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).