By: Prema Rahman, MPAC Policy Analyst
As we approach the final days of Women’s History Month, it is only timely to remember the legacy of Khadijah bint Khuwaylid. Most of us know her as the first wife of Prophet Muhammad, but she was so much more than that. To this day, she remains an inspiration for Muslim women worldwide. And for good reason.
Born in 6th century CE, in a heavily patriarchal era when women had little to no rights and equality, Khadijah inherited her father’s wealth and went on to become a successful businesswoman. She became known widely for her astute and independent nature, earning a reputation as a fair and just dealer of high-quality goods.
A twice widowed Khadijah proposed marriage to her then-employee Prophet Muhammad, who was, according to many sources, about ten to fifteen years younger than her and remained his only wife until her passing. Even today, despite all the advancements we have made toward achieving greater equality and rights for women, Khadijah’s marriage would be considered socially unacceptable on a number of fronts: a widow marrying a previously unmarried man, a female boss marrying her employee, a high-earning woman marrying a lesser-earning man, and, of course, a middle-aged woman marrying a much younger man.
Khadijah then went on to become the first person ever to convert to Islam and supported both the Prophet and the early followers of Islam with her political power, wealth, and influence. When Islam was in its early stages in Mecca, and the Meccans boycotted all who converted to Islam, and protected Muslims, it is argued that it was Khadijah’s wealth that saved Islam and the early Muslims. She is the embodiment of the prophetic tradition that states “give to the humanity until it hurts,” for when Khadijah reached the latter stages of her life, historians state that supported the cause and gave to the needy to the point that she didn’t even have any money left for a shroud to be buried in.
This then begs the question, just how much have we in fact progressed as a society?
Fourteen hundred years later, regardless of culture, religion, or nationality, women continue to not only be seen as less or face higher barriers to entry and opportunity, but those who succeed in becoming something more than men (more in age, more in wage, more in influence, the list goes on) then face a completely new set of prejudicial or sexist behavior.
In the United States, we have yet to have a female president, although throughout history we have seen many women lead Muslim-majority nations. In our legislative and judicial branches as well, the representation of women lags far behind that of men. This is just scratching the surface–if we were to dive into the income inequalities, unpaid labor, societal pressures, and various other hurdles women, especially women of color, face in America and the rest of the world, this piece would go on for many more pages. We are witnessing this today with the backlash seen in the Senate for the Biden administration’s nomination of the first Black woman to the Supreme Court.
And that is exactly why we must look to the trailblazing life that Khadijah led and draw inspiration from her legacy, not just as women, but as the whole of society. To honor the legacy of Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, we must empower all the Khadijahs that we have in our society, and allow them to reach the highest levels of serving humanity.