Four children are enough for the Beekun family, she said, adding with a laugh, “No more—we know what causes it now.”

Does she consider herself a feminist? Beekun answered in a strong voice.

“Yes! I’m a Muslim feminist—to be a real Muslim you have to be a feminist.”

And she is a feminist in what she said is “the most Muslim country in the world"—the United States.

How’s that?

“America gives you the opportunity to practice your religion," she said. "You can be a Christian, Jew, Muslim or anything else. You have that freedom. And that tolerance of other religions is, believe it or not, fundamental to true Islam."