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Safiyyah bint Huyayy (Arabic: صفية بنت حيي‎, c. 610 – c. 670) was one of the wives of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.[1] She was, along with all other wives of Muhammad, titled Umm-ul-Mu'mineen or the "Mother of Believers".[2]

Safiyyah bint Huyayy
Mother of Believers
Full name
صفية بنت حيي
HouseBanu Qurayza
FatherHuyayy ibn Akhtab
MotherBarra bint Samawal

After Muhammad's death, she became involved in the power politics of the early Muslim community, and acquired substantial influence by the time of her death.[3]

Early lifeEdit

Safiyya was born in Medina to Huyayy ibn Akhtab, the chief of the Jewish tribe Banu Nadir. Her mother, Barra bint Samawal, was from the Banu Qurayza tribe. She was the granddaughter of Samaw'al ibn Adiya from the Banu Harith tribe.[citation needed] According to a source, she was married off to Sallam ibn Mishkam, who later divorced her.[3]

When the Banu Nadir were expelled from Medina in 625, her family settled in Khaybar, an oasis near Medina.[3] Her father and brother went from Khaybar to join the Meccan and Bedouin forces besieging Muhammad in Medina during the Battle of the Trench. When the Meccans withdrew Muhammad besieged the Banu Qurayza. After the defeat of the Banu Qurayza in 627 Safiyya's father, a long-time opponent of Muhammad, was captured and executed by the Muslims.[4]

In 627 or early in 628, Safiyya married Kenana ibn al-Rabi, treasurer of the Banu Nadir; she was about 17 years old at that time.[3] Safiyya is said to have informed Kenana of a dream she had in which the moon had fallen from the heavens into her lap. Kenana interpreted it as a desire to marry Muhammad and struck her in the face, leaving a mark which was still visible when she first had contact with Muhammad.[2][5]

Battle of KhaybarEdit

In May 629, the Muslims defeated several Jewish tribes (including the Banu Nadir) at the Battle of Khaybar. The Jews had surrendered, and were allowed to remain in Khaybar on the provision that they give half of their annual produce to the Muslims. The land itself became the property of the Muslim state.[6] This agreement, Stillman says, did not extend to the Banu Nadir tribe, who were given no quarter.[7] Safiyya's husband, Kenana ibn al-Rabi, was also killed.[8]

Marriage to MuhammadEdit

According to Muhammad al-Bukhari, Muhammad stayed for three days between Khaybar and Medina, where he consummated his marriage to Safiyya. His companions wondered if she was to be considered a slave (Arabic: ma malakat aymanukum) or a wife. The former speculated that they would consider Safiyya as Muhammad's wife, and thus "Mothers of the Believers", if Muhammad ordered her to veil herself, else she would be his servant-girl.[9]

Muhammad suggested that Safiyya convert to Islam, she agreed and thus became Muhammad's wife.[10] Safiyya did not bear any children to Muhammad.[11]

Despite her conversion, Muhammad's other wives teased Safiyya about her Jewish origin. Doubts about Safiyya's loyalty to Islam and the suspicion that she would avenge her slain kin are themes in the Sirah Rasul Allah (biographies of Muhammad).[12] In these stories, Muhammad or Umar express great displeasure at such doubts and reaffirm her loyalty.[2][3]

Regarding Safiyya's Jewish descent, Muhammad once said to his wife that if other women insulted her for her "Jewish heritage" and were jealous because of her beauty, she was to respond, "Aaron is my father, Moses my uncle, and Muhammad my husband."[13]


In 656, Safiyya sided with caliph Uthman ibn Affan, and defended him at his last meeting with Ali, Aisha, and Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr. During the period when the caliph was besieged at his residence, Safiyya made an unsuccessful attempt to reach him, and supplied him with food and water via a plank placed between her dwelling and his.[3]

Safiyya died in 670 or 672, during the reign of Muawiyah, and was buried in the Jannat al-Baqi graveyard.[14] She left an estate of 100,000 dirhams in land and goods, one-third of which she bequeathed to her sister's son, who followed Judaism. Her dwelling in Medina was bought by Muawiyya for 180,000 dirhams.[3]

Her dream was interpreted as a miracle, and her suffering and reputation for crying won her a place in Sufi works. She is mentioned in all major books of hadith for relating a few traditions and a number of events in her life serve as legal precedents.[3]

See alsoEdit

References and footnotesEdit

  1. ^ Safiyya bint Huyay, Fatima az-Zahra by Ahmad Thompson
  2. ^ a b c Stowasser, Barbara. The Mothers of the Believers in the Hadith. The Muslim World, Volume 82, Issue 1-2: 1-36.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Vacca, V (1995). "Safiyya". In P. J. Bearman; Th. Bianquis; C. E. Bosworth; E. van Donzel; W. P. Heinrichs (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam. 8 (2nd ed.). Brill Academic Publishers. p. 817. ISBN 9004098348. ISSN 1573-3912.
  4. ^ Guillaume, A. The Life of Muhammad: Translation of Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah.
  5. ^ "It is related that she bore the mark of a bruise upon her eye; when the Prophet (Peace be upon him) asked her tenderly the cause, she told him that, being yet Kenāna's bride, she saw in a dream as if the moon had fallen from the heavens into her lap; and that when she told it to Kenāna, he struck her violently, saying: 'What is this thy dream but that thou covetest the new king of the Ḥijāz, the Prophet, for thy husband!' The mark of the blow was the same which Moḥammad saw." cf. Muir (1912) pp. 378-379
  6. ^ Veccia Vaglieri, L. "Khaybar". In P.J. Bearman; Th. Bianquis; C.E. Bosworth; E. van Donzel; W.P. Heinrichs (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam Online. Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 1573-3912.
  7. ^ Stillman (1979) p. 18
  8. ^ Ibn Hisham. Al-Sira al-Nabawiyya (The Life of The Prophet). English translation in Guillame (1955), pp. 145–146
  9. ^ Al-Bukhari, Al-Sahih, vol. 7.1
  10. ^ Ibn Saad, al-Tabaqat, pp.120-123.
  11. ^ Peters, F. E., Muhammad and the Origins of Islam, State University of New York Press, 1994, pp.179, ISBN 0-7914-1876-6. "At Medina he also married Umar's daughter Hafsa, Hind, Zaynab daughter of Jahsh, 16 Umm Salama, Juwayriyya, Ramla or Umm Habiba, Safiyya, and Maymuna. None of them bore him children, however, though he had a son, Ibrahim, by his Coptic concubine Maria. Ibrahim died an infant."
  12. ^ Abu Dawud vol.3 no.4588 p.1293
  13. ^ W.M. Watt, "Companion to the Qur'an, based on the Arberry translation", p. 237.
  14. ^ Al-Shati', 1971, p. 181

Further readingEdit

  • Awde, Nicholas Women in Islam: An Anthology from the Qur'an and Hadits, Routledge (UK) 2000, ISBN 0-7007-1012-4
  • John Esposito and Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Islam, Gender, and Social Change, Oxford University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-19-511357-8
  • Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam: Historical roots of a modern debate, Yale University Press, 1992
  • Valentine Moghadam (ed), Gender and National Identity.
  • Karen Armstrong, "The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam", London, HarperCollins/Routledge, 2001