Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Khadijah, First Woman of Islam

Remarkable women have done remarkable things in every part of the world in every time in history. Most of their accomplishments were not recorded in history books. While just as brilliant, creative, and courageous as men, women in many societies have been valued less, and often their contributions discounted, not recorded at all, or attributed to men. Notable exceptions were women so extraordinary their worth could not be ignored or minimized. One such woman, revered by billions, is Khadijah bint Khuwaylid (Khadijah, daughter of Khuwaylid), born in Mekka in 555 CE.

Khadijah was born to a life of privilege. Her family was important in Mekka and quite wealthy; she could have lived a life of ease all her days. Khadijah, however, was an intelligent and industrious young woman who enjoyed business and became very skilled. When her father died, the young woman took charge of the family business, which thrived and grew under her direction. Compassionate as well as hard-working, Khadijah gave a great deal of money to help others—assisting the poor, sick, disabled, widows, orphans, and giving poor couples money to marry.

Twice Khadijah married, and when each of her husbands died, she overcame her grief and continued to rear her small children and run her successful caravan business by herself. Khadijah had many employees, including the important position of her agent, who traveled with her caravans, negotiated deals in other cities, and took charge of the large amounts of money involved in the trading business.

When Khadijah was 40 years old, she was widely known in Arabia as a powerful, smart, independent woman, and many men wanted to work for her. However, when she needed to hire an agent, she did not hire any of the men who eagerly sought the job. Instead, she selected a hard-working young man named Muhammad who had the reputation of being honest and diligent. Muhammad was only 25 years old when he accepted the job, but he proved to be an excellent employee and a courteous and ethical man. Within a fairly short time Khadijah concluded he would be a suitable partner in life, as well, and so she, Khadijah, proposed marriage to Muhammad.

The difference in their ages was 15 years, but there was never a question of their complete devotion to each other. Muhammad continued to work for Khadijah's caravan business, and they had six children together, although only one of the children, a girl named Fatimah, lived to adulthood. Khadijah and Muhammad lived happily in this busy, productive way for 15 years, but when Muhammad was 40 their lives took a radical turn.

Muhammad meditated in a cave outside Mecca from time to time, and one afternoon he returned home from the cave exhausted and frightened, calling to Khadijah for help. He told her the angel Gabriel had spoken to him with a message from God, but he did not know what it meant. Khadijah believed Muhammad. She assured him he was sane and that this news was good, not fearful. Khadijah became the first convert to Islam, and remained Muhammad's most staunch believer, ally, and friend through the trials that lay ahead.

Khadijah encouraged Muhammad to leave the business and preach full time. She financially supported him so he could preach with all his heart and energy; she sustained him in this way for the rest of her life. When necessary, she supported his followers, too. In the early years, when the growth of Islam was slow and increasingly dangerous, Khadijah protected Muhammad with her political power and influence. As time passed, Muhammad's compelling word gained followers, and just as steadily, city leaders became more alarmed and wanted Muhammad arrested. Eventually, when the authorities could not be kept away and finally came for him, Khadijah left her comfortable home to join her husband, Muhammad, in hiding. Three years of rugged living followed, during which Khadijah depleted her entire large fortune supporting the followers of Islam. Her wealth was gone and her health strained to the breaking point by deprivation. However, her spirits remained high and her devotion never flagged. Finally, the brave, honorable, and faithful Khadijah became ill and died.

The year Khadijah died was 619 CE. She was 65 years old, and she and Muhammad had been partners for 25 years. Muhammad's uncle Abu Talib also died that year, and Muhammad called 619 the Year of Sorrow. It is known in Islamic history as the Year of Sorrow to this day.

Khadijah is recognized as a great woman. Muhammad revered Khadijah's memory the rest of his life, and consistently held her up to both men and women as a model of intelligence, virtue, courage, and devotion to family and to God. During the 25 years of their marriage, Muhammad remained married only to Khadijah. After Khadijah died, Muhammad had numerous wives at once as was the custom of that time.

Khadijah is revered by Muslims worldwide, honored with the titles First Believer and Mother of Believers. Muslims believe Islam is the true faith, originating with Adam and Eve, so the work of Muhammad did not create Islam. However, its success is in great part due to Khadijah's unwavering support in its formative years.