When the Prophet (peace be upon him) settled in Madinah, he put relations among the different communities living in the city on a proper basis. There were the Muslims who were composed of two main groups: The Muhajirin who had migrated from Makkah, and the Ansar, or the Arabs who lived there but responded to the Prophet’s call and adopted Islam. Their numbers were always on the increase as more and more of their tribesmen and women adopted Islam every day. There were also the Arabs who retained their idolatrous beliefs and did not accept Islam. Their numbers might have been considerable to start with, but dwindled into insignificance as time passed. There was also the Jewish community which consisted of several tribes. The Prophet ordered a charter to be written down, organizing relations between all these groups. This became the first written constitution in the history of mankind. It established a pluralist society where different communities could live in peace and with mutual respect.

However, relations with the Jews did not run very smoothly, with one tribe after another violating this constitution or coming into open alliance with the enemies of the Muslim state. The result was the evacuation from Madinah of the three major Jewish tribes, one after another. By the end of the fifth year of the Prophet’s settlement there, Madinah became a largely Muslim city, with a small number of hypocrites pretending to be Muslim when they were truly unbelievers and a handful of others who remained idolaters. Now the Jews concentrated in the city of Khaybar, to the north of Madinah, from where they engaged in trying to forge a new alliance of forces. The Prophet moved quickly to forestall these efforts. He laid siege to Khaybar and its forts fell to him, one after another. He then made a peace agreement with the Jews, allowing them to stay and farm the land in return for half its produce.

When the battle was over, Safiyyah was brought to the Prophet. She, like many others of her people, was taken captive and faced a life of slavery. She was a young woman. Some reports suggest that she was only 17, but, most probably, this is inaccurate. She had been married twice before, with the second marriage taking place only a few months earlier. Her second husband, Kinanah ibn Al-Rabie, was killed during the battle. He was one of the main Jewish chiefs, exceedingly hostile to Islam and the Prophet. He had worked hard to stem the tide of Islam.

Thus, both Safiyyah’s father and husband were killed by the Muslims. Now she was being brought to face the Prophet because in her position the Muslims felt that he should be the one to decide her fate. As it happened, it was Bilal who led her, and another Jewish woman, through a yard where there were many bodies of people who were killed in the battle. The other woman wailed loudly, but Safiyyah adopted a dignified attitude. When the Prophet realized what had happened, he remonstrated with Bilal, saying: “Has mercy departed from your heart? How can you lead two women across a place where they would pass by the bodies of their killed people?”

What fate awaited Safiyyah? The Prophet looked at her and then offered her two alternatives: Either he would send her back to her people, or she would be set free and marry her. She chose the latter. He, therefore, assigned her to Umm Sulaym, to look after her and prepare her for the impending marriage. She needed to complete her waiting period first.

– By Adil Salahi