By Maliha Hashmi
Exclusive | The Crescent Post
In a country where women have slowly started to make a more pronounced and appealing appearance in the world of business, higher education, and other fields, there lies a very unique group of unnoticed female entrepreneurs. These talented and hardworking women are specifically found in a very special city within this country. This special city has a long time history and continues to have entrepreneurs who are women, earning a living for their families and working with dignity for survival–this city is the holy city of Madinah, also called the city of Paradise by many people.
Madinah is a city located in the Hejaz (Western) region of Saudi Arabia. It is the second holiest city in the world for Muslims. For those who have been blessed with visiting this serene and luminous city of Madinah are aware of the uniqueness this beautiful city entails in its rich cultural and Islamic heritage. In the year 622 CE, the Prophet Mohammed Peace Be Upon Him migrated from Makkah, a city he was born in and deeply loved, to the city of Madinah. Although he was warmly welcomed in Madinah, he could not help but miss Makkah. For this reason, he made a special prayer for extra serenity to settle into this city of Madinah so much so that even today when people visit, they cannot help but feel this extra sense of calmness and peace there. Anyone can walk without feeling any worries and feel light by just being in the environment. Shopkeepers trust the visitors to the extent that they leave their shops sometimes unlocked at the call of prayer.
Not only is Madinah unique for this extraordinary tranquility and safety, another subtle and exclusive aspect this city contains is hard working underprivileged women working as courageous silent entrepreneurs trying to make ends meet by helping to keep their families fed and alive. The streets of Madinah have quaint stores with all types of products that are sold at very reasonable prices. As one is shopping in the streets, on the sidewalks are some fully covered women sitting selling delightful homemade items. These homemade products include scarves, socks, handbags, jewelry and clothes.
These women hold such a special place in the streets of Madinah, which is why I decided to write this piece in the first place. During a great conversation I was having about how to improve developing nations, my sister, Nada, a social entrepreneur and phD candidate in business at MIT, said to me: “Maliha, whenever you visit Madinah, do you notice the lovely local ladies of Madinah selling the hand made socks, bags and clothes etc.? Buy as many products as you can from them. I believe they are the quiet entrepreneurs and business women of that city and deserve recognition.” That comment remained in my mind and heart since.
One of the ladies I did have a chance to speak to told me that her name was Khadija, but was known as Umm Othman (Mother of Othman). Her husband was poor and ill and she had four small children to feed and provide shelter for. Instead of resorting to panhandling for survival, she had taken initiative at home to sew any pieces of cloth she could find in her house and make beautiful handmade socks and purses out them. This had helped her get enough money to feed her children and care for her husband. She told me her typical workday started from Ishraq (a few hours after the early morning prayer, around 7:00am), with a break from Dhur (afternoon prayer) until Asr ( late afternoon prayer: so break was from 12:30pm -4:30pm) and lasted until an hour after isha (night prayer around 10:00pm). Some seasons, she earned much more than others, particularly helpful she mentioned were the months of Ramadan (month of fasting) and Hajj (month of pilgrimage). These months were her favorite as lots of foreigners came to visit Madinah who would buy her products as gifts for their families from Madinah. These foreigners unknowingly helped her in levels they would never have imagined. While telling me about herself, she cried a little, smiled a little and thanked me for talking to her. It made me realize what may seem like small matters to some in life, are the best moments of life for others. She told me she has friends in similar economic situations that also had learned the art of creating small businesses.
Speaking to Umm Othman touched my heart and it was natural for me to buy my whole winter collection of socks from her; all the socks were beautifully sewn, colorful and very comfortable to wear. With that cozy feeling inside, I decided to write and inform others about these special women of Madinah and have others benefit from their creativity and cause.
Maliha Hashmi is a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School. She is a Healthcare lawyer and Social Entrepreneur. She is a budding writer who also works to develop online education programs for Children with the World Health Organization.