Islam’s First Feminist

Countless Muslim women around the world today are standing up and demanding their rights to freedom and equality under both secular and Islamic law. These feminist jihadists can be found in every corner of the globe. From France to Afghanistan to Sudan, brave Muslimahs are refusing to be told what they can and cannot do, say or wear.

Before I introduce you to some of fearless modern feminist jihadists in upcoming posts, I want to first honor the original feminist jihadist and first convert to Islam: Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, also known as Khadija al-Kubra or Khadija the Great.

A wealthy and powerful businesswoman in 6th century Mecca, she was the Prophet Muhammad’s employer before she became his wife. Roughly 15 years his senior, Khadija proposed marriage to the Prophet and he accepted.

After receiving his first revelation from the Angel Gabriel while meditating in the cave of Hira, the Prophet Muhammad was terrified that he’d lost his mind. He immediately ran home from the cave to Khadija and collapsed into her arms. “Cover me,” he said to her, and she did. She held and comforted him as he trembled, overcome with fear. Unlike the Prophet, Khadija was convinced of the veracity of his revelation. It was she who assured him that he had indeed received a message from God, and in doing so, Khadija forever changed the course of human history.

As today’s aspiring feminist jihadists, we have an enormous amount to learn from Khadija’s example, and I pray that we will be able to live up to it. As it is, nearly 1,400 years after her death, a woman such as Khadija could not survive in modern-day Saudi Arabia, where women need consent from men for nearly everything they do, can’t drive a car and have limited personal and professional opportunities. Defending and carrying out the legacy of Khadija is not an easy task, especially today, but looking back at her example gives us the hope and grounding that we, as Muslim women, need to move forward in reclaiming our faith and our rightful place in it.

Comments

  1. Melody, your insights are so interesting! I don’t know where else info like this is available online, so thanks for filling such a big gap with your posts!!!

  2. This is so important and true of many religions. Women carried the power of ritual and spirit from ancient times onward, throughout the world and its varying cultures. This puts women’s powerful and important role into perspective, a perspective that, sadly, much of the world has lost. We must remember that part of our power and purpose as women is to bring spirit and ritual back into our everyday lives, remembering that it is spirit that connects us with the Divine.

  3. Dear Melody,

    Thank you for the blog.
    I would like to discuss a few things, from an extreme TCK (Third Culture Kid)who lived and studied in several coutries including US, Canada (Montreal), UK, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Turkey.

    As much as I think you might have some valid points, I find it a bit pandering to US media when we also keep making Saudi to seem as bad as they make it on Fox.
    It simply is not. And the changes that occurred in the past 20 years(one generation have been quite tremondous in female education and health care).

    Sure there are things to be improved. There are things to be improved almsot everywhere (i.e women there get equal pay cent for cent for example). Issues in a country like Saudi Arabai and Egypt are not islamic in nature, but cutlural and a result of major intellectual illeteracy.

    The problem is that these cultural and ignorance issues also affect men, though in a different way. However, it is not a interesting to write about those issues from a male prespective.

    For example, the psychological toll having a whole family depend on the eldest male for survival, esp, when the economic situation and corruption in said country almost make it impossible to even provide necessities.

    When you cant put your kids in school, because the money they make on the street, helps to put bread on the table. Rates of suicide are rising for the young men, because they see no way out of that vaccum (even in countries like Egypt where many women work).

    Lastly, we do need legal reform from the US to Zimbabwai and protection for rights of all vulnurables (children, women, elderly, some men ) . We do need democracy. However, with the US entangled in political suicide due to politicized Supreme court (which over threw an election–undemocratic) and approved corporate take over of the political system a few months ADDED to a House of Representative–where the mninute you get elected, you start fundraising for your next electino in 2 years.

    The US system, organic to their philospy, is flawed. It almost squashes any 3rd party from taking any real signficant position. And, you know what working a double shift, with one of the longest work week is not something that i would consider great.

    Sure, I can send in 100 great reasons for the US, but i am trying to show you can showcase any place negatively… Media in teh EAst does it to the US, and Media in the West does it to The East.

    I hope that we can at Ms. (which I love) raise above what the masses whant to hear, and the superficial analysis of life in islamic and western countries. So that when we do critique, it is to hold up a mirror and help a friend, rather that just to showcase their backwardness…

    Thank you .

  4. She was the CEO of her own business enterprise… Muhammad was her bright young employee. I muse that she should have been the Prophet… Muhammad would have made an excellent sidekick for her.

    Before you say, nuh-uh, girls can’t be prophets, actually there have been serious scholars (like Ibn 7azm) who said that Maryam counts as a female prophet (nabiyah)… because according to the Qur’an she received wa7y, which is the definition of a nabi. And the mother of Musa received wa7y, so include her as well.

  5. While I sympathize with the situation of Muslims, suffering under theocratic regimes which have no respect for the unalienable rights of their subjects, and which were almost exclusively formed without the consent of the governed, I can’t help but wonder if Khadija al-Kubra wasn’t just making the best of another good business opportunity.
    I suspect that Muhammad’s first instincts were correct, he had actually lost his mind. The world would be a lot safer, fairer, and just if she had not pounced on this opportunity. Violence, poverty, repression, and suffering have been the results of the seed she nutured, including repression of women for 1400 years following her death. Knowing that her actions were the proximate cause of all this suffering, do you really think a good business person would make the same choice again?

  6. Jalal Zuberi says:

    It is definitely a stretch to label Prophet Mohammad’s first wife Khadija, Islam’s first feminist.

    Although the given analogy of Khadija providing moral support to the prophet who appeared overwhelmed and doubtful from his awe-inspiring experience at the cave, may show a strong and unwavering support for her husband in his ongoing desire for divine intervention to usher in needed reforms in his society, the incidence has little to do with “feminism” which is defined as favoring ideals of social equality among sexes or any organizes activity on behalf of women’s rights.

    Jalal Zuberi

  7. Thanks for all the great comments! I see Khadija as a formidable feminist b/c of her personal and professional accomplishments. I don’t call her a feminist because she married the Prophet–that is besides the point. I call her a feminist because she refused to let her gender prevent her from reaching her professional or personal goals. Khadija followed her heart, and in doing so, she said, to hell with all the standard, stereotypical gender roles (many of which, sadly, still exist today). The best way to fight for a cause is to embody it. Khadija is the perfect embodiment of female empowerment and what I’m calling a feminist jihad, and the fact that she could not conduct her 6th century business in 21st century Saudi Arabia today means that whatever the case, we still have a hell of a lot to learn from her example.
    Thanks again for all the fantastic comments. I read and appreciate them all, and they help me in considering future posts as well. Oh, and happy Nowruz to all of you celebrating the Persian New Year!

  8. Lynn Santa Lucia says:

    Like far too many female “influencers” over millennia and across the world, Khadija has received only scant recognition for her central role in history making. I hope your blogs on feminist jihadists turn into a book one day, Ms. Moezzi, so future historians don’t make the same mistake! Wish I had included her in “Ladies First,” my book on trailblazers of the “weaker” (ha!) sex.

  9. thank you so much Muna for your comment. it is very true. many countries in the east aren’t as bad as the media and some people make them to be. it’s true that they need to change some things but to make them seem so horrible when in fact they aren’t, is not fair and it’s degrading for the citizens of that country.
    Even if it may be true for some of the people of one country we cannot just look at them as though they are all like that. specially that so much of the injustice (specially for women) is not legal but it is part of the wrong old culture and it is changing in time.
    I just wanted to say that it’s great that there is a post like this on the internet but we have to consider the actual truths about the countries we talk about. not just the common idea that people have in their minds.

  10. dear Walter L. Brown Jr. ,
    I wonder if you know the actual history of the Muslim world when prophet Muhammad was alive and/or during the time where his actual successor (the one he chose himself) was managing the Muslim world. If you do a little research about it, maybe you’ll find some information that will change your mind about the time which you call a time of “Violence, poverty, repression, and suffering”.
    If there is one thing everyone should know is that when we think about a theory,religion, idea.. anything if this sort.. we must think of what the original person who brought it was thinking and what the theory is saying, NOT how it is being practiced and what other people who call themselves followers of that idea are doing. I hope I was able to get through what I was thinking.

  11. mary lisa gustafson says:

    Great comments. I’m reading a book called Paradise Beneath her Feet, by Isobel Coleman. All about Islamic feminism. Highly recommend it.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] March 16, 2010 by Melody Moezzi · 10 Comments [...]

Speak Your Mind

*