safiyyah jewish wife

Umm ul-Muk­minin Safiyyah : The Jew­ish Wife of Muhammad

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?“A. Guil­laume (trans.), The Life of Muham­mad : A Trans­la­tion of Ibn Ishaq’s Sir­at Rasul Allah (Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1978), p. 515

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.An account of how Safiyyah’s loy­al­ty was affirmed by the Prophet(P) him­self is record­ed in Muham­mad Husayn Haykal, op. cit., p. 374

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. Umm ul-Mukminin Safiyyah: The Jewish Wife of Muhammad 1Endmark

Cite this arti­cle as : Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi, Umm ul-Muk­minin Safiyyah : The Jew­ish Wife of Muham­mad,” in Bis­mi­ka Allahu­ma, Sep­tem­ber 20, 2005, last accessed Decem­ber 11, 2023, https://​bis​mikaal​lahu​ma​.org/​m​u​h​a​m​m​a​d​/​s​a​f​i​y​y​a​h​-​j​e​w​i​s​h​-​w​i​fe/






One response to “Umm ul-Muk­minin Safiyyah : The Jew­ish Wife of Muhammad”

  1. Melissa Avatar

    Beau­ti­ful expla­na­tion ! Admit­ted­ly Saf­fiyah is my favorite wife amongst the prophet’s wives.

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