Sawda bint Zam’a, may Allah be pleased with her had been the first woman to immigrate to Abyssinia in the way of Allah. Her husband ha died and 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. So Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) gave permission to Khawla to speak to Sayyiduna Abu Bakr and to Sawda on the subject. Khawla went straight to Sawda and said, “Would you like Allah 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, ad gruff old man, and greeted him and then said, “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 accepted, feeling it was a great honor. Sawda went to live in Muhammad’s house and immediately took over the care of his daughters and household, while Aisha bint Abu Bakr became betrothed to him and remained in her father’s house playing with her dolls.
There was great surprise in Mecca that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) would choose to marry a widow who was neither young nor beautiful. The Prophet, 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. During the next two years, the Quraish increased their spiteful efforts to destroy the Prophet and his followers, in spite of the clear signs that confirmed beyond any doubt that Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was indeed the Messenger of Allah. Perhaps the greatest of these signs during this period was the Prophet’s Mi’raj, his journey by night on a winged horse called the Buraq, through the skies to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem where he led all the earlier Prophets who had lived before him in the prayer, followed by his ascent on the Buraq, accompanied by Jibril, through the seven heavens, and then beyond the world of forms, to the Presence of Allah where he was given the five prayers that all his true followers have done ever since.
When he described this miraculous journey to the people of Mecca, they just laughed at him, even though he accurately described the Al-Aqsa Mosque to them (and they knew that he had never been there before), and even though he described the place where he had stopped for a drink on the way to Jerusalem, and even though he told them how on the way he had told a man where his lost camel was, and even though he told them that he was seen a caravan, which no one knew about, approaching Mecca and that it should arrive later on that day. Even though the Quraish knew that the Prophet’s description of the Al-Aqsa Mosque was completely accurate, and even when they eventually saw the caravan arrive, and met the man whom he had helped, and saw the place where he had stopped for a drink, the still refused to believe him.
Only Sayyiduna Abu Bakr, his closest companion and future father in law, accepted the Prophet’s account of his miraculous journey immediately: “If he had said this,” he said, when some scornful Meccans first gave him the news, “then it is true!”
As the enmity of the Quraish increased, (and while Aisha was still a small girl), Allah prepared the way for the future growth of the Muslim community in a place called Yathrib. During the time of pilgrimage in Mecca one year, twelve men from Yathrib, a small city of two hundred miles to the north of Mecca, secretly pledged allegiance to the Prophet, swearing to worship no gods other than Allah, nor to steal, nor to tell lies, nor to commit adultery, nor to kill their children, nor to disobey the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). They returned to Yathrib, accompanied by a Muslim called Mus’ab ibn Umayr, who taught them all that he had learned from the Prophet.
As a result, the numbers of Muslims in Madina began to increase, and when the time of the pilgrimage came again, this time seventy five people from Yathrib- three of whom were women: Umm Sulaym, Nsayba bint Ka’b and Asma bint Amr – pledged allegiance in Mecca to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) this time also swearing that the would defend and protect him, even to the death if need be. After this, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) gave his followers permission to emigrate to Yathrib, and slowly but surely, in twos and threes, the Muslims began to leave Mecca. The leaders of the Quraish realized what was happening, and decided to kill the Prophet before he had a chance to join them. However, Allah protected the Prophet, and on the very night before the morning on which they had planned to kill him, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) slipped out of Mecca and hid in a cave called Thawr, which was to the south of Mecca.
Everybody knows what happened when the people who were hunting for them came to the cave: They found a wild dove nesting in the tree that covered the mouth of a cave, across which a spider had spun its web. Anyone entering the cave would have frightened away the dove and broken the spid’s web, they thought, so they did and not bother to look inside it. Their pursuers were so close that if one of them had glanced down at his feet, he would have discovered them. By the decree of Allah, the Prophet and Abu Bakr were safe!
Once the Quraish had given up the search, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) circled round the Mecca and rode northwards. Only one man, a warrior called Suraqa ibn Jusham, suspected their whereabouts and set off in hot pursuit, thirsting of the reward that the Quraish had offered to anyone who captured the two men for them. As soon as he as within shouting distance of the travelers, however, his horse suddenly began to sink into the sand, and, realizing that if he did not turn back, then the desert would simply swallow up both him and his steed, he gave up his pursuit, asked them to forgive him and returned home.
After a long, hard journey Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) reached Yathrib amidst scenes of great rejoicing. Their time in Mecca had just come to an end, and their time in Medina had just begun – for Madina is the name that was now given to Yathrib, Madina al Munawarra, which means ‘the illuminated city’, the city that was illuminated by the light of the Prophet Muhammad and his family and his Companions, may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him and on all of them. The journey of the Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr is usually called the hijrah, and it is at this point that the dating of the Muslims begins, for it was after the hijrah that the first community of Muslims rapidly grew and flowered and bore fruit. When she was older, the prophet was worried that Sawda might be upset about having to compete with so many younger wives, and 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 Rising. She lived on until the end of the time of Umar ibn al Khattab. She and Aisha always remained very close.