Great Women in Islam – Khadijah (RA)
Khadijah Bint Khuwaylid RA
Umm-Al-Mu’minīn (Mother of Believers)
Note: For ease of reading, we have not inserted “May Allah be pleased with her (RA)” each time Khadijah’s RA name or the name of each Companion is mentioned, but please take it that the salutations apply to all of them, may Allah be pleased with them all.
Narrated Ali: I heard the Prophet SAW saying, “Mary, the daughter of Imran, was the best among the women (of the world of her time) and Khadijah is the best amongst the women (of this nation).”
Sahih Al-Bukhari – Book 58 Hadith 164
If there was a woman in Islam to be emulated by the women of our ummah, Khadijah surely ranks at the top. She is the first of the Mother of Believers, the title of veneration and respect given to all the wives of the Prophet SAW, and has the unique position of not only being the first woman, but also the first person, to embrace Islam.
As she passed away in the early stages of Muhammad SAW’s prophethood, the details of her life were not extensively documented to the same level as that of many other Companions.
However, from existing sources, we know that Khadijah came from a noble family. Her father Khuwaylid had been one of the most honoured leaders of their tribe until he was killed in battle. Her husband had also died, leaving her a very wealthy widow. She was renowned for her splendid character, wealth and beauty. Khadijah was also known as Ameera-Quraysh, Princess of Quraysh, and al-Tahira, the Pure One, due to her impeccable personality and virtuous character, not to mention her honourable descent.
After the death of her first husband, she shouldered the operation of her commercial holdings on her own, and to a large extent, was responsible for taking care of her own well being. When Muhammad SAW was still a young man, she entrusted him with some of her wealth, asking him to trade with it in Syria on her behalf. He returned from Syria after having made a large profit for Khadijah. By then, he was already well known for his honesty, truthfulness and trustworthiness, and these qualities, rather than his business acumen, captured Khadijah’s attention.
After hearing his account of the journey, she decided that he would make the best of the husbands. To be borne in mind is that at that time, she was a woman of flourishing wealth and high status, and it was socially and financially befitting for her to have married one of the many important nobles of the Quraish who had already proposed to her. However, she had the integrity and nobility to instead recognise strength of character she saw in Muhammad SAW which superseded any wealth, social status or elite bloodline. Being a lady of strong character and decisive nature, she set out to propose to him.
After the Prophet’s SAW uncle, Abu Talib, had given the proposed marriage his blessing, Muhammad SAW and Khadijah were married. At the time of the marriage, the Prophet SAW was twenty-five years old, while Khadijah was forty years old. She was the Prophet’s SAW first wife, and the only woman whom he married prior to his prophethood. Another remarkable fact about this marriage is that the Prophet SAW married no other until after her death.
Their happy union resulted in Khadijah bearing several children. Sadly, their first child, a son whom they named Qasim, died when he was only two years old. Two more sons, called Tayyib and Tahir, were also born, but they too died in their infancy. However, after being commissioned to prophethood, Muhammad SAW and Khadijah had four daughters who survived: Zaynab, Ruqayya, Umm Kulthum and Fatima. Khadijah is the only one of his wives to bear the Prophet SAW children who survived to adulthood. None of his other wives bore him children, apart from Maria the Copt, whose son, Ibrahim, also died during infancy.
Over the years, the more Khadijah came to know about her husband, the more she loved and respected him. Everyone in Mecca called him ‘al-Amin’, which means ‘the trustworthy one’, and she, more than anyone else, knew how fitting this name was.
It became Muhammad’s SAW custom each year to spend the month of Ramadan in seclusion and reflection in a cave on the mountain of Hira, which is on the outskirts of Mecca. Khadijah would always make sure that he was provided with food and drink during his retreat. Such was her love to him that sometimes she would accompany him for a few days during his seclusion, never saying a word to him during that time so as not to interrupt his contemplations. How many women in history would have that deep level of understanding for their husbands’ needs, and practice restraint in speech and action if confronted with similar behaviour from their husbands? The typical wife would instead complain of neglect. Yet, Khadijah never gave him a hard time for his long periods of absence, for she appreciated and respected his spiritual needs to ponder, reflect and unite his heart with his Creator.
Around the fifteenth year of their marriage, towards the end of Ramadan, when he was forty and Khadijah fifty-five, Muhammad SAW suddenly appeared at their house in the middle of the night, trembling with fear and saying, “Cover me up, cover me up!”
Khadijah was very alarmed to see him in such a state. Quickly she wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and, when he had calmed down, she asked him to describe exactly what had happened. He told her how a being whom he had never seen before – in fact it was the angel Jibreel AS – had suddenly appeared to him and had said, “Read!”
“But I cannot read,” he had replied, for he was unlettered and could neither read nor write. “Read!” the angel had repeated, clasping Muhammad SAW close to his chest. “I cannot read,” he had repeated. “Read!” the angel had repeated, firmly embracing him yet again. “What shall I read?” he had asked in desperation, and the angel had replied:
“Read, in the Name of your Lord who created, created man from a clot, Read, and your Lord is the Most Gracious, Who taught with the pen, taught man what he did not know.” (Qur’an 96:1-5)
And so began a lifechanging event. Not just his life, but from that point onwards, the course of mankind took a different turn. Although Muhammad SAW did not fully realise it at the time, this was the beginning of the revelation of the Qur’an, and in the first years of revelation, Khadijah was instrumental in being not only his wife and companion, but a constant source of emotional, moral and financial support for him. More than once, he turned to her for advice and comfort, and was guided by her wisdom. In all senses of the word, she was a true Mother of the Believers.
For example, after that first encounter with the angel Jibreel AS, Muhammad SAW was very frightened, not knowing if he was going mad and imagining things, or if he had been possessed by one of the jinn. He clambered downhill as fast as he could and headed home to relate his experience to his beloved wife.
As she listened to the Prophet’s SAW words, Khadijah did not share any of these fears. She realized that something tremendous and awe-inspiring had happened to her husband, and she was certain, knowing him as she did, that he was neither mad nor possessed.
“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.”
In another incident, Aisha narrated that the Messenger of Allah was sitting down with Khadijah shortly after the first revelation. He then saw a person between the heaven and the earth and told Khadijah what he saw. She asked him to move closer to her, and after he did so, asked whether he still saw the person. He replied affirmatively. She then told him to put his head in her garment (and in other reports, it was narrated that she removed her hijab) and asked whether Muhammad SAW still saw the person. He answered in the negative, for the person had vanished. She told him to relax, that the person had to be an angel (in the form of a human being), for the devil would have had no shame to stay on and watch.
Such was her reaction – she had such confidence in his integrity and soundness of mind and spirit, and she possessed such maturity of thought, that she immediately quelled his anxiety and doubts of his sanity and instead gave him support from the very first moment his Prophethood came into being.
When Muhammad SAW was a little more relaxed, Khadijah took him to see her cousin, Waraqa ibn Nawfal, for he was a man of knowledge. She was sure that he would be able to explain the meaning of what had just happened to her beloved husband. Waraqa had studied the books of both the Jews and the Christians very closely and he had learned a great deal from many of their wisest people. He knew that the coming of another Prophet had been foretold by both Moses and Jesus, peace be on them, and he knew many of the signs that would confirm the identity of this Prophet when he appeared.
After listening closely to his story, Waraqa, who was both old and blind, exclaimed, “This is the same being who brought the revelations of Allah to Moses. I wish I was young and could be alive when your people will drive you out.”
“Will they drive me out?” asked Muhammad SAW.
“Yes,” replied Waraqa. “No one has come with what you have been given without being treated with enmity; and if I were to live until the day when you are turned out, then I would support you with all my might. Let me just feel your back.” So, saying, Waraqa felt between the Prophet’s SAW shoulder-blades and found what he was feeling for: a small round, slightly raised irregularity in the skin. This was yet another of the many signs that Waraqa already knew would indicate the identity of the next prophet after Isa AS.
“This is the Seal of the Prophethood!” he exclaimed. “Now I am certain that you are indeed the Prophet whose coming was foretold in the Torah that was revealed to Musa AS and in the Injil that was revealed to Isa AS. You are indeed the Messenger of Allah, and the being who appeared to you on the mountain was indeed the angel Jibreel AS!”
Khadijah was both overjoyed and awed to find that her understanding of what had happened on the mountain had been confirmed. Not long after this incident, Muhammad SAW was commanded in a subsequent revelation from Allah, through the angel Jibreel AS, to call people to worship Allah only, and it was at this point that Khadijah did not hesitate in expressing in public what she had known for certain: “I bear witness that there is no god except Allah,” she said, “and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” Thus her love of her husband had expanded into something greater and far more profound, being the love of Allah and His Messenger.
In the difficult years that followed in which the leaders of the Quraish did everything in their power to stop the Prophet SAW spreading his message, Khadijah was a constant source of help and comfort to Muhammad SAW in the difficulties which he had to face.
It is not known exactly how long they were married for, however piecing together information that they were married for 15 years prior to the first revelation, and that the Year of Sadness (the year in which Khadijah passed away) took place in the eighth or ninth year after the first revelation, they were married for approximately 23 to 25 years. Even though they suffered personal tragedy in the deaths of their sons, and later faced the persecution of the Quraish, their marriage was a happy and harmonious one. During this time, all of Khadijah’s wealth was spent in the way of Allah, helping to spread the message of her husband, helping to free slaves who had embraced Islam, and helping to feed and shelter the community of Muslims that slowly but surely began to grow in numbers and strength. She freed the Prophet SAW of all labour, so that he could spend his time calling the people towards Allah. She was the mother of his household and the caretaker of his family.
Meanwhile the Quraish were infuriated by the Prophet’s SAW success and did everything in their power to discourage both him and his followers, often inflicting awful tortures on them. The situation became so bad that the Prophet SAW told some of his followers to go to Abyssinia, where their ruler, the Negus, who was a sincere Christian gave them shelter and protection. Eventually there came a time when, as Waraqa had foretold, Muhammad SAW and his followers -along with all the members of his tribe, the Banu Hashim were driven out of the city of Mecca and forced to camp out in a small ravine in the mountains nearby. This happened long after Waraqa had died, and about six or seven years after that extraordinary night of power in which Muhammad SAW had received the first revelation. There, while their homes lay empty in Mecca, the Muslims were exposed to the bitterly cold nights of winter and the fiery hot days of summer, with very little food and shelter. No one would buy and sell with the Muslims, or allow their sons and daughters to marry any of them. Fortunately those who secretly sympathized with the Muslims would send what food they could to them whenever the chance arose. At times, the food rations were so depleted that they had to eat leaves and barks of trees.
During these harsh times, Khadijah remained a loyal and patient companion and wife, often giving Muhammad SAW wise and compassionate counsel, which reinforced him emotionally. Her support would constantly strengthen him in his mission to spread the Message.
For three years the small Muslim community lived in exile, cut off from their kith and kin and enduring a life of hardship and deprivation. However, although they suffered from hunger and thirst, and from exposure to the elements, this was a time in which the hearts of the first Muslims were both purified and also filled with the light of knowledge and wisdom. The Muslims knew that they were following the truth, and so nothing else mattered. Sadly, these long and difficult months left Khadijah physically weakened.
Finally the boycott was lifted and the Muslims were allowed to re-enter the city; but the three years of hardship had taken their toll on her health. She spent her last days in the loving care of her husband and daughters. Here was one of the wealthiest women in the Arabian Peninsula, who had spent all she had of her material wealth in the path of Allah that she did not even have a piece of bread in her house when she died.
In some narrations, it was said that in the final moments of her life, angel Jibreel AS descended, giving her (through the Messenger SAW) greetings from Allah Himself, with the glad tidings of her palace in jannah.
Why was she so exalted and elevated in the eyes of Allah?
Let us pause and take a look at our lives today. The husband and wife keep careful count of their spending, and very few women would willingly give up their wealth in supporting their husbands’ noble causes. How many women would be willing to sacrifice personal luxuries for a higher cause? Khadijah went further than sacrificing her material comforts, she gave all that she had for the path of Allah. Instead of complaining about the hardship of her situation, she supported her husband without argument, resistance or complaint. She did not demand gifts, vacations, or even attention, for she knew that she had a higher cause than to indulge in the mere trivialities of dunia. She put the needs of her husband above her personal needs for the sake of Allah, and as a result, the Prophet’s SAW love and admiration for her overshadowed those that he bore for the wives that he married after her death. We wish for the glory of having her as our companion in Jannah, but how many of us have the sincerity to emulate her exemplary behaviour and sacrifice even a fraction of what she did for Islam, financially, physically and emotionally?
Khadijah had been the first to publicly accept Muhammad SAW as the Messenger of Allah, and she had never stopped doing all she could to help him. Love and mercy had grown between them, increasing in quality and depth as the years passed by, and not even death could take this love away. The Prophet Muhammad SAW never stopped loving Khadijah, and although he married several more wives in later years and loved them all, it is clear that Khadijah always had a special place in his heart. Her death left a space in his heart that none other could fill. Indeed whenever Aisha, his third wife, heard the Prophet SAW speak of Khadijah, or saw him sending food to Khadijah’s old friends and relatives, she could not help feeling jealous of her, because of the love that the Prophet SAW still had for her.
Once Aisha asked him if Khadijah had been the only woman worthy of his love. The Prophet SAW replied: “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.”
It had been related by Abu Huraira that on one occasion, when Khadijah was still alive, Jibreel AS came to the Prophet SAW and said, “O Messenger of Allah, Khadijah is just coming with a bowl of soup (or food or drink) for you. When she comes to you, give her greetings of peace from her Lord and from me, and give her the good news of a palace of jewels in the Garden, where there will be neither any noise nor any tiredness.” Some interpret this as a reflection and reward for the calm and tranquil environment that she herself generated for her husband.
Khadijah was estimated to be around sixty-five years old at the time of her death, three years before Prophet Muhammad’s SAW Hijrah to Medina. The Prophet’s SAW uncle, Abu Talib had died a few months earlier the same year. Their deaths would bring great tragedy to the life of Prophet Muhammad SAW as these were two people who provided him great sources of comfort and strength when faced with persecution.
However, Muhammad SAW worked to be sure that Khadijah was remembered in the best light, and honored her even after her death. If a gift was sent to Muhammad SAW he would not hesitate to have the gift sent to a woman who was a friend of Khadijah, showing the kindness and compassion that Khadijah exhibited during her life.
What an honour to be a woman chosen to be the first one to believe in the last revelation on earth.
What an honour to be the first and most beloved wife of the final Prophet and Messenger of Allah’s religion.
What an honour to devote your life, your love, your wealth, just to please Allah and to support His Prophet and the Message of Allah.
What an honour to be sent the greetings, not by a human being, but from your own Lord, and delivered by one of the most highest exalted angels, Jibreel AS, to deliver those greetings.
What an honour to know who you are, where you’re going, and your status in Akhirah.
What an honour to receive the news of how your palace will look like in Jannah.
What an honour for a woman, life, death and legacy!
Ibn Kathir: Wives of the Prophet Muhammad SAW
“Great Women of Islam” by Mahmood Ahmad Ghadanfar
“Women Around the Messenger” by Muhammad Qutb