Written by: Sofiyya
This is a continuation of a series of articles on women from Islamic history for #womenofislamwednesday.
Sawda bint Zam’a, (radiallahu ‘anhu–may God be pleased with her), was the first woman to immigrate to Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia) for the sake of Islam. Eventually, she became the second wife of our beloved Prophet Muhammad, (sallalahu alayhi wa salaam–may the peace and blessings of God be upon him).
I’m dedicating this story to all of you ladies who are widowed or divorced. There is such a stigma in our communities on women who have been previously “touched,” but if the Prophet Muhammad, the greatest man to ever live, could marry a widow, then no other man has any excuse not to. Don’t ever let any man (or aunty) tell you that you can’t find happiness again, or worse yet, that you are done or don’t deserve better. You do. Period.
Sawda was middle-aged. She was a little overweight compared to the other sisters of her community, but she didn’t let that stop her. She had a jolly and kind disposition, which made her just the right person to take care of the Prophet’s household and family after the passing of Khadijah (his first wife). Prophet Muhammad (s) gave permission to Khawla to speak to Abu Bakr and to Sawdah on the subject of marriage. Khawla went straight to Sawda and said, “Would you like God 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, a gruff old man, and greeted him and then said, “The Prophet 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 hardly considered herself worthy, but she was eager to accept. Never in a million years did she think she could move on from her husband’s death, yet here was a great offer from the very prophet of Islam. Sawda (ra) went to live in Muhammad’s house, honored to be entrusted with such a responsibility as raising the Prophet’s children. She undertook the tasks at hand with pride, even caring for Aisha (ra). She was humble and caring.
Sawda’s ability to overcome grief and move forward with her life is a lesson from God on what truly makes an individual one of good character. It also shows the insight the Prophet (s) had when choosing a spouse. He admired physical beauty, but he prized devoutness more. He knew that if Sawda lived to earn God’s good pleasure, she would surely earn his. Every aspect of her life was in accordance with the morality of the Quran and her contentment, accepting the fate God decreed with the loss of her husband, was astounding. God alone knows how hard it must have been for her, or for any widow or divorcee for that matter.
We can all learn from her that, despite how much a loss or separation can feel like the end, it is not. Better things may still await you. Patience, perseverance, and faith are key. Likewise, instead of seeing her past as a flaw or excess baggage, the Prophet (s) looked at these things as valuable assets! He knew she was better because of the strength she had gained from her past, not worse.
There was great surprise in Mecca that the Prophet (s) would choose to marry a widow who was neither young nor beautiful. But he remembered her loss and the trials she had undergone when she had immigrated to Abyssinia, leaving her home, crossing the desert and then the sea for an unknown land out of a pure desire to preserve her newfound faith. She was one of the first to travel, and had been amongst the early companions to accept Islam wholeheartedly. It was this unwavering devotion to God, even through her loss and despair, that made her such a catch for the Prophet (s), and he knew the type of motherly-figure she would be to his children.
When choosing a spouse we must keep in mind that we do not simply choose someone who appears they could be a good husband or wife; we must also look ahead and ensure that this person would be a good mother or father to our children, whether already born or not. Likewise, we must think about who would be good sons or daughters to our parents. Sawda was an honest and humble woman. We should all reflect on her for that. Unlike some of the other wives of the Prophet, she was not noted for her beauty, strength, or wealth. She was however, noted for her faith and inner strengths. This shows us what really matters when choosing a suitable mate for ourselves and our children: Faith. To live by your faith requires ambition and determination, and this alone was a testament of Sawda’s (ra) intentions, lifestyle, and character.
Like Khadijah (ra), Sawda was a widow. She had been through great trials with the loss of her first husband and the sacrifices she made for the sake of God. She was resilient. Ladies, if you have to strength to overcome these obstacles in life, then you have the strength to move forward. Tragedy can be overcome once you are determined to see better days. God tests us, but we never know what goodness may lie ahead of us yet. Take your time to heal, take care of yourself, put faith in the Lord above, and let Him do the rest.
When Sawda (ra) was older, the Prophet (s) was worried that Sawda might be upset about having to compete with the younger wives, so he 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 Judgement. She lived on until the end of the rule of Umar ibn al Khattab (ra). She and Aisha always remained very close. Even though so had just as much right to vie for her husband’s affections, after years of marriage and taking care of his household, her faith had not changed. She was still devoted to God and knew the blessings of remaining steadfast. She remained humble and kind until the day she died, and God blessed her for it. May we all be blessed with pious spouses and nurturing households. May we all learn and emulate the humility, piety, and perseverance displayed by Sawda (ra).
WATCH THIS EPISODE ON THE STORYTIME WITH SOFIYYA YOUTUBE PAGE: RAMADAN 2016: Women in the Life of the Rasool (7) – Sawda R.A.
Ghadanfar, Mahmood Ahmad. Great Women of Islam. Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, 2001. Print.
Quṭb, Muḥammad ʻAlī. Women around the Messenger. Riyadh: International Islamic House, 2007. Print.