Khadija bint Khuwaylid
Khadija bint Khuwaylid (555 - 619 CE) was the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the second convert to Islam, after Muhammad (pbuh) himself. Muslims revere her as one of the four most perfect women to have ever lived, alongside Aasiya, sister of Moses, Maryam, mother of Jesus, and Fatima, the Prophet’s youngest daughter.
Khadija lived in sixth century Arabia, a society in which women had no legal rights and were considered male property; regularly sold in marriage or won in battle. Indeed, a divorced or widowed woman could be ‘claimed’ by her former husband’s heirs, as if she were inheritance.
Twice widowed and an orphan by the time she met Muhammad (pbuh), Khadija had therefore overcome massive adversity to become a successful businesswoman. She was so prosperous that it is said that when her tribe’s merchant caravans met to embark on a trading voyage, she had more caravans than the other traders put together!
She was also known in her community for her generous character, and used her wealth to feed and clothe the poor, provide dowries for poor girls and financially assist her relatives. Her prosperity and virtuous character earned her the titles: Ameerat-Quraysh, Princess of Quraysh, and al-Tahira, the Pure One.
First wife of Muhammad (pbuh)
Muhammad and Khadija’s relationship began as a professional one: she employed him to accompany her caravans on a trading voyage to Syria. What he lacked in business experience, he made up for in glowing character references, and Khadija’s trust was rewarded: when he returned from Syria, she found that he had earned her twice as much profit as her other agents normally did.
Having never accompanied her own caravans, Khadija was fascinated by Muhammad’s (pbuh) account of his travels, and despite having turned down numerous marriage proposals since the death of her second husband, Khadija fell in love with Muhammad (pbuh). In a characteristically self-empowered act, she proposed to him and they went on to be happily married with four daughters: Zainab, Ruqaiyyah, Umm Kulthum, and Fatimah. Muhammad (pbuh) loved Khadija so much that during the twenty-four years of their marriage he never took any other wives, but devoted himself completely to her.
Devoted wife and committed Muslim
Although the saying; "Islam did not rise except through Ali's sword and Khadija’s wealth," describes Khadija’s humble sacrifice of her fortune to promote Islam in its early days, it would be a disservice to suggest that her support was purely financial.
As Muhammad’s (pbuh) closest companion, she supported him after he received his first revelation on Mount Hijra, reassuring him that; “He will not deal with you except most beautifully, and I testify that you are the awaited Prophet in this nation, and your time, if Allah wills, has come."
In these difficult early days, she suffered harassment and persecution for her beliefs alongside Muhammad (pbuh), and yet, like him, she never wavered in her commitment to Islam.
Khadija died just ten years after Muhammad’s first (pbuh) revelation, and the year of her death is referred to as The Year of Sorrow. Of Khadija, Muhammad (pbuh) said: "Indeed Allah did not grant me better than her; she accepted me when people rejected me, she believed in me when people doubted me, she shared her wealth with me when people deprived me, and Allah granted me children only through her." She is the first, the most prominent and perhaps the most significant Muslim woman of all time.
Picture 1 - "Camel Caravan Shadow" by causalien, Flickr