If you went up to someone in the 21st century and told them to picture a woman who is oppressed, meek, without rights, veiled and uneducated, what type of woman would they picture? Undoubtedly, a Muslim woman. Tainted by society’s stereotypes of being shackled by oppression, it is often assumed that Islam has caused the suffering of women who have no freedom. The media, literature, hate rhetoric and actions of Muslims themselves are all sources from which these stereotypes have emerged. It is never taken into consideration that Muslim women lead different lives because of factors such as culture and demographics. However, when we look at the history and life of one of the greatest women who ever lived, someone who was a businesswoman in her own right, a breadwinner and at a stage a single mother, it is enough to stop those in their tracks who claim Islam oppresses females. This woman is none other than Khadija رضي الله عنه.
In a society plagued by idolatry, Khadija رضي الله عنه who was beautiful, independent, prosperous and well educated, was known for her unwavering faith. She had never bowed down to an idol despite living during the period of ignorance, the Jahiliya. By the time she reached the age of 37 she had been both widowed and orphaned, she was a single mother and she also had a string of business investments left behind by her husband and her father. She did not crack under this pressure. Instead she adopted a brave attitude and went into unchartered territory in the business world in order to provide for her family. She attained success and status in what was considered as a man’s world. She earned various nicknames which she was held accountable to, two being “Al-Tahira”, a pure woman due to her decorum and gracious nature, as well as “Sayyedat Nisaa Quraysh”, Master of the Women of Quraysh, because of her morality and credibility. From among the multitudes of women in Makkah, this is the noble woman of sublime character who was chosen by Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى to be the first wife of our Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم. This is the role model chosen for women, the first person to embrace Islam.
Khadija رضي الله عنه had often been left short-changed in her business dealings due to having to send a man in order to carry them out. Profits were never received in their full amount and she was frequently stolen from. She sought to find someone honest. Her sister Hala heard of the trustworthiness and character of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم and recruited him as a shepherd to herd her flock. Subsequent to having him صلى الله عليه وسلم work for her, she remarked that she had never met a more perfect gentleman and this was the first time Khadija رضي الله عنه heard his noble praises. She sent a message requesting him صلى الله عليه وسلم to take one of her caravan’s to Syria, which his uncle Abu Talib recommended he should accept due to her nobility. This trading journey accumulated the largest profit Khadija رضي الله عنه had ever gained, and her personal servant Maysara, who had also gone on the journey, expressed endless praises about the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. Maysara spoke about his fair, gentle and honest nature as well as various miracles which occurred, and subsequent to seeing the blessings which came from him صلى الله عليه وسلم, she felt an inclination towards him. Her companion Nafisa approached Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم and enquired as to why he was not married, to which he responded that he did not have his own home, he was a shepherd and he could not afford to have a wife. He صلى الله عليه وسلم made an enquiry as to which woman from among Quraysh would willingly leave her home to live in abject poverty with him, to which she responded, “But what if the woman interested is Khadija رضي الله عنه?”. Khadija رضي الله عنه and Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم were officially betrothed and married.
Many lessons can be drawn from the life of the Mother of the Believers, who earned a good name due to her wealth, affluence, noble character and good manners. However, lessons from her business ethic and her role as a wife will be looked at.
As a businesswoman in her own right, Khadija رضي الله عنه had a work ethic which was respected by many businessmen. Working for her became a job many people sought to attain. The fair manner in which she did her business dealings was viewed as a strength as opposed to a weakness. She enjoyed her success due to being honest and kind to her workers and she did not cheat anyone along the way. The first lesson we can draw from Khadija’s رضي الله عنه role as a business woman is that success can be attained without the use of cheating and dishonesty. The second lesson which can be drawn, specifically for women, is that independence without being overpowering can be achieved regardless of intimidating factors. Muslim women of today are by no means prohibited from achieving their goals or ambitions, they possess the ability to attain success like Khadija رضي الله عنه did.
As a married woman Khadija رضي الله عنه excelled in her role and went beyond the stereotypical expectation of a wife. She was a confidante, a source of comfort, a pillar of strength and a big support to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. When looking at the event of the first revelation in particular, it becomes abundantly clear that she took on all these roles. Subsequent to receiving the first revelation in the cave of Hira, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم left the cave pale and shaken and approached his wife trembling and in a state of uncertainty. His words to her were “Cover me, cover me”, he entrusted his security to her. Just like the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, Khadija رضي الله عنه was uncertain of what was lying ahead or of what had happened, but she told him with full confidence, “Be happy. I swear by Allah that he will never humiliate you. You join ties of relationship, you speak the truth, you bear people’s burdens, you help the destitute, you entertain guests and help the deviations which affect people”. Khadija رضي الله عنه displayed full conviction in her husband as well as her Creator. She knew that only a man of his character and eloquence could be worthy of receiving divine revelation. And thus, her heart was the first to be moved by Islam. When looking at her role as a wife various lessons can be drawn. The first is that she was supportive to her husband not only during times of ease, but also during times of difficulty. The second lesson is that she did not ever let her pride overcome her and make her husband feel lower than herself due to monetary status, instead she provided him with assistance during his times of need and extended her wealth in abundance in the path of Islam. The third lesson is that she did not allow her values to be out cultured in terms of marriage. For Khadija رضي الله عنه, the basis and priority of her marriage was not money. There was no reluctance to marry Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم due to his financial position because she looked beyond materiality and superficial gains. His character, lineage and religious inclinations were placed above his finances, resulting in a union which completed half her deen and would further guide her on the path to Jannah.
As people in Islam we have been blessed with an abundance of role models. As women in Islam, we have been blessed with women who were wives, sisters, daughters, friends and mothers, just as we are. Women who were scholars, teachers, businesswomen and professionals in their own right, just as we are. We have been blessed with Muslim role models who in many ways are just like us, and may Allah سُبْحَانَهُ وَ تَعَالَى grant us to be just like them.
By : Ustadha Saaliha Jaffer