Wives of the Prophet Muhammad Series (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)
Mothers of the believers-Sawdah bint Zam’ah (radhiAllahu ‘anha)
Sawda bint Zam’a, may Allah be pleased with her had been the first woman to immigrate to Abyssinia in the way of Allah. Her husband ha died and she was now living with her aged father. She was middle-aged, rather plump, with a jolly, kindly disposition, and just the right person to take care of the Prophet’s household and family. So Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) gave permission to Khawla to speak to Sayyiduna Abu Bakr and to Sawda on the subject. Khawla went straight to Sawda and said, “Would you like Allah to give you great blessing, Sawda?” Sawda asked, “And what is that, Khawla?” She said, “The Messenger of Allah has sent me to you with a proposal of marriage!” Sawda tried to contain herself in spite of her utter astonishment and then replied in a trembling voice, “I would like that! Go to my father and tell him that.” Khawla went to Zam’a, ad gruff old man, and greeted him and then said, “Muhammad son of Abdullah son of Abdul Muttalib, has sent me to ask for Sawda in marriage.” The old man shouted, “A noble match. What does she say?” Khawla replied, “she would like that.” He told her to call her. When she came, he said, “Sawda, this woman claims that Muhammad son of Abdullah son of Abdul Muttalib has sent me to ask for you in marriage. It is a noble match. Do you want me to marry you to him?” She accepted, feeling it was a great honor. Sawda went to live in Muhammad’s house and immediately took over the care of his daughters and household, while Aisha bint Abu Bakr became betrothed to him and remained in her father’s house playing with her dolls.
There was great surprise in Mecca that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) would choose to marry a widow who was neither young nor beautiful. The Prophet, however, remembered the trials she had undergone when she had immigrated to Abyssinia, leaving her house and property, and crossed the desert and then the sea for an unknown land out of the desire to preserve her deen. During the next two years, the Quraish increased their spiteful efforts to destroy the Prophet and his followers, in spite of the clear signs that confirmed beyond any doubt that Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was indeed the Messenger of Allah.
A house full of laughter is a home full of love… and truly, the home of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) rang with laughter whenever Sawdah bint Zam’ah (radhiAllahu ‘anha) was present.Most people overlook Sawdah, even though she was the second woman whom RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) married after the death of Khadijah.
Sawdah was much older than A’ishah bint Abi Bakr, whom RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) married shortly after, and it’s commonly known that she gave up her allotted days and nights with RasulAllah for A’ishah’s sake.
According to many narrations, and by her own admission, Sawdah wasn’t particularly beautiful, either – she is described as “elderly and fat.”
What many don’t realize, however, is that it was her age which RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) appreciated – or rather, the qualities associated with it: wisdom, maturity, and understanding.
Sawdah was the first stepmother for the daughters of RasulAllah, especially for Fatimah (radhiAllahu ‘anha), who was still quite young at the time.
She had a nurturing personality, and a sense of humour which endeared her to her husband, her stepchildren, and her co-wives alike.
It was known that when RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was feeling sorrowful or grieved due to the hardships related to the Da’wah of Islam, it was always Sawdah who was guaranteed to make him smile with a quick-witted joke, and Sawdah who offered him advice and comfort without requesting anything from him except his company.
Once, when RasulAllah’s face was drawn with weariness, she teased him, “O Messenger of Allah! I prayed behind you yesterday, and you prolonged the prostration for so long that I nearly had a nosebleed!”
Her husband, the beloved Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) threw his head back and laughed so hard that his molar teeth were visible. The sorrow in his bearing disappeared, and his smile lit up the heart of Sawdah with joy.
And while many women would have felt jealous at the arrival of a younger, beautiful wife, Sawdah took A’ishah under her wing immediately.It is related that amongst the wives of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), no two of them were closer to each other than Sawdah and A’ishah.
Sawdah’s sense of humour made it easy for the other wives to get swept away in the fun. Hafsah and A’ishah in particular used to enjoy getting up to pranks, and Sawdah was sometimes their target.
Once, A’ishah and Hafsah were sitting together when Sawdah came to visit them, bedecked in finery. Raising their eyebrows at each other, Hafsah said to A’ishah, “RasulAllah will come and see her, and forget about us!” Then, with a mischievous gleam to her eye, Hafsah told Sawdah, “The one-eyed one is coming! (i.e. implying the Dajjaal.)”
Sawdah panicked and asked, “Where can I go, where can I go?!”
Looking serious, Hafsah pointed at a tent outside – one where people would abandon unwanted items, and which was full of cobwebs and other creepy-crawlies. Picking up her skirts, Sawdah fled to the tent, and Hafsah and A’ishah broke into peals of laughter.
They were still laughing when RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) joined them, and asked them about the cause of their mirth. The two women were laughing so hard that they couldn’t even speak, and all they could do was point at the tent where poor Sawdah was hiding in fear.
Filled with love for Sawdah, RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) rushed over to her and reassured her that it was not yet time for the Dajjal to come, and helped her up, brushing off the cobwebs and comforting her.
(Musnad Abi Ya’la, Tabarani, and al-Haythami)
Despite all this, Sawdah remained as easy-going as ever, and deeply fond of A’ishah in particular. The affection was mutual, such that when Sawdah passed away, A’ishah wept and said:
“No woman is more beloved to me than Sawdah, whom I would rather be than anyone else.”
Today, when many Muslim men express boredom with their spouses or complain about the waning beauty of their wives, Sawdah’s marriage to Rasulallah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) is a reminder that physical beauty is not the only thing that matters.
There are many different types of love, and every woman is to be loved, respected, and valued for who she is – without being compared to others or belittled for what she may lack in comparison to other women.
In a marriage, the human heart requires more than just outward beauty; and Sawdah’s warm, loving personality was a perfect example of why RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) found such comfort and joy in her.
As the famous hadith states, even a smile is a sadaqah – so for every woman who loves to laugh and make others join in her joy, is a mountain of reward, inshaAllah… just like Sawdah (radhiAllahu ‘anha), the beloved wife of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam).
When she was older, the prophet was worried that Sawda might be upset about having to compete with so many younger wives, and offered to divorce her. She said that she would give her night to Aisha, of whom she was very fond, because she only wanted to be his wife on the Day of Rising. She lived on until the end of the time of Umar ibn al Khattab. She and Aisha always remained very close.