Exemplary Women of Islam

The Woman in Islam

Our Lady Khadijah bint Khuwaylid

Nicknames: "Khadijah the Great", "the Pure", "Khadījah al-Kubra", "Khadija the Great", "Khadīja Al-Kubra"
circa 576
Mecca, Arabia
Death: Died 619 in Mecca, Arabia
Occupation: Merchant, wife of the Prophet

Khadijah bint Khuwaylid was the first wife of Muhammad and the first person to accept Islam. She is revered amongst Muslims as a "mother of the believers".

The daughter of a wealthy merchant and later a successful businesswoman in her own right, she and Muhammad shared a monogamous relationship until her death in 619 or 623 (accounts differ). She fathered two sons: Qasim and Abdullah (better known by his nicknames Tahir and Tayyib); and four daughters: Zainab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum and Fatimah. There is a dispute over the paternity of Khadijah's daughters, as Shia scholars view the first three of them as the daughters from previous marriages and Fatimah alone as the daughter of Muhammad.

Khuwaylid ibn Asad (Khadijah's father), who died around 585, was a merchant, a successful businessman whose vast wealth and business talents were inherited by Khadijah and whom the latter succeeded in faring with the family's vast wealth. It is said that when Banu Quraish's trade caravans gathered to embark upon their lengthy and arduous journey either to Syria during the summer or to Yemen during the winter, Khadijah's caravan equaled the caravans of all other traders of Quraish put together. Fatimah bint Za'idah (Khadijah's mother), died around 575, was of Banu `Amir ibn Luayy ibn Ghalib, also a distant relative of Muhammad.

Although the society in which Khadijah was born was an extremely male chauvinistic one, Khadijah earned two titles: Ameerat-Quraish (Princess of Quraish) and al-Tahira (the Pure One), due to her impeccable personality and virtuous character, not to mention her honorable descent. She used to feed and clothe the poor, assist her relatives financially, and even provide for the marriage of those of her kin who could not otherwise have had means to marry.

By 585, Khadijah was left an orphan. Regardless of having married twice, and twice losing her husband to the ravaging wars with which Arabia was afflicted, she had no mind to marry a third time though she was sought for marriage by many honorable and highly respected men of the Arabian peninsula throughout which she was quite famous due to her business dealings. She simply hated the thought of being widowed for a third time.

Her first husband was Abu Halah Hind ibn Zarah who belonged to Banu `Adiyy, and the second was Ateeq ibn `Aaith. Both men belonged to Banu Makhzum. By her first husband, she gave birth to a son who was named after his father Hind and who came to be one of the greatest Sahaba. He participated in both battles, Battle of Badr and Battle of Uhud, and he is also famous for describing the Prophet's physique; he was martyred during the Battle of the Jamal in which he fought on the side of Ali ibn Abi Talib. All biography accounts describe Hind as an outspoken orator, a man of righteousness and generosity, and one who took extreme caution while quoting Muhammad. Besides him, Khadijah gave birth to Abu Halah’s two other sons: Tahir and Halah (who is not very well known to historians despite the fact that his father is nicknamed after him).

Controversy revolves around Khadijah's children by her second husband, a dispute related to the controversy that revolves around the other daughters or step-daughters of Muhammad. These daughters, chronologically arranged, are: Zainab, Ruqayya, and Ummu Kulthoom. Some historians say that these were Khadijah's daughters by her second husband; whereas others insist they were her daughters by Muhammad. This is not probable considering Khadijah's advanced age at the time she married Muhammad.

One particular quality in Khadijah was quite interesting, probably more unusual than any of her other qualities mentioned above: she, unlike her people, never believed in nor worshipped idols.

Since Khadijah did not travel with her trade caravans, she had always had to rely on someone else to act as her agent to trade on her behalf and to receive an agreed upon commission in return. In 595, Khadijah needed an agent to trade in her merchandise going to Syria, and it was then that a number of agents whom she knew before and trusted, as well as some of her own relatives, particularly Abu Talib, suggested to her to employ her distant cousin Muhammad ibn Abdullah who, by then, had earned the honoring titles of Al-Sadiq (the truthful) and Al-Amin (the trustworthy).

Muhammad, who was 4-5 years younger than Khadija (this 4-5 year age difference is consistent with Khadjia's year of birth mentioned above as 565. There is some controversy about her year of birth. The age difference is widely believed to be 15 years in Muslim traditions, which would put her year of birth as 555), did not have any official business experience, but he had twice accompanied his uncle Abu Talib on his trade trips and keenly observed how he traded, bartered, bought and sold, and conducted business; after all, the people of Quraish were known for their involvement in trade more than in any other profession. It was not uncommon to hire an agent who did not have prior experience; so, Khadijah decided to give Muhammad a chance. He was only 25 years old. Khadijah sent Muhammad word through Khazimah ibn Hakim, one of her relatives, offering him twice as much commission as she usually offered her agents to trade on her behalf. She also gave him one of her servants, Maysarah, who was young, brilliant, and talented, to assist him and be his bookkeeper. She also trusted Maysarah's account regarding her new employee's conduct, an account that was most striking, indeed one that encouraged her to abandon her decision never to marry again.

The profits Khadijah reaped from that trip were twice as much as she had anticipated. Maysarah was more fascinated by Muhammad than by anything related to the trip. The trip's measure of success encouraged Khadijah to employ Muhammad again on the winter trip to Yemen. Yemen, at that time, was being ruled by an Ethiopian regent. This time Khadijah offered Muhammad three times the usual commission. Unfortunately, historians do not tell us much about this second trip except that it was equally profitable to both employer and employee. Some historians do not mention this trip at all.

When her husband received his first revelation from the Angel Gabriel, she was the first person — among both male and females — to convert to Islam. According to some sources, it was Khadijah's parental cousin, Waraqah ibn Nawfal, who informed Muhammad of his prophet hood soon after his vision of the angel.

Khadijah did not hesitate to embrace Islam at all, knowing that her husband could not have put forth any false claim. Yahya ibn `Afeef is quoted saying that he once came, during the period of Jahiliyyah (before the advent of Islam), to Mecca to be hosted by al-Abbas ibn Abdul-Muttalib, one of the Prophet's uncles mentioned above. "When the sun started rising," says he, "I saw a man who came out of a place not far from us, faced the Ka`ba and started performing his prayers. He hardly started before being joined by a young boy who stood on his right side, then by a woman who stood behind them. When he bowed down, the young boy and the woman bowed, and when he stood up straight, they, too, did likewise. When he prostrated, they, too, prostrated." Then he expressed his amazement at that, saying to al-Abbas: "This is quite strange, O Abbas!" "Is it, really?" retorted al-Abbas. "Do you know who he is?" al-Abbas asked his guest who answered in the negative. "He is Muhammad ibn Abdullah, my nephew. Do you know who the young boy is?" asked he again. "No, indeed," answered the guest. "He is Ali son of Abu Talib. Do you know who the woman is?" The answer came again in the negative, to which al-Abbas said, "She is Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, my nephew's wife." This incident is included in the books of both Imam Ahmad and al-Tirmithi, each detailing it in his own Sahih. And she bore patiently in the face of persecution to which her revered husband and his small band of believers were exposed at the hands of the polytheists and aristocrats of Quraish, sacrificing her vast wealth to promote Islam, seeking Allah's Pleasure.

The Prophet Muhammad 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. Once Aisha, his third wife, asked him if Khadijah had been the only woman worthy of his love.

Muhammad 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."

Muhammad took no other wife until after her death because of his love for her.

The year of her death is known as the Year of Sorrow, because of the devastation that it caused him and it was also the same year in which his uncle and guardian Abu Talib died. She was either 48 or 55 years old.

Lady Khadijah