Written by ‘Amira Mustafa’
Khadija umm ul muminin (r.a), one of the most extraordinary and inspiring women of her time, and she is the epitome of independence for postmodern women.
What makes this woman so special?
Born in 7th century Arabia, in a society that favored men and treated women as mere chattel Khadija (r.a) broke the stereotypical gender roles placed on women well before the existence of the feminist movement. She managed her own business, supported her family alone and maintained her modesty all within a culture dominated by men.
This was a society where customarily a man would take his new born daughter into the woods, put her in a hole, throw dirt on her till she was covered and her cries could be heard no more; her crime? She was not born a male.
This is a backward society where the oppression of women was widely accepted and practiced with no laws to uphold her basic human rights.
How is it that a woman such as Khadija (r.a) was able to succeed and live on her own terms in a backward society such as pre-Islamic Arabia? She had strength, integrity and wisdom well beyond her years, qualities that qualified her as the best candidate to eventually be the mother of believers and the pillar of strength for the Prophet (saw) later in life.
From her childhood Khadija possessed noble qualities and a patient heart. She grew up into a pious, quiet, intelligent young woman. Due to her moral virtues she was often referred to as ‘Taahirah’ (pure/virtuous one), she was also known for her compassionate heart and generosity as she used her wealth to help the poor, the needy, the widows and the orphans.
Her father was a well-known chief of Makkah, a successful merchant and a leader of one of the most powerful tribes amongst the Quraish was her guardian and teacher. It is no secret that because of her noble back ground and respectable reputation she became one of the most sought after women in Makkah.
She married Young, to a merchant named Abu Hallah, she remained happy with him and gave birth to 2 children. A few years later Abu Hallah became ill and died, Khadijah was overcome with grief at the loss of her husband. Later she married Ateeq ibn Aziz a rich merchant, they lived happily together but he too passed away during his business trip to Syria, leaving her a widow once more. Several respected and influential men of the Quraish tried to seek her hand in marriage, but after the loss of her second husband she resolved that she would not marry again and decided to live an independent life. Shortly after the death of her husband, her father passed away. This was a great loss to Khadija, and she now took it upon herself to run the business herself.
In order to run the business successfully Khadija employed trade agents to travel with her trade caravans and trade on her behalf in return for commission on the sales. She worked hard and soon earned the reputation of an intelligent merchant and a woman of great dignity and wealth. While some would dismiss this accomplishment based on the fact that Khadija inherited her wealth and business I would like to point out that running a successful business and maintaining a profit is no easy feat. Anybody can inherit a lot of money, but not everybody can manage and maintain it. Just ask MC Hammer. Business guru Donald trump himself has filed bankruptcy at least 4 times, yet in 7th century Arabia we have a single woman running a successful business that not only made a sizeable profit but was the top business in a male dominated industry. “It is said that when Banu Quraish’s trade caravans gathered to embark on their lengthy journey either to Syria during the summer or Yemen in the winter, Khadija’s caravan equaled the caravans of all the Quraish put together.”
In a time where there were no schools or universities teaching the art of business and commerce, where women were discouraged from becoming educated and self-reliant, Khadija (r.a) is a shining example of independence and intelligence. She was a self-taught business professional who managed and controlled her own wealth and did not allow cultural standards to dictate the way she lived her life.
It was her wisdom and keen observation skills that lead her to hire the Prophet (saws) as her agent in the caravan business. She sent her servant Maisarah to assist him and be his book keeper, and upon their return Khadija was surprised to see that the profits she reaped were much more than she anticipated. Her servant Maisarah awestruck by Muhammad (s.a.w.s) recounted his extraordinary experience during their journey and sang his praises. Impressed by his exceptional character and shy demeanor she grew fond of him and hinted to a confidant , Nafisa, to find out if he would be interested in her. A strong, independent, wealthy woman with rich powerful men vying for her hand in marriage Khadija once again tears down conventional cultural standards and proposes to a man much younger than her with no wealth of his own and offers to support him herself. Clearly this is a woman that does what she wants, even now, such an arrangement is subject to criticism from all cultures. How many people would scoff at such an arrangement? Can you imagine the media frenzy if Oprah Winfrey decided to marry a broke sheep herder with no formal education? Even today, 600 years later in a time where women are the majority in the workforce and are free to exhort their independence such a relationship is criticized and the woman is labeled with derogatory terms such as a ‘door mat’ or ‘sugar momma’ in a weak attempt to delegitimize a loving relationship. Yet Khadija (r.a) a shy, modest woman chooses to ignore social propriety and proposes to a man below her social class without even batting an eye.
After marriage, and faced with difficulty Khadija r.a. remained a pillar of strength for her husband, when he was would retreat to the Cave of Hira she supported him and understood that he was distraught over the moral degeneration in Makkah. She continued to run her business and maintained her powerful status in society while loving and caring for her family. When her husband ran to her terrified after receiving the first revelation in the cave, he went to her for comfort and to seek her wise counsel. This is a great relationship of true love; he respected her and sought her advice first and foremost above anyone else in his family. And even though she knew hard times were approaching she did not recede her support, in fact she increased her support and held her composure. While he was frantic she comforted him and offered to take him to someone that would know more about what he had seen.
‘The Prophet (SAW) feared he was losing his mind or being possessed. Khadijah (RA) put all his fears to rest:
“Do not worry,” she said, “for by Him who has dominion over Khadijah’s soul, I hope that you are the Prophet of this nation. Allah would never humiliate you, for you are good to your relatives, you are true to your word, you help those who are in need, you support the weak, you feed the guest and you answer the call of those who are in distress.”
She then took him to her cousin, Waraqah ibn Nawfal – a scholar well-versed in the Judeo-Christian scripture – and he confirmed to the Prophet (SAW) that his experience was Divine and he was to be the Last Prophet.’
She always reassured her husband when he was in trouble and faced adversity by reminding him of his virtues and assuring him that Allah would never forsake his righteous servants. She kept herself calm and did not panic or freak out whenever problems arose.
A woman with power and such a noble reputation could easily leave her husband and return to the luxury and acceptance she has been nurtured with all her life, yet she remained devoted to him through his troubled times, advised him and supported him when nobody else would.
Prophet Muhammad (saw) always remembered Khadija tul Kubra (r.a) and moaned,:
“Never did Allah (SWT) give me a better wife than Khadija. She hailed my mission at a time when everybody shouted against it. She lent me the support of her conviction when there was hardly a believer. She enlivened my heart when I felt lonely and deserted. Khadija’s love was given to me by Allah (SWT). How could I forget her?”
Indeed, such a strong liberated woman with brains and beauty is the archetype of a loving life companion. This is the first person to embrace Islam, a woman. A woman with power, freedom, intelligence and independence chose by her own right to be the first Muslim to accept Islam and dedicated the rest of her life to its cause. She is truly the mother of believers, her strength and support is the back bone of the Islamic movement and its success.
‘She nursed it through its infancy, through its most difficult, and through its most formative years. Islam was given shape and design in her home. If any home can be called the cradle of Islam, it was her home. She “reared” Islam. If any home can be called the “axis” of Islam, it was her home; Islam revolved around her home’
As we face a society of moral decline, which pushes the idea that for a woman, to be successful, must conform to societal pressures to behave a certain way. That to be successful in a ‘man’s world’ a woman needs to disregard her femininity and adopt a cut throat masculine demeanor, or she might not survive.
Here we have an example of a woman who did it all without compromising her virtue her love for others kept her strong and resilient is it any wonder that she is revered by Muslims all over the world as one of the most important women in history.
“Narrated ‘Ali: The Prophet said,:
“The best of the world’s women is Mary (at her lifetime), and the best of the world’s women is Khadija (at her lifetime).”
(Sahih Bukhari: Book #58, Hadith #163)”