By Eliza Jasani and Cecily Shield

The roles and rights of women in Islam are controversial topics.  Islamic values regarding women’s manner of dress and responsibilities seem foreign to many Western audiences.  Unfortunately, stereotypes engrained in popular media create further misconceptions in these audiences’ minds.  Without even considering the Quran or the Hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.)), however, one can find strong evidence in Islamic history to counteract these stereotypes.  First and foremost, many Muslim women would point to the woman who was closest to the Prophet Muhammad, Bibi Khadija bint al-Khuwaylid (a.s.). 


Bibi Khadija was the Prophet’s first wife.  Her father was a prominent member of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca. Upon his death, she took over his business, becoming a wealthy businesswoman in a time when both the society and economy were very male-dominated. Throughout her career, no matter what challenges she faced, she never compromised her modesty or her integrity to succeed; instead, she handled her business with grace and intellect, earning herself the nickname Al-Tahira, meaning “The Pure One.” 


Khadija hired only the men she found to be of the highest moral standard to take her caravans across numerous trade routes.  The Prophet was one of these men. When she hired Muhammad, she had already been married and widowed twice. Because she was such a successful and wealthy woman, she received many proposals, but she opted to take care of her family on her own, as she was very selective in whom she would marry. 


At the time, marriages usually occurred for political or economic reasons. However, Khadija did not need a man to help her support her family, nor did Muhammad have the means to marry a woman of her status. Still, Khadija fell in love with him and asked for his hand in marriage, a rare gesture for women to make even today.  A strong testament to the strength of their love, Mohammad did not marry another woman until Khadija passed away 25 years later, even though having multiple wives was almost expected. 


Khadija’s actions also expressed a strong love.  Most importantly, she supported the Prophet Muhammad when he first began to receive revelations from Allah. Following his first encounter with Allah, Muhammad immediately rushed to his wife and told her what had happened. Bibi Khadija comforted him and became the first person to accept him as the final messenger of God, the first Muslim. Throughout her lifetime, she continued to stand firm with Muhammad and never wavered in her support for him or his message.  In the words of Munira Lalani, an Ismaili Muslim woman in the SETX area, “[Khadija lived her life humbly, and Islam’s message would not have spread so much if it had not been for her support of the Prophet Muhammad.”


After 25 years of marriage, Khadija became ill and passed away. The period after her death is known to be the darkest period of the Prophet’s life; in many ways, she had been his only true confidant-- the only person he could always trust.


  Later in his life, when asked to name the four greatest women in humankind, the Prophet listed Mary bint Emran (the mother of Jesus), Asiya bint Muzahim (the wife of Pharoah, who adopted Moses), Fatima bint Muhammad (Muhammad’s youngest daughter), and Bibi Khadija.  Her piety, respect, love, self-sufficiency, and devotion to her husband are all inspirations. Mrs. Lalani puts it this way: “She is a role model not only for Muslim women but for all people.”


In the West, the media often takes select Quranic verses or Hadiths entirely out of context and uses them to justify their outdated views about Muslims. They fail to look at the woman who the Prophet loved most. A single mother, a successful businesswoman, a voice for justice, and a wife who guided her husband through the most trying moments of his life, Khadija, according to Mrs. Lalani, “empowered women through her actions.”  That empowerment continues to this day and must be included in any discussion of women in Islam.