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The Jewish and Christian wives of the Prophet (SAW)

February 15, 2019
February 15, 2019 February 15, 2019

DR ESHAAM PALMER

MUCH misinformation and untruths have been written by Orientalists about the Prophet (SAW) in respect of the non-Muslim wives he married.

In my research, I have had to sift through various sources to attempt to arrive at the most truthful version. The Prophet (SAW) married two women of Jewish origin and was granted Maria, a Coptic Christian, as a gift by the ruler of Egypt.

The main reasons for the multiple marriages of the Prophet (SAW) were: to cement the bonds with the first three khulafa; to protect the wives of his Companions who were widowed in battles; spreading the message of Islam to different clans and tribes, and the fact that one wife would have been overburdened with being the only wife of the greatest human being who ever lived with a mission to bring Islam to all humanity.

Safiya bint Huyay

Historians state that either her mother or her husband slapped her in the face when she told them about a dream in which she expressed a desire to marry the Prophet of Arabia. The mark that it left on her face remained until her marriage to the Prophet (SAW). Safiya’s first marriage was to a poet, Sallam ibn Mishkam, and after their divorce she married Kenan ibn al-Rabi, a commander in the army of Banu Nadhir (both were Jews).

Safiya’s father was the chief of the Jewish tribe of Banu Nadhir who was exiled from Madinah by the Prophet (SAW) after they challenged his leadership and conspired to kill him.

The Banu Nadhir joined the Quraish in their battle against the Muslims in the battle of Khaibar. Both her father and husband were killed in this battle and Safiya was taken prisoner.

As she was the daughter of the chief of a tribe, she became the slave of the Prophet (SAW). The Prophet (SAW) gave her a choice to either return to her tribe or to embrace Islam and marry him. She accepted the latter offer and married the Prophet (SAW) on the way back to Madinah. The Prophet (SAW) was 60-years-old when the marriage took place.

This marriage was part of the reconciliation with the Banu Nadhir and the Jews in general. Safiya is reported to have said about the Prophet (SAW): ‘I have never seen a good-natured person as the Messenger of Allah.’

Safiya was young and beautiful and caused some animosity amongst the Muslim women. Whenever she was teased by the other Muslim women or offended by them, the Prophet (SAW) or Sayyidina Umar would come to her defence.

Although she became close friends with Aisha and Hafsa, some of the other wives resented her because of her Jewish heritage.

As was his nature with his wives, the Prophet (SAW) was very affectionate towards her and, on the journey back to Madinah, she sat by his side on the camel and rested her feet on his knee.

The Prophet (SAW) allowed her to have interaction with her Jewish family and to spend of her wealth on them. When one of his wives, Zainab binte Jahsh spoke badly of her, the Prophet (SAW) refused to speak to Zainab for three months as a sign of his displeasure.

Safiya assisted Sayyidina Uthman with food and water when he was under siege by the rebels who eventually murdered him. She had a reputation for helping the poor and needy and was 21-years-old when the Prophet (SAW) passed away.

She died at the age of 60 years, during the khalifate of Muawiyya (RA) and was buried in Jannatul-Baqi.

Rayhana bint Zayd

Rayhana, a member of the Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza (this was her husband’s tribe as she was originally from the Banu Nadhir) was also a widow whose husband had died in a battle with the Muslim army.

The Prophet (SAW) requested her to embrace Islam but she preferred to remain with her current faith of Judaism. After living as a slave amongst the Muslims, she went to the Prophet (SAW) and embraced Islam. Her mahr was a gift of 12 head of cattle.

She was a beautiful but very jealous woman and, at one stage, the Prophet (SAW) contemplated divorcing her. She died a few years before the demise of the Prophet (SAW) and much less is known about her than about Safiya. Rayhana was also buried in Jannatul-Baqi.

Maria al-Qibtiyya

Maria and Sirin, two sisters who were Egyptian Coptic Christians, were given as gifts to the Prophet (SAW) in 628 AH by Muqawqis, the Christian ruler of Egypt after the Prophet (SAW) wrote a letter to him advising him to embrace Islam.

According to al-Tabari, while on the way to the Prophet (SAW), Maria and Sirin embraced Islam at the request of Hatib bin Abi Balta’ah, who escorted them.

Although Hasan ibn Thabit married Sirin, the Prophet (SAW) did not have to marry Maria as she was owned by him. Ibn al-Qayyim, reporting from Abu Ubayda, said that the Prophet (SAW) had four concubines, Maria, Rayhana, a slave woman given by one of his wives, Zaynab binte Jahsh, and a slave woman acquired as a prisoner of war.

However, other historians opine that both Maria (specifically in that she was not a captive) and Rayhana were wives of the Prophet (SAW) and not those that his ‘right hand possessed’.

Some historians interpret Imam Nawawi’s statement that the Prophet (SAW) married a woman from Egypt as referring to Maria. Ibn Kathir states that both Maria and Rayhana were wives of the Prophet (SAW).

Be that as it may, Maria does have a special place in the history of Islam as she bore the Prophet (SAW) a son, Ibrahim, who, sadly, passed away at the age of about five years. There must have been a special bond between the Prophet (SAW) and Maria as a result of Ibrahim.

The Prophet (SAW) treated all his wives equally, with loving care and respect, irrespective of their origins.

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