Safiyya bint Huyeiy Ibn Akhtab was the daughter of the chief of the Jewish tribe of Banu Nazeer. The Banu Nazeer tribesmen had been expelled from Madina in 4 AH as they plotted the murder of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) by dropping a stone on his head. This treacherous act compelled the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions to banish them from their city.
Prior to her marriage with the Holy Prophet (PBUH), she was married twice: her first marriage was to Salam bin Mishkam whereas her second husband was Kanana bin Abi Al-Haqeeq who was killed in the Battle of Khyber.
Safiyya (RA) was one of the prisoners of war. In a hadith narrated by one of the companions of the Prophet (PBUH), the story of their union comes to light:
“When Allah's Apostle invaded Khyber, we offered the Fajr prayer there (early in the morning) when it was still dark. The Prophet rode and Abu Talha rode too and I was riding behind Abu Talha. The Prophet passed through the lane of Khyber quickly and my knee was touching the thigh of the Prophet. He uncovered his thigh and I saw the whiteness of the thigh of the Prophet. When he entered the town, he said, ‘Allahu Akbar! Khyber is ruined. Whenever we approach near a (hostile) nation (to fight) then evil will be the morning of those who have been warned.’ He repeated this thrice. The people came out for their jobs and some of them said, ‘Muhammad (has come).’ (Some of our companions added, ‘With his army.’) We conquered Khyber, took the captives, and the booty was collected. Dihya came and said, ‘O Allah's Prophet! Give me a slave girl from the captives.’ The Prophet said, ‘Go and take any slave girl.’ He took Safiyya bint Huyeiy Ibn Akhtab. A man came to the Prophet and said, ‘O Allah's Apostle! You gave Safiyya bint Huyeiy Ibn Akhtab to Dihya and she is the chief mistress of the tribes of Quraiza and An-Nadir and she befits none but you.’ So the Prophet said, ‘Bring him along with her.’ So Dihya came with her and when the Prophet saw her, he said to Dihya, ‘Take any slave girl other than her from the captives.’” Anas added: "The Prophet then manumitted her and married her.”
Thabit asked Anas, "O Abu Hamza! What did the Prophet pay her (as Mahr)?” He said, "Her self-was her Mahr for he manumitted her and then married her." Anas added, "While on the way, Um Sulaim dressed her for marriage (ceremony) and at night she sent her as a bride to the Prophet. So the Prophet was a bridegroom and he said, ‘Whoever has anything (food) should bring it.’ He spread out a leather sheet (for the food) and some brought dates and others cooking butter. (I think he (Anas) mentioned As-Sawaq). So they prepared a dish of Hais (a kind of meal). And that was Walima (the marriage banquet) of Allah's Apostle.” (Bukhari 1:8:367)
Before marrying her, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) asked Safiyya bint Huyeiy whether she wanted to go back to her tribe after she was freed or to enter into the fold of Islam by becoming his wife. She was happy to accept the proposal of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and so she became one of the “Mothers of the Faithful”. Safiyya bint Huyeiy Ibn Akhtab was merely 17 years old at the time of her marriage to the Prophet (PBUH).
Safiyya bint Huyeiy Ibn Akhtab is known for her beauty and poise. In many ahadith it is told how the other wives were sometimes jealous of her beauty and would say things to Safiyya (RA) that were hurtful. At other times they would refer to her as the Jewish woman in a distasteful manner, even though she had fully accepted Islam and followed its teachings with sincerity.
She was a devoted believer and spent much of her time reciting the Holy Quran and sometimes she would be so moved by the words that she would silently weep while reciting the Holy Book. It is narrated by Abd Allah ibn Ubaydah that:
“A group of people gathered in the room of Safiyyah, a wife of the Prophet. They remembered Allah, recited the Qur'an and prostrated. Saffiyah called them saying, ‘You prostrated and recited the Quran but where is your weeping (out of fearing Allah)?” (The Wives of the Prophet Muhammad: Their Strives and Their Lives, p.177).
This hadith clearly shows her devotion to the Islam and to the Lord Almighty.
Safiyya (RA) lived with the Holy Prophet (PBUH) for almost 4 years and was only 21 years old at the time of his death. After the death of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), she went on to live as a widow for 39 years. She died under the Caliphate of Muawiyah in 50 AH at the age of 60. She too was buried beside the “Mothers of the Faithful” in Jannat-ul Baqi.