Welcome to the thoughts, rants and passions of a young Muslim woman seeking soulful enlightenment in cyberspace.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Jew + Muslim = Safiyyah?

For a month or so after my birth, I was a nameless being. Being the first child may have something to do with it. I like to think I was so special my parents couldn’t decide on a name. I reflect on this oddity because I received a lovely email two nights ago from a Jewish woman. Apparently she is married to a Muslim man, and they’re expecting a child. She’s thinking of names – a wise decision, I tell you – and she thinks the name ‘Safiyyah’ is beautiful. Gorgeous, in fact. I agree wholeheartedly.

But she wants to know what the name means. And since many others have asked where my name comes from, I might as well share it with everyone. Safiyyah is the feminine form of the Arabic word safi, and is often translated: serene, pure, and untroubled. It has other meanings too, including best friend, and even lion's share of the booty.

What does lion’s share of the booty have to do with ‘Safiyyah’? To answer that question, one would have to delve into the historical circumstances of the name.

Safiyyah was the daughter of a prominent Jewish leader of Medina, a man named Huyyay bin Akhtab. She was a captive of war. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was prepared to set her free, but Safiyyah became a Muslim, and they were married. Nevertheless, Safiyyah did not sever ties with her Jewish family; rather, she visited them regularly. When questioned about her relationship to her Jewish relatives, she replied that it was her religious responsibility to cultivate kinship ties.

The other wives of the Prophet were often jealous of her, and occasionally made fun of her Jewish origin. Once, in an effort to humiliate her, they called Safiyyah "the daughter of a Jew”. Safiyyah was hurt, and began to weep. When the Prophet discovered why she was crying, he said, "Safiyyah, have courage. They are in no way superior to you. Tell them, 'Muhammad is my husband, Haroon (Aaron) is my father, and Moosa (Moses) is my uncle.'"

A very fascinating individual from the Prophet's time. I have to say, I'm proud to take her name, and I struggle to live up to the meanings associated with it. I often point to these roots half-jokingly when people ask why I’m so caught up in Muslim-Jewish relations. But I find it intriguing that a Jewish mother and a Muslim father would choose to name their child ‘Safiyyah’ without being aware of the name’s historical significance.

Mind you, the story would not be complete without mentioning another Safiyyah – the Prophet’s aunt. She was only slightly younger than the Prophet, and they were quite close. This Safiyyah was a feisty woman who was not afraid to engage in battle. In fact, during one battle, she killed a Jew who was approaching the fort in which the women were hidden. Given the times, her actions were appropriate, but for obvious reasons, I identify more with the wife of the Prophet than I do with his aunt. Nevertheless, both Safiyyahs are associated with Jews in some unique way. And I do admit to possessing some of the feistiness of the Prophet’s aunt. As one Jewish friend remarked, he’d better watch his back when I’m around!


  • At 2/25/2005 08:18:00 a.m., Blogger Yusuf Smith said…

    As-Salaamu 'alaikum,

    I shouldn't think that the meaning of "lion's share of the booty" really comes from the name of the Prophet's (sall' Allahu 'alaihi wa sallam) wife, which was originally Zainab; the name was changed after her acceptance of Islam, presumably because there was already a Zainab in the household (or was there two?). Perhaps you should ask someone acquainted with the Arabic language as to why there is this meaning; remember that there are two S letters in Arabic (the most common is "seen", but the S in Safiyya is a "saad", and people sometimes pronounce th as a S also).

  • At 2/25/2005 12:38:00 p.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…

    Assalaamu Alaykum Br. Yusuf,

    I believe 'lion's share of the booty' has less to do with the actual meaning of the word 'Safiyyah' and more with the circumstances in which she was found. She was part of the booty after battle, and the Prophet then married her. The name itself means pure or tranquil.

    And yes, Safiyyah is spelled with the letter 'saad'.


Post a Comment

<< Home