“The first wife of the prophet Mohammed; Khadija was a successful business women in her own right who controlled one of the most important caravan trade routes in the region. She was the first Muslim and believed in Mohammed before he believed in himself. Not only was she an extraordinary woman in her own right: strong, successful in business, a mother, spiritual - but she also defies and refutes so many of the stereotypes of women in Islam that people hold today.”
Ask someone in the western world to describe a Muslim woman, and the chances are they’ll describe her as covered head to toe in a veil, or will mention the unfair justice they receive or the “fact” that they are not allowed to drive. You only have to open a newspaper to know that there are Muslim countries that do implement harsh (and occasionally horrific) rulings against women, but this should not be portrayed as Islam as a whole. In fact, women in pre-Islam Arabia had virtually no rights or independence. The rise of the religion gave unprecedented legal rights to women and, quite the opposite of restricting education, Islamic woman were obligated to seek out knowledge.
The Mother of Islam, Khadija was the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad, and is a shinning example of a strong, independent Muslim woman with an entrepreneurial spirit. She was born in Makkahin in 556 CE. Her father was a prosperous businessman and a popular leader of the Quraysh tribe. Her first marriage left her a widow; and following the end of her second marriage Khadijah turned down numerous proposals from wealthy men, expressing little desire to marry again. She instead focused on her children’s upbringing and began building the merchant business she had inherited from her father.
Khadija did not travel with her trade caravans. Instead, she employed agents who would trade on her behalf for a commission. In 595, she employed her distant cousin Muhammad ibn Abdullah as an agent. Muhammad was just 25 years old, but had already earned a good reputation as a trustworthy man, which led Khadija to offer him double her usual commission. She was rewarded well for this when Muhammed brought back twice as much profit as Khadija had expected.
One of Khadija’s servants, Maysarah, had accompanied Muhammad on his journey and relayed to Khadija that during their return, Muhammad had stopped to rest under a tree that: "none but a prophet ever sat beneath”. He also claimed to have seen two angels standing near Muhammad as he slept, protecting him from the sun. This indicated that Muhammad was the prophet of the people who was already expected. Knowing this, Khadija considered proposing marriage to her agent. The couple was married monogamously for twenty-five years.
When Muhammad reported his first revelation, Khadija became the first person to convert to Islam and was always supportive of her husband’s prophetic mission. She helped with his work, sharing his message sand challenging any opposition that arose. She also invested much of the money she had accumulated from her trading endeavours in the mission - providing the ransom for Muslim slaves and feeding the Muslim community.
Khadija died in 620CE. Mohammad also lost his uncle Abu Talib during this date, and would forever refer to it as "the Year of Sorrow”. The Prophet would remember his wife throughout the rest of his life; so much so that his youngest wife, Ayesha, stated that she was never as jealous of any other woman as she was of Khadijah. When she asked the Prophet about his love for Khadijah his response was:
“She believed in me when no one else did; she accepted Islam when people rejected me; and she helped and comforted me when there was no one else to lend me a helping hand.”
Even though Khadijah only lived to see the early stages of a Muslim community, she is still considered a central figure in the history of Islam. Khadijah remains a very common name for girls of the Islamic faith - a fitting tribute to a woman who earned her place as a role model for future generations.