Sawdah bint Zam’ah ibn Qays – The Mother of Believers

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Prophet’s love for Khadijah R.A was very strong. Her death was not only one of the saddest incidents for the messenger of Allah but it also created a gap in the household and for his daughters. He remained distressed and sorrowful, seeing the daughters would remind him the absence of a mother.

Khawlah bint Hakeem R.A, who was the wife of Uthman ibn Math’oon, both husband, and wife were among those who embraced Islam on the first call and love for Islam was in their blood. When Khawlah R.A saw that condition of Rasool Allah SAW, she didn’t stop herself to take a brave step.

She asked, “Messenger of Allah, I see you distressed after the death of Khadeejah R.A”. The Prophet (ﷺ) replied, “Yes, she was the mother of the household and the caretaker for the family.”

Here it is notable that how this experienced lady, out of love and compassion, observed the need of the Prophet’s noble household to someone who could fill the gap created by the death of Khadeejah. Khawlah employed her maturity, farsightedness, and deep faith, and suggested messenger of Allah ﷺ two names for another marriage, telling him: “If you like, you can marry a non-virgin and if you like you can marry a virgin, O Messenger of Allah.” So he asked her of the non-virgin and the virgin and she replied that the matron was Sawdah bint Zam’ah and the virgin was Aishah R.A daughter of Abi Bakr, who was the Prophet’s most beloved of all men.

Perhaps, Khawlah R.A suggested Sawdah because she was a middle-aged and experienced woman so that she could take care of the Prophet’s family and cater for his household, and suggested A’ishah who was a virgin and a young woman so his broken heart could be mended and serve as a way of strengthening the relationship between the Prophet and Abu Bakr.

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ then permitted Khawlah to mention them his proposal. So Khawlah commenced her efforts and the efforts were successful in both proposals.

Before proceeding, let’s look into the life of Sawda bint e zamah.

Life before the marriage with Prophet ﷺ:

Sawdah R.A’s father, Zam’a ibn Qays, was from the Amir ibn Luayy clan of the Quraysh tribe in Mecca. Her mother, Al-Shamus bint Qays, was from the Najjarclan of the Khazraj tribe in Madina.[1] She married As-Sakran ibn Amr.[1] Both of them accepted Islam in the early time of Prophethood. When enemies of Islam made it hard for believers to live peacefully, at the permission of messenger of Allah, a big group of Muslims migrated towards Abyssinia. They both also migrated at that time.

Both husband and wife came back to Makkah after spending several years in Abyssinia. But As-Sakran didn’t live longer after returning back. They had one son, Abdur Rahman ibn Sakran.

Sawda bint Zam’a, may Allah be pleased with her had been the first woman to immigrate to Abyssinia in the way of Allah. After her husband’s death, 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. She dreamt in the life of her first husband, that the moon is fell in her lap, she told her husband, and he described that after my death, Prophet ﷺ will marry to you.

When Khawlah asked her about the Prophet’s proposal of marriage, Sawdah R.A 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, greeted him and then said, “Muhammad son of Abdullah son of Abdul Muttalib, has sent me to ask for Sawdah in marriage.” The old man shouted, “A noble match”, feeling it was a great honor and accepted the proposal.

After marriage with Prophet ﷺ:

The Messenger of Allah married Sawdah in 10th Hijri [4] by paying dower of 400 dirhams but A’ishah was engaged to him because she was then too young for the consummation of marriage. Thus did Sawdah enter the household of the Prophet as one of the mothers of the faithful. She immediately took over the care of his daughters; Umm Kulthoom and Fatimah were very young at that time. She started managing the affairs of the Prophet’s household as well. She pleased the Prophet’s heart and helped him go on calling for Allah.

If we look around us, we don’t find many examples of this love and sacrifice now. Why? Because our role models are changed, our priorities are more materialistic, we believe in possession, in keeping everything tight to our self, while the sharing is an act of true kindness. Sawdah R.A shared her love and care with family of Prophet ﷺ in true manner. She knew her honor, she neither act like a cruel stepmother nor tried to take place of Khadijah R.A instead she filled the vacuum that was created after her death. Many think she was only sought after for marriage to the Prophet ﷺ so that she could take care of his children and household. While she was indeed a warm and nurturing caregiver to his family, she was also so much more than that to him and our ummah.

Her Personality:

She was bulky, tall and dark in complexion. But her actions were heavy. She had a clean heart and was one of the truthful believers.

You would be surprised that what would be wisdom behind marrying a woman who was neither young nor beautiful? There was a great surprise in Mecca too that the Prophet ﷺ chose to marry a widow who was not attractive in this perspective. The Prophet ﷺ, 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. [2] Allah SWT knows best what His devotee deserves.

Love and Humor:

In spite of her being slow and plump, she was good-natured and witty, dispelling the Prophet’s worries with her senses of humor, just like an essential and effective timely remedy.

It was reported that one day she saw on the face of the Prophet ﷺ paleness and distress and she told him jokingly, “0 Messenger of Allah! I prayed behind you yesterday and you prolonged the prostration so long that I felt like having nose-bleeding.” The Prophet ﷺ laughed that his molars were visible and his gloomy look disappeared. [A]

Sawdah never took herself too seriously. On one occasion, Aisha and Hafsa (may Allah be pleased with them), knowing of Sawdah’s great fear of the Dajjal (also know to Christians as the Antichrist), began to talk about him in front of her.

She was so scared that she immediately ran into a dark room full of cobwebs to hide from the monster. When Prophet ﷺ walked in, he found the two enjoying the joke. He asked them what was so amusing. On being told what had happened he called out Sawdah to come out, as there was no monster around. She came out sheepishly laughing at herself. [B]

She was also very tolerant and loving towards the co-wives. Abu Ya‘la narrated that ‘A’ishah said: I came to the Prophet ﷺ with some khazeerah (a dish made with meat and flour) that I had cooked for him, and I said to Sawdah, when the Prophet ﷺ was sitting between her and me: Eat, but she refused. I said to her: Either you eat or I shall surely throw some in your face. But she refused, so I put my hand in the khazeerah and smeared her face with it. The Prophet ﷺ smiled and gave her some with his hand, and said to her: “Smear her face.” And the Prophet ﷺ smiled at her. ‘Umar passed by and said: O slave of Allah, O slave of Allah, and he thought that he was going to come in, so he said: “Get up and wash your faces.” [3]

This is how Sawdah spent her days and years, recognizing the limits of her status in this great household and striving to be a mother of the faithful. This is the greatest position that she sought in her worldly life.

Sawdah R.A voluntarily gave up the day and night which the Prophet apportioned her to A’ishah R.A to please him. [2]

Therefore, she requested the prophet, by saying, O Messenger of Allah, hold me. By Allah, I did not seek to have a husband but I just hope that Allah may resurrect me as your wife on the Day of Judgment.” [5] The Prophet ﷺ responded to her noble feelings. Then Allah revealed,

“There is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves, and settlement is best”
(An-Nisa’: 128)

There are reasons for choosing A’ishah. She was her mate from the beginning and she was the most beloved of the Prophet’s wives.

Undoubtedly the bond that governed the relationships between the wives of the Prophet ﷺ was the bond of spiritual sisterhood and love for the sake of Allah. This is the basic principle that should unite all the believers in general.

Pious Worshipper:

Sawdah R.A was a pious lady; she was very particular about her prayers and would spend a lot of time in prayers. She was also very obedient. On the eve of the last pilgrimage of Haj, the Prophet ﷺ told his wives to remain in retirement after his death. She religiously followed this and never went out of her house, even for the Hajj and Umrah.


It was common characteristic of the wives of Prophet that’s what they learnt from him. Sawdah was also a generous giver of charity, as A’ishah R.A has described her. Once Umar R.A had sent a purse full of dirhams, she immediately distributed all to the poor. It was narrated from Aishah, may Allah be pleased with her, that the wives of the Prophet gathered around him and said:

“Which of us will be the first to following you (in death)?” He said: “The one of you who has the longest arms.” They took a stick and started to measure their arms. But Sawdah was the first one to follow him. She was the one who had the longest arms, because she used to give in charity a great deal. [6]

Sawdah left a clean mark within the period in which she lived in the household of the Prophet that spanned thirteen years. She concluded that with the remaining years of her life in piety and worship.

Sisterhood btw Sawdah R.A and other co-wives:

A’ishah (Allah be pleased with her) reported: Never did I find any woman more loving to me than Sawda bint Zam’a. I wished I could be exactly like her who was passionate. As she became old, she had made over her day (which she had to spend) with Allah’s Messenger ﷺ to ‘A’isha. She said: I have made over my day with you to ‘A’isha. So Allah’s Messenger ﷺ allotted two days to ‘A’ishah, her own day (when it was her turn) and that of Sawdah. [7]

Piety and fear of Allah formed the solid foundation that overcame the natural inclinations and jealousy of women and their competition for one husband.

It is a common issue that when many women after marriage find themselves unattractive for husbands due to physical changes in their body. They put all their efforts to become irresistible by fixing their physique, and sometimes men demands women to maintain their figure, regardless of her inner character and beauty. Also, it is seen that people do not like to marry a widow, or who is less appealing. What an amazing example we have, Sawdah R.A was widow and Prophet SAW married her without giving too much attention to her complexion and apparent beauty. He chose best person for his daughters who could be their mother. Her big heart accepted Prophet’s house with strong faith and love. They set an example that Marriage is a personal, physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual bond between one man and one woman. Deen and character should be focal point of one’s search for spouse. All other qualities if possessed are icing on the cake.

Sawdah R.A died at the age of 72 years during the last days of the Caliph Umer Farooq’s (RA) period. She was buried in “Jannatul Baqi”(Graveyard)



Sources and References:
[2] Ibn Kathir: Wives of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ
[A] “Great Women of Islam” by Mahmood Ahmad Ghadanfar
[B] “Women Around the Messenger” by Muhammad Qutb

[3] Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3 book 47, Number 766

[5] Musnad (4476), Al-Haafiz al-‘Iraaqi (may Allah have mercy on him) said in Takhreej al-Ihya’ (3/160): Its isnaad is jayyid. It was classed as hasan by al-Albaani in as-Saheehah (3131).

[4] Tabaqaat Ibn Sa’d, narrating from al-Waaqidi, 8/52-53; Ibn Katheer in al-Bidaayah wa’l-Nihaayah, 3/149

[5] Jamai Tirhmidhi, Grade: Sahih, Book 47, Hadith 3314

[6] Sunan an-Nasa’i 2541, Book 23, Hadith 0

[7] Sahih Muslim 8:3451


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