Khadijah, a successful businesswoman, had been widowed twice before and turned down numerous suitors when she proposed to her third husband, an employee almost 15 years her junior.

While her story doesn’t seem all that unusual by today’s standards, Khadijah was born in Arabia in the year 555 A.D. Her third husband was the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, and Khadijah is remembered as the first Muslim and one of the religion’s “four perfect women.”

It certainly seems unusual compared to the stereotypes of Muslim women today as oppressed, submissive, veiled, illiterate and without rights, said Tabassum Haleem, executive director of the Naperville-based Organization of Islamic Speakers Midwest.

Those stereotypes, she said, have no root in Islam.

Haleem spoke March 10 at Gail Borden Public Library about women in Islam. About 15 people attended the presentation, part of the library’s Tapestry of Freedom programming for March, which is National Women’s History Month.

“I think there are many things about Islam and Muslim cultures that we don’t understand in this country,” Haleem said.

In her presentation, Haleem pointed out the stereotypes she said come from representations of Muslim women in the media and Hollywood and from cultural practices in predominantly Islamic countries, rather than the religion itself. She compared those to the role of women described in the Quran, Islam’s holy book, and the hadith, the sayings and practices of Muhammad.

According to their own scriptures, Muslim women are hardly without rights, Haleem said. The Quran was revolutionary in speaking against the infanticide of baby girls — a common practice in Arabia 1,400 years ago — and allowing women to earn and keep their own money and property before and after marriage.

“I live with five men, so I know everything there is to know about women’s rights,” said Haleem, who is married and has four sons.


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