Abdullah ibn Jafar reported that he heard Sayyiduna Ali say in Kufa that Allah’s Messenger, (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “The best of the women of her time was Maryam, daughter of Imran, and the best of the women of her time was Khadijah, daughter of Khuwaylid.”
Is it not a great honor that the first person to embrace Islam was a woman? She was the first to bear witness that there is no god except Allah and that her husband was the Messenger of Allah. Her husband was our beloved Prophet Muhammad, (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and she was called Khadijah, ( may Allah be pleased with her) She was also called Thaira, meaning ‘pure’.
Khadijah, may Allah be pleased with her, came from a noble family. Her father Khuwaylid had been one of the most honored leaders of their tribe until he was killed in battle. Her husband had also died, leaving her a very wealthy woman. When Muhammad (peace be upon him) was still a young man, she entrusted him with some of her wealth, asking him to trade with it in Syria on her behalf. He was already well known for his honesty, truthfulness and trustworthiness. He returned from Syria after having made a large profit for Khadijah.
After hearing his account of the journey, she decided that he would make the best of the husbands, even though many of the most important nobles of the Quraish had already proposed to her and had been refused, and in due course she proposed to him. After the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Talib, had given the proposed marriage his blessing, Muhammad and Khadijah were married. At the time of the marriage, the Prophet was twenty-five years old, while Khadijah was forty years old.
For the next fifteen years they lived happily together, and Khadijah bore several children. Their first child, a son whom they named Qasim, died when he was only two years old. Two more sons, called Tayyib and Tahir, were also born, but they too died in their infancy. However, Muhammad and Khadijah also had four daughters who survived: Zaynab, Ruqayya, Umm Kulthum and Fatima.
No one except Allah of course, knows more about a man than his wife, both his good and his bad qualities, his strengths and his weaknesses. The more Khadijah came to know about her husband, the more she loved and respected him. Everyone in Makka called him ‘al-Amin’, which means ‘the trustworthy one’, and she, more than anyone else, knew how fitting this name was. It became Muhammad’s custom each year to spend the month of Ramadan in seclusion and reflection in a cave on the mountain of Hira, which is on the outskirts of Makka. Khadijah would always make sure that he was provided with food and drink during his retreat. Towards the end of one Ramadan, when he was forty and Khadijah fifty-five, Muhammad suddenly appeared at their house in the middle of the night, trembling with fear and saying, “Cover me up, cover me up!”
Khadijah was very alarmed to see him in such a state. Quickly she wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and, when he had calmed down, she asked him to describe exactly what had happened. He told her how a being whom he had never seen before – in fact it was the angel Jibril – had suddenly appeared to him while he was asleep and had said, “Read!”
“But I cannot read,” he had replied, for he was unlettered and could neither read or write. “Read!” the angel had repeated, clasping Muhammad close to his chest. “I cannot read,” he had repeated. “Read!” the angel had repeated, firmly embracing him yet again. “What shall I read?” he had asked in desperation, and the angel had replied:
“Read, in the Name of your Lord who created, created man from a clot, Read, and your Lord is the Most Gracious, Who taught with the pen, taught man what he did not know.” (Quran 96:1-5)
Although Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) did not fully realize it at the time, this was the beginning of the revelation of the Qur’an; but in that first encounter with the angel Jibril, Muhammad was very frightened, for he did not know who the angel Jibril was or what was happening. He woke up and ran out of the cave only to find Jibril still in front of him, and whenever he turned away from him, there Jibril was in front of him yet again, filling the horizon with his mighty yet beautiful form.
“Oh Muhammad,” said Jibril eventually, “you are the Messenger of Allah and I am Jibril,” and with these words he disappeared from Muhammad’s sight.
After the angel had disappeared Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had clambered down the mountain as fast as he could run, not knowing if he was going mad and imagining things, or if he had been possessed by one of the jinn.
As she listened to Muhammad’s words, Khadijah did not share any of these fears. She realized that something tremendous and awe-inspiring had happened to her husband, and she was certain, knowing him as she did, that he was neither mad nor possessed. “Do not worry,” she said, “for by Him who has dominion over Khadijah’s soul, I hope that you are the Prophet of this nation. Allah would never humiliate you, for you are good to your relatives, you are true to your word, you help those who are in need, you support the weak, you feed the guest and you answer the call of those who are in distress.”
When Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) as a little more relaxed, Khadijah took him to see her cousin, Waraqa ibn Nawfal, for he was a man of knowledge, and she was sure that he would be able to explain the meaning of what had just happened to her beloved husband. Waraqa had studied the books of both the Jews and the Christians very closely and he had learned a great deal from many of their wisest people. He knew that the coming of another Prophet had been foretold by both Moses and Jesus, peace be on them, anhe knew many of the signs that would confirm the identity of this Prophet when he appeared.
After listening closely to his story, Waraqa, who was both old and blind, exclaimed, “This is the same being who brought the revelations of Allah to Moses. I wish I was young and could be alive when our people will drive you out.”
“Will they drive me out?” asked Muhammad.
“Yes,” replied Waraqa. “No one has come with what you have been given without being treated with enmity; and if I were to live until the day when you are turned out, then I would support you with all my might. Let me just feel your back.” So, saying, Waraqa felt between the Prophet’s shoulder-blades and found what he was feeling for: a small round, slightly raised irregularity in the skin, about the size of a pigeon’s egg. This was yet another of the many signs that Waraqa already knew would indicate the identity of the next Prophet after Jesus, (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
“This is the Seal of the Prophethood!” he exclaimed. “Now I am certain that you are indeed the Prophet whose coming was foretold in the Torah that was revealed to Moses and in the Injil that was revealed to Jesus, (pbut). You are indeed the Messenger of Allah, and the being who appeared to you on the mountain was indeed the angel Jibril!”
Khadijah as both overjoyed and awed to find that her understanding of what had happened on the mountain had been confirmed. Not long after this incident, Muhammad was commanded in a subsequent revelation from Allah, through the angel Jibril, to call people to worship Allah only, and it was at this point that Khadijah did not hesitate in expressing in public what she had now known for certain in secret for some time: ” I bear witness that there is no god except Allah,” she said, “and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”
In the years that followed, difficult years in which the leaders of the Quraish did everything in their power to stop the Prophet spreading his message, Khadijah (may Allah be pleased with her) was a constant source of help and comfort to Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the difficulties which he had to face. All her wealth was spent in the way of Allah, helping to spread the message of her husband, helping to free slaves who had embraced Islam, and helping to feed and shelter the community of Muslims that slowly but surely began to grow in numbers and strength.
The Quraish were infuriated by the Prophet’s success and did everything in their power to discourage both him and his followers, often inflicting awful tortures on them, but without success. The situation became so bad that the Prophet told some of his followers to go to Abyssinia, where their ruler, the Negus, who was a sincere Christian gave them shelter and protection. Eventually there came a time when, as Waraqa had foretold, Muhammad and his followers -along with all the members of his tribe, the Banu Hashim were driven out of the city of Mecca and forced to camp out in a small ravine in the mountains nearby. This happened long after Waraqa had died, and about seven years after that extraordinary night of power in which Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had received the first revelation of Quran through the angel Jibril. There, while their homes lay empty in Mecca, the Muslims were exposed to the bitterly cold nights of winter and the fiery hot days of summer, with very little food and shelter. No one would buy and sell with the Muslims, or allow their sons and daughters to marry any of them. Fortunately those who secretly sympathized with the Muslims would send what food they could to them whenever the chance arose, sometimes by loading provisions onto a camel or a horse and then sending it off at a gallop in the direction of the camp, hoping that the animal would not stop or get lost before it reached its intended destination.
For three years the small Muslim community lived a life of hardship and deprivation, but although they suffered from hunger and thirst, and from exposure to heat and cold, this was a time in which the hearts of the first Muslims were both purified and also filled with the light of knowledge and wisdom. The Muslims knew that they were following the truth, and so nothing else mattered. They did not care what the Quraish did to them or said about them. Allah and His Messenger were enough for them!
It was during this period that the Muslims who had sought shelter in Abyssinia returned, only to find the situation even worse than when they had left it. Not long after, many of them returned to Abyssinia, their numbers swelled by those whom the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had told to accompany them. Finally the boycott was lifted and the Muslims were allowed to re enter the city; but the three years of hardship had taken their toll. First of all the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Talib, who was by then more than eighty years old, died; and then a few months later, during the month of Ramadan, Khadijah also died, at the age of sixty-five, may Allah be pleased with her. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) mourned her deeply. They had shared twenty-five years of marriage together and she had given birth to five of his children. Only one of the Prophet’s future wives, Maria the Copt, would give him another child, Ibrahim, and he, like Qasim, was destined to die when he was still very young, at the age of eighteen months.
Khadijah had been the first to publicly accept Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) as the Messenger of Allah, and she had never stopped doing all she could to help him. Love and mercy had grown between them, increasing in quality and depth as the years passed by, and not even death could take this love away. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) never stopped loving Khadijah, and although he married several more wives in later years and loved them all, it is clear that Khadijah always had a special place in his heart. Indeed whenever ‘Aisha, his third wife, heard the Prophet speak of Khadijah, or saw him sending food to Khadijah’s old friends and relatives, she could not help feeling jealous of her, because of the love that the Prophet still had for her.
Once Aisha asked him if Khadijah had been the only woman worthy of his love. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) replied: “She believed in me when no one else did; she accepted Islam when people rejected me; and she helped and comforted me when there was no one else to lend me a helping hand.” It had been related by Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) that on one occasion, when Khadijah was still alive, Jibril came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, Khadijah is just coming with a bowl of soup (or food or drink) for you. When she comes to you, give her greetings of peace from her Lord and from me, and give her the good news of a palace of jewels in the Garden, where there will be neither any noise nor any tiredness.” After the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Talib, and his first wife, Khadijah, had both died in the same year, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and his small community of believers endured a time of great hardship and persecution at the hands of the Quraish. Indeed the Prophet, who was now fifty years old, name this year ‘the Year of Sorrow.’
In private his dearest wife was no longer present to share his life; and in public the insults that he received from the Quraish multiplied, now that he had no longer had the protection of his dead uncle. Even when he journeyed to Ta’if, a small city up in the mountains outside Mecca, to call its people to worship Allah, he was rejected and stoned by them. It has been related by Aisha that on his way back to Mecca, Jibril appeared to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and said, “Allah, may He be exalted and glorified, has heard what the people have said to you and how they have responded to your invitation, and he has sent the angel in charge of the mountains so that you can tell him what you want him to with them.” Then the angel in charge of the mountains called out to him and greeted him and said, “O Muhammad, Allah has listened to what your people have said to you. I am the angel in charge of the mountains, and your Lord has sent me so that you can order me to do whatever you want. If you wish, I can bring the mountain of the outskirts of Mecca together so that they are crushed between them.” But the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said to him, “Rather I hope that Allah will make their descendants a people who will worship Allah alone, without ascribing any partners to him.”
It was a while after this that tfollowing Surah was revealed:
And so it happened. After three years of constant struggle, a relative of his, called Khawla, went to him and pointed out that his house was sadly neglected and that his daughters needed a mother to look after them. “But who can take the place of Khadijah?” he asked. “Aisha, the daughter of Abu Bakr, the dearest of people to you,” she answered. Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) had been the first man to accept Islam and he was the Prophet’s closest companion. Like Khadijah, he had done all that he could do to help the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and had spent all his wealth in the way of Allah. However, while the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was now fifty-three years old, Aisha as only a little girl of seven. She was hardly in a position to look after either the Prophet’s household or children. “She is very young.” Replied the Prophet. Khawla had a solution for everything. She suggested that he marry at the same time a lady called Sawda, the widow of Al-Sakran ibn ‘Amr.
Other Mothers of the Believers are: