The Prophet (PBUH) was an honorable man who loved his wife Khadija (RA) and did not wish to marry anyone else while she was alive. The death of Khadija (RA) left a gaping hole in the life of the Prophet (PBUH) who was naturally burdened with the loss of a beloved and had to take care of all that Khadija (RA) left behind. People around the Prophet (PBUH) suggested that he remarry so that he has someone to share his burdens with. As a result, Sawda bint Zamʿa was the first woman to come into the life of the beloved Prophet (PBUH) after the death of Khadija (RA). Even though Sawda is one of the lesser known wives, she is still one of the Mothers of this Muslim Ummah and we should try to know more about her. Sawda was one of the first believers of Islam and was married to her cousin Sakran bin Umro (RA) bin Abd-Shams. Both Sawda (RA) and her husband were both early converts and Sawda (RA) even took an oath of allegiance under the Holy Prophet (PBUH). She was among the eight people of Banu Amir who left everything and migrated to Abyssinia for the sake of their religion. The journey was long and gruesome and the sea was not too kind – she lost her husband at the time during this migration.
Initially the Holy Prophet (PBUH) had no intention of remarrying but as he found himself under immense burden he reconsidered his decision. Khawla bin Hakim was the first one to breach the subject of marriage with the Holy Prophet (PBUH). The Prophet (PBUH) told Khawla that he would remarry only if a suitable woman came along. Khawla asked him if he would marry his beloved friend’s daughter, Aisha (RA) but the Prophet refused as Aisha (RA) was too young at the time, the Prophet (PBUH) then asked Khawla if there was anyone else who was better suited and she told him all about Sawda bint Zamʿa – realizing her helplessness, he decided that she was the woman who he will marry, who will take care of his children and whom he will care for as well. People at the time were surprised as to why the Prophet (PBUH) chose to marry such an old woman but that was his way. The Prophet (PBUH) cared not for worldly things and wanted to be an exemplary man and so they both got married. At the time of their union Sawda (RA) as well as the dear Prophet (PBUH) were 50 years of age.
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) was more of a support to Sawda than she was to him and after a few years of marriage, the Prophet (PBUH) decided to marry Aisha (RA) who now of a marriageable age (the reason of this union was to strengthen the ties between the Prophet (PBUH) and his closest friend and companion Abu Bakr (RA)). Sawda being the great woman that she was gladly let Aisha (RA) take over on her behalf and perform her duties and please the Prophet (PBUH). The Prophet (PBUH) wanted to do right by Sawda (RA) so he decided to end his ties with her and divorce her, now that she was more stable and able to fend for herself. However, she made one request to the Prophet (PBUH) to let her remain his wife till she died. She made this request as she wanted to be resurrected on the Day of Judgement as the Wife of the Prophet (PBUH) since she was well aware what a great honor it was to be the Wife of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and to have shared his burden and helped him in his trying times when he too was alone like her. The Prophet (PBUH) and Sawda reached an agreement about their duties towards each other and their roles in their lives. It was in light of this that the Lord revealed the ayat which said: ‘… there is no sin on them both if they make terms of peace between themselves, and making peace is better…’ [al-Nisaa’ 4:128]. She ended up befriending Aisha (RA) and helped her with her duties. Aisha (RA) was also very fond of Sawda (RA) as she is reported to have said:
"..Never did I find any woman more loving to me than Sawda bint Zam’a. I wished I could be exactly like her […]” (Muslim).
Sawda was a pious and chaste woman who loved helping those in need and the Prophet (PBUH) too admired her for this virtue of hers. According to a hadith narrated by Aisha (RA) ‘the wives of the Prophet (PBUH) asked the Prophet one day:
“O messenger of Allah, which one of us will be the one to follow you (after your death)? The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said: “the one of you with the longest hand”. By the longest hand the Prophet (PBUH) meant the one who gave the most charity and helped those who were in need.
And when the Prophet (PBUH) passed away, the companions decided to take care of the widows of the Prophet (PBUH). Umar sent her a bag full of money so that she could make use of it. But she did not feel the need to utilize it and decided that there were many other needy people who were more deserving of that money hence she gave all of it away. This was the kind of woman that Sawda (RA) was.
This exemplary woman served her husband and our beloved Prophet (PBUH) to the best of her abilities and remained chaste even after the death of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). She died during the caliphate of Umar (RA) when she was 72 years of age. May God bless her soul.