Safiyyah bint Huyayy was one of the wives of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, and was a Jewess before she married him. Her lineage became an immense test of her patience and restrain, thus beautifying her character even more رضي الله عنها, as we shall go on to see.
Lineage and Early Life
The prominence of her lineage was outlined by the fact that her father, Huyayy bin Akhtab, was a direct descendant of Ishaq عليه السلام and consequently that of Ibrahim عليه السلام. Her mother Barrah bint Shamwal, on the other hand, belonged to one of the most influential and distinguished Jewish tribes of the Arabian Peninsula. It is interesting to note that prior to her marriage to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم , Safiyyah was married twice. Her first marriage to Salam bin Mashkam, a poet and a warrior, ended in divorce. Her second marriage was to Kananah bin Rabi’ bin Haqeeq, which left her a widow after he was killed in the Battle of Khayber. She also lost her father, her uncles and her brothers in the same battle.
Safiyyah رضي الله عنها narrates that her father and uncles were once discussing about a man in Madinah who claimed to be a Prophet. Her uncle twice asked her father to testify if the man was really a Prophet and he swore by Allah that he was. But they refused to follow him just because he was an Arab, and thus became some of the greatest enemies of Islam and the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.
Safiyyah – Mother of the Believers
It was in this very Battle of Khayber that Safiyyah bint Huyayy was held captive and made a prisoner of war by the victorious Muslims. Dahyah Kalbi, who was a companion of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, asked permission to take some of the captives of war and chose Safiyyah رضي الله عنها amongst them. When another companion heard of this, he suggested that it would be better if the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم kept her because she was a noblewoman belonging to a very prestigious family. The Prophet called Dahyah back and ordered him to return Safiyyah in exchange for another captive of war, which he did willingly and chose the sister of Safiyyah’s husband Kananah. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم then proposed marriage to Safiyyah رضي الله عنها and she accepted, which led to her joining the esteemed bandwagon of the Mothers of the Believers.
Ibn Qayyim al Jawziyya writes in his book Zaad al Ma’aad that Safiyyah’s marriage to the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was unique in the sense that her mahr (dowry) was her liberty.
The Welcome of Safiyyah – A Lesson on Courtesy
In Madinah, Safiyyah stayed in the house of Harith bin Nu’man Ansari. A large number of women would visit her – driven by curiosity as well as courtesy. The question to ponder here is – would we have the same sense of courtesy today? How many of us even know who our neighbors are, let alone visit them to welcome them to the locality or visit them when they’re in trouble? True, the housing system in some areas may make tête-à-têtes a little difficult, but not impossible surely.
Narrates Ibn Umar رضي الله عنه: Allah’s Apostle said, Jibreel kept on recommending me about treating the neighbors in a kind and polite manner, so much so that I thought that he would order (me) to make them (my) heirs. [Sahih Bukhari]
Also look at it from another perspective – how welcoming are we to people not belonging to our communities? Do we deliberately exclude them in our gatherings and look at them judgmentally? Or do we make a sincere effort to get to know them and make them feel as welcome as possible? All these are little things but they constitute a very significant portion of our akhlaaq- the best of which is most beloved to Allah.
“The best among you are those who have the best manners and character.”
Prejudice – Safiyyah’s Test and Victory
Soon, ‘Aisha رضي الله عنها went to visit her too. She was a little jealous of her beauty and of what she’d heard of her manners and charisma. Upon her return, she was asked by the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلمabout her opinion of Safiyyah, to which she exclaimed that she was a Jewess. Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم gently rebuked her by informing her that she’d become a Muslim and that she shouldn’t be called so.
Safiyyah, initially, had to bear the brunt of prejudice and similar remarks about her lineage by the wives of the Prophet ‘Aisha and Hafsah رضي الله عنهما. However, she knew how the Prophet held them in high regard and tried her best to win their affections. On one such occasion, she was called the ‘daughter of a Jew’, which upset her. On seeing her upset, the Prophet enquired as to what he matter was and when he came to know, he asked her to tell ‘Aisha and Hafsa رضي الله عنهما that they could not be better than her since her husband was Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم, her father was Haroon عليه السلام and her uncle was Musa عليه السلام. They did not ever speak to her disparagingly after that. [Great Women of Islam]
There are several lessons to be internalized from this. Firstly, the fact that some of the greatest Mothers of the Believers initially fell prey to being judgmental is telling of our propensity towards judgment as weak humans. However, what matters is how we react and respond to it, and what we do to ensure that we do not ever partake in it. The grace and the attitude that Safiyyah adopted is testimony to the fact that going the tit-for-tat route is pointless. A pleasant and friendly demeanor, particularly nowadays when the media has very successfully poisoned the minds of the majority of the population against Muslims, will work wonders.
Furthermore, we are not to look down upon any person, because this implies our vain belief of being better than them, consequently leading to pride and arrogance. Another habit, perhaps noted prominently in our South Asian community, is that of people judging and looking down upon reverts because of what they did before they became Muslims. Why do we judge them? When Allah has promised forgiveness for their past, who are we to judge them and dishearten them? Why do we consider their past, their tattoos or careers, symbolic of their present identity? This is a very dangerous trap and leads us to an even graver action – judging and declaring that a person would go to Jannah or Jahannum, as though we have been given the authority of it.
Do we not remember that the Qur’an has explicitly forbidden us from mocking other religions? Let’s be real – when you dish out something, you should also expect something to be dished out to you. And mockery of Allah, our Messenger and our Deen is not something we should risk, if we can help it.
“O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.” [Surah Hujurat 49:11]
Once, Safiyyah رضي الله عنها was returning from one of the battles when her camel became sick and passed away. When the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم asked Zaynab bint Jahsh رضي الله عنها to lend Safiyyah her camel, she said something demeaning to her. On account of this, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم did not speak to Zaynab for a whole month! Look at the sense of justice of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, Subhan Allah!
An interesting point to note here is how and when the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم disciplined his wives (along with other people, as can be seen from many instances of his Seerah). This was done chiefly to make them realize their mistakes. How many a times do we just stand by mute and look on as injustice takes place in front of us? Slandering people and causing rumors to be spread about them is grave injustice, as well as an attack on their honor. One way to rectify ourselves is by keeping a strict watch over what we utter, not speak ill of anyone behind their backs, whether in a huge gathering or in a personal conversation. May Allah protect us all from the sins we commit unconsciously and forgive us for them.
Integrity of Character is our wealth!
An important and notable incident that occurred in the life of Safiyyah رضي الله عنها is as follows – the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was observing i’tekaaf in a masjid where Safiyyah worshipped as well. On completion of the Taraweeh prayers, she left to return back to her house, and the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم rose up from his i’tekaaf to escort her back home. Subhan Allah! What an absolute gentleman he was! As they were walking back home, a group of companions رضي الله عنهم passed by and they saw the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم walking home with his wife, Safiyyah. Upon seeing them, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم called out to them and clarified that he was indeed with his wife Safiyyah. The companions of the Prophet were absolutely astounded and upset at the fact that the Messenger of Allah, the best of the men, felt the need to clarify himself and remove any possible vestiges of doubts. To this, the Prophet ﷺصلى الله عليه وسلمthat Shaytaan could course through humans like the blood in their veins and cause doubts (interpretation of the meaning). He explained this to the companions because he did not want Shaytaan to sow evil suspicions in their hearts.
An extremely important lesson we can glean from this incident is the paramount importance our Messenger gave towards maintaining integrity of character. Particularly for those involved in da’wah and generally as an Ummah, we must be careful to avoid any action likely to arouse suspicion and evil doubt. Sisters, you know that good-looking guy you were talking to the other day was your brother; on-lookers don’t necessarily know that. Don’t give them a chance to call you a hypocrite or doubt your integrity. When the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم himself could do it, it shouldn’t be difficult for us to too.
A Spouse Incomparable
Safiyyah was very attached to her husband and loved him dearly. She testified that she never came across a person with better manners and character than the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. This sentiment, which has been echoed amongst all the wives of Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم, conveys a crucial message to all husbands: your wife’s character will be influenced by your character to some extent. How can it not? She’s living with you, after all. And the vice-versa holds true as well. Therefore, it’s critical that the relationship between a husband and a wife be based upon mutual respect and honor for each other.
The Teacher, the Paragon of Virtue!
Safiyyah رضي الله عنها was extremely knowledgeable and was a teacher as well. It should come as no surprise by now, and the fact need not be reiterated that yes, women can be teachers and yes, we’ve had multitude of male scholars who were taught by able and famous female scholars! Muslim women can and should study since they are responsible for not just their children, but for countless future generations where their knowledge and tarbiyyah will be carried over.
An incident narrated in Abu Nu’aym Asbahani’s Hiliyyatul-Awliya’ mentions how some companions would gather in Safiyyah’s house for tilawah (recitation) and tadabbur (reflection) of the Qur’an. When they came upon an ayah of sujood, Safiyyah asked them where their tears were for the sujood of the Book of Allah! Subhan Allah! The fear and intense love of Allah was so strongly rooted in her heart that her eyes shed their pearls involuntarily.
She was also known for her forgiving nature. Imam Dhahabi, in his book Siyar A’lam Nubala’, narrates an incident where Safiyyah’s servant went to the Caliph of the time, ‘Umar رضي الله عنه and complained to him that Safiyyah still observed the Saturday Sabbath of the Jews, and was friendly towards them. ‘Umar رضي الله عنه, being a just ruler, called for Safiyyah and questioned her regarding these claims. While she denied the former, she accepted that she maintained her ties to the Jews of her family as per Allah’s command. When she came to know that it was her servant who had carried tales to the Caliph, she questioned her. The servant confessed that she had been provoked by Shaytaan. Safiyyah then magnanimously set her free and forgave her easily.
A couple of quick lessons to internalize for us – maintaining ties of kinship is absolutely crucial, whether the relatives are Muslim or not. Secondly, the great virtue of forgiveness – for it is indeed difficult, but the reward for that is equally great. We need to remember that this life is temporary – our ultimate goal is Jannah. Ask yourself: “Does it make sense to ruin my Akhirah (and my mental peace) over a petty conflict? Why not forgive and beautify the hereafter?” It’s a win-win situation, really.
Safiyyah was, in short, the paragon of virture and good akhlaaq. This topic of akhlaaq can be discussed for ages, and yet it would not suffice to prove just how important it is for a Muslim to have good, nay the best, akhlaaq. In fact, there is a huge number of ahadeeth which highlight the absolute importance of good akhlaaq. We list only a few here:
- Narrated ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr رضي الله عنه: The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “Whoever has the following four (characteristics) will be a pure hypocrite and whoever has one of the following four characteristics will have one characteristic of hypocrisy unless and until he gives it up. 1. Whenever he is entrusted, he betrays. 2. Whenever he speaks, he tells a lie. 3. Whenever he makes a covenant, he proves treacherous. 4. Whenever he quarrels, he behaves in a very imprudent, evil and insulting manner.” [Sahih Bukhari]
- Abu Darda’ رضي الله عنه reported that the Prophet of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “Nothing is weightier on the Scale of Deeds than one’s good manners.” [Adab Al Mufrad]
- Narrated Abu Huraira رضي الله عنه : The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “The worst people in the Sight of Allah on the Day of Resurrection will be the double faced people who appear to some people with one face and to other people with another face.” [Sahih Bukhari]
Subhan Allah! These are some really serious ahadeeth with severe implications! And while we see around us the proliferation of Islamic rituals, albeit important in their own stead, we also see the accompaniment of dismal manners. Where is the proper balance between Huqooq Allah (Rights of Allah) and Huqooq al-‘Ibaad (Rights of the Slaves of Allah)? It must be noted that in many instances in the Qur’an, the command to do good, to give charity (sadaqah and zakah) to travelers, orphans, the poor, to counsel each other towards truth and patience etc., come right after the command to have belief (Imaan) [example: Surah al Asr, Surah Baqarah: 177 etc]. As mentioned, annals could be written on the importance of good manners in Islam and it would still not capture everything as perfectly as it should be conveyed.
May Allah give us the wisdom and patience of Safiyyah, and the tawfiq to be among those who Allah mentions in His Book as:
“Who spend [in the cause of Allah] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good.” [Surah Aal e Imran 3:134]
O Allah, as you have beautified us, beautify our manners.
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