Remembering Khadija bint Khuwaylid
[It’s good to remember the first person to have accepted the Prophet Muhammad’s message was a woman, the Prophet’s wife, Khadiha bint Khuwaylid. She was a very important person in the Prophet’s life and in his message. Her wisdom, support, and faith would earn her eternal renown in religious history. Here’s brief story about Khadiha.]
About 15 years before the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Khadija was born in Makkah. Her family was noble and prosperous. At an early age, Khadija displayed great gifts of character and insight, which earned her the trust of her father, Khuwaylid ibn Asad, who affectionately call her “al-Tahira,” the Pure One. When her father fell ill and was about to die, he left his thriving caravan enterprise to Khadija. With Khadija at the leadership of the trade, the business didn’t falter. In fact, the profits grew even more. But the greatest gift the caravan industry would bestow on Khadija would turn out to be a different kind of “prophet.”
Khadija had been married twice from among the highest of Arab nobility. Now widowed, nobles regularly came to her with marriage proposals. But Khadija was clear about what she sought out, namely, good character and not gold. Meanwhile, she attended to her responsibilities.
With a large caravan prepared to travel to Syria, Khadija needed to find someone trustworthy enough to care for the goods. Her choice was a good one. She hired Muhammad, then in his early 20s, to supervise the caravan for a good salary. Maysara, Khadija’s servant, went along as an assistant.
Immediately on their return to Makkah, Maysara hurried to Khadija to rave of the great success the journey gained, which nearly doubled her profit. Maysara spoke about the remarkable honesty and integrity of Muhammad. But there was something else. The caravan made a rest stop near the southern Syrian town of Busra. A Christian monk observed the caravan and asked Maysara, “Who is the man beneath that tree?” referring to Muhammad.
“He is a man of the Quraysh, the people who guard the Ka’ba Sanctuary,” Maysara said.
The monk exclaimed, “None other than a prophet of God sits beneath that tree.” Khadija listened carefully to Maysara and wanted to speak to Muhammad. When she saw him approaching the house, she came to the door to welcome and congratulate him on his success. He gave her his report about the trip. As he spoke, Khadija became more impressed with his noble behavior, politeness, and distinct voice. Muhammad, who was a handsome man, completed his account of the trip and went off to his uncle’s home. Khadija grew fond of Muhammad and confided her feelings with a close friend, Nufaysa, who was a known matchmaker. Khadija knew the idea of proposing marriage would never occur to Muhammad, who was young and not affluent. So she assumed the initiative. At Khadija’s request, Nufaysa went to Muhammad and asked him, “Why do you not marry?”
“I do not have the means with which to marry,” he told her.
“What if that difficulty were removed and you were invited to marry one who has beauty, wealth, noble birth, and discretion? Would you accept?”
When he asked about who this person might be and was told it was Khadija, he was surprised and pleased. Nufaysa returned with the news to Khadija. Shortly thereafter, the two were married.
For 15 years they enjoyed a very happy marriage. They were blessed with children, though the sons died in infancy. When there was famine, they fed the poor. When there were disputes, they solved them. Their marriage would remain happy for so long as they lived.
But one day, in Ramadan, the soon-to-be Prophet came home. “Cover me! Wrap me!” Muhammad told Khadija. She quickly covered his body with a cloak. He then told her that someone suddenly appeared to him in a cave, commanding him, “Read!”
Muhammad said to the strange presence, “I cannot read.”
“Then he took me and squeezed me; and when he reached the limit of my endurance, he released me and again said, ‘Read!’ I said, ‘I cannot read,’ and again he took me and squeezed me, and when he reached the limit of my endurance, he released me and said, ‘Read!’” After the third time, the visitor recited, “Read in the name of your Lord who created! Created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is the most generous, who taught with the pen—taught man what he knew not!” The visitor was Angel Gabriel calling Muhammad to prophethood.
“May God guard us,” Khadija said. “Be of good cheer and be resolute. I swear by God, in whose hand lies my life, that you will become the Prophet of this nation.” As much as the Angel’s visit shook the Prophet, Khadija’s words brought peace back into his heart. But Khadija’s reaction was not charity. She believed him. Why not? For years she has known him as trustworthy, honest, and pure.
Khadija’s immediate vote of confidence was very important to the Prophet. It was important to his calling and mission. She harbored no second thoughts of being supportive. Khadija was an independent and successful businesswoman who competed with Arabia’s shrewdest business wolves. She had wealth and prestige. She had everything that many today would give up family and life for. A person of her stature had options.
When the Prophet lay sleeping at night, she rushed to tell her cousin, Waraqa ibn Nawfal, about the Prophet’s experience. Waraqa was an old man very familiar in the scriptures of old. “Holy! Holy!” Waraqa exclaimed when Khadija’s news reached him. “The same Great Spirit [Angel Gabriel] who came to Moses has now come to Muhammad. He is surely the Prophet. Tell him to be brave and resolute.” Khadija told the Prophet of what Waraqa had said. The Prophet felt more relieved.
The Prophet told Khadija that Gabriel came again with the command to call people to God. “But who shall I call and who will hear,” he said.
“I will respond!” she said. “So call me before anyone else! I will submit and believe in your message and in your Lord!”
Later, when the Prophet visited Waraqa, he asked him, “Will they cast me out?”
“No man who brought such a message as yours was ever free of persecution.” Waraqa said. “You will be declared false, assaulted, boycotted, and attacked.”
Indeed, the Quraysh did persecute the Prophet . But with every stone, insult, plot, and obstacle thrown at the Prophet, Khadija did all she could strengthen and shield him. It is no coincidence that the most crucial years of the Prophet’s mission was with Khadija as his wife, friend, and counsel. But it took a toll on her health.
For more than two years the Quraysh enforced a rigid boycott against the Prophet. With hardly anything to eat, Khadija, now old and stooped beneath the weight of years, remained steadfast with the Prophet. During the siege, she clung to life tenaciously, refusing to leave to her family’s home, which was not under siege. When the siege failed to break the Prophet, it ended.
Khadija struggled home and took to her bed, the hardship having left her with little energy to sustain her 65-year-old body. She laid there for three days until she breathed her last breath. Her love for the Prophet never wavered from their first meeting to the hardship of Makkah’s persecution. From the start, she believed with all her heart in the Prophet’s message and shall always be known as the First—the first human being to receive and accept the message of the Final Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
The year of her death, 619ce, is known as the Year of Sadness, because the grief the Prophet felt was unlike anything he had ever experienced before. She remained in his heart and before his eyes long after her passing. Other wives would come into his house, bringing youth, beauty, prestige, and noble birth, but none was able to engage the heart of the Prophet as Khadija did. None was able to banish her from the Prophet’s memories.