Islam Today: Did Prophet Muhammad force Safiyya bint Huyayy into marriage after killing her father?

Qamar Zafar, London


It has been alleged by a YouTube content creator, that – God forbid – the Prophet Muhammadsa fell in awe of the beauty of a war captive named Safiyyara after conquering Khaybar, so much so that despite killing her father three years earlier in the fort of Banu an-Nadir and her husband and other relatives in the conquest of Khaybar, he married her and consummated the marriage against her will. Let’s now see what authentic historical sources have to say about this.

Who was Safiyyara bint Huyayy?

Safiyyara bint Huyayy belonged to a noble and influential family. Her father, Huyayy ibn Akhtab, was the chief of Banu an-Nadir, a Jewish tribe that was expelled from Medina for breaching a treaty with the Muslims. Her father, Huyayy, was killed alongside the Banu Qurayza while he incited them to be treacherous against the Muslims after the Battle of the Ditch, despite having pledged support to the Muslims. (Al-Waqidi, al-Maghazi, Beirut: Dar al-A‘lami, 1989, Vol. 2, p. 516)

After this, Safiyya married Sallam bin Mishkam from the Banu Qurayza. After that marriage dissolved, she married Kinana ibn ar-Rabi‘ ibn Abi al-Huqayq from Banu an-Nadir. The latter two resided in Khaybar after her migration from the exiled fort of Banu an-Nadir to Khaybar. (Ibn Sa‘d, at-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya, 1990, Vol. 8, p. 95)

Why did the Muslims punish Banu Nadir and attack Khaybar?

Banu an-Nadir: The wrongdoings and treachery of Banu an-Nadir and Banu Qurayza, although not the topic of this research, are important to have some knowledge of, since the father of Safiyya, Huyayy ibn Akhtab, was killed in these events. It is evident that the Jews stabbed the Muslims in the back on multiple occasions despite holding pacts and oaths of allegiance with the Muslims. (See  J. A. Morrow’s “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad[sa] with the Christians of the World” [1971], p. 30-31’.)

As a result of this, Prophet Muhammadsa held the Banu Qurayza and Banu an-Nadir accountable. The Jews chose the punishment of death for themselves out of their own free will, according to their own book, the Torah. (See Muhammad and the Rise of Islam, p. 330.)

This punishment was, as recorded in the Old Testament:

“And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword. But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself, and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee.” (KJV, Deuteronomy, 20:13-14)

This was despite the three options offered to them by the Muslims, which included exile and mercy. The Jews denied these options, as they took no pride in choosing the ruling of the Quran over the Torah and death was more acceptable for them instead.

In fact, scholars such as Martin Lings, David C. Margoliouth and Daniel C. Peterson have commented that this ruling was not harsh considering the circumstances and was passed according to the Jewish scriptures. (Muhammad: His Life based on the Earliest Sources, p. 232, footnote 1 and Muhammad, Prophet of God, p. 127)

Khaybar: Khaybar was also attacked because the Jews continued their treachery and incited people to engage in warfare against the Muslims. In 4 AH, after the Prophetsa expelled the Banu an-Nadir Jews from Medina because of their betrayals, some of them took refuge in Khaybar. One year later, they went to Mecca and incited the Quraysh against the Prophetsa. Thus, Khaybar turned into a centre of conspiracy against the nascent Islamic umma. (Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Madina, p. 212)

The Jews of Khaybar spent their money to incite neighbouring Arabs, including the strong tribe of Ghatafan, against the Muslims. This was a sufficient reason for the Prophetsa to attack Khaybar soon after the Hudaybiyya Peace Treaty. (Muhammad: His Life based on the Earliest Sources, p. 232, footnote 1 and Muhammad, Prophet of God, pp. 216-218)

The marriage of Safiyyara to the Prophet Muhammadsa

There are lengthy reports about the marriage of Prophet Muhammadsa to Safiyyara. Here we shall record the most detailed ones:

1. It is narrated by Anasra bin Malik:

Allah’s Messengersa invaded Khaybar. […] We conquered Khaybar, took the captives, and collected the booty. Dihya came and said, ‘O Allah’s Prophetsa! Give me a slave girl from the captives.’ The Prophetsa said, ‘Go and take any slave girl.’ He took Safiyyara bint Huyayy. A man came to the Prophetsa and said, ‘O Allah’s Messengersa! You gave Safiyyara bint Huyayy to Dihya and she is the chieftess of the tribes of Qurayza and an-Nadir and she befits none but you.’ So the Prophetsa said, ‘Bring him along with her.’ So Dihya came with her and when the Prophetsa saw her, he said to Dihya, ‘Take any slave girl other than her from the captives.’ Anasra added: The Prophetsa then manumitted her and married her. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 8, Kitab as-Salah, Hadith 371)

2. It is narrated by Anasra bin Malik:

We arrived at Khaybar, and when Allah helped His Apostlesa to open the fort, the beauty of Safiyyara bint Huyayy ibn Akhtab whose husband had been killed while she was a bride, was mentioned to Allah’s Apostle. The Prophetsa selected her for himself and set out with her, and when we reached a place called Sidd as-Sahba’, Safiyyara became clean from her menses, and then Allah’s Messengersa married her. Hays (i.e., an Arabian dish) was prepared on a small leather mat. Then the Prophetsa said to me, “I invite the people around you.” So that was the marriage banquet of the Prophetsa and Safiyyara. Then we proceeded towards Medina, and I saw the Prophetsa, making for her a kind of cushion with his cloak behind him (on his camel). He then sat beside his camel and put his knee forward for Safiyyara to put her foot on, in order to ride (on the camel). (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Maghazi, Hadith 251)

 Possible questions arising from the events at Khaybar

Now, considering the fact that Safiyyara had lost her father, husband and other relatives to the hands of the Muslims in warfare, and considering the fact that she was a captive prisoner of war after Khaybar, some may concoct the notion that she had no choice but to marry the Prophet Muhammadsa as she was terrified for her life and felt that the only way of guaranteeing her freedom was to accept her fate and marry Muhammadsa.

Now, all of this may have been subject to some further explanation, had it not been for the following accounts:

Ja‘far bin Mahmud bin Muhammad bin Maslama reports:

When Safiyyara came to the Prophetsa, he said to her; ‘Among the Jews, your father did not stop in his enmity towards me until Allah destroyed him.’ She said: ‘O Allah’s Messenger! Indeed, Allah says in His book, ‘No one will take anyone else’s burden’. So the Prophetsa said to her: ‘Make your choice, if you will choose Islam I will select you for myself and if you chose Judaism, I will set you free and send you to your people.’ She said; ‘O Allah’s Messenger, indeed I longed for Islam and testified for you even before you gave me this invitation when I came to you. I have no guardian among the Jews, neither father nor brother and I prefer Islam over disbelief. Allah and His Messenger are dearer to me than the freedom to return to my people.’ (Ibn Sa‘d, at-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 8, p. 97)

Two things are clear from this narration:

Safiyyara did not deny the wrongdoings and treachery of her father. In fact, she wanted no share of the burden of his wrongdoings.

Prophet Muhammadsa gave her a choice to marry him or be set free and return to her people.

Now, one point of contention here is that although this narration states that she had no ‘guardian’. This should not confuse the reader into believing that she had no relatives left in her tribe.

Even after the fall of Khaybar, Safiyyara maintained good relations with members of her family who were Jews. In fact, she even included one of her Jewish nephews in her inheritance, and some of her Jewish relatives embraced Islam after her demise. (Ibn Sa‘d, at-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 8, pp. 101-102)

Thus, it is clear that although she had relatives, she felt that none of them were suitable as guardians for herself. Therefore, she willingly, after consideration, accepted the proposal of the Holy Prophetsa even though she had the option to return to her own people as a free person.

This perspective gains further strength from the following narrations:

Anasra bin Malik narrates:

Allah’s Messengersa had chosen Safiyyara, daughter of Huyayy, for himself and offered her a choice between having her freedom and marrying him, or joining her family; she had chosen for him to free her and to be his wife. (Ahmad bin Hanbal, al-Musnad, Ed. Shu‘aib al-Arna’ut (Beirut: Al-Resalah Publishers, 2001), Hadith 12409)

Umm Sinan al-Aslamiyyah reports, “The Prophetsa came to Safiyyara to emancipate her if she so willed, and she responded, ‘I choose Allah and His Messengersa. So he emancipated her, married her and made her dowry her emancipation.’ The Prophetsa saw a green scar in one of Safiyya’sra eyes. Allah’s Messengersa asked her, ‘What is this scar in your eye?’ She replied, ‘I mentioned before my husband my dream that a moon fell into my lap, upon which he said, ‘Do you long for the King of Yathrib?’’” (Ibn Sa‘d, at-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 8, al-Maktabah al-Mustafa, 2016, p. 12097)

All the above narrations prove that Hazrat Safiyyara did not have to marry Prophet Muhammadsa to ensure her freedom at all.

Did Prophet Muhammadsa marry Safiyyara out of lust?

In the two narrations mentioned in the beginning (Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith 371 and Hadith 251), the following facts are very clear:

According to the first narration, had the Prophetsa been so awestruck and in lust by the sight of Safiyyara, he would not have initially given Dihya the option to take her rather than saying ‘Take whoever you want’. In fact, even though the Prophet Muhammadsa saw her, he still let Dihya go with her.

Safiyyara only came to his attention when her status was mentioned and when she emphatically declared her desire for Islam over disbelief, indicating her devout ethic to God and faith.

This indicates that her marriage to the Prophetsa was more meaningful as it would not only ensure peaceful ties with the Jews in future because of who she was to the Jews, but also because she was a good moral and spiritual example for the Jews by illustrating her love for Islam despite the harsh attitude of other Jews towards Islam.

Furthermore, this marriage was conducted in accordance with the exact same principles that the Prophetsa had laid out for all the other Muslims: Abu Hurairahra reported the Prophetsa as saying “A woman is married for four reasons: for her property, her ranks, her beauty and her religiosity. So marry the one who is religious and prosper.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab an-Nikaht, Hadith 5090)

Why did Safiyyara want to marry Prophet Muhammadsa after everything he did?

In reality, only Safiyyara knew exactly why she married him, as does anyone else when they decide to marry their partner. However, from authentic historical narrations, we can gain some understanding and context behind her decision.

Ibn ‘Umarra reported:

There was a green scar in one of Safiyyara’sra eyes. Allah’s Messengersa asked her, ‘What is this scar in your eye?’ She said, “I mentioned before my husband my dream that a moon fell into my lap upon which he slapped me and said; ‘Do you long for the King of Yathrib [i.e., the Holy Prophetsa].’” She said: ‘There was none more hateful to me than Allah’s Messengersa as he had my father and husband killed. The Prophetsa, however, kept on explaining, ‘Safiyyara! Your father instigated the Arabs against me and did such and such.’ He kept doing so till all my harsh feelings for him vanished.’ (Ibn Abi ‘Asim, Abu Bakr, al-Ahad wa-l-Mathani, Riyadh: Dar al-Rayah, 1991, Hadith 3113 and al-Tabarani, al-Mu’jam al-Kabir, Cairo: Maktaba Ibn Taimiyya, 1994, Vol. 24, 67, Hadith 177)

From this narration, we can gather two things:

Safiyyara felt that it was divine destiny to marry the King of Medina, who subsequently turned out to be the Prophet Muhammadsa, the ruler of Medina at that time.

She initially opposed Muslims and Prophet Muhammadsa, however, she eventually understood why the Prophetsa did what he did against the Banu an-Nadir and Khaybar (i.e., they instigated treachery and stabbed the Muslims in the back).


We have expounded upon the reasons behind why the Prophet Muhammadsa killed Safiyya’sra father from Banu an-Nadir and why he attacked Khaybar. We have also carefully analysed the reports about the marriage of the Prophet Muhammadsa to Safyyara to conclude that there was no compulsion in this marriage and that Safiyyara was aware of and in agreement with the circumstances and outcomes of the opposition between the Muslims and the Jews. Therefore, she would not have had any lasting hatred or enmity for the Prophet of Islamsa, which would result in any valid reason for her marrying the Prophetsa out of terror or coercion. In fact, let us end on the words of Hazrat Safiyyara herself before she married the Prophet Muhammadsa:

“O Allah’s Messengersa, indeed I longed for Islam and testified to your [truth] even before you gave me this invitation when I came to you. I have no guardian among the Jews, neither father nor brother and I prefer Islam over disbelief. Allah and His Messengersa are dearer to me than the freedom of returning to my people.” (Ibn Sa‘d, at-Tabaqat al-Kubra, Vol. 8, p. 120, al-Maktabah al-Mustafa, 2016)

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