There has been some criticism going around as to the nature of marriage of Safiyyah(R) (Arabic: صفية بنت حيي, c. 610 – c. 670), the Jewish wife of Muhammad(P). A rabid missionary hostile to the Prophet Muhammad(P) had, in fact, the audacity to say that:
Muhammad forced himself on a captured woman on the same day that he killed her father, husband and many of her relatives. He was a rapist.
This statement made by this ignorant missionary is due not only to the gutter environment that he was brought up and subjected to, but also because of his inability to understand the circumstances surrounding this event.
Insha’allah, our purpose here is to explain the circumstances and the nature of the marriage of Safiyyah to the Prophet(P).
Who Was Safiyyah?
Safiyyah was the daughter of Huyayy ibn Akhtab, the undisputed leader of the Banu al-Nadir as well as a Jewish rabbi. Hence, she was of noble regal and rabbinical heritage.
She became a captive of the Muslims when they seized al-Qamus, the fortress of Khaybar.
When a Companion of the Prophet(P) heard of Safiyyah’s captivity, he approached the Prophet(P) with a suggestion that since she was a lady of Banu al-Nadir, only the Prophet(P) was fit enough to marry her. The Prophet(P) agreed to this suggestion and hence granted her freedom and married her.
This significant act of marrying Safiyyah(R) was indeed a great honour for her, for this not only preserved her dignity, it also prevented her from becoming a slave. Haykal notes that:
The Prophet granted her freedom and then married her, following the examples of great conquerors who married the daughters and wives of the kings whom they had conquered, partly in order to alleviate their tragedy and partly to preserve their dignity.
Muhammad Husayn Haykal, The Life of Muhammad (North American Trust Publications, 1976), p. 373
The marriage to Safiyyah(R) has a political significance as well, as it helps to reduce hostilities and cement alliances.
John L. Esposito notes that:
As was customary for Arab chiefs, many were political marriages to cement alliances. Others were marriages to the widows of his companions who had fallen in combat and were in need of protection.
John L. Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path, pp. 19-20
Indeed, when Bilal ibn Rabah(R), a Companion of the Prophet, brought Safiyyah along with another Jewess before him(P) by passing through the Jews that were slain in the battle, Muhammad(P) personally chided Bilal and said “Have you no compassion, Bilal, when you brought two women past their dead husbands?”
As for the accusation that Safiyyah was coerced into marriage or taken advantage of, as alleged by a known Islamophobic, this claim has no basis at all. It is known that Safiyyah(R) remained loyal to the Prophet until he passed away.
We have in fact the Prophet(P) making the following offer to her, as recorded by Martin Lings:
He [the Prophet Muhammad – Ed.] then told Safiyyah that he was prepared to set her free, and he offered her the choice between remaining a Jewess and returning to her people or entering Islam and becoming his wife. “I choose God and His Messenger,” she said; and they were married at the first halt on the homeward march.
Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based On The Earliest Sources (George Allen & Unwin, 1983), p. 269
The other wives of the Prophet(P) used to show their jealousy of her by making slights upon her Jewish origin. But the Prophet(P) always defended her. Once Safiyyah was vexed to the extreme by the taunts of all the Arab wives of the Prophet(P). She took the complaint to the Prophet(P), who felt great compassion for her. He consoled and encouraged her. He equipped her with logic by saying: “Safiyyah, take courage and be bold. They are in no way superior to you. Tell them: I am a daughter of the Prophet Harun, a niece of the Prophet Musa, and a wife of the Prophet Muhammad”.
This is thus an excellent example of the Prophet Muhammad(P) trying to wipe out pre-Islamic anti-Semitism amongst the Arabs.
With the evidence laid bare before us, we do not see the justification of accusing the Prophet(P) of being a “rapist”, as those anti-Islamic critics allege. That the Prophet(P) himself married Safiyyah(R) so as to avoid the certainty of her being a slave of the Muslims and helped her to defend herself from the taunts of her co-wives is enough proof that the Prophet(P) was a man of exemplary conduct and remained honourable even to relatives of his most bitter foes.
And only God knows best.