The circumstances surrounding how Safiyyah (may Allah be pleased with her) became one of the Mothers of the Faithful is of great significance and strongly related to the historical progress of the Dawah of Islaam. Therefore, we will cover and elaborate on these circumstances along the way.
Her father Huyay ibn Akhtab was one of the most malicious, treacherous and dangerous Jewish leaders of his time towards Islaam and the Muslims. This was very dangerous for the Muslims as he was the leader of Banoo Nadheer, one of the largest of the three Jewish tribes living in Madeenah at that time. The other two major tribes were Banoo Qaynuqaa' and Banoo Quraydhah.
When the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) came to Madeenah, he began organizing the new Muslim society and had to enter into pacts and treaties with different Jewish clans. But it was not long before they broke their treaties. Banoo Qaynuqaa' were the first to act treacherously, followed by the Banoo Nadheer.
One day the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) came to them with a group of his Companions seeking to pay the bloodmoney (diyah) of two people who were killed mistakenly. He did so because of the alliance that was between them. Outwardly, they welcomed him and even stood up with pretentious respect. Their leader, Huyay ibn Akhtab then inconspicuously suggested to them that they should seize this excellent opportunity to kill the Prophet (peace be upon him), as the Prophet did not have many of his Companions with him. Most of them agreed to his suggestion and began to plot the Prophet's assassination. It was then that Angel Gabriel came to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and informed him of what was being planned against him. The Prophet (peace be upon him) stood up and then quietly left.
As a punishment for their treacherous act, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) commanded the Jews of Banoo Nadheer to evacuate Madeenah and then gave them a specific period of time to do so. They refused to leave and instead fortified themselves within their forts. The leader of the hypocrites in Madeenah, 'Abdullah ibn Ubayy ibn Salool, supported them and promised to help the Jews against the Prophet and his Companions.
When the period of grace expired, the army of Islaam besieged them and the hypocrite Ibn Salool disappointed the Jews and let them down. Due to their treachery, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) had to force them to evacuate Madeenah.
Allah Almighty says, “He it is Who drove out the disbelievers among the people of the Scripture (i.e. the Jews of the tribe of Banoo an-Nadheer) from their homes at the first gathering. You did not think that they would get out. And they thought that their fortresses would defend them from Allah! But Allah's (torment) reached them from a place whereof they expected it not, and He cast terror into their hearts, so that they destroyed their own dwellings with their own hands and the hands of the believers. Then take admonition, O you with eyes (to see). And had it not been that Allah had decreed exile for them, He would certainly have punished them in this world, and in the Hereafter theirs shall be the torment of the Fire.” (Qur'aan, 59: 2-3)
Thus they left the city of Khaybar despised, detested and hated for their treachery towards the Noble and sincere Prophet of Allah. From here it was that Huyay ibn Akhtab began spreading openly his malicious propaganda against the Muslims. He began arousing, inciting and instigating the polytheists anger against the Prophet (sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam) by shuttling between Khaybar, Makkah and Madeenah. These efforts of Huyay brought about the Battle of the Confederates, otherwise known as the Battle of the Trench. This was followed by the Battle with the Banu Quraydhah, as they had allied themselves with the polytheists and also broken the treaties they had made to the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam).
The presence of Huyay ibn Akhtab in the midst of Banu Quraydhah was coincidentally in time with when the Muslims were at war against them. He was this killed alongside the fighters afer Sa'd ibn Mu'adh passed the judgment that they should be killed. They themselves appointed Sa'd as the arbitrator between themselves and the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam) hoping that he (Sa'd) would be lenient towards them because he was their former ally but he passed a judgement against them. The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam) then said to Sa'd (may Allah be pleased with him), "You have indeed judged concerning them with the judgment of Allah from above the seven heavens."
Khaybar was conquered. In spite of severe hardships and the difficulty of the battle and so it eventually fell into the hands of the Muslims. It was then that Safiyyah bint Huyay became a captive and was a part of the share of Dihyah ibn Khaleefah al-Kalbi. She was amazingly beautifully and was also the daughter of the king of Banu Nadheer and the wife of Khaybar’s chief, Kinanah ibn Abi al-Huqayq,
The Messenger of Allah proposed to her and kindly offered that if she were to accept Islaam, he would set her free. She accepted this offer and they were married. Safiyah (may Allah be pleased with her) was now blessed to be one of the Mother of the Faithful.
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As the Wife of the Prophet (peace be upon him)
As the wife of the Prophet (peace be upon him), Safiyah played an important role in the personal life of the Prophet (sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam) and in the course of his calling people to Islaam. We can therefore derive important lessons from her biography, some of which are:
One: When the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) commanded Bilaal to bring her, he brought her in the company of a female cousin of hers. Bilal made them pass by the killed Jews. When her cousin saw the dead she struck her face, screamed and heaped soil on her head. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) heard her and said, "Keep this female devil away from me." He then rebuked Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him), "Was mercy removed from your heart that you make the women pass by their killed people?" He said this because indeed he was the Prophet of mercy. You will never find his equal among men, even until Allah inherits the earth and all that is in it.
Two: When the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) saw Safiyah's (may Allah be pleased with her) eyes and that they were green (i.e. bruised), he asked her why this was so, to which she responded,
"When I was the wife of Kinanah ibn Abi al-Huqayq, I saw the sun (in a dream and it was) as if it had descended on my chest. I told my husband and he slapped me very hard and said, 'Are you wishing to be the wife of the king of the Arabs?'"
This should remind us of Prophet Yoosuf's dream when he (peace be upon him) said: "Verily, I saw [in a dream] eleven stars and the sun and the moon - I saw them prostrating themselves to me.” (Qur'aan, 12: 4)
This confirms what the Jews used to discuss within their secluded assemblies regarding the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him), and that many of them knew about the truth of his message. The story of their Rabbi 'Abdullah ibn Salaam embracing Islaam is a clear example of this.
Also, the symbolic fall of the sun onto our Mother Safiyah's (may Allah be pleased with her) chest has its own indications. For, she has yearning in her heart which was full of Eemaan for the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (peace be upon him). She was not coerced into this marriage, as some may mistakenly or ignorantly presume. Certainly, the life of Safiyah during the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and even after his death confirms the great love and affection she had for him and her deep faith in Allah Almighty and the Messengership of his Prophet (peace be upon him).
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) did not leave Khaybar until Safiyah had finished menstruating. He placed her behind him on a mount and when he arrived at a place six miles away from Khaybar he wanted to consummate their marriage. She refused, and this annoyed him as she herself had chosen to be his wife without being coerced or forced into taking this decision. When he arrived at Saliba', a place a few miles away from Khaybar, he halted again. Umm Sulaym combed Safiyyah’s hair and perfumed her. Umm Sinan al-Aslamiyah said:
"Safiyah was the fairest of all women. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) consummated the marriage with his wife. In the morning, I asked her about what the Prophet (peace be upon him) had said to her and she replied, 'He asked me: 'What made you refuse to halt and lodge in the first place?' And I said,
'I feared for you, for the Jews were near that place.'”
Undoubtedly, this answer increased the Prophet's (peace be upon him) respect and admiration for her.
This was Safiyyah, whose father had been killed in captivity during the Battle of Banoo Quraydhah. Whose husband, Kinaanah ibn Abi alHuqayq, was killed during the campaign of Khaybar and who had seen her people being killed. EVEN THEN she feared for the life of the Noble Messenger (peace be upon him). This was because of nothing but the emanation of the light of faith which filled her heart and overwhelmed her being.
Ibn Sa'd narrated on the authority of ‘Ata ibn Yasar that he said:
"When Safiyah arrived from Khaybar (i.e. to Madinah), she stayed in a house belonging to Haarithah ibn an-Nu'man. The women of the Ansaar heard of this and came to see her beauty. 'Aa'ishah also came wearing her face veil. When she left, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) asked her, 'What did you see?' She said,
'I saw a Jewish woman!!'
He then said to her, 'Do not say that. For, she has embraced Islaam and practices it perfectly.'"
It wasn’t only 'Aa'ishah who was upset, some of the Prophet's other wives were also jealous of her. Ibn Sa'd narrated on the authority of 'Aa'ishah that:
"The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) was on a journey and a camel of Safiyah's fell ill. Zaynab bint Jahsh had an extra camel, so the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked her, 'Safiyah's camel is ill, can you please give her a camel?' Zaynab said,
'Should I give my (camel) to that Jewish woman?'”
In fact, it was also reported that the Prophet's wives used to say many other things about her too.
Her servant Kinaanah narrated that she (Safiyyah) said: "The Prophet (peace be upon him) entered my house when it had reached me that 'Aa'ishah and Hafsah used to say they were dearer to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) than me and that they were his wives and cousins." When she mentioned this to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) he said to her, 'You should have told them, 'How can you be better than me when my husband is Muhammad and my father is Bon and my uncle is Moses?""
Safiyyah’s Remarkable Intelligence
Some of Safiyyah's most prominent qualities were her qualities of intelligence, forbearance and nobility. A maid of her once plotted against her and went to 'Umar lying about how Safiyyah loved Saturday and that she was kind to the Jews. 'Umar sent for her and asked her about this statement. She said,
"As for Saturday I no longer love it since Allah has substituted Friday over it for me. As for the Jews, I still have kith and kin among them, so I have to be kind to them."
Safiyyah knew that it was her maid who had plotted against her and asked,
"Why did you do that?"
The maid said, "It was Satan." Safiyyah then told her,
"Go, you are free."
I believe that Safiyyah freed her maid because she had said the truth and asserted that the cause of this plot was Satan. This act of Safiyah is an indication of her forbearance and excellence. Also, this maid may have once again succumbed to the temptations of Satan, in this way Safiyyah also cleverly safeguarded herself from such an incident occurring once again.
The Truthful Lady
"She is truthful" was the testimony made by the Noble Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) regarding our mother Safiyyah (may Allah be pleased with her). Yes, a testimony from the Truthful One, the one who never spoke out of his own desire.
Ibn Sa'd reported with a sound chain of transmitters on the authority of Zayd ibn Aslam who said: "The Prophet's wives gathered (around him) when the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) was in his sickness, (the same sickness) due to which he passed away. Safiyyah (may Allah be pleased with her) said,
'O Prophet of Allah! I wish I was suffering from that which you are suffering from!'
Upon hearing this, the Prophet's wives began winking towards each other. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) commanded them, 'Go and rinse your mouths.' They said, 'From what?!' He said,
'Because of your winking at one another in order to mock her. By Allah! She is truthful (in what she said)."
Even after the Prophet's death, Safiyyah lived among the believers as one of the Mothers of the Believers, honored and abundantly respected.
She died in the year 52 A.H. during the caliphate of Mu'aawiyah ibn Abi Sufiyan. She had memorized many ahaadeeth of the Prophet (peace be upon him) which she would narrate and the people inturn narrated from her.
May Allah be pleased with her and please her. Aameen!