Historians have recorded with astounding details the early beginnings of the message of Islam and what this religion has developed into nearly a millennium and a half later. We know the socio-economic conditions of the tribe of Quraysh that Muhammed was born into and where he was sent as a messenger.
We know the Qurayshi leaders by name, their trade, their poets, their markets, and their deities and rituals. Historiographers and chroniclers have tracked with precision the course of the religion from Mecca to Medina, then to the Levant and Persia, and finally to all parts of the world.
Yet it should be remembered that Islam, which has therefrom reached the farthest corners of the world, would not have achieved such a success without the propelling force of those who surrounded the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), Khadija bint Khuwaylid above all others.
Born in the tribe of Quraish to Khuwaylid ibn Asad ibn Abd al-Uzza and Fatima bint Zaidah ibn al-Asam, Khadija soon found herself a wife at the age of 15 when her father consented to her marriage to Abu Halah Hind ibno Zararah at-Taymiyy. The latter would pass away a few years later, leaving her two children, Hind and Halah.
Khadija’s second marriage was to Atiq ibn Abid al-Makhzumiyy, who was a wealthy Meccan merchant. Yet, their marital life did not last long and she was widowed for the second time. Having inherited her father’s and her second husband’s fortunes, Khadija would thereafter engage herself in commerce by hiring men to run her trade between Mecca and Syria.
According to many historical accounts, Khadija was a powerful unveiled woman, a matriarch, and a respected businesswoman.
According to many historical accounts, Khadija was a powerful unveiled woman, a matriarch, and a respected businesswoman. Before the advent of Islam, she earned the labels of al-Tahira (the chaste woman) and Amirat nisa’e Quraysh (the princess of Qurayshi women) because of her integrity, leadership, altruism, and forthright personality. She once heard of the dependability and nobility of character of a young man called Muhammed, and she decided to hire him for her business. His were the very traits she needed for someone to entrust her capital to.
After his first mission to Syria, where he was sent accompanied by Khadija’s slave boy, Maysarah, Muhammed proved that he was the right person, as his mission rendered greater profits than ever before. Khadija was very satisfied and compensated him more than the other men who traded for her. When her slave boy told her about what he witnessed of Muhammed’s noble character during their journey, she was impressed and decided to propose to him.
“Cousin, your kinship to me, your standing among your people, your reliability, your good character, and your truthfulness make you a desirable match,” Khadija told Muhammed.
Not only does her bold initiative reveal Khadija’s fierce independence and intellect but also her honorable nature for choosing to marry a destitute man whose only dowry was his honesty and trustworthiness (al-sadiq al-Amin). Indeed, all the wealthy men of her tribe would have been eager to marry her if such a proposal had been made to them. In so doing, Khadija set a moral example for posterity by favoring moral values and character over money and social status.
Khadija set a moral example for posterity by favoring moral values and character over money and social status.
Two months after Muhammed’s first journey to Syria, the marriage was grandiosely celebrated in the presence of the notables of Banu Hashim (Muhammed’s clan) and Banu Asad (Khadija’s tribe). Despite the age difference between them – indeed, Khadija was 40-years-old while Muhammed was only 25 when they got married – they made a perfect match, and their life was characterized by cooperation, love, and mutual respect.
Fifteen years after their marriage, Muhammed started having the first prophetic experiences which he could neither understand nor cope with. When he was meditating in seclusion in the cave of Hira, where he used to spend a number of days before returning to his family, he unexpectedly had a vision of the angel Gabriel in the horizon. Terrified and awe-stricken, Muhammed immediately sought sanctuary and reassurance in the arms of his beloved.
“I had been standing but fell to my knees, and crawled away, my shoulders trembling. I went to Khadija and said: ‘Wrap me up, wrap me up,’” Muhammed later related. “When the terror had left me, he came to me and said: ‘Muhammed, you are the messenger of God.’”
Sitting next to him thigh to thigh and listening patiently, Khadija was very understanding and comforting in such a time of distress and panic. She did not blame Muhammed for spending days in solitude away from her, nor did she accuse him of hallucinations or insanity. She rather embraced him gently and eased his anxiety with these affirming words: “Rejoice, for God will never put you to shame, for you treat your kinsfolk well, tell the truth, deliver what is entrusted to you, endure fatigue, offer hospitality to the guest, and aid people in misfortune.”
With her soothing remarks, Khadija became the first human being to hold the experience of Muhammed as truthful, to believe in him, and follow his message of Islam.
During the later years of Daawa (proclaiming Islam to people), Muhammed and his followers faced intense adversity and persecution from their tribe.
During the later years of Daawa (proclaiming Islam to people), Muhammed (pbuh) and his followers faced intense adversity and persecution from their tribe. Nevertheless, Khadija remained steadfast and committed in her support of Muhammed and his cause. Her fortune was devoted to helping the poor and feeding the hungry, especially during times of hardships.
In the seventh year after revelation, the Quraysh gathered and decided to boycott the Banu Hashim and the Banu al-Muttalib, the clans of Muhammed and Khadija. The Quraysh drew up a binding document in which they undertook not to marry women from the Banu Hashim and the Banu al-Muttalib, nor give them women in marriage, sell anything to them or buy anything from them.
The Banu Hashim and the Banu al-Muttalib were thereafter driven out to a nearby valley where they lived unsheltered in dire scarcity, thirst, and hunger for almost three years. Khadija had voluntarily forsaken her comfort and prosperity to stand by her husband and persecuted Muslim community during its most intense time of adversity and oppression.
In the tenth year following Muhammed’s divine revelation, Khadija passed away at the age of 65 after enduring unimaginable inflictions and suffering in the valley. That year was named “The year of sorrow” by Prophet Muhammed (pbuh).
Khadija was the only wife with whom the Prophet lived monogamously for 25 years of marriage. She was also the mother of six of his children (the mother of his seventh child, Ibrahim, was Lady Maria the Coptic). Their daughters – Zaynab, Ruqqayyah, Um Kalthum, and Fatima az-Zahra – lived until they witnessed the dawn of Islam and emigrated with the Prophet to Medina, while their sons – al-Qassim and Abd Allah – died before the advent of Islam.
Long after her death, Khadija remained in the Prophet’s heart and mind, so much so that his later wives would feel jealous of her.
Long after her death, Khadija remained in the Prophet’s heart and mind, so much so that his later wives would feel jealous of her because of the loving position she posthumously occupied throughout the Prophet’s life.
A’icha, one of the most prominent wives of the Prophet, recounted that: “Once Halah bint Khuwaylid, who was Khadija’s sister and whose voice was similar to that of Khadija, asked the permission of the Prophet to enter. … the Prophet said: ‘Oh Allah, Halah, the sister of Khadija!’ So I became jealous and said: ‘What makes you remember an old woman amongst the old women of Quraysh, an old woman who died long ago, and in whose place Allah has given you somebody better than her?’”
A’icha said that this angered the Prophet so much that it made his hair stand up on the back of his neck. Then he replied: “No, by Allah, He has not given me a better one in her place, for she believed in me when all people disbelieved, trusted me when people belied me, consoled me with her money when people dispossessed me, and from her I had children.”
The story of Khadija is an exceptional one. Every chapter of her life is a testament to her strength as a woman in a male-dominated society, her uncompromising faith during times of extreme adversity, and her nobility and beauty of soul. Many Muslims believe that it was God’s provisions and providence that paved the way for Islam to spread and inhabit the hearts of billions of people throughout history. While this may be true, the role Khadija played in supporting the Prophet and unyieldingly standing by his side when he was in dire need was indeed very decisive.
 Al-Tabari, The History of Al-Tabari, trans. W. Montgomery Watt, Vol.VI (New York: State University of New York Press, 1988), p. 48.
 Al-Tabari, The History of Al-Tabari, trans. W. Montgomery Watt, Vol.VI, (New York: State University of New York Press, 1988), p. 68.
 Muhammed Fathi Musa, The Wives of the Prophet Muhammad: Their Strives and Their Lives (Cairo: Islamic IC, 2001), p.21.
Muhammed Fathi Musa, The Wives of the Prophet Muhammad: Their Strives and Their Lives (Cairo: Islamic IC, 2001), p.22.