Even before her famous marriage to the Prophet Muhammad , Khadija b. Khuwaylid was an important figure in her own right, being a successful merchant and one of the elite figures of Makkah. She played a central role in supporting and propagating the new faith of Islam and has the distinction of being the first Muslim. It was she who saw Muhammad through the roughest years in him 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, she gave up everything her wealth, her prestige, her everything to believe in her husband as her prophet.
While she lived, Muhammad took no other wives. Indeed, another of the most important women of early Islam, Fatima al-Zahra , was the daughter of the Prophet by Khadija and it is only through Fatima (especially through her two sons, al-Hasan and al-Husayn ) that the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad is preserved. These facts make Fatima and her mother Khadija among the most revered female personages in Islamic history.
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 , daughter of Khuwaylid, was hiring men of the Quraysh tribe to work for her in her trade. Khadijah was a tradeswoman of honor and great wealth. She used to hire men to bid and compete in the market on her behalf and rewarded them with a share of the profits. Being of the tribe of Banu Asad and having married twice within the tribe of Banu Makhzum, she had become very rich. Her father Khuwaylid and other people whom she trusted used to help her administer her large wealth. She had turned down several noblemen of Quraysh who asked for her hand, believing that they were after her wealth. Bound to a life of solitude, she had given all her energy to the development of her business. 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. This trip must have recalled to Muhammad the memory of his first trip in that area. It furnished more grist for his thinking and contemplation as he came to know more of the doctrines and rituals of the people of al Sham. When he arrived at Busrah, he came in contact with Syrian Christianity and talked to the monks and priests, some of whom were Nestorians. Perhaps those very priests or some others discussed with him the religion of Jesus which had by then divided itself into several sects. Muhammad had come to admire the morals of the Christians and the monotheism of the Jews. These “people of the book”, he believed, drew strength from Scriptures representing God’s word. But religion in Makkah, he felt, was a farce. The Quraysh, the aristocratic tribe that ran the city, were using the Ka’bah as a tourist attraction, hawking trinkets to visitors. In addition, he loathed the arrogance of the rich and powerful.
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 all that 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.
It was an astonishing turn of events. Khadijah was a beautiful, intelligent, wealthy woman who, through the death of two previous husbands, now commanded a considerable fortune. In a clandestine meeting that she arranged at her home she explained herself to Muhammad . “I love you for many reasons: you are well centered, not being a partisan amongst people for this or that; you are trustworthy and have a beauty of character and I love the truth of your speech.” Similarly there was more to Muhammad than his business acumen and Khadijah was impressed by his honesty, humility, modesty and charisma that she bucked convention and her own determination not to remarry a third time and proposed marriage to the 25-year-old who was 14 years her junior. Bucking convention himself, Muhammad agreed to the match.
Widely known to be a very virtuous woman, Khadijah earned the title “Al-Tahira” (The Pure One) because of her kindness and generosity. Throughout her life she never believed in, nor worshipped, idols. She was also known to use her vast material resources to help family members who were in need, as well as those who were less fortunate than her. Her resources were indeed vast; in fact they earned her another title “Ameerat-Quraysh” (Princess of the Quraysh tribe). According to some Islamic traditions 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.
Khadijah played a central role in supporting and propagating the new faith of Islam and had the distinction of being the first Muslim. It was she who 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, she gave up everything – her wealth, her prestige, her everything – to believe in her husband as her Prophet.
They lived together for 27 years, until she died. While she lived, Muhammad took no other wives.