What it Means to Be An “Accomplished” Woman | International Women’s Day08 Mar 2020
It’s International Women’s Day! – the time when we celebrate the vast and varied strengths and accomplishments of women all over the world.
When it comes to the image of an “accomplished woman” in Islam, there is often one key piece of our discourse missing, whereby most our answers pertaining to feminism, women’s rights, and equality lie: the personality of Khadijah. Through her, Islam manifests its first projection of esteemed femininity.
Khadija was born in Mecca. She was the daughter of Khuwayled, who was amongst the wealthiest merchants in Arabia due to his success in foreign and touristic trade. She belonged to a collateral branch of Bani Hashim, and her family were renowned not only for affluence – but pristine character.
Khuwayled passed away around A.D. 585. Upon his death, his children inherited his fortune, and divided it among themselves. Yet, as a result of her powerful strength in character and endowed intelligence, amongst her many siblings she was the one to inherit her father’s skill in managing trade – and subsequently built her own empire. She not only took hold of the family’s business – she rapidly expanded it. She herself was a homebody, yet her proficiency in delegation ensured she employed agents to carry forth her caravans between vast Arabian lands. Ibn Sa’ad describes how whenever caravans of the Makkan merchants embarked on their journey, the cargo of Khadijah alone was equal to the cargo of all the other merchants of Quraysh put together.
If Khadijah were alive today, or in fact any time, there is absolutely no doubt she would be considered the most accomplished of women. Her achievements become even more remarkable knowing how anti-woman Arabian society was at that time. Despite the prevailing circumstances, she earned the respect of the title known as the Princess of Makkah. Yet, it was the many years of her life that followed that define for us what a wholesome accomplished woman looks like.
She is the lady who conquered the heart of the most intricately beautiful of God’s creation – for she was renowned to be the one love of Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) life through their 24 years of marriage. But do you ever wonder what it was about Khadijah, that drew his perfect heart to love her in the way he did? His love for her indicates that if any woman’s personality depicts what a timeless accomplished woman should like, it would be none other than the lady the Prophet could never cease to praise, knowing that his every word was not spoken out of mere desire, but an utterance of revelation from the Almighty.
In modern discourse, we champion women becoming individual success stories. Islam also does – but the only difference is, Islam’s definition of success doesn’t stop here, and nor is it limited to the material successes. So, let’s take a look at how her character compartmentalizes for us, the image of an Accomplished Woman.
1- She had a vision – and a mission
Khadijah illustrates she was a woman with a vision, on a mission. All success begins with clear aims and objectives, followed by a feasible action plan. In Islam, those aims and objectives are grounded in the unification of spiritual principality and morality, not merely in physical outcomes such as the accumulation of wealth or success. Khadijah illustrates that she knew how to differentiate between success as a means to a greater end, rather than fixating and limiting herself on forms of material success itself. This is illustrated by how she enacted upon her wealth accumulation – with her profits, she would go out of her way to help the poor, the sick, the elderly, widows and orphans. Her life vision was illuminated by the fact that she utilized her success to raise other women, and to be at service to those most vulnerable. This would include helping young women get married, and paying for their weddings and dowries.
Khadijah exemplifies how an accomplished woman has a vision greater than herself.
2- She empowered potential
Khadija employed the Prophet, knowing he didn’t have any experience in trade. She first carefully observed his character, acknowledged his strengths, and then promoted him accordingly to empower his position within her business. Resultantly, the union of their two immense, powerhouse personalities brought affluent abundance and blessings to the city of Mecca. She was accurate in her assessment – Muhammad (pbuh) possessed excellent commercial and trade intelligence.
Khadijah illustrates that an accomplished woman works towards empowering other people’s potentials and strengths, in synchronicity to her own, in order to harness the best for the greater communal good. Her end objective was the unification of a good which can create a more lasting abundance than one could ever accomplish alone.
3- She knew what she wanted
Khadijah had many marriage proposals from the charlatans, and chiefs of Mecca – and was equally known for rejecting them. Yet it was soon disclosed that she was simply not impressed by any man’s wealth, position, rank or power. She understood value based on integrity, and as a result what truly impressed her was morality, principles and character. Khadijah knew the reputation of Muhammad (pbuh), and had her agents accompany him on his trade journeys. From this, she understood his authentic self by knowing his character in the face of various life circumstances.
Khadijah demonstrates that an accomplished woman is clear on her life’s vision, and her clarity defines her actions, as opposed to allowing the ups and downs of life’s experiences to dictate or sway her mindset and vision. Khadijah’s stern conviction in what she wanted often manifested through her life – and what she aimed for, always existed beyond any immediate material goals. It was rather geared towards aligning to long-lasting spiritual goals, and in seeking the pleasure of God alone.
4- Despite her luxury, she was never arrogant
She married Muhammad (pbuh) when she was in a position of affluence and power – and when he was not yet the Prophet of God. Her wealth would be the reason his Prophetic mission could be accomplished – yet she never utilised her strength as a means to exert her own power. Though she was confident in who she was, she was even more confident in who he was. Therefore, their worldly statuses, or the advantages and disadvantages of life circumstances never posed as a challenge to their sincerest of bonds for the sake of God.
Khadijah illustrates that her self-confidence accompanied an attitude of grace, generosity and gratitude towards others, in stark contrast to allowing any blessings or a sense of power to manifest as taking away the rights of others through vices of arrogance. Ultimately, her complete humility manifested when she proved she held no esteem in her heart for those material comforts, when she willingly and joyfully sacrificed it all for the prosperity of Islam. Her abundance enabled her to see greatness in God, as opposed to greatness in herself.
5- Her sense of service was generosity which knew no bounds
Khadijah emphasises how an accomplished woman’s generosity is most certainly not confined to money. It was her time, her attentiveness, her care, nurturing and love which she consistently displayed to those around her. She was renowned for her love of giving. Traditions state she generously hosted the largest banquet in celebration of her wedding to the Prophet. She never isolated anyone from the fountains of her generosity. And for many days, the rich, poor, the elderly, young, and every fragment of society were hosted continuously in her residence generously with table-spreads of food. She used her wedding as an opportunity to give out clothes, and to support the livelihood of widows and orphans and to diminish their difficulties and woes. Even in the happiest of her own life moments, she utilised it as an opportunity to bless others.
The same beauty in her attitude applied for the harshest moments of her life during the three-year exile she encountered alongside the Prophet in Mecca. In this time, she not only sponsored the livelihood of Muslims – she gave away every penny of her wealth to ensure they had the basic necessities they had been banned from. In a country where water was a lifeline in both the harsh summers and winters – she spent the entire siege ensuring she was able to serve water. She would always worry about the hunger and thirst of the children. She would personally take charge of taking to their needs, distributing clothes and firewood to them, and loving them as a mother. Her generosity was linked to her astute sense of resourcefulness, whereby she carefully managed and organised the limited supplies, in order to place the whole tribe’s needs ahead of her own.
6- Her marriage was aligned to her vision
Proudly, her marriage saw a shift in her lifestyle and focus. She maintained the same pristine vision, but enabled her sense of extreme diligence to now became centred on the Prophetic mission. To bring blessing to her union through her complete and selfless dedication was considered her honour. She maintained her strength in character, and acknowledged in the context of marriage, her strength was to manifest otherwise in accordance to the new life circumstances. She therefore chose to sell her business investments, and she rose to the joy and challenges of life presented to her with her husband.
Khadijah illustrates an accomplished woman is comfortable with versatility and adaptability in accordance to her relevant life circumstances, and utilises change as an opportunity to manifest the highest degree of moral character in relevance.
7- Loyalty to a cause greater than herself
She didn’t live long enough to see the days of His Prophethood at its full glory – yet her vision for success by God, ensured she was steadfast and loyal to the highest degree. She remained loyal to the Prophet in the face of his greatest enmity, abuse and isolation in Mecca. Her loyalty meant she was his comfort, companion, trustworthy guardian, endured all hardship alongside him, and the greatest celebrator of his successes. She did this all because she sincerely believed in his mission – and her own vision for herself aligned to his. Her intense loyalty was to their mutual cause.
As a result, the first person the Prophet would always confide in was Khadijah, as his closest and sincerest companion. When she had heard his mission – she comforted him and reassured him by saying: “O son of my uncle, be of good cheer. Allah has chosen you to be His messenger. You are always kind to your neighbours, helpful to your kinsfolk, generous to the orphans, the widows and the poor, and friendly to the strangers. Allah will never forsake you.”
8- She saw through the eyes of faith
Her affinity to Islam’s ideological and moral premises, meant that she immediately recognised the truth of his Messengerhood when it was announced. Her conversion was not a life change, as much as it was a manifestation of her already existing sense of pure sincerity, and strong convictions in what she deemed truth and falsehood. It was her inner certainty in what she saw in the Prophetic character and mission that meant she readily became the first convert to Islam. Her flawless trust in his message gave him the strongest backbone of support in order for him to carry forth his mission. When he was anxious, she would lift his spirits and rejoice at the beauty she saw in him.
9- She possessed the most resilient spirit
She went from being the Princess of Mecca, to being isolated for supporting the Prophet. She lost two children in infancy. She went from being the wealthiest, to being the poorest woman who could not even afford a shroud. Yet her character was not defined by her circumstances – it was defined by the consistency in resilience with which she responded to each situation. Her gratitude and selflessness in affluence, and her patience and steadfastness in hardship.
During the exile of Bani Hashim, for three years, the Prophet, his tribe, and supporters were locked up in an isolated, mountainous valley that ran down Mecca. Anyone who supported the Prophet was cut off from the most basic supplies and necessities of life, including food and water. Born into an aristocratic family, Khadijah was a complete stranger to a life of deprivation. She had a choice not to accompany the Prophet. Yet she willingly rose to this challenge, showed no signs of contestation, remained focused and resilient in spirit to harness her strength and resources to continue to serve her life’s purpose in the midst of extreme poverty and trials.
10- She was extremely cheerful and positive
Khadijah’s inwardness and consistency in meditative prayer enabled her to maintain a sense of calm, cheerfulness and positivity in the face of any trial. She became alike a guardian-angel of the Prophet and Muslims in their most testing moments, and manifested the meaning of “the Mother of Believers”, in the way that all would feel her powerful, vibrant, presence, and the support she offered to all. Her internal state of satisfaction was reflected in her peaceful nature through both blessed and ill fortune. She would see the positive in every situation. She masked her own pains and illnesses, and comforted others through her service. She never once complained about her difficulties or discomfort to the Prophet – not once in the twenty-four years she was married to him. Ultimately, her illness following the uplifting of the siege suddenly caused her death, because such was the beauty of her spirit – that her long-lasting suffering, her years of starvation and thirst in those years was left unknown.
Khadijah’s example emphasises the Islamic worldview which places concerted attention on unifying a dualistic material and spiritual existence. Yes, you can be like Khadijah. Yes, you can be successful in your trade. But the real question is – when life requires you to sacrifice, can you? Though you are outwardly engaged in a physical world, in the midst of this all, is your soul still with God? Do you recognise that the purpose is never you, or your ambitions for yourself, and that intentionality can only sincerely lie with the pleasure of God – even in the face of the world? Can you look this world in the eye, see it for what it is, and disregard its pomp, status and allure in the depth of your inner self? Will your success make you arrogant, or humble you to the greatness of God? In the peak of your success, can you remind yourself as to why you’re really here? When you reach a point of success, do you utilise it as a catalyst to help others, or only to serve your own flattery? In your moments of weakness, can you remain resourceful through faith, positivity and kindness? Even in difficulties, can you look towards serving others as a means of attaining inner peace? Can you expand your spirit through a generosity which does not discriminate between strangers and friends alike?
Khadijah’s attitude throughout the many chapters of life exuberated the mountains encompassed within her spirit. Although she was not an ordinary woman: for her greatness entailed instructing women in spiritual matters, and to act in constant selfless aid of the Prophet’s mission – she’s the highest example for us to take as a role model in what it means to be a modern Muslim “Accomplished Woman.” After all, she’s the mother of Fatima, the chief of the women of the worlds, and deservedly renowned to be one of the four best women of the worlds.