Safiyah Bint Huyeiy Ibn Akhtab was one of the wives of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). She was the daughter of Huyeiy Ibn Akhtab, the chief of the Banu Nadir tribe, who were all expelled from Madinah in 4 AH after plotting to kill the Messenger of Allah (PBUH). She was intelligent, learned and gentle. In fact, gentleness and patience were her dominant qualities. She had many good moral qualities.
After the battle of Khaybar in which the Muslims defeated the Jews, two women were brought before Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by Bilal. They had passed by those who had been killed in the battle. One of the two women was shrieking and screaming, and rubbing dust in her hair, while the other was mute with shock.
One who was mute with shock was Safiyah, the other one was her cousin. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)asked someone to look after the woman who was screaming and then took off his cloak and placed it over the shoulders of Safiyah, whose husband had been killed in the battle.It was a gesture of pity, but from that moment she was to be honored and given great respect in the Muslim community. After doing this Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)turned to Bilal and said:
“Bilal, has Allah plucked mercy from your heart that you let these two women pass by those of their men folk who have been killed?”
This was considered a severe reprimand, for the Messenger of Allah (PBUH), who rarely criticized the behaviour of those who served him.
Like Um Habiba, Safiyah was the daughter of a great chief. The only person who could save her from becoming a slave after having enjoyed such a high position was Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Even thought her father had previously planned to assassinate Muhammad (PBUH) after the battle of Uhud, and had conspired with the Banu Qurayza to exterminate all the Muslims during the battle of al-Khandaq, it was characteristic of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)that he did not bear any grudges for those who did wrong. He felt pity rather than anger, and for those who had done no wrong, he had even greater compassion.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)then invited Safiyah to embrace Islam, which she did, and after having given her freedom, he married her.
Many people wondered how could Safiyah embrace Islam and marry Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)when her father had been his bitter enemy, and when bloody battles had taken place between the Jews and the Muslims.
The answer may be found in what she has related of her early life as the daughter of the chief of the Banu Nadir. She said:
“I was my father and my uncle Yasir’s favorite. They could never see me with one of their children without picking me up. When the Messenger of Allah came to Madinah, my father and my uncle went to see him. It was very early in the morning and between dawn and sunrise. They did not return until the sun was setting. They came back worn out and depressed, walking with slow, heavy steps. I smiled to them as I always did, but neither of them took any notice of me because they were so miserable. I heard Abu Yasir ask my father:
‘Is it him?’ ‘Yes, it is.’ ‘Can you recognize him? Can you verify it?’ ‘Yes, I can recognize him too well.’ ‘What do you feel towards him?’ ‘Enmity, enmity as long as I live.’
The significance of this conversation is evident when we recall that in the Torah of the Jews, it was written that a Prophet would come who would lead those who followed him to victory. Indeed before the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)came to Madinah, the Jews used to threaten the idol worshippers of Yathrib, as it was then called, that when the next Prophet comes to the believers, they will exterminate them, just as the Jews had exterminated other tribes who refused to worship God in the past.
Although Safiyah was Huyeiy’s daughter, she had a pure heart and had always wanted to worship her Creator and Lord, the One who had sent Moses, to whom she was related, and Jesus, and finally Muhammad (PBUH), may Allah be pleased with all of them.
Thus as soon as she got the opportunity, she did not only follow the last Prophet, but also married him.
Later, when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)was in his final illness, Safiyah felt deep and sincere sadness for him. She said: “O Messenger of Allah, I wish it was I who was suffering instead of you.”
Safiyah lived with Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)for about four years, She was only twenty-one when he died, and lived as a widow for the next thirty-nine years, dying in 50 AH, at the age of sixty (may Allah be pleased with her) and was buried in al Baqi cemetery. She left property worth one hundred thousand dirhams leaving one-third for her nephew, and the rest was given in charity.