Saturday 15 June, 2024 |
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Exemplary Women: Sawdah Binte Zam’a

The 2nd wife of Rasool Allah (SAW)

Literal meaning of sa wa da:  honor, majesty, land of date palms, even ground of black stones. Black or blackish color also has the same root, the peak or valley of a mountain which has a dominant black color.

Her Family Tree

Name: Sawda bint e Zam’a bin Abd e Shams

Father: Zam’a ibn e Qays

Mother: Al Shamus bint e Qays from Najjar clan of the Khizrij tribe, from the Ansar of Medina, Mohammad’s (SAW) mother belonged to the same tribe.

1st husband: As-Sakran, he was Sohail bin Amr’s brother, Sohail is a prominent name in the history of Islam. Sakran (RA) and Sohail (RA) were Sawda’s paternal cousins. 

Sakran bin Amr (RA) and Sawda (RA) are considered amongst the earliest converts to Islam. They were among those who had migrated to Habasha (Abyssinia) from Mecca. 

Sawda (RA) is included in Sabiqoon al awwaloon (the first of the first). Sabiqoon al awwaloon are those who made two migrations, one to Habasha and then again to Medina. Companions of Rasool Allah (SAW) are ranked highest among Muslims, and amongst the companions Sabiqoon al awwaloon are topmost because they endured the greatest of hardships.

Her Bravery

In the early days, accepting Islam meant losing your wealth, putting your life in danger and being forced to leave your place of birth.

Sawda’s (RA) bravery and resolve is evident from her migration to Habasha. At that time, the people of Mecca had not even seen the ocean! She left the place where her ancestors had been living for centuries, crossed an ocean and migrated to a completely strange land, and she did all this with the sole purpose of serving Islam.

Sawda (RA) stayed with her husband Sakran(RA) in Habasha for a number of years and then returned to Mecca.  The events that led to their return were based on a rumor that the people of Mecca had accepted Islam. The rumor was started when Rasool Allah (SAW) recited Surah An Najm in a crowd, at the end when he recited the ayah commanding them to prostrate, the kuffar (pagans) were so overwhelmed by the word of Allah, that they bowed down in prostration with the Muslims.

The migrants to Habasha were overjoyed that it was safe for them to travel back to their motherland. They returned to Mecca only to discover that what they had heard was fake news.

A short time after their return, Sawda’s (RA) husband Sakran (RA) passed away. Prior to his death Sawda (RA) had a dream, in which she saw herself leaning against a cushion when suddenly the sky parted and the moon fell on her. Her husband Sukran (RA) interpreted her dream that he will die in the near future and she will get married to the moon of Arabia, i.e. Mohammad (SAW). Exactly this happened within a few months!

Her marriage with Prophet SAW

At about the time of Sukran’s (RA) death, Khadija (RA) also passed away. Khadija (RA) and Sawda (RA) had a common friend, Khawla bint Hakeem (RA), the wife of the famous companion Usman bin Madhoon (RA) who is known for his piety.  

 Khawla (RA) came to Rasool Allah (SAW) and encouraged him to get married again. When he asked her to whom? She suggested the names of Sawda (RA), a widow and of Ayesha bint Abu Bakr (RA), a virgin. Rasool Allah (SAW) requested her to start the proceedings for his marriage to Sawda (RA).

This gives us an insight into how Rasool Allah (SAW) trusted the opinion of women, especially regarding matters where a woman’s instinct is better than a man’s – as is the case of matrimonial matters.

Sawda (RA) was overjoyed to receive this proposal. So she told her friend to discuss it with her father. It is noteworthy that Sawda (RA) left the decision to her father, although she was a mature woman who had been married before. This has been an inherent instinct of human beings, that a father is responsible for his daughters and makes important decisions on their behalf.

Sawda’s (RA) father was an old man and he willingly accepted Muhammad’s (SAW) proposal for his daughter. His words were that this will be the making of a respectable pair. They were married and a mehr (dowry) of 400 Dirhams was agreed upon.

Exact date of this marriage cannot be determined, but it has been established that it was in the month of Dhul Hijjah because of the following event. At the time of this marriage, Sawda’s (RA) brother Abdullah had gone for Hajj, he was then a pagan and an enemy of Muhammad (SAW). On his return he was devastated that his sister was now married to him. As a show of grievance, as per tradition, he threw dirt in his hair. Abdullah (RA) later accepted Islam at the time of conquest of Mecca. Later, he would always regret this action.

We have some narrations stating that Khadija (RA) was either 28 or 40 years old when she married Muhammad (SAW). But there is no authentic source to establish Sawda’s (RA) age at the time of her marriage to the Prophet (SAW). She might have been 45 to 50 years old.

Sawda (RA) had a dark complexion, was of heavy built and mature in age. She must have known that this marriage was based on mutual need and was pragmatic about it.

Today, we have created an unrealistic, fairy tale idea of marriage. Romance is considered to be the only basis of wedlock with no room for practical considerations. We look down on marriages of convenience.   

Sawda (RA) and Muhammad (SAW)’s union was a marriage of convenience, but we do not see any negativity in her personality because of it. The lesson for us here is that a woman should be practical and able to accept facts of life and move on.  We are women, old and young, pretty and not so pretty. We are women, not dolls or fairies, I must know in my heart that I am not defined by my looks or my age, my real value is my personality, my character and my relationship with Allah. This thought process develops confidence in women.  Those who are only conscious of how they look always remain insecure. Islam has given security to women, given them an inner strength.  This is the lesson we have learnt from our Mothers i.e. the wives of the Prophet (SAW).  

Her Qualities

Sawda (RA) took charge of his home and children, so that Rasool Allah (SAW) could continue with his mission with peace of mind.

She had a knack for storytelling and would often narrate tales about her experiences in Habasha. The Prophet’s daughter Ruquiyya (RA) had also migrated to Habasha, where her son Abdullah was born. Sawda (RA) used to tell her travelogue to Rasool Allah (SAW) too.  He (SAW) was very fond of hearing these tales, especially those about his daughter and grandson. This was Sawda’s (RA) way of entertaining her husband and comforting him.

Her migration to Medina

The migration to Medina took place after 13 years of Prophethood.

After migration, Rasool Allah (SAW) sent for his family. Zaid bin Haritha (RA) along with Abu Raafey (RA), who was his maula (slave who had been set free), were to escort Fatima (RA), Umm e Kulsoom (RA) , Sawda(RA) and Umme Aiman(RA) to Medina.

Her Personality and Life Events

She was a very simple and pious person. Her great asset was that she was extremely obedient to her husband. In surah An Nisa Allah has defined that the best of women are those who are sualihat (righteous) and qanitat (obedient). Sawda (RA) was obedient to Mohammad (SAW) not only because he was the Prophet of God but also because he was her husband.

After the last pilgrimage Rasool Allah (SAW) had instructed his wives to remain in their homes, Sawda (RA) followed this instruction in the literal sense of word. She did not come out of her house after Rasool Allah’s (SAW) demise. Umar (RA) later allowed the Prophet’s wives to perform Hajj, but Sawda (RA) did not take up his offer because of this instruction. If this was the level of her obedience to her husband after his death, we can just imagine how it must have been during his lifetime.

Being obedient does not mean that she had no personality of her own. On the contrary, she had a lively disposition with a great sense of humor. Sometimes she purposely walked in a funny manner as this would make Rasool Allah (SAW) laugh. We know that though he smiled a lot, he did not cry or laugh easily. Several Ahadith have been narrated by the companions that they had never seen anyone who smiled more than Rasool Allah (SAW), his laughter was so rare that if a companion saw him laughing, he would record it that Rasool Allah (SAW) laughed at such and such incident and his teeth became visible.

Sawda (RA) had the flair of making her husband – Rasool Allah (SAW) – laugh and relax. Once she was praying Tahajud with Rasool Allah (SAW). He (SAW) stood in prayer for a long time, did lengthy ruku and sujood in his night prayers. Afterwards, she said to him (SAW) that during the long ruku, she became afraid of having a nose bleed, so she continuously held her nose! On hearing this Rasool Allah (SAW) smiled as he imagined her doing this.

She was extremely kind and generous. When Umar (RA) was Khalifah, he once sent her a pouch full of Dirhams. She asked what was in it and was genuinely surprised to find out that
Dirhams were kept in a pouch like dates! She distributed them to the needy as though they really were dates.

Ayesha (RA) says about her that never had she seen a woman who was neither jealous nor competitive except Sawda (RA). It seems like she had separated herself a bit from the rest of the wives and made herself a mother figure for them. It’s as if she did not categorize herself as one of them and treated them like her daughters. This also is an indicator of her advanced age.

It is also possible that she had a protective instinct towards Rasool Allah (SAW). Come to think of it, just like a mother wants to protect her family, a good wife has the same caring attitude towards her husband – to keep harm and problems away from him. Perhaps Sawda (RA) had replaced physical attraction for her husband with a protective motherly instinct for him. Probably that is the reason why there was no jealousy between her and the other wives.

Her morality and manners were of such a high standard that Ayesha (RA) says about her that I never wanted to emulate any other woman but Sawda (RA).

She feared Allah (SWT) and had a high level of taqwa (God consciousness). She was petrified of Dajjal. The companions (RA) thought that the Dajjal might appear in their lifetime, and Rasool Allah (SAW) had promised if that happened in his lifetime, he (SAW) would save them from him. He also informed them that there has been no Prophet before him who had not warned his people about Dajjal.

Companions (RA) had absolute faith in whatever Rasool Allah(SAW) said, so much so that they were always vigilant and never supported a “we’ll believe it when we see it” attitude.  Sawda (RA) was no exception. She was wary of Dajjal appearing at any time.   Once, Ayesha (RA) and Hafsa (RA) were talking about Dajjal, and light heartedly scared Sawda (RA). She got so afraid that she hid in a corner till Rasool Allah (SAW) came home. Only then did she come out of her hiding place. When she saw herself covered in dust, she had a good laugh at herself. To be able to do that is an indicator of self-confidence. We should never hold ourselves in such high esteem that we consider it silly to crack up at our own antics. Laughing at yourself lightens the mood and breaks your pride.

Ibn Hajar has said about Sawda (RA) that she tanned animal skins from Taif and gave the profit as charity.

She had a special affinity for Ayesha (RA), Hafsa (RA) and Safia (RA). Once, she was in Ayesha’s (RA) house. Ayesha (RA) had made harira (a dish made with milk and flour) and invited her to join them but she refused. Ayesha (RA) kept insisting and she kept refusing. Ayesha (RA) said that if you don’t eat I will smear you face with the food, and then she actually did it!  Rasool Allah (SAW) laughed and told Sawda (RA) to do the same to Ayesha (RA).

Such incidents give us an insight into the lives of Rasool Allah (SAW) and his family. We have placed them on such a high pedestal that their making lighthearted jokes with each other and having fun doesn’t cross our minds.  Being pious and God fearing does not mean that they spent all their time with a straight face with not even an iota of fun in their lives. These anecdotes show that our Prophet (SAW) and his family were human beings like everyone else; they did not lead unnatural lives.  On the contrary, they were jovial with each other and enjoyed the lighter side of things.

The family life of Rasool Allah (SAW) – which was hidden from others – is brought to light by the narrations of his wives.  Lighthearted banter was a part of their lives. The reaction of Rasool Allah (SAW) is noteworthy. Imagine if a food fight were to take place in the household of a religious scholar of present time. It would be considered as extremely inappropriate and you would hear things like “Maulvi sahib should control his wives.”  Rasool Allah (SAW) understood that this was their entertainment, he didn’t get angry or start a lecture about wasting food, and quoting an ayah etc., in fact he joined in the fun, and he thought it was so funny that he laughed.  This is a lesson for our men as well, no matter how great a scholar you may be, or how high your rank may be, it does not mean that you suffocate your wives.  

When Sawda (RA) became older and did not yearn a physical relationship with her husband, she gifted her turn for spending the night with Rasool Allah (SAW) to Ayesha (RA). From studying her later life, we get the vibes that she had probably lost the desire for a physical relationship. This can happen with advancement in age, and sometimes older women find it physically difficult to make the effort to please their husbands. Sawda (RA) could sense Rasool Allah’s special feelings for Ayesha (RA), therefore in order to please him she gifted her turn to Ayesha (RA). However, Rasool Allah (SAW) always went to visit her during the daytime. It was Rasool Allah’s routine to visit all his wives turn by turn between ‘Asr and Maghrib.

There is one incident where once Rasool Allah (SAW) had become slightly annoyed with her.  He (SAW) had allocated prisoners of war (battle of Badr) to Muslim households. In Sawdah’s own words: “I had gone out and I came back to see who the prisoner was, to find that it was Sohail bin Amr, her brother in law, who was also her cousin. His hands were tied up.” Sohail bin Amr was a respected citizen of Mecca, he was a member of Dar ul Nadva – this is how she had last seen him. When she saw him thus humiliated and tied up in a corner, she cried out: “O’ Abu Yazid, it would have been better for you if you had died on the battle field rather than face this humiliation.” Rasool Allah (SAW) was in the room, he said “Sawda you are inciting him away from Allah and His Rasool?” Sawda (RA) says that I immediately realized my mistake. She apologized immediately and said: “I was unable to control my emotions when I saw Abu Yazid in this condition, so I said what I said.” Rasool Allah (SAW) accepted her apology.  

 After Rasool Allah’s demise, Sawda (RA) did not take any part in politics; instead she led a quiet life.

She has narrated a few Ahadith. In Tafseer of Surah An Nisa, scholars have indicated that Sawda’s (RA) gifting her turn of spending the night with the Prophet (pbuh) to Ayesha (RA) might have been because she may have thought that Rasool Allah(SAW) might divorce her. She had told him that she wanted to be his wife in the Hereafter.

 Umar (RA) was of the opinion that the wives of the Prophet (SAW) should observe pardah (the veil). Once Sawda (RA) went to relieve herself at night, Umar(RA) saw her and called out: “Sawda! We have recognized you!” She was so offended that she at once returned and complained to Rasool Allah (SAW). Verses of the veil (hijab) were revealed at that time, which are in Surah Al Ahzab and specifically relate to the veil of the wives of the Prophet (SAW). Then Rasool Allah (SAW) told his wives that you have been allowed to go out of your houses.

Sawda’s (RA) reaction was valid. No one had the right to interfere in her personal affairs. On the other hand Umar’s (RA) point of view also had weight. It seems like Allah’s command is between the two positions – that the wives of the Prophet (SAW) should not come out of their houses too often. Veil of the wives was special. They did not come in front of men even after covering themselves. A special carriage (called hawdaej) was made for them for travelling. They did not talk to non-mehram men from behind a simple veil, instead there had to be another covering, or they would communicate from behind the door or curtain.

About the circumstances of revelation of various verses, Allah (SWT) had already decided the injunctions or commands that are to be revealed, but by revealing certain verses after specific incidents, help to precipitate the command. These act as a catalyst for the revelation of verses. Allah knows the exact time for revelation of every verse and of the corresponding incident. Allah honors the participants of the incident, like here Umar (RA)’s deep understanding of Islam, that he preempted that this command was imminent. At the same time Sawda’s (RA) high esteem is evident from the fact that she was instrumental in the revelation of this important command.

Sawda (RA) was also instrumental in the Muslims being given a convenience during the performance of Hajj. Pilgrims were spending the night at Muzdalifah, waiting for sunrise, so that they could proceed to Mina for stoning of the devil. She had become quite old, had gained weight and couldn’t walk very fast. She was also afraid that if she were to leave with all the pilgrims, because of her Rasool Allah (SAW) and everyone else would also be slowed down.  She asked Rasool Allah (SAW) if she could leave for Mina after midnight and perform the stoning ritual before the onset of the crowd. Rasool Allah (SAW) gave her permission to proceed ahead of the prescribed time. This ease in performing Hajj has been used by millions of people, its reward must be directed towards Sawda(RA). Ayesha (RA) used to say that I wish I had asked for this leniency myself.

The Hadith regarding Hajj e badal (performing hajj in place of another) was also narrated by Sawda (RA). She says that a man came and told Rasool Allah (SAW) about his aged father who was unable to perform hajj due to ill health. He asked if he should perform hajj on his father’s behalf. Rasool Allah (SAW) asked him if his father was in debt would he not pay it for him. The man said yes of course! So Rasool Allah (SAW) told him that this is Allah’s debt, so it is more important that it should be paid. He was allowed to perform Hajj on behalf of his father.

Sawda (RA) used to process animal skins. So it is through her that we came to know that the skin of an animal which dies a natural death, which is otherwise forbidden can be used after due processing.

 Sawda’s (RA) father had a slave girl of questionable character. She was accused of having an illicit relationship with another man. She bore a child who had an uncanny resemblance to the accused. There was no proof that the child was his. Later when the accused person’s family tried to claim the child as theirs, Rasool Allah (SAW) passed the judgment that in the absence of evidence, the child will be known by Sawda’s (RA) father’s name. But Rasool Allah (SAW) told Sawda (RA) not to come in front of him without her veil.

Her Demise

Sawda (RA) passed away in 54 Hijrah, during the reign of Muawiyah (RA).

She had a son Abdullah from her first husband who was martyred in the battle of Jaloola.

This is Sawda (RA). May Allah shower His blessings on her and may Jannat ul Firdous be her eternal abode.

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