Women’s month: Sayyidah Khadijah, the first Muslim to give charity
IN South Africa, women’s month – celebrated in August – is a tribute to many things. It is remembered due to the famous march to the Union Buildings on 6 August 1956 by African women protesting the passbook, and, it is an acknowledgment of the challenges women still face today, such as discrimination.
Sadly, the Muslim community is not exempt from this inherent chauvinism, and nor is it exempt from the curse of domestic violence, something that SANZAF’s field workers regularly encounter in their counselling sessions.
If we resort to the Prophetic example, there is ample evidence that most of us have forgotten just how anti-racist, and just how anti-chauvinist, the blessed Prophet Muhammad was. Apart from abolishing the bizarre and cruel Arab practice of burying infant girls, he never – ever – denied women access to Din.
This is how, for example, Nusaybah bint Ka’b, who out of concern at the casualties at the Battle of Uhud, picked up a sword and went into combat to defend the Prophet. She would go on to fight at the battles of Hunayn and Yamamah.
Together with Umm Asma bint ‘Amr bin ‘Adi she had also requested to take the ba’yah, the oath of Islam at Aqabah, face-to-face with the Prophet. It is significant that the Prophet had agreed without objection.
This, then, is just one of many accounts about the dynamic role of women in Islam, so buried and so forgotten in our history. It is ironic today that whilst some obscurantists wish to confine women to the periphery, women are centre stage: running NGOs, teaching our children, running our households and sitting as judges in our courts.
So this August it is only appropriate that we remember one of Islam’s finest figures, Sayyidah Khadijah bint Khuwaylid.
Martin Lings in his classical Prophetic biography writes that “one of the richer merchants of Mecca was a woman – Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, of the clan of Asad. She was first cousin to Waraqah, the Christian, and his sister Qutaylah, and like them she was a distant cousin to the sons of Hashim”.
She had already been married twice, and since the death of her second husband it had been her practice to employ men to trade on her behalf. That was how she had hired Muhammad, known as ‘the trustworthy one’, a reticent young man renowned for his uprightness and honesty.
Khadijah had been hugely impressed by this young man, whose gentle ways had entered her heart, enlivened by the accounts of her slave, Maysarah, of their journey to Sham where Bahira the monk had recognised the Prophet, and two Angels had shaded him from the sun.
The Prophet, blessings upon him, was twenty-five years old. Khadijah saw a man of medium stature, inclined to slimness, with broad shoulders and a proportioned body. She saw that his hair and beard were thick and black, not altogether straight, slightly curled.
But, in addition to his physical beauty, she saw that there was radiance in his face – and this was particularly apparent on his forehead, and in his warm eyes. Khadijah knew that she herself was still beautiful, but she was fifteen years older. She was an independent woman, and the thought had struck her: would Muhammad be prepared to marry her?
One of the people she consulted was Waraqah, to whom she recounted the miraculous events of the Prophet’s journey to Sham. Waraqah had confirmed to her that Muhammad would be a prophet.
Given this, Khadija’s words of proposal are astounding. She expressed no wish for status, and never referred to his prophethood, which would occur 15 years later. Instead, she referred to his character:
“Son of mine uncle, I love thee for thy kinship with me, and for that thou art ever in the centre, not being a partisan amongst the people for this or for that; and I love thee for thy trustworthiness and for the beauty of thy character and the truth of thy speech.”
What is outstanding, even today, is that Sayyidah Khadijah was not only financially independent, and older than her husband, but that she proposed to him. Following this, Sayyidah Khadijah would be the Prophet’s faithful consort for 25 years, and give birth to his four famous daughters: Fatimah, Ruqayyah, Zainab and Umm Kulthum as well as his son, ‘Abdullah, who would pass on in his infancy.
Waraqah had warned his cousin of tests to come, but she had said nothing about this to her husband. And when he had run down from Jabl Nur after the frightening experience of the first Revelation, it was to her that he had sought consolation, saying: “Cover me! Cover me!”
And indeed, it was Sayyidah Khadijah who was the first to support him; it was Sayyidah Khadijah who became the first Muslim; and it was she, together with the Prophet, who would suffer the abuse of the Quraysh and the barbs of Abu Jahl. But more significantly, is that whilst she still had wealth – before the infamous and crippling boycott of the Bani Hashim – she would be the first Muslim to give charity.
This is something for which Sayyidah Khadijah is not always given her proper due, especially in a male dominated world.