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Khadijah – Beyond Belief

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Fatima Barkatulla

Channel: Fatima Barkatulla

Episode Notes

KHADIJAH ~ Beyond Belief with Ernie Rea – with Fatima Barkatulla & other panellists

“It is said that behind every great man there is a great woman. The Prophet Muhammad was married many times; but for 25 formative years, he remained faithful to one woman, Khadijah. She is widely recognised as the First Muslim and her story may be surprising to many non-Muslims. She was a successful business woman. She was considerably older than Muhammad, and it was she who proposed to him. She must have been a formidable presence. There are many debates about the place of women in the Muslim world; could Khadijah be an appropriate role model for Muslim women today? Joining Ernie Rea to discuss Khadijah, are Fatima Barkatulla an Islamic scholar who has recently written a children’s book about Khadijah; Rania Hafaz, Senior Lecturer in Education at Greenwich College and Fellow of the Muslim Institute; Asad Zaman, a Manchester based Imam; and Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Inter Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh.”

Broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 11 September 2017

Producer Amanda Hancox.

Episode Transcript

© No part of this transcript may be copied or referenced or transmitted in any way whatsoever. Transcripts are auto-generated and thus will be be inaccurate. We are working on a system to allow volunteers to edit transcripts in a controlled system.


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You're listening to a program from BBC Radio four.

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Things have a beginning and a middle and an end of it have changed a consequence. The great religious stories are about literally the opposite of that.

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So you believe in Adam and Eve, and you think that as a result of that, we're all damned.

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It's so inhibits the love of God.

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What's your position on polygamy? I've read in the papers. Again, believe me, it's not about women's choice. It's about men's choice.

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No one had touched her, even to pat her on the back since our diagnosis four years earlier. So I just asked her one question. I said, Would you mind if I just hold your hand? It's the title of the program around beyond belief. I mean, really, this is beyond belief.

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I'm Ernie Ray. And this is the Beyond Belief podcast. Today we're discussing Khadija the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad. She's often referred to as the first Muslim. She was certainly a dominant influence in the Prophet's life. She was a wealthy businesswoman and considerably older than him, and he remained faithful to her right up to her death. Hybrid was her influence on the early development of Islam. Joining me are academics Mona sidiki, and Rania vas Fatima, Baka Tula who's written a children's book about Khadija and the Imam Asad Zama. I began by asking Fatima what Khadija means to her to me Khadija is a role model, she is inspiring to anyone who has a cause that

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they want to support beyond themselves. And she's very much the mother of the believers, somebody who I look up to in every area of life aside, what does she mean to you? Well, until recently, she was just the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. But as I've really researched into her more recently, she is the most amazing woman that I've ever read about Mona, what does she mean to you? Well, I grew up listening to stories of the prophets. And when it came to discussing the Prophet himself, he was always mentioned in conjunction with Khadija. So I never saw the two as inseparable, and run out. A strong, intelligent woman who also independently was aware of her own

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agency, and had a worldview and have an impact locally and regionally and actually sought to make a difference in the world. More than how much do we actually know about her? Well, most of the information we have on the life of the Prophet comes down to us in the biographical literature, the Sierra literature. And as you can imagine, a lot of the Sierra literature was written decades after the Prophet's death. But tradition has it that she was born in Mecca in the mid sixth century. She was born into an affluent household in the tribe of Quraysh. Her father was a prosperous businessman, and he actually died fighting in a battle. She married twice, and the first husband

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died. The second time she married, the marriage was dissolved, or was she separated because of incompatibility. And she basically then managed her own business that was left to her and tradition has it that she really grew up in the lap of luxury. And that's what we know of how in relation to the Prophet is that in managing her business, she had come to hear of the Prophet and his integrity and his ways and his kindness, and sent a slave girl to inquire after him. And that's really the kind of beginnings of not only her life, but also the major events that led her to the Prophet. It's all a bit uncertain, though, that this was traditional, and much of it was written down a long time

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after her death. Absolutely. And and that's one of the fundamental challenges you face. But historians do compare and contrast, different versions of biographies. And from these comparisons, you actually see emerging certain things that people can say, actually, that's probably true, or that could have happened. So Furthermore, when you sat down to write a book about Khadija, how did you piece together all these bits from the material? I think one of the main sources that I used was actually the books of Hadith. So traditions of the traditions of sayings of the Prophet Mohammed. And one of the key narrators, ironically, was Ayesha, who was, you know, a later wife of the prophet

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who, obviously the Prophet had told the story of Khadija two, and then she was narrating, you know, what happened at the beginning of revelation when he first became a prophet. And this was something that I shot she wasn't actually witness to, but she very faithfully and seeing it as a duty conveyed to the Muslim so I actually didn't find it very difficult to find information about, you know, the revelation side of cabbages connection with the Prophet. The areas that were more difficult

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was reading I think between the lines when it came to the difficulties that Khadija must have faced, because every time you're reading the CRR, every time you're reading the biography of the Prophet, she's there, especially in the Macan period, she's there in the background alongside him doing whatever it is that she needed to do, run. Although I'm I'm, I'm a sociologist, not a historian. So for me, it's actually about understanding this, the conditions of the times. And actually, it's the fact that there's a monogamous marriage at a time when most people would have several wives, especially if they had a high standing very polygamous society, extreme exceedingly polygamous

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society, the fact that we know that she was older than him. And we know that she initiated the match, she actually asked him to marry her. So that actually shows her as somebody who stood almost challenging the social norms. I said, How unusual would it have been for a woman to have been involved in business in Arabia at that time, very unusual indeed. And she literally smashed the glass ceiling. Even women today would aspire to do what she did 1400 years ago, you know, she was a multi millionaire is extremely eligible for marriage refuse so many men of nobility, she was an extremely high nobility herself, and therefore, for her to pick the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon

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him. She must have seen some amazing qualities in him that made her change her mind about marriage and run. It's all the more remarkable because conditions as you've mentioned, for women, yeah, Arabia at that time, were pretty appalling. You know, my daughters who were born very often, hillside, absolutely, daughters were actually sometimes murdered because they were worried about poverty and honor. But we have to remember that cloth is always a factor, and the fact that she came from an upper class, so yes, she did break a lot of the kind of stereotypes of women at the time. But it was really good that she actually had agency she knew how to use her power, her position, her

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class position, her wealth, to make real changes and to propose something completely different. mono, why do you think she chose Mohamad? She had heard of his integrity and honesty, and that, you know, he was a man of principle behavior. And she was looking for someone to hit her trading caravans. And he accepted the offer and started working for her. But even then she she wanted to make sure that he was good that you know, he was what she had heard about him. So there is a tradition that she sent a trusted slave, to actually accompany him and serve Him and see what he was like this slave then came back and basically reported that there were miraculous things going on,

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around the prophets. And for Khadija, then that kind of confirmed that yes, he was the right man. But I think even before she met the Prophet Lama, we have to understand, for the gist family was very inclined towards monotheism, I wanted to say

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almost the response to that as well and to Fatima, that actually, we're thinking of as a Muslim woman, but a lot of her characters formed before the message of Islam came. So we're in danger of back reading into something that fits. And that's my my, my comment about the class was that she was able to use her class position to make changes to actually be slightly different, maybe not unique, but the fact that we do not have a lot of contemporary evidence on the women of the region, or even the men, it's only 100 years later, as we look back on Islam, that we delve into these stories, but it's important to see her to me, not just as somebody formed by Islam, but somebody who was crucial

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to the looking after some of the little sapling of growing Islam with the Prophet peace be upon I think it's really important to just just to re emphasize that I would be wary of saying that she was inherently monotheistic because when our kind of imposing an Islam on her post Islam, I think that what little information we have on her is really about her relationship to the Prophet, but also her relationship with her family. And as a businesswoman, the fact that she comforted him and that she, and she became the first convert is really in alliance with the prophets is really what her response was to the profits, rather than something intrinsically responding to the color monotheism. Just

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tell me are Sadler about the marriage, it was really very unusual for a man to be monogamous for a period of 25 years at that time in Arabia, and to me, that tells me the level of love that existed between husband and wife between the Prophet Mohammed and Khadija, although it started off as a trading relationship. It started off as an employer.

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He was an employee. The interesting thing though, is the age difference now and I knew there's a dispute about what age she was because she said she was

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when she was 14.

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Yes, signs a little. There are different stories about that. Actually.

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That some kind of story is pathetic, younger than 40. But she had children also before him, it must have been quite difficult at times for her though Fatima, because there was a period when he would offer other a lot in his own left her behind went off to meditate or to think or whatever you like to call it. But there were periods of separation in the marriage. Yeah, it seems that she very deeply understood his need to go away from the city, to contemplate, and to spend time with God and to connect with God, it seems that she really understood that because it was Khadija who actually used to take the food, and travel up the mountain, and anyone who's been up that mountain, I've been

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up the mountain, it's like two hour walk. And the obviously would have been very difficult and Rocky, and she would take food to him to allow him to spend more time there. So that kind of shows that there was this affinity between them, and understanding that, you know, something was going to happen. And I think between the the marriage, and the receiving the prophethood, a certain very intense spiritual, not just physical relationship had developed to such an extent that she really understood his needs in a way that an average woman probably wouldn't understand. And therefore, when he came back after this horrific experience that he had, this was the experience of jabril.

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Gabriel coming to him and and revealing the message Exactly. I didn't take it Well, at first, he was absolutely frightened by that. He was. And so you know, it must have taken him over an hour to get back home and he was still shivering. And he was saying, you know, I think I'm going crazy. I just saw this. And I'm going mad. And of course, she said to him, and this is where she becomes really the rock that she was right up to the end, that you know, God Almighty will never abandon you. You're so kind to everyone, you look after the orphans. You look after the needy. And let's go to my cousin Wanaka have been no Phil. And perhaps he can help us along this because this is clearly

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something out of our experience. And that's where we're going northville then says to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him that this experience that you've just described, is the angel Gabriel, you are the chosen one. You are going to be the Prophet that has been prophesized at Fatima. She's known as the first Muslim. What do we mean by that? When the Prophet Muhammad came with the message, and, you know, she became aware of his prophet heard that she accepted him immediately. She was the first she was the first Absolutely. And what I've been known for is actually considered to be the first man who became a Muslim, but he died very soon afterwards. So the thing is that when what God

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told them that, you know, your people are going to turn you out of the city, this was a prophecy. Yeah. You know, Mohammed and visa must have been beside themselves, because they were from the nobility. They were very loved family, they were very popular family. And to hear from worker that actually trouble was going to be ahead, you know, must have been very worrying for them. And the Prophet asked, Where are they really going to expel me from the city. And he said, anyone who came with a message like yours, has always been persecuted. At rally. Let's just put this in context. Because what happened at Mecca was a city that depended on idols. Lots of people came there that was

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pilgrimage to Mecca was a city that depended on trade and idols were a way of showing everybody who came from different parts that you have a place here. So the idols were really representing of the various tribes, around Mecca and around Arabia, so they could all come to the house, and they had the Hajj, the pilgrimage to the house, but basically, Mecca didn't depend on trade. You know, this is a city also based on slavery. It's a city based on the rich exploiting the poor, essentially. And then you had these two wealthy couple, who are monogamous, who have kind of been almost the ideal family who are proposing to turn everything upside down, turning it upside down by saying actually

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all these idols are nothing there is one God probably get rid of the idols. Yeah, I think we when we look at the idols, Islam, of course, of course, as a monotheistic religion, it wasn't just about idols. The the essence of the the message of the Prophet was justice, and it was social justice. And there was this companion of his partner who had put her money where both their mouth well and actually had given a lot to charity to support others, and they were about to actually start revolutionising Mecca acid and just to pick up on that point of revolutionising mugger. One of the primary reasons why the non Muslim Meccans a polytheist, especially people like Abu jahl, and those

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who are in prominent positions,

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An extremely wealthy, they oppose the message of there is only one God because the entire economic system of Mecca was based on polytheism. And if you were to get rid of polytheism, the entire economic system would collapse and these very wealthy people and privileged people, their source of income would go with it. So basically what happened was when they were in Mecca, still in Mecca, they were being persecuted that Muslim shops were being boycotted. They were finding it very difficult to keep going. And basically Mona during that time Khadija bankroll them, she financed the movement. She did, but I'd be wary of I mean, I think it's very difficult to separate the

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sociological from the historical, because I think one of the things is that if you look at the Quran, the Quran has actually very little biographical information on the prophets. And if you look at the Meccans tourists are very largely concerned with don't raise him into something he isn't now you know, I'm paraphrasing here, he's a warner, he has come to you with a message. And then later on, by the time we get to the Medina and myth versus the Quran starts to elevate the Prophet into something much bigger. So you have versus like a big garden, a bear his messenger, as if the two are almost synonymous. And so I think we have to be a little bit careful as to what was her role in

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terms of revolutionising? I think it is probably without doubt based on the sources we have, that she supported him financially, she supported motion psychologically, there was a deep love and affection between them. But she she was prepared to do that she was prepared to do that, because she believed in him. And she believed in what he was trying to do, which I'm not sure at the time was a revolution. But it was certainly a new way of thinking about both God and justice, because it must be said that she wasn't actually there for the big moment of the move from Mecca to Medina. She had died before that happened. So I wonder, within that context, how big was her role in shaping the

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form of early Islam? Fatima? I think the Prophet Muhammad's would say all, you know, at one point later on in Medina when one of his wives got quite jealous. And this was a show, yes, I share. And she said, you know, why do you keep remembering this lady? And you know, I think she said, Oh,

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this lady and when God has given you a wife, who's better than her, okay, so her natural kind of sense of jealousy came out, the prophet Mohammed actually rebuked her and said to her, no, God has not given me a wife better than her. She supported me when everyone rejected me, she gave me wealth when everybody else prevented me from wealth. And God gave me children through her. So I think, you know, it's not just about what the Quran says about this story, we do base, you know, a lot of it on the heartbeat and the words of the Prophet sallallahu wasallam. himself. It's just that if we're, if we're forming a kind of all I'm saying is that we can't really form any consistent biography, we can

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say there are some things that are consistent. But if you're looking for historical truth, it's actually quite difficult. It's but it's so much of it is really about what the believer believes and wants to believe. But there was a period only when the Muslims were actually completely boycotted. They were made homeless. And this was three years, and this intense they lived, they lived in tents, they that nobody was allowed to buy from them or sell to them or marry them. That was a complete economic and social boycott. And during that time, we know that it was Khadija has wealth that would have sustained them, you know. And also, the fact that after this period, Khadija actually passed

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away very soon afterwards. So she went through all of that suffering. And as you said, she didn't see the fruits of our efforts in that sense. But I think in that is his kind of inspiration, I think, for our times, Father, what does she stand for today? I think today, she is inspiration for anyone who is part of a movement, or anyone who's part of a cause greater than themselves, and might be sacrificing and working hard for that movement, in that you might not see the fruits of your efforts within your lifetime. But that doesn't mean that it's not worth making those efforts. Mona,

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I suppose to some extent, she stands for something that is very contested in many Muslim communities, which is that how do women exercise, personal autonomy, moral agency, decision making without fear? And she from from the information we have on her, she seemed to have done that extraordinary well, so I'm interested in this side because he was saying that this was a remarkable role a role model, you would expect that, at looking at her Muslims would treat women all around the world with great veneration and respect. And yet we all know that there are certain countries in which women walk four paces behind the man. They're not allowed to drive cars, they're treated as

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chattels How do you account for that? You know, and when I started reading up on

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The role of Khadija, the kind of person she was the influence of her on the life of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, I was forced to change so much of my thinking towards women, towards my own wife, when I thought, oh my god, there's so much in my mind and the wet my attitude that is fashioned by the culture in which I've been brought up in, which is not necessarily purely influenced by Islam, that we really need to get this out to the masses, that we need to change our attitude to women, and to really not be intimidated by somebody who is richer than us, perhaps more intelligent, perhaps, certainly has a higher status. All of these are part and parcel of the culture

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in which we are brought up in and I think, by studying her life, we can change the mindset of the male population. Mona, what do you make of this contrast between the person of Khadija greatly venerated within the Muslim world and the fact that women in many cultures are treated so badly in the Muslim world? Well, I think one of the problems of with all respect all the prophets, wives, and you know, you can read them as figures who go intrinsic to the prophets life and their legacies. But when when a lot of people look back, especially Muslim men, and Muslim male scholars look back and say, you know, these were the wives, these were the mothers of the believers, they had virtue etc,

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etc, they're almost didn't distancing these wives into something that has no bearing on their own relationship with women. And I find that a real challenge, because obviously, the the issues, the problems, the challenges, gender relations face today, including in Muslim societies are not quite the same in some ways, as they were, you know, 1400 years ago. So it's not simply about I have to look at these figures and now change my, my attitude to women. It's how do you face the constant daily challenges, that, that arise simply out of women wanting some personal agency, women wanting to respect women not having, and not having to wait for you to quote something from the Hadith or

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the Quran, but actually saying, look, you know, we are equals here, this, these are rights we've been given. But I don't think that the lives of the prophets wives themselves actually gave women you know, more rights, I think, intrinsically, Islam did give women in Arabia, many more rights and freed them from many of the things, many of the oppressions that they were exposed to before, for example, female infanticide was wiped out of Arabia, you know, because of Islam. However, I think in our times, we're seeing a lot of ignorance, we're seeing, you know, a lack of education as well, you know, in many places in the Muslim world, I'm part of a seminary where female scholars are being

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trained. And I think that will go some way towards the spotlight being put on in certain areas that perhaps have been ignored. You know, in the past, I thought, the way I see this, and the point I was trying to make really was that there is Islam in this culture. And when you start to study the lives of the life of the Prophet, the Sierra, and how he treated his wives, you find you are better able to separate the religion from the culture. As you said, quite rightly, there are areas within the Muslim world where women are not treated as they ought to be. They are not given the rights that Islam gave them 1400 years ago, and they are treated in a more subordinate manner, which is

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completely unacceptable. Problem is said there is no religion outside of culture, there is no Islam outside of a cultural context. Well, I don't know, can I add to Canada thing to the mix?

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I think it's religion is culture, but it's also economic circumstances, socio economic circumstances, I think you'll find it I travel a lot in the Arab world, where you have either people who have access to wealth and higher position in society always have more choices. But what we can do and looking back is people not just Hadid and also she was a woman of her own class. But other women around the the story of Islam and actually the first martyr in Islam was a woman but she was a woman who was a slave. And actually, that tells us about female about individual agency, female and male. And this, basically this about the dialectic it's about actually looking at principles, not

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just the detail and looking at the principles of justice, of independence, of equity and equality, and and fighting for those, but realizing that gender relationships will always be problematic as you were objecting to Mona's assertion that you can't separate religion and culture. Well, okay.

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The point I'm trying to make is that, for example, take one example of forced marriage. Now we hear about it constantly on the news about certain cultures, encouraging and, and being part of this really quite cruel aspect of marriage, forcing children to marry somebody against their will. But forced marriage is not part of our faith. And that's what I'm seeing that once. And as we've seen with the life of Hagia, she proposed to the Prophet Mohammed, a peace nominee, she chose him. And therefore, the principles which are there within Islam, we are not applying them within many aspects of our culture in our thinking, because we, we, unfortunately, those who are not educated within the

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faith, do mix culture and religion. And frequently they are unjust to their wives or children, because of their ignorance of basic Islamic values. No, no. I mean, basically, though, with respect to Khadija she proposed to him not as a Muslim, you have to bear that in mind. And there's a lot of scholarship debating whether despite the Quran giving Muslim women rights, when we're women, did women have more rights prior to Islam? And again, there could be class issues here as well. But did women have more rights, however you conceptualize rights before Islam or afterwards, and I think that it's very easy, and it becomes very easy for Muslims to say the Quran gave us these rights,

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Islam give us these rights. But we've been having these discussions for decades, and in many parts of the Islamic world, very little has changed. And the reason why Very little is changed is precisely because people don't just say this is culture. They actually, quote, religious sources to say, this is why I'm doing what I'm doing. I want to ask each one of you a final question as we draw this program to an end. So if you were to meet Khadija, what would you say to her?

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What was it that convinced you that this man is someone that you are going to commit your entire life to and stand by your man? What are the circumstances that I would give her a copy of my book?

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And I would say, dear Abuja, please tell me your story, in your own words, but I would also say to her, your efforts paid off, you know, because I think we are part of our legacy, the very existence of Muslims all over the world. No, no. I think I would just ask her, what do you think of Ayesha

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Rania, I think when I went there with with this one, actually,

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no, I would actually ask her what gave her the courage to ask somebody below her status, younger than her for marriage, what was it in her mind and how she stood up to her society at the time? Well, there we must leave the story of Khadija. My thanks to Melissa deacy asaduzzaman Rania, Hafiz and Fatima barkatullah I'll be back again next Monday with another edition of the unbelief. I hope you'll join me. You can download many more BBC Radio four programs for free find [email protected] slash radio four