Safiyya bint Huyay, the Jewish Mother of all Muslims

10 min readNov 10, 2023

Reem Shraiky, UK

Safiyya bint Huyay may Allah be pleased with her, was from the Jews of Banu Nadhir — a tribe in Madinah at the time of the Holy Prophet (sa) — specifically the tribe of Levi, who was the son of Jacob, the grandson of Ishaq, and the great grandson of Abraham, peace be upon them all. She was a descendant of Prophet Aaron, brother of Moses, peace be upon them.

Her mother was Barra bint Samaw’al, sister of Rifa’ah bin Samaw’al, from Banu Quraizah.

The Jews of Banu Quraizah and Banu al-Nadhir tribes lived off agriculture in their fortresses in the outskirts of the city of Madinah.

Safiyya was raised under the care of her father, the chief of Banu al-Nadhir, Huyay ibn Akhtab.

Safiyya first married to Salam bin Mishkam, but after divorcing him, she married Kinana bin Abi Al-Haqiq, who was killed in the Battle of Khaibar.

After the migration of the Holy Prophet(sa) and his Companions to Madinah, he was unanimously elected as its leader by the Muslims, Jews, and pagan tribes. He established a peace treaty between the immigrant Muslims, the Jews, and the rest of the community, known as the ‘Charter of Medina.’

According to the terms of this treaty, the different groups pledged to live together in peace; fulfilling each other’s rights and promoting the spirit of sympathy, tolerance and mutual cooperation.

Under the Holy Prophet’s(sa) leadership, this treaty proved to be a wonderfully pioneering charter of human rights and governance, as well as ensuring peace between different groups. According to this charter, everyone was free to follow their religion and beliefs. It stated, for example: ‘The Jews shall be considered as one community along with the Muslims-for the Jews their religion, and for the Muslims theirs.’

Unfortunately, the Jews violated this treaty several times, and the Jews of Khaibar were not only the main instigators of the Battle of the Trench but after its end, they were determined to avenge their crushing defeat. They toured round the Arab tribes inciting them against the Muslims, as well as going to the commanders of the Roman armies, rousing them to fight the Muslims. Moreover, when the Arab idolaters and their leaders failed to achieve decisive success by directly attacking the Muslims, they began to conspire with the Jews of Madinah to make the lives of the Muslims unbearable.

Thus the Jews of Madinah and other opponents of Islam were busy inciting the tribes against the Muslims, and the Jewish tribes started plotting with the Christian tribes on the southern front of the Roman Empire. At the same time, they began writing to their co-religionists in Iraq against the Holy Prophet(sa). They persistently sought, through correspondence, to incite Khosrow of Persia against the Muslims, and as a result, he sent orders to his governor in Yemen to arrest the Holy Prophet sa. In such a way, the Jewish people of Madinah broke the agreements and covenants in every shape and form.

The Holy Prophet (sa) waited five months before deciding to expel the Jews from Khaibar.

Khaybar was a short distance from Madinah, and from there the Jews found it easy to continue their plots against the Muslims. That is why the Holy Prophet samarched to Khaibar with his army in August 628 AD with 1,600 men.

Khaibar was well fortified, as it was surrounded by several rocky lands, and a small fort was erected on each of them; it was not easy for a small force of Muslims to enter it. After limited fighting, the small force stationed on the outskirts of Khaibar waiting to be able enter the fortress, but the Jews gathered their forces in the fortified city, and attempts to attack them failed.

The Holy Prophet(sa) then received a revelation that God Almighty would grant the Muslims victory through the hands of a man who loved Allah and His Messenger (sa), and whom Allah and His Messenger (sa) loved. The Holy Prophet(sa) announced this to the Muslims who eagerly waited to find out who this man was.

The next morning, people hastened to the Holy Prophet sa, each one of them hoping that the military banner would be given to them. The Holy Prophet(sa) asked, “Where is Ali bin Abi Talib?” They responded: “His eyes are sore.” The Holy Prophet (sa) then sent for him and when he came, the Holy Prophet(sa) applied his saliva to Ali’s(ra) eyes and supplicated. Ali(ra) recovered as if he had never had any ailment at all. The Holy Prophet(ra) conferred him the banner.

Ali(ra) said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, shall I fight against them until they are like us?’ Thereupon the Holy Prophet(sa) said, “Advance cautiously until you reach their open places; thereafter, invite them to Islam and inform them about what is obligatory upon them from the rights of Allah. Indeed, by Allah, if Allah guides even one person through you that is better for you than possessing a whole lot of red camels.’ ( Bukhari).

Although the Jews had gathered their forces inside this fort, Ali(ra) and his companions were able to penetrate the fort before dark, and a peace agreement was signed. The conditions were that all the Jews, their spouses, and children would leave Khaibar for another place far from Madinah.

During the Battle of Khaibar, Safiyya’s husband, Kinana, was killed, while her father was killed in the Battle of the Trench.

It is important to mention the testimony of Safiyya herself about her father’s enmity towards the Holy Prophet(sa). She said: ‘I was the most beloved child of my father and my uncle Abu Yasser; whenever I met them with any of their other children, they took me instead of him or her. When the Messenger of Allah (sa) was coming to Madinah, and arrived at Quba at Bani Amr bin Awf, my father, Huyay bin Akhtab, and my uncle, Abu Yasser bin Akhtab, went there secretly. They did not return until sunset. They were too tired, walking slowly. So I ran to them, as I used to do, and by God, none of them looked at me as they were consumed with deep grief. I heard my uncle Abu Yasser saying to my father, Huyay ibn Akhtab: “Is it him (i.e. the awaited Prophet)?” He responded: “Yes, by God”. He [Abu Yasser] said: “Do you recognise him and confirm that it is him?” He responded: “Yes”, to which he [Abu Yasser] stated: “What do you have in mind that we do with him?” He said: “By God, I will be his enemy as long as I remain alive”’. ( Sirat Ibn Hisham).

Thus, even though the peace treaties were ratified, the Jews of Medina remained hostile to the Messenger of God and tried to kill him several times. They incited the tribes against him and sought help from the Romans and Persians, but Allah protected him as per His promise: ‘And Allah will protect thee from men’ (The Holy Quran: 5:68).

Safiyya was captured during the Battle of Khaibar and was kept confined in the house of Dahiya al-Kalbi. When he learned that she was the widow of one of the leaders as well as the daughter of the leader of Khaibar, he deemed it an appropriate honour for her to live in the house of the Holy Prophet (sa), so the Messenger of Allah (sa) placed her with Umm Sulaym (ra).

The Holy Prophet(sa) said to Safiyya one day: ‘Your father continued to be hostile to me and wanted to kill me until Allah killed him’. She said: ‘O Messenger of Allah (sa), doesn’t your religion say, “nor does any bearer of burden bear the burden of another” (The Holy Quran: 6:165)? The Holy Prophet (sa) said to her: ‘If you choose Islam, I will marry you, and if you choose Judaism, I will free you so that you can join your people.’ She said: “O Messenger of God (sa), I loved Islam and believed in you before you called me to where I have come. In Judaism I have no father nor a brother. You gave me the choice, but Allah and His Messenger (sa) are dearer to me than emancipation and the return to my people.’ ( Al-Tabaqat Al-Kubra).

Upon this, the Holy Prophet(sa) freed her and she stayed with Umm Sulaim until she had finished her iddat (a waiting period during which a Muslim widow cannot marry). Following this, the Holy Prophet(sa) married her, and a simple wedding reception was held for her.

Anas bin Malik(ra) narrated: ‘We returned from the Battle of Khaibar. The Prophet (sa) brought Safiyya bint Huyay, I saw him folding up a gown or a garment for her to sit on behind him (on his camel)’ ( Bukhari).

Anas(ra) also narrated: ‘When they reached Sadd al-Rawha’, the Holy Prophet saprepared (a special meal called Hais) and sent him to invite men, who came and ate; and that was his and Safiyya’s wedding banquet.’

After that they proceeded to Madinah and Allah’s Messenger(sa) sat beside his camel and let Safiyya put her feet on his knees to mount the camel. ( Bukhari).

On one hand, the Messenger of Allah(sa) intended from this marriage to honour Safiyya and compensate for the loss of her family members. On the other hand, the bond of intermarriage between him and the Jews was a means for reducing their hostility and paving the way for eternal peace with them as happened with Banu al-Mustaliq when the Prophet (sa)married the Mother of the Believers, Juwayriyah bint Al-Harith(ra).

As mentioned, the Mother of the Blievers, Safiyya(ra), was not forced into this marriage, rather the Holy Prophet(ra) gave her the choice to be freed ex gratia.

The Holy Prophet(sa) did not marry her until she had first completed her waiting period. Thus she had had enough time to change her mind if she was not truly happy to marry him.

Moreover, Safiyya(ra) did not convert to Islam until every feeling in her heart against the Messenger of Allah (sa) had gone. He kept apologising to her until what she held in her heart against him disappeared, and she herself narrated: ‘The Messenger of Allah was the most hateful to my eyes, he killed my husband and my father, but he kept apologising to me and saying: “Your father incited the Arabs against me and did this and that” until that which was in my heart went away.’ ( Al-Sunan Al-Kubra).

His consolation began from the first moment of her captivity. When Safiyya was captured, there was another female captive with her, and Bilal(ra) who was with them, led them through the dead of their people. The other woman saw her husband among the dead, so she screamed and cried. Upon this the Holy Prophet(sa) said to Bilal, ‘Has mercy been taken away from you, O Bilal, that you make two women pass by their killed husbands?’ Then he immediately took them away from this scene ( Usd al=Ghaba).

Regarding the marriage of Safiyya(ra) to the Messenger of Allah(sa), I must mention that Allah gave her these glad tidings in a vision. It was narrated that the Messenger of Allah(sa) saw the mark of a slap on her face, so he asked her about it; she replied, that she had seen a vision that the moon had fallen into her lap. She had mentioned this to her husband, Kinana, so he slapped her face and said: ‘You want to be the wife of the king of the Arabs?’ ( Usd al-Ghaba).

The moon was the national emblem of Arabia. The moon in the lap denoted some intimate connection with the King of Arabia. A split moon or a dropping moon meant dissensions in the Arab State or its destruction. Safiyya’s(ra) was a sign of the truth of the Holy Prophet(sa). It was also a sign of the fact that God reveals the future to His servants through dreams.

Safiyya(ra) loved her compassionate husband, the Messenger of Allah(sa) deeply and preferred him over her family and clan. This was, of course, because of his good treatment of her even though she was the daughter of someone who had conspired to kill him several times.

Out of her intense love for the the Holy Prophet (sa), she gave his daughter Fatima(ra) a gold earring of hers, and when the wives of the Holy Prophet(sa), gathered during his final illness, she said to him: ‘By Allah, O Prophet of Allah (sa), I wish the sickness that afflicted you had afflicted me instead.’ Here, his other wives looked at each other in reaction to this strong statement, so the Messenger of Allah(sa) said to them, ‘By Him in Whose Hand is my soul! She is truthful.’ (Al-Isaaba fi Ma’rifati al-Sahaba).

Among the stories of how the Messenger of Allah (sa) consoled her, it is also narrated that the he once entered Safiyya’s(ra) house and found her crying. He asked her: ‘What is making you cry?’ She replied: ‘Some words have reached me from Hafsah and Aishah, they prefer each other to me as they are your cousins.’ The Holy Prophet sasaid: ‘Why did you not say: “And how are you two better than me, when my husband is Muhammad, my father is Aaron, and my uncle is Moses?’ ( Tirmidhi).

I must mention one of Safiyya ‘s (ra) wonderful actions during the time of the siege of Hazrat Uthman(ra), the third Caliph of Islam, when the rebels prevented him from getting water and food.

Kinana, Safiyya’s servant, narrated: ‘I was taking Safiyya to help Uthman, when Al-Ashtar met her — he was at the head of the people of Kufa who rebelled against Uthman. He hit her mule’s face until she leaned over. Upon this, Safiyya said: ‘Take me back, so that this [man] will not disgrace me.’ Then she built a wooden track from her house until Uthman’s (ra) house to carry water and food on it to him” ( Mukhtasar Tarikh Dimashq). Thus she stood by the Caliph during this trial and was of help to him.

The Mother of the Believers, Safiyya bint Huyay (ra) narrated many Ahadith of the Holy Prophet sa. She died in 50 AHduring the time of Muawiyah and was buried in Al-Baqi’ with the other Mothers of the Believers, may Allah be pleased with them all.

About the Author: Reem Shraiky is a life devotee of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community — International Arabic English Translation & Research Office, UK.

Originally published at on November 10, 2023.