Safiyya bint Huyayy, (may Allah be pleased with her) married the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in 7 AH, when the Prophet was sixty years old and she was seventeen years old. As in the case of juwayriyya bint Harith, this marriage occurred after one of the Muslims’ decisive battles, in this case, the battle of Khaybar.
After the battle of Khaybar in which the Muslims defeated the Jews, two women were brought before the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) by Bilal, the black mu’adhdhin of Medina whose beautifully piercing voice constantly called the Muslims to prayer right up until the Prophet’s death- after which he could not bring himself to call the adhan anymore, until he was present at the surrender of Jerusalem to the khalif Umar in 17 AH. They had passed by those who had been killed in the fighting. One of the two women was shrieking and screaming, and rubbing dust in her hair, while the other was mute with shock.
The silent one was Safiyya, the daughter of Huyayy ibn Akhtab, the chief of the Banu Nadir who had all been expelled from Medina in 4 AH after plotting to kill the Messenger of Allah by dropping a stone on his head as he sat talking with their leaders. The noisy one was Safiyya’s cousin. Safiyya could trace her lineage directly back to Harun, the brother of the Prophet Moses (peace be upon them). The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) asked someone to look after the woman who was screaming and then took off his cloak and placed it over the shoulders of Safiyya, whose husband had been killed in the battle. It was a gesture of pity, but from that moment she was to be honored and given great respect in the Muslim community. Then the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) turned to Bilal and said, “Bilal, has Allah plucked mercy from your heart that you let these two women pass by those of their menfolk who have been killed?” This was considered a severe reprimand, for the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) rarely criticized the behavior of those who served him. Anas ibn Malik, for example once said, “I served the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) for eight years. He never once scolded me for something that I had done or for something that I had not done.”
Like Umm Habiba, Safiyya was the daughter of a great chief. The only person who could save her from becoming a slave after having enjoyed such a high position was the Prophet. Although her father had planned to assassinate Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) after the battle of Uhud, and had conspired with the Banu Qurayza to exterminate all the Muslims during the battle of al-Khandaq, it was characteristic of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that he did not bear any grudges. For those who did wrong, he felt pity rather than anger, and for those who had done no wrong, he had even greater compassion. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) invited Safiyya to embrace Islam, which she did, and having given her, her freedom, he then married her. Some people may have wondered how it was that Safiyya could accept Islam and marry the Prophet when her father had been his bitter enemy, and when bloody battles had taken place between the Jews and the Muslims. The answer may be found in what she has related of her early life as the daughter of the chief of the Banu Nadir.
She said, (may Allah be pleased with her): “I was my father’s favorite and also a favorite with my uncle Yasir. They could never see me with one of their children without picking me up. When the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) came to Medina, my father and my uncle went to see him. It was very early in the morning and between dawn and sunrise. They did not return until the sun was setting. They came back worn out and depressed, walking with slow, heavy steps. I smiled to them as I always did, but neither of them took any notice of me because they were so miserable. I head Abu Yasir ask my father, ‘Is it him?’ ‘Yes, it is.’ ‘Can you recognize him? Can you verify it?’ ‘Yes, I can recognize him too well.’ ‘What do you feel towards him?’ ‘Enmity, enmity as long as I live.’
The significance of this conversation is evident when we recall that in the Torah of the Jews, it was written that a Prophet would come who would lead those who followed him to victory. Indeed before the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) came to Medina, the Jews used to threaten the idol worshippers of Yathrib, as it was then called, that when the next Prophet came to the believers were going to exterminate them, just as the Jews had exterminated other tribes who refused to worship God in the past. As in any case, of the Prophet Jesus, (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) who had been clearly described in the Torah – but rejected by many of the Jews when he actually came – the next and last Prophet was accurately described in the Torah, which also contained signs by which the Jews could easily recognize him. Thus Ka’b al-Ahbar, one of the Jews of that time who embraced Islam, relates that this Prophet is described in the Torah as follows:
‘My slave, Ahmad, the Chosen, born in Mecca, who will emigrate to Medina (or he said Tayyiba – another name given to Yathrib); his community will be those who praise Allah in every state.’
And ‘Amr ibn al-‘As said that it also says in the Torah:
‘O Prophet, We have sent you as a witness, a bringer of good news and a warner and a refuge for the illiterate. You are My slave and My messenger. I have called you the one on whom people rely, one who is neither coarse nor vulgar, and who neither shouts in the markets nor repays evil with evil, but rather pardons and forgives. Allah will not take him back to Himself until the crooked community has been straightened out by him and they say, “There is no god but Allah.” Through him, blind eyes, deaf ears and covered hearts will be opened.’
It was thanks to these descriptions in the Torah, that the most learned rabbi of the Jews, ‘Abdullah ibn Salam, had embraced Islam on seeing Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and it was because of these descriptions that Huyayy ibn Akhtab was also able to recognize him. However Huyayy, like most of the other Jews, was deeply disappointed that the last Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was a descendant of Isma’il and not of Ishaq, (the two sons of the Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon them), since the Jews of that time claimed exclusive descent from Ishaq, through the twelve sons of his son Ya’qub (who was also known as Israel), from whom the twelve tribes of Israel had originated. Not only did Huyayy resent the fact that the last Prophet had appeared amongst the Arabs, but also he did not want to lose his position of power and leadership over his people.
It was for these reasons that Huyayy secretly decided to oppose and fight the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) while in public he and the other leaders of the Jews made peace treaties with the Muslims and the Jews broke as soon as it seemed a favorable time to do so. Although Safiyya was Huyayy’s daughter, she had a pure heart and had always wanted to worship her Creator and Lord, the One who had sent Moses, to whom she was related, and Jesus, and finally Muhammad, may Allah be pleased with all of them. Thus as soon as the opportunity arose, not only to follow the last Prophet, but also to be married to him, she took it. Although Safiyya had in Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) a most kind and considerate husband, she was not always favorably accepted by some of his other wives, especially when she had first joined the Prophet’s household. It is related by Anas that on one occasion, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) found Safiyya weeping. When he asked her what the matter was, she replied that she heard thHafsa had disparagingly described her as ‘the daughter of a Jew’.
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) responded by saying, “You are certainly the daughter of a Prophet (Harun), and certainly your uncle was a Prophet (Moses), and you are certainly the wife of a Prophet (Muhammad), so what is there in that to be scornful towards you?” Then he said to Hafsa, “O Hafsa, fear Allah!”
Once the Prophet was accompanied on a journey by Safiyya and Zaynab bint Jahsh when Safiyya’ s camel went lame. Zaynab had an extra camel and the Prophet asked her if she would give it to Safiyya. Zaynab retorted, “Should I give to that Jewess!” The Prophet turned away from her in anger and would not have anything to do with her for two or three months not to show his disapproval of what she had said. Some three years later, when Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was in his final illness, Safiyya felt for him deeply and sincerely. “O Messenger of Allah,” she said, “I wish it was I who was suffering instead of you.” Some of the wives winked at each other which made the Prophet cross and he exclaimed, “By Allah, she spoke the truth!”
She still underwent difficulties after the death of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Once a slavegirl she owned went to the Amir al Muminin Umar and said, “Amir al Muminin! Safiyya loves the Sabbath and maintains ties with the Jews!” Umar asked Safiyya about that and she said, “I have not loved the Sabbath since Allah replaced it with Friday for me, and I only maintain ties with those Jews to whom I am related by kinship.” She asked her slavegirl what had possessed her to carries lie to Umar and the girl replied, “Shaytan!” Safiyya said, “Go, you are free.”
Safiyya was with the Prophet for nearly four years, She was only twenty-one when the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) died, and lived as a widow for the next thirty-nine years, dying in 50 AH, at the age of sixty (may Allah be pleased with her).
Other Mothers of the Believers are: