Assalaamu Alaykum respected Shayukh,
For research and writing purposes, I would like to inquire why and how Khadija (ra) was able to own and inherit property and businesses during the time that women were NOT allowed to (before the advent of Islam in Arabia).
Awaiting your kind reply.
May Allah Almighty forgive me, and bless you. Amin.
It is true that women did not inherit automatically in Jahiliyya, rather, only mature male children or even adopted children, then the father, then the brother, then the uncle. Husbands did not inherit either.
However, women excelled in many crafts and they were able to own businesses and wealth – including slaves – which they might receive through family bequest or gifts, and they could also choose or refuse marriage proposals.
Well-spoken women could reach the summits of power in Jahili society, as evidenced by Ibn Abi Taher’s (204-280) compilation of the wise sayings of women in Jahiliyya and early Islam entitled Balaaghaat al-Nisaa’. Among them were several renowned women poets such as al-Khansa’ the mother of the Companion al-`Abbas b. Mirdas al-Sulami. al-Khansa’ had turned down the marriage proposal of a very famous and powerful leader, Durayd b. al-Simma.
Repute also was a constituting factor of power as Jahili society had a pervasive sense of shame. Khadija was greatly reputed in Jahiliyya and nicknamed al-Tahira, the Pure One.
And Allah knows best.
Hajj Gibril Haddad
[Note: Khadija is one of the four greatest women Awliya of all time and her status is exceptional by definition].
A useful summary on women in Jahiliyya (in Arabic) can be found here.
– `Ismat al-Din Karkar. al-Mar’atu fil-`Ahd al-Nabawi. Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1993.
– Habib Nicolas al-Zayyat (1871-1954). al-Mar’atu fil-Jahiliyya. Cairo: matba`at al-ma`arif, 1898-1899.
The latter book is online in full here.