Imagine a forty-year-old woman sending someone a marriage proposal. She wouldn’t go down too well in many “conservative” societies, right? Now this woman was twice married and widowed. More eyebrows raised. What’s more, the man she wants to marry is fifteen years younger than her! That’s probably more than what most Muslim societies can take, without subjecting such a woman to mean gossip, and possibly even disowning her. Yet, she was one of the best Muslim women who ever lived, and Islam has the greatest regard for her. She is Khadija, the beloved wife of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
It is strange how our present-day society imposes its own version of what is “proper” for women to do or not to do. Widows are expected to spend their remaining lives without a partner, especially if they are beyond the “marriageable” age. Even a woman not previously married should always wait for a proposal to come her way – it is considered shameful to ask a man to marry her. And how dare she set eyes upon a much younger man? Well, Khadija clearly defied this petty mindset while remaining true to the concept of modesty in Islam. Let’s look at her story more closely.
Khadija was a successful businesswoman in Mecca who hired the Prophet ﷺ – a distant relative of hers – to carry her merchandise to Syria and trade on her behalf there. She had heard many good things about him – but as she interacted with him, her respect turned to admiration, and she wished to marry him. This she confided to Nafisa, a friend of hers. Nafisa then approached the Prophet ﷺ with the proposal on her friend’s behalf, who accepted it. When the Prophet ﷺ later visited Khadija, she said to him:
“Son of my uncle, I love you for your kinship with me, and for that you are ever at the centre, not being a partisan amongst the people for this or for that. And I love you for your trustworthiness and for the beauty of your character and the truth of your speech.” (Reported by Ibn Ishaq)
The two hence married and had a very happy union till Khadija’s death twenty-five years later. But what’s praiseworthy here is the boldness with which Khadija explained her reasons for wishing to marry the Prophet ﷺ. Her directness of speech and frank manner did not bring her morality into question in the sight of Allah. Moreover, she gave expression to a legitimate desire of hers without caring for what some people might think – her honest approach was admirable rather than indiscreet or improper, as many people today might think.
We all have some idea about the status of Khadija in Islam. While extremely beloved to the Prophet ﷺ, she also had the unique honour of receiving greetings of peace from Allah, narrated in the following hadith: “The angel Jibril (Gabriel) came to the Prophet ﷺ and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, this is Khadija coming to you with a dish of meat soup, some food, and some drink. When she reaches you, then greet her with peace on behalf of her Lord and myself. And give her glad tidings of a palace in Paradise made of jewels, wherein there will be no commotion or fatigue.’” (Reported by Bukhari)
So why is our vision so narrow, and our approach so judgemental, regarding the etiquette of marriage today? Why are women subjected to countless restrictions on marital issues in our Muslim societies? What is causing us to ignore Islam and impose our own so-called standards of morality? Unfortunately, societal pressures dominate our way of thinking. We are unable to rise beyond certain cultural mindsets and practices even though these defy Islam and defy rationality. It is, in fact, a result of ignoring such teachings of Islam that so many injustices thrive in our present-day society.