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ARIF M. KHAN
FAITH & BIGOTRY

Arif Mohammed Khan is a former Union Cabinet minister.

Tell Deoband Islam is not against women who work

he place is Mecca, the most important pilgrimage centre on the Arabian Peninsula and the year sometime around 595 AD. A woman named Nafisa, who is a close friend of the wealthiest of Meccan businesswoman Khadija approaches Mohammad, a young man of 25. He is a scion of the Meccan chief Abdul Muttalib and Nafisa proposes the man should marry her friend. Khadija was famous for her business acumen and fabulous riches and was called Ameera (princess), while the young man had a great reputation and was admiringly described as "trustworthy" (Amin) and "honest" (Sadiq) despite the fact that his family was passing through difficult times and he was working for the lady as her business manager. History has recorded the following dialogue between the two:

Nafisa: You are young and the most eligible bachelor in Mecca. Men younger than you are already married and many of them have children. Why don't you marry?

Muhammad: My family is in straitened condition and I do not possess the required wherewithal to afford marriage.

Nafisa: What would be your response if it is proposed to you to marry a woman of beauty, wealth, status and honour, a woman who has full knowledge of your financial difficulties?

Muhammad: Who could be such a woman?

Nafisa: The woman is Khadija, the daughter of Khuwayled.

Muhammad: It is impossible that Khadija would agree to marry me. I know that many rich and powerful people, the chiefs of tribes proposed to her and she rebuffed them all.

Nafisa: I want to know your mind. If you agree to marry her then say so and leave the rest to me. I shall arrange everything.

After consulting his family, Muhammad consented to the proposal and Nafisa negotiated and settled his marriage with Khadija. The two entered into wedlock a few days later. The marriage was solemnised about 15 years before Muhammad's ordainment as Apostle of God.

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Khadija, the first and only wife of the Holy Prophet till 619 AD, when she died, was a woman of substance. Meccans acknowledged her business talents and bestowed upon her the title of the Princess of the Quraysh.

Khadija, the first and only wife of the Holy Prophet till 619 AD, when she died, was a woman of substance. Ibn Saad, in his Tabaqat says that whenever the caravans of the Meccan merchants set out on their journey, Khadija's cargo alone was equal to the merchandise of all other Meccan traders. By all accounts, she was blessed with the proverbial golden touch — if she touched dust, it turned into gold. Meccans acknowledged her business talents and bestowed upon her the title of the Princess of the Quraysh.

During the first 13 years in Mecca, when the Prophet and his small band of followers suffered the worst persecution at the hands of the Meccan nobility, Khadija was her husband's main pillar of support. She is counted as the first person to have declared her faith in Islam after the revelation. As a wife she was not only a source of emotional comfort and solace, but placed all her wealth at the disposal of the Holy Prophet. Many Muslim commentators hold that it was through the wealth of Khadija that God Almighty made the Prophet self sufficient and relieved him of the worries of earning a livelihood. The Quran itself testifies, "Did we not find you in need and made you free of need" (93.8). Edward Gibbon, in his classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, says, "In his 25th year he entered into the service of Khadija, rich and noble widow of Mecca, who soon rewarded his fidelity with the gift of her hand and fortune."

Imam Hanbal and Tirmidi have reported that the Prophet often remembered Khadija fondly and once this aroused the jealousy of young Ayesha, who said, "But she was an old woman and God has compensated you with a better wife." The Prophet indignantly remarked, "No, this is not true. Khadija believed in me when all others disbelieved, she held me truthful when others called me a liar, she sheltered me when others abandoned me, and she comforted me when others shunned me."

And today the clerics of Deoband tell us that according to Islamic law "it is prohibited (haram) for a family to accept a woman's earnings". But the Holy Prophet had not only accepted the earnings of his wife but publicly acknowledged this with sincere gratitude.

 
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