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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 8 March 2017, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Remembering the First Lady of Islam

By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam

08 March 2017

International Women’s Day, 8th March

Motherhood is a mercy, being linked

By close affinity to Prophethood,

 And her compassion is the prophet’s own.

 For mothers shape the way that men shall go;

 Maturer, by the grace of Motherhood,

The character of nations is the lines

That score that brow determine our estate.

-Sir Muhammad Iqbal -Rumuz-e-Bekhudi (Mysteries of Selflessness)

This woman, who is your beloved, is in fact a ray of His light, She is not a mere creature. She is like a creator

Jalaluddin Rumi

 The portrayal of Muslim women that we glimpse in the media is grim and somber. The public perception of them is one of stubborn stereotypes: supposedly powerless and oppressed, behind walls and veils, demure, voiceless and silent figures, discriminated and bereft of even basic rights.  Yet this is far from true.

Contrary to general belief, Muslim women have held the flag of enlightenment all through the historical ages. The early Muslim community recognized and honoured a wide spectrum of female roles and responsibilities. A mother was considered the first school for her children. In Islam, a woman is seen as an individual in her own right, an independent entity, and not as a shadow or adjunct to her husband or any other man. Muslim women are fully entitled to education, work, business ownership, and inheritance. 

A closer look at and evaluation of the roles Muslim women have played in many fields including literature, law, art, Islamic studies, the humanities, social sciences and administration — reveals that women, past and present, have achieved and contributed a great deal to intellectual and cultural life in the Islamic world, despite the ways in which they have been caught in the problematic intersections of thought and patriarchal politics. From the first centuries of Islam, women were respected – and held authority – as religious scholars, teachers and leaders, for example as narrators and teachers of Hadith.  

One such iconic female figure was Khadijah Bint al-Khuwaylid (565-623), the Prophet’s first wife and incidentally the first lady of Islam.

Khadijah was born to a father who was a successful merchant in their Quraysh tribe of Mecca. She inherited her father's skills in a time in history when society was male-dominated. Upon her father's death, she took over the business and traded goods through the primary commerce centres at that time, from Mecca to Syria and to Yemen, hiring the most trustworthy men of character to brave the dangerous trade routes. Her business was larger than all of the Quraysh trades combined and the most acclaimed with a reputation of fair-dealing and high-quality goods. When all the Quraysh caravans gathered to begin their long journeys to Syria in the winter or Yemen in the summer, the caravan of Khadijah was equal in size to all of the other caravans combined She had a keen eye and was highly intuitive, earning the monikers, Ameerat-Quraysh ("Princess of Quraysh") and al-Tahira ("The Pure One") due to her stellar reputation. Khadija knew what she was doing business-wise, never compromising her modesty or integrity to succeed in the male-dominated trades- hiring only those that could meet these standards. 

Being the most successful woman around, rich in worldly attainment as well as character, it seems Khadijah faced a consistent campaign of men seeking her hand in marriage. She was married twice before her wedlock to the Prophet; both of these marriages produced children and both left her widowed. Her keen sense of character left her picky; and, she was less than eager to suffer another painful loss of a husband. She resigned herself to being a widowed woman taking care of herself and her family.  ...

The Prophet’s uncle under whose guardianship he was cared after being orphaned, Abu Talib had several mouths to feed. It was necessary that he find for his nephew a higher paying job than herdsmanship. One day he heard that Khadijah was hiring men of the Quraysh tribe to work for her in her trade.

 When Abu Talib learned that she was preparing a caravan to send to al Sham, he called his nephew, who was then twenty-five years of age, and said to him, “My nephew, I am a man devoid of wealth and possessions. The times have been hard on us. I have heard that Khadijah has hired a man to do her trade for a remuneration of two young camels. We shall not accept for you remuneration as little as that. Do you wish that I talk to her in this regard?” Muhammad answered, “Let it be as you say my uncle.” Abu Talib went to Khadijah and said, “O Khadijah, would you hire Muhammad? We have heard that you have hired a man for the remuneration of two young camels, but we would not accept for Muhammad any less than four.” Khadijah answered: “Had you asked this for an alien or a hateful man, I would have granted your request. How then can I turn you down when \your request is in favor of a dear relative?” Abu Talib returned to Muhammad and told him the news, adding, “That is a true grace from God.”

On his first trip in the employment of Khadijah, Muhammad was accompanied by Maysarah, her slave, who was also recommended to Muhammad by his uncle. The caravan made its way to al Sham, passing through Wad Al Zahran, Madyan and Thamud as well as those spots through which Muhammad had passed once before with his uncle Abu Talib when he was twelve years old. 

Two unusual events took place during this journey which puzzled Maysarah very much. The first happened when they stopped to rest near the lonely home of a monk. Muhammad sat under a tree while Maysarah was busy with some work. The monk came up to Maysarah and asked, ‘Who is the man resting under the tree?’ ‘One of Quraysh, the people who guard the Ka’bah’, said Maysarah. ‘No one but a Prophet is sitting beneath this tree’, replied the monk. The second event occurred on the journey back to Makkah. It happened at noon, when the sun is at its hottest. Maysarah was riding behind Muhammad and as the sun grew fiercer he saw two angels appear above Muhammad and shield him from the sun.

Muhammad’s gentle and persuasive style, further refined by his cultural values enabled him to make great gains for Khadijah-indeed more than anyone had done before! And his loyalty and gentleness had won for him the love and admiration of the slave, Maysarah. After he had completed all his business dealings, Muhammad bought for Khadijah that entire she had asked him of the products of al Sham.

When the caravan had returned to al Zahran near Makkah, Maysarah said to Muhammad   “Run to Khadijah, O Muhammad, and bring to her the news of your success. She will reward you well.” Muhammad galloped on his camel towards the residence of his employer and arrived there about noon. Khadijah listened to his report. When Muhammad gave a scrupulous balance of the accounts, Khadijah was even more intrigued to hear Maysara’s story of the journey. He gave his mistress a glowing report of Muhammad and also hinted that there was something otherworldly about him. Shortly, despite her forty years of age and the indifference with which she rejected the offers of the noblest of Quraysh, her respect for her employee was to turn into love. Although twice widowed and significantly older than him, she proposed marriage, and returning her affection Muhammad accepted.

 When he received the first revelation in a cave, it was Khadijah to whom he stumbled down the mountain. Physically shaking and unable to comprehend his experience, Mohammed turned to Khadijah, who immediately recognized the significance of what had happened and encouraged him to let go of his fears. She was the first to understand the importance of the revelation and is widely regarded as the first Muslim, who led many others to believe. It was she who sustained, strengthened, and supported him against his own doubt and bewilderment. She played a central role in supporting and propagating the new faith of Islam.   She   saw Muhammad   through the roughest years in his becoming a prophet. It was to her that he brought his fears of madness and his tears of wonder. She simply began to balance everyday life with Divine Wonder as part of ordinary reality. Known for her business acumen and compassion, she gave up everything her wealth, her prestige, her everything in supporting the birth of this new religion.   With her husband, however, she faced persecution because of her beliefs and actions until her death. Despite the prevalence of polygamy in war torn Arabia, Prophet Mohammed never took another wife while Khadijah was alive.   

Islamic tradition praises Asiya, Mary, Khadija, and Fatima as the four women who provided monumental examples of excellence in faith. 

The Prophet said   “The best of the women of Paradise are Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, Fatimah bint Muhammad, Aasiyah bint Mazaahim the wife of Pharaoh, and Maryam bint ‘Imraan – may Allah be pleased with them.” (Narrated by Ahmad, 2663. Classed as Sahih by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Jaami’, 1135

He reiterated again elsewhere: “Sufficient for you among the women of the world are Maryam the daughter of ‘Imraan. Khadeejah bint Khuwaylid, Faatimah bint Muhammad and Aasiyah the wife of Pharaoh.” (Narrated and classed as Saheeh by al-Tirmidhi, 3878)

Indeed, another of the most important women of early Islam, Fāimah al-Zahrā’, was the daughter of the Prophet by Khadijah and it is only through Fāimah (especially through her two sons, al-Hasan and al-Husayn) that the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad   is preserved. 

The Prophet said of Khadijah:

“She believed in me while the people disbelieved in me. And she trusted in me while the people belied me. And she helped and comforted me in person and in wealth when the people would not. Allah provided me with children by her, and He did not with others.”(Musnad Imam Ahmad 6/118)

At another place he continues to shower an effusive tribute: "God Almighty never granted me anyone better in this life than her. She accepted me when people rejected me; she believed in me when people doubted me; she shared her wealth with me when people deprived me; and God granted me children only through her."(Sahih Muslim).

Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker .He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades.


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