If you wish to research the life of this great lady, and if you do not have al-Majlisi’s voluminous [110 Vol.] encyclopedia titled Bihar al-Anwar, the best references are: al-Sayyuti’s Tarikh al Khulafa, Abul-Faraj al-Isfahani’s Aghani, Ibn Hisham’s Seera, Muhammad ibn Ishaq’s Seerat Rasool-Allah, and Tarikh al-rusul wal muluk by Abu Ja`far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (839-923 A.D.). Of all these books, only al-Tabari’s Tarikh is being translated (by more than one translator and in several volumes) into English. One publisher of Tabari’s Tarikh is the press of the State University of New York (SUNY). This article has utilized a number of Arabic and English references, and it is written especially for those who appreciate history, our great teacher, be they Muslims or non-Muslims, and who aspire to learn from it.
“Islam did not rise except through Ali’s sword and Khadija’s wealth,” a saying goes. Khadija al-Kubra daughter of Khuwaylid ibn (son of) Asad ibn Abdul-`Uzza ibn Qusayy belonged to the clan of Banu Hashim of the tribe of Banu Asad. She was a distant cousin of her husband the Messenger of Allah Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Abdul-Muttalib ibn Hashim ibn Abd Manaf ibn Qusayy, Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny. Qusayy, then, is the ancestor of all clans belonging to Quraysh. According to some historians, Quraysh’s real name was Fahr, and he was son of Malik son of Madar son of Kananah son of Khuzaimah son of Mudrikah son of Ilyas son of Mazar son of Nazar son of Ma`ad son of Adnan son of Isma`eel (Ishmael) son of Ibrahim (Abraham) son of Sam son of Noah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon the prophets from among his ancestors. According to a number of sources, Khadija was born in 565 A.D. and died one year before the Hijra (migration of the Holy Prophet and his followers from Mecca to Medina) in 623 A.D. at the age of 58, but some historians say that she lived to be 65. Khadija’s mother, who died around 575 A.D., was Fatima daughter of Za’ida ibn al-Asam of Banu `Amir ibn Luayy ibn Ghalib, also a distant relative of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Khadija’s father, who died around 585 A.D., belonged to the Abd al-`Uzza clan of the tribe of Quraysh and, like many other Qurayshis, was a merchant, a successful businessman whose vast wealth and business talents were inherited by Khadija and whom the latter succeeded in faring with the family’s vast wealth. It is said that when Quraysh’s trade caravans gathered to embark upon their lengthy and arduous journey either to Syria during the summer or to Yemen during the winter, Khadija’s caravan equalled the caravans of all other traders of Quraysh put together.
Although the society in which Khadija was born was a terribly male chauvinistic one, Khadija earned two titles: Ameerat-Quraysh, Princess of Quraysh, and al-Tahira, the Pure One, due to her impeccable personality and virtuous character, not to mention her honorable descent. She used to feed and clothe the poor, assist her relatives financially, and even provide for the marriage of those of her kin who could not otherwise have had means to marry.
By 585 A.D., Khadija was left an orphan. Despite that, and after having married twice- and twice lost her husband to the ravaging wars with which Arabia was afflicted- she had no mind to marry a third time though she was sought for marriage by many honorable and highly respected men of the Arabian peninsula throughout which she was quite famous due to her business dealings. She simply hated the thought of being widowed for a third time. Her first husband was Abu (father of) Halah Hind ibn Zarah who belonged to Banu `Adiyy, and the second was Ateeq ibn `Aaith. Both men belonged to Banu Makhzoom. By her first husband, she gave birth to a son who was named after his father Hind and who came to be one of the greatest sahabah (companions of the Holy Prophet). He participated in both battles of Badr and Uhud, and he is also famous for describing the Prophet’s physique; he was martyred during the Battle of the Camel in which he fought on the side of Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as), although some historians say that he died in Basrah. All biography accounts describe Hind as an outspoken orator, a man of righteousness and generosity, and one who took extreme caution while quoting the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). Besides him, Khadija gave birth by Abu Halah to two other sons: al-Tahir, and, of course, Halah, who is not very well known to historians despite the fact that his father is nicknamed after him.
Who were Khadija’s children by her second husband? This is another controversy that revolves round the other daughters or step-daughters of the Prophet (pbuh) besides Fatima (as). These daughters, chronologically arranged, are: Zainab, Ruqayya, and Ummu Kulthoom. Some historians say that these were Khadija’s daughters by her second husband, whereas others insist they were her daughters by Muhammad (pbuh). The first view is held by Sayyid Safdar Husayn in his book The Early History of Islam wherein he bases his conclusion on the contents of al-Sayyuti’s famous work Tarikh al-khulafa wal muluk (history of the caliphs and kings). We hope some of our Muslim sisters who read this text will be tempted to research this subject. Here is a brief account of Khadija’s daughters:
Zainab, their oldest, was born before the prophetic mission and was married to Abul-`As ibn al-Rabee`. She had accepted Islam before her husband, and she participated in the migration from Mecca to Medina. She died early in 8 A.H. and was buried in Jannatul Baqee` where her grave can still be seen defying the passage of time. Ruqayya and Ummu Kulthoom married two of Abu Lahab’s sons. Abu Lahab, one of the Prophet’s uncles, stubbornly and openly rejected his nephew’s preaching; therefore, he was condemned in the Mecci Chapter 111 of the Holy Qur’an, a chapter named after him. Having come to know about such a condemnation, he became furious and said to his sons, “There shall be no kinship between you and me unless you part with these daughters of Muhammad,” whereupon they divorced them instantly. Ruqayya married the third caliph `Uthman ibn `Affan and migrated with him to Ethiopia in 615 A.D., five years after the inception of the prophetic mission, accompanied by no more than nine others. That was the first of two such migrations. After coming back home, she died in Medina in 2 A.H. and was buried at Jannatul Baqee`. `Uthman then married her sister Ummu Kulthoom in Rabi` al-Awwal of the next (third) Hijri year. Ummu Kulthoom lived with her husband for about six years before dying in 9 A.H., leaving no children.
One particular quality in Khadija was quite interesting, probably more so than any of her other qualities mentioned above: she, unlike her people, never believed in nor worshipped idols. There was a very small number of Christians and Jews in Mecca, and a fairly large number of Jews in Medina. Waraqah ibn Nawfal, one of Khadija’s cousins, had embraced Christianity and was a pious monk who believed in the Unity of the Almighty, just as all early Christians did, that is, before the concept of the Trinity crept into the Christian faith, widening the theological differences among the believers in Christ (as). He reportedly had translated the Bible from Hebrew into Arabic. His likes could be counted on the fingers of one hand during those days in the entire populous metropolis of Mecca, or Becca, or Ummul-Qura (the mother town), a major commercial center at the crossroads of trade caravans linking Arabia with India, Persia, China, and Byzantium, a city that had its own Red Sea port at Shu`ayba. Most importantly, Mecca housed the Ka`ba, the cubic “House of God” which has always been sought for pilgrimage and which used to be circled by naked polytheist “pilgrims” who kept their idols, numbering 360 small and big, male and female, inside it and on its roof-top. Among those idols was one for Abraham and another for Ishmael, each carrying divine arrows in his hands. Hubal, a huge idol in the shape of a man, was given as a gift by the Moabites of Syria to the tribesmen of Khuza`ah, and it was Mecca’s chief idol. Two other idols of significance were those of the Lat, a grey granite image which was the deity of Thaqif in nearby Taif, and the Uzza, also a block of granite about twenty feet long. These were regarded as the wives of the Almighty… Each tribe had its own idol, and the wealthy bought and kept a number of idols at home. The institute of pilgrimage was already there; it simply was not being observed properly, and so was the belief in Allah Whom the Arabs regarded as their Supreme deity. Besides Paganism, other “religions” in Arabia included star worship and fetishism.
The Jews of Medina had migrated from Palestine and settled there waiting for the coming of a new Prophet from the seed of Abraham (as) in whom they said they intended to believe and to be the foremost in following, something which unfortunately did not materialize; on the contrary, they joined ranks with the Pagans to fight the spread of Islam. Only a handful of them embraced Islam, including one man who was a neighbor of Muhammad (pbuh); he lived in the same alley in Mecca where Khadija’s house stood; his wife, also Jewish, used to collect dry thorny bushes from the desert just to throw them in the Prophet’s way.
Since Khadija did not travel with her trade caravans, she had always had to rely on someone else to act as her agent to trade on her behalf and to receive an agreed upon commission in return. In 595 A.D., Khadija needed an agent to trade in her merchandise going to Syria, and it was then that a number of agents whom she knew before and trusted, as well as some of her own relatives, particularly Abu Talib, suggested to her to employ her distant cousin Muhammad ibn Abdullah (pbuh) who, by then, had earned the honoring titles of al-Sadiq, the truthful, and al-Amin, the trustworthy. Muhammad (pbuh) did not have any practical business experience, but he had twice accompanied his uncle Abu Talib on his trade trips and keenly observed how he traded, bartered, bought and sold and conducted business; after all, the people of Quraysh were famous for their involvement in trade more than in any other profession. It was not uncommon to hire an agent who did not have a prior experience; so, Khadija decided to give Muhammad (pbuh) a chance. He was only 25 years old. Khadija sent Muhammad (pbuh) word through Khazimah ibn Hakim, one of her relatives, offering him twice as much commission as she usually offered her agents to trade on her behalf. She also gave him one of her servants, Maysarah, who was young, brilliant, and talented, to assist him and be his bookkeeper. She also trusted Maysarah’s account regarding her new employee’s conduct, an account which was most glaring, indeed one which encouraged her to abandon her insistence never to marry again.
Before embarking upon his first trip as a businessman representing Khadija, Muhammad (pbuh) met with his uncles for last minute briefings and consultations, then he set out on the desert road passing through Wadi al-Qura, Midian, and Diyar Thamud, places with which he was familiar because of having been there at the age of twelve in the company of his uncle Abu Talib. He continued the lengthy journey till he reached Busra (or Bostra) on the highway to the ancient city of Damascus after about a month. It was then the capital of Hawran, one of the southeastern portions of the province of Damascus situated north of the Balqa’. To scholars of classic literature, Hawran is known by its Greek name Auranitis, and it is described in detail by Yaqut al-Hamawi, Abul-Faraj al-Isfahani, and others. Arab trade caravans used to go there quite often and even beyond it to Damascus and Gaza, and few made it all the way to Mediterranean shores to unload their precious cargoes of Chinese paper and silk textiles bound for Europe.
What items did Muhammad (pbuh) carry with him to Busra, and what items did he buy from there? Meccans were not known to be skilled craftsmen, nor did they excel in any profession besides trade, but young Muhammad (pbuh) might have carried with him a cargo of hides, raisins, perfumes, dried dates, light weight woven items, probably silver bars, and most likely some herbs. He bought what he was instructed by his employer to buy: these items may have included manufactured goods, clothes, a few luxury items to sell to wealthy Meccans, and maybe some household goods. Gold and silver currency accepted in Mecca included Roman, Persian, and Indian coins, for Arabs during those times, including those who were much more sophisticated than the ones among whom Muhammad (pbuh) grew up such as the Arabs of the southern part of Arabia (Yemen, Hadramout, etc.), did not have a currency of their own; so, barter was more common than cash. The first Arab Islamic currency, by the way, was struck in Damascus by the Umayyad ruler Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (697-698 A.D.) in 78 A.H., 36 years after the establishment of the Umayyad dynasty (661-750).
The time Muhammad (pbuh) stayed in Busra was no more than a couple of months during which he met many Christians and Jews and noticed the theological differences among the major Christian sects that led to the disassociation of the Copts, the Syrian (Chaldean) Nestorian, and the Armenian Christians from the main churches of Antioch (Antakiya), Rome, and Egyptian Alexandria. Such dissensions and differences of theological viewpoints provided Muhammad (pbuh) with plenty of food for thought; he contemplated upon them a great deal. He was seen once by Nestor the monk sitting in the shade of a tree as caravans entered the outskirts of Busra, not far from the monk’s small monastery. “Who is the man beneath that tree?” inquired Nestor of Maysarah. “A man of Quraysh,” Maysarah answered, adding, “of the people [the Hashemites] who have guardianship of the Sanctuary.” “None other than a Prophet is sitting beneath that tree,” said Nestor who had observed some of the signs indicative of Prophethood: two angels (or, according to other reports, two small clouds) were shading Muhammad (pbuh) from the oppressive heat of the sun. “Is there a glow, a slight redness, around his eyes that never parts with him?” Nestor asked Maysarah. When the latter answered in the affirmative, Nestor said, “He most surely is the very last Prophet; congratulations to whoever believes in him.”
One of Muhammad’s observations when he was in that Syrian city was the historical fact that a feud was brewing between the Persian and Roman empires, each vying for hegemony over Arabia’s fertile crescent. Indeed, such an observation was quite accurate, for after only a few years, a war broke out between the then mightiest nations on earth that ended with the Romans losing it, as the Holy Qur’an tells us in Chapter 30 (The Romans), which was revealed in 7 A.H./615-16 A.D., only a few months after the fall of Jerusalem to the Persians, just to win in a successive one. Only four years prior to that date, the Persians had scored a sweeping victory over the Christians, spreading their control over Aleppo, Antioch, and even Damascus. Muhammad (pbuh) was concerned about either of these two empires extending its control over the land inhabited by Muhammad’s Pagan fiercely independent Pagan people. The loss of Jerusalem, birthplace of Christ Jesus son of Mary (as), was a heavy blow to the prestige of Christianity. Most Persians were then following Zoroastrianism, a creed introduced in the 6th century before Christ by Zoroaster (628-551 B.C.), also known as Zarathustra, whose adherents are described as worshippers of the “pyre,” the holy fire. “Persia,” hence, meant “the land of the worshippers of the pyre, the sacred fire.” Modern day Iran used to be known as “Aryana,” land of the Aryan nations and tribes. Not only Iranians, but also Kurds, and even Germans, prided in being Aryans, (Caucasian) Nordics or speakers of an Indo-European dialect. Some Persians had converted to Christianity as we know from Salman al-Farisi who was one such adherent till he fell in captivity, sold in Mecca and freed to be one of the most renown and cherished sahabis and narrators of hadith in Islamic history, so much so that the Prophet of Islam (pbuh) said, “Salman is one of us, we Ahl al-Bayt (People of the Household of Prophethood).”
The war referred to above was between the then Byzantine (Eastern Roman) emperor Heraclius (575 – 641 A.D.) and the Persian king Khusrau (Khosrow) Parwiz (Parviz) or Chosroes II (d. 628 A.D.). It was one of many wars in which those mighty nations were embroiled and which continued for many centuries. Yet the hands of Divine Providence were already busy paving the path for Islam: the collision between both empires paved the way for the ultimate destruction of the ancient Persian empire and in Islam setting root in that important part of the world. Moreover, Muhammad’s (and, naturally, Khadija’s) offspring came to marry ladies who were born and raised at Persian as well as Roman palaces. Imam Husain ibn Ali ibn Abu Talib (as), Muhammad’s grandson and our Third Holy Imam, married the daughter of the last Persian emperor Jazdagird (Yazdegerd) III son of Shahryar and grandson of this same Khusrau II. Jazdagerd ruled Persia from 632-651 A.D. and lost the Battle of Qadisiyyah to the Muslim forces in 636, thus ending the rule of the Sassanians. Having been defeated, he fled for Media in northwestern Iran, homeland of Persian Mede tribesmen, and from there to Merv, an ancient Central Asian city near modern day Mary in Turkmenistan (until very recently one of the republics of the Soviet Union), where he was killed by a miller. The slain emperor left two daughters who, during their attempt to escape, following the murder of their father, were caught and sold as slaves. One of them, Shah-Zenan, ended up marrying our Third Holy Imam Husain ibn Ali ibn Abu Talib (as), whereas her sister married the renown scholar and acclaimed muhaddith (traditionist) Muhammad son of the first Muslim caliph Abu Bakr. Shah-Zenan was awarded a royal treatment and was given a new name in her own Persian mother tongue: Shahr Banu, which means “mistress of the ladies of the city.” The marriage between her and Imam Husain (as) produced our Fourth Holy Imam (Zainul-Abidin, or al-Sajjad) Ali ibn al-Husain ibn Ali ibn Abu Talib (as).
The profits Khadija reaped from that trip were twice as much as she had anticipated. Maysarah was more fascinated by Muhammad (pbuh) than by anything related to the trip. Muhammad (pbuh), on the other hand, brought back his impressions about what he had seen and heard, impressions which he related to his mistress. You see, those trade caravans were the only links contemporary Arabs had with their outside world: they brought them the news of what was going on beyond their drought-ridden and famine-stricken desert and sand dunes.
Waraqah ibn Nawfal, like Bahirah, the monk who had seen and spoken to Muhammad (pbuh) when Muhammad (pbuh) was a lad, adhered to the Nestorian Christian sect. He heard the accounts about the personality and conduct of young Muhammad (pbuh) from both his cousin Khadija and her servant Maysarah, an account which caused him to meditate for a good while and think about what he had heard. Raising his head, he said to Khadija, “Such manners are fit only for the messengers of God. Who knows? Maybe this young man is destined to be one of them.” This statement was confirmed a few years later, and Waraqah was the very first man who identified Muhammad (pbuh) as the Messenger of Allah immediately after Muhammad (pbuh) received the first revelation at Hira cave.
The trip’s measure of success encouraged Khadija to employ Muhammad (pbuh) again on the winter trip to southern Arabia, i.e. Yemen, the land that introduced the coffee beans to the rest of the world, the land where the renown Ma’rib irrigation dam was engineered, the land of Saba’ and the renown Balqees, the Arabian Queen of Sheba (Saba’) of Himyar, who married King Solomon (Sulayman the wise, peace be upon him), in 975 B.C. (after the completion of the construction of the famous Solomon’s Temple ), the land of natives skilled in gold, silver and other metal handicrafts, not to mention their ingenuity in the textile industry and domestic furniture…, and it may even be the land that gave Arabic its first written script which, as some believe, was modelled after written Amheric, then the official language in Ethiopia and its colonies. Yemen, at that time, was being ruled by an Ethiopian regent. This time Khadija offered Muhammad (pbuh) three times the usual commission. Unfortunately, historians do not tell us much about this second trip except that it was equally profitable to both employer and employee. Some historians do not mention this trip at all.
Khadija was by then convinced that she had finally found a man who was worthy of her, so much so that she initiated the marriage proposal herself. Muhammad (pbuh) sat to detail all the business transactions in which he became involved on her behalf, but the wealthy and beautiful lady of Quraysh was thinking more about her distant cousin than about those transactions. She simply fell in love with Muhammad (pbuh) just as the daughter of the Arabian prophet Shu`ayb had fallen in love with then fugitive prophet Moses (as). Muhammad (pbuh) was of medium stature, inclined to slimness, with a large head, broad shoulders and the rest of his body perfectly proportioned. His hair and beard were thick and black, not altogether straight but slightly curled. His hair reached midway between the lobes of his ears and shoulders, and his beard was of a length to match. He had a noble breadth of forehead and the ovals of his large eyes were wide, with exceptionally long lashes and extensive brows, slightly arched but not joined. His eyes were said to have been black, but other accounts say they were brown, or light brown. His nose was aquiline and his mouth was finely shaped. Although he let his beard grow, he never allowed the hair of his moustache to protrude over his upper lip. His skin was white but tanned by the sun. And there was a light on his face, a glow, the same light that had shone from his father, but it was more, much more powerful, and it was especially apparent on his broad forehead and in his eyes which were remarkably luminous.
By the time he was gone, Khadija sought the advice of a friend of hers named Nufaysa daughter of Umayyah. The latter offered to approach him on her behalf and, if possible, arrange a marriage between them. Nufaysa came to Muhammad (pbuh) and asked him why he had not married yet. “I have no means to marry,” he answered. “But if you were given the means,” she said, “and if you were bidden to an alliance where there is beauty and wealth and nobility and abundance, would you not then consent?” “Who is she?!” he excitedly inquired. “Khadija,” said Nufaysa. “And how could such a marriage be mine?!” he asked. “Leave that to me!” was her answer. “For my part,” he said, “I am willing.” Nufaysa returned with these glad tidings to Khadija who then sent word to Muhammad (pbuh) asking him to come to her. When he came, she said to him: