From doctors to lawyers, artists to writers, intellectuals and academics, Muslim women today are swiftly climbing the ladders of success and proving their excellence in their chosen fields. It is heartening to see the strength and perseverance of these women, especially those who fight to uphold their religious ethics in the midst of cut-throat industries that have no time for spirituality.
Yet, there are still those who often insinuate that women who work, have careers and are involved in anything outside the home are somehow corrupted, unfit to be good wives or mothers and are a source of “fitnah”.
The example of Khadijah bint Khuwaylid (RA) provides a direct contrast to this attitude – it is well known that she was a successful businesswoman, but in addition to her intellect and business acumen she acquired another reputation as “At-Tahirah” – the Chaste One.
Keep in mind that despite her previous marriages, Khadijah was reckoned to be a catch not only because of her wealth and social status, but because of her beauty.
It could have been extremely easy for her to exploit her attractiveness for various reasons – to sway a competitor, perhaps, or win over a rival or achieve the higher position in any business dealing. We see it often enough today where successful career women utilise their physical appearance as much as they do other aspects of their business.
In the case of Khadijah, however, her prestige – in both this world and the Hereafter – grew because it took a formidable strength to refrain from giving in to cheap marketing tactics that turned her beauty into a commodity.
What truly distinguished Khadijah from the rest, what really set her apart, was that, unlike those who sought to achieve success by giving in to the existing standards, she created her own model of success. Khadijah imposed her values on others rather than allowing the pressure of society and “the industry” to wear her down.
It was her determination to practice her values, regardless of what consequences her choices may have had on her business, that ensured her success. Her ambition was not merely to excel on a shallow level, but to be such a powerful force as an ethical human being in addition to being a career woman that she earned respect rather than merely seeking it.
Nor was Khadijah an isolated case; amongst the sahabiyyat and the women of the tabi’een were many who owned and managed their own businesses or were otherwise engaged in forms of employment. However, they were always aware that just as Muslim men are obligated to behave with honour and dignity, so too were they bound by the same moral code.
For many Muslim women, it can be tempting to make compromises for the sake of a career – to justify excuses for behaviour that may not necessarily be pleasing to Allah (SWT) despite the worldly payoff. The price of ambition and success can be steep but is it a price worth paying if it means exchanging our values for the sake of the backhanded dealings and norms of a glass-ceiling corporation?
Allah (SWT) warns us of the worst kind of business:
Those are the ones who have purchased error [in exchange] for guidance, so their transaction has brought no profit, nor were they guided. (Al-Baqarah:16)
In contrast, He also reminds us of the most perfect example of success:
Indeed, Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise. (At-Tawbah:111)
Ambition is a good thing, even – despite what others may say – for women. In fact, it is Islam which encourages us to foster the highest ambition of all, the taste for the ultimate success… that of Jannah, of Paradise. That otherworldly success, however, doesn’t mean that one has to sacrifice the accomplishments of this world. One of the great scholars of Islam, Sufyan ath-Thawri, aptly put it this way:
“do the deed of heroes: seek your rizq (provision) from the halal.”
Muslim women are indeed true heroines of Islam – those who seek excellence in all that they do, whose success is based not merely on worldly ambition or status, but on the strength of their faith and their refusal to compromise the most precious of ethics.
Khadijah Stott-Andrew reflects on how the character of Khadijah Bint Khuwaylid (RA) has been a constant guidance throughout her marriage.
Klaudia Khan talks to sisters who left behind tempting but questionable wealth.
Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the sahabiyyat and other great women in Islamic history. She hopes that every Muslimah is able to identify with the struggles of these inspirational women and follow in their footsteps to become a part of a new generation of powerful Muslim women. She blogs at http://www.thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com.