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The First Supporter

From Ayat Jamilah: Beautiful Signs by Sarah Conover and Valerie Wahl (Boston: Skinner House, 2010). Available from the UUA Bookstore. All rights reserved.

Khadija was a wealthy businesswoman who needed to hire someone she could depend on to do her trading and to care for her goods when her caravan reached Syria . After a brief search, she hired Muhammad ibn Adjullah, known throughout Mecca as the "The Trustworthy." He accepted the position and performed his tasks responsibly.

After he returned with an excellent recommendation from those who accompanied him, Khadija decided he would make the best of husbands—even though he was fifteen years younger. She asked Muhammad to marry her. He agreed. Together, they had six children and their business continued to flourish.

One day, Muhammad and Khadija's lives changed forever. Muhammad had gone to a cave on a nearby mountain to meditate, something he did frequently. This time, however, the angel Gabriel appeared, filling the cave, and then the horizon, with his enormous presence. He said he had a message from Allah for Muhammad: This message began the revelation of the Qur'an.

When the Angel disappeared, Muhammad raced home. He was trembling as he said to Khadija, "Cover me!" She covered him with a blanket until he was calm.

"O, Khadija! What is wrong with me?" he said. "I am afraid that something bad has happened to me." He then described his overwhelming experience in the cave.

As she listened to his words, Khadija did not share his fears. She realized that something tremendous and awe-inspiring had happened to her husband, but she was sure it was something good. She comforted him by saying, "No, it's not possible that it's something bad. It must be good news! By Allah, He will never disgrace you, for you are good to your family and relatives, you speak the truth, and help the poor and the destitute. You serve your guests generously and help those in distress."

Khadija felt sure that Muhammad had received a true message from God. Seeking to reassure him, she asked him to go with her to see her cousin, Waraqa who was knowledgeable about Jewish and Christian scripture.

Khadija said to Waraqa, "Listen to the story of Muhammad, O, my cousin!"

Waraqa then said, "What have you seen?" Muhammad described what had happened to him. Waraqa then said, "This is the same Gabriel whom Allah sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live up to the time when your people will turn you out."

Muhammad asked, "Will they drive me out?"

Waraqa replied, "Every prophet of God who said something similar to what you have said was treated with hostility. If I live until you have this problem, then I will support you strongly."

Waraqa died soon after he met with Muhammad. However, Khadija was convinced of Muhammad's prophethood and never wavered in her support of her husband. When the Prophet Muhammad was commanded by Allah to call the people to worship one God alone, Khadija did not hesitate to express in public what she had known in secret for some time. "I bear witness that there is no god except Allah," she said, "and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah."

With that one public statement, Khadija lost her position as one of the most prestigious people in Mecca and became an outcast. Even so, she refused to hide, and made a point of going with her husband to the Ka'bah in the center of town for prayer.

Her clear thinking plus her generous giving of her time and wealth were an enormous help to the small group that declared their faith in public. Some of her money went to free slaves who had embraced Islam and were being cruelly treated because of it.

Eventually all the members of Muhammad's tribe who had kept him from harm, and all poor Muslims, were driven out of Mecca and forced to live in a small ravine in the nearby mountains. Here, the Muslims were exposed to bitterly cold winter nights, and later the fiery hot days of summer with very little food and shelter. No one was allowed to buy or sell with the Muslims. Because she was from a different tribe, and wealthy, Khadija was not forced to join them. However, it was unthinkable to her that she not be with, and support, her husband and the other Muslims. Knowing that it would be especially difficult for her due to her advanced age, she nevertheless moved out to the ravine.

After three very long and difficult years, the boycott was lifted and the Muslims were allowed to re-enter the city, but the years of hardship had taken their toll. Khadija's intellect and faith remained strong, but her body could not recover from its deprivation, and she died soon after.

Some years later the Prophet Muhammad said of her, "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."

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Last updated on Sunday, November 9, 2014.

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