Heritage and Legacy: Safiyya bint Huyayy, a Mother of the Believers

Safiyyah bint Huyayy (610 – 670) was one of the wives of the Islamicn Prophet Muhammad. the “Mother of Believers”.

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.

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. 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. 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.

In n 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.

According to  al-Bukhari, Muhammad stayed for three days between Khaybar and Medina, where he consummated his marriage to Safiyya.

Muhammad suggested that Safiyya convert to Islam, and she agreed and thus became Muhammad’s wife Safiyya did not bear any children to Muhammad.

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.

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.

In 656, Safiyya sided with caliph Uthman ibn Affan, and defended him at his last meeting with AliAisha, 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.

Safiyya died in 670 or 672, during the reign of Muawiyah, and was buried in the Jannat al-Baqi graveyard. 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.

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.