Prophet Muhammad’s Mixed And Interfaith Marriages: Safiyyah And Maria

Written by Tara Umm Omar

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him from here and onwards) was born in the Arabian Peninsula (Hijaz region) which is now a part of present day Saudi Arabia. He was an Arab from the Hashemite clan of the powerful Quraysh tribe. And since he was married to an Egyptian and an Israelite, he fits into two of FHWS’s categories: mixed marriages and interfaith marriages. This post will focus on Maria al-Qibtiyah/the Coptic (Egyptian) and Safiyyah bint Huyayy (an Israelite descended from Prophet Harun, peace be upon him).


Safiyyah was born in Madinah circa 610AD. Her father was Huyayy ibn Akhtab, chief of a Jewish tribe called Banu Nadir and an extreme enemy of the Prophet Muhammad. Her mother was Barra bint Samawal from Banu Qurayza, another Jewish tribe. She was a descendant of the Prophets Harun/Aaron and Musa/Moses (peace be upon them).

At the age of 17, she was a gorgeous young woman with green eyes* and was of short stature. According to Umm Sinan al-Aslamiyah, “Safiyah was the fairest of all women.” Such was her beauty that Anas bin Malik reported there hadn’t ever been anything like her. She was steadfast and quiet upon seeing the dead body of her husband Kinanah on the battlefields of Khaybar. In addition, she was an intelligent and gentle person. These attributes of Safiyyah were not lost on the Prophet (peace be upon him), who immediately desired her as his wife. [*When the Messenger of Allah saw that Safiyyah’s eyes were green, he asked her about the cause of it and she said: “When I was a bride for Kinanah ibn Abi al-Huqayq, I saw as if the sun descended upon my chest. I told my husband and he slapped me very hard and said, ‘Are you wishing to be the wife of the king of the Arabs?'”]

The Prophet proposed to Safiyyah in an unusual way. He gave her the freedom of remaining a Jewess and going back to her people or accepting Islam and becoming his wife; she chose the latter. She was renown for being a great blessing to her tribe as they reverted to Islam upon her marriage to the Prophet.

Safiyyah accepted emancipation from slavery as a war captive for her dowry and was married to the Prophet in the year 7AH. Her hair was combed, her body perfumed and her beauty was further embellished by Umm Sulaim, the mother of Anas bin Malik. She was transported from Khaibar to Madinah on a camel with the Prophet. She wore a veil which signified to the people that she was free and his wife. Her walimah feast consisted simply of cheese, butter, dates, barley made into hais and water from a nearby pond. Pits were dug up, tiers were set ablaze, dining cloths were set out and the wedding attendees ate to their full satisfaction.
Although Safiyyah embraced Islam and was the best Muslimah, she was often referred to as a Jewess, something that hurt her very deeply. The other wives of the Prophet exhibited jealousy towards her by insulting her Israelite heritage which made her cry and complain to the Prophet. Whatever hurt her, hurt the Prophet, and he was always quick to come to her defense and soothe her feelings. He instructed her to reply that she was the wife of Muhammad and related to Harun/Aaron and Musa/Moses, thus establishing her superiority over them.

Safiyya was 21 at the time of the Prophet’s death and they had only been married four years. Thereafter she lived 39 years as a widow until she passed away in 50-52AH (corresponding to 670AD) when she was 60 years old. She was laid to rest in Al-Baqee cemetery in Madinah.


Maria was born into a respected family in the village of Hifn at the edge of the Ansina area in Upper Egypt. Her father was, Sha’mun, Coptic Christian and her mother was Greek. At a young age, she and her sister Sirin served the Muqawqis (a Byzantine administrator of Egypt) as servants. He sent both women as gifts to the Prophet Muhammad after receiving a letter from him via Hatib ibn Balta’a.

Maria and Sirin were taken to Madinah during the time period of the Al-Hudaibiyah treaty between the Prophet and the Quraysh. The Prophet took her for himself and Sirin married Hasan bin Thabit. Ibn Kathir (Islamic historian of the most authentic commentary of the Qur’an), documented that Maria married the Prophet and earned the title of Umm Al-Mu’mineen (Mother of the Believers).
Like Safiyyah, Maria was fair, beautiful and a Muslim revert. The other wives of the Prophet were envious of her, particularly Aisha**, and conspired against her in the famous hadith of the honey. What set her apart from them was the fact that she was the only one besides Khadija to bear him a child, Ibrahim, who died while still an infant. [“I was never as jealous as I was of Maria again. That is because she was a very beautiful, curly haired woman. The Prophet was very attracted to her.” Ibn, Saad, Al-Tabaqat, pg. 212]
Both Saffiyah and Maria were a blessing to their people. The Prophet said, “You would soon conquer Egypt and that is a land which is known as the land of Al-Qirat. So when you conquer it, treat its inhabitants well. For there lies upon you the responsibility because of blood-tie or relationship of marriage (with them)” [Sahih Muslim, Book 031, Number 6174, Narrated by Abu Dharr]. It is understood that this relationship tie was established through the Prophet’s union with Maria. On account of this, Caliph Mu’awiyah ibn Abu Sufyan exempted her hometown of Hifn from having to pay taxes on their crops and Ubada ibn Ali As-Samit erected a masjid in her memory there.

After the Prophet’s death, Maria never married again and lived the life of a recluse. She died in 16AH (637AD) when Umar bin A-Khattab was the Caliph. He took charge of her funeral, prayed over her and she was buried in Al-Baqee’ cemetery.


The antecedent of mixed marriages between Saudis and non-Saudis can be traced back to the Prophet Muhammad. Citing Dr. Norlain Dindang Mababaya, we can establish the following advantages from this noble example of the Prophet:

1. “It is allowed for a man to marry woman of low social class as in the case of Maria, who was given to the Prophet as a present by the ruler of Egypt. The Prophet elevated her status by marrying her, instead of making her his slave.”

2. “His marriages to his captives: Juwairiyah bint Al-Harith and Safiyyah bint Huyay bin Akhtab not only show how Islam tolerates mixed marriages based on social status, but also shows the high regard given to women.  Instead of making them slaves, being his captives, he married them and gave them the highest status of women being among the “Mothers of the Believers.”  It further shows how the Prophet freed women from the bondage of slavery.”
3. “Aside from inter socio-cultural marriages, the Prophet also demonstrated that Islam permits inter-religious marriage with the People of the Book by marrying Safiyyah bin Huyay bint Akhtab, a Jew and Maria, a Christian from Egypt.  Both of them embraced Islam and became among the “Mothers of the Believers.”

To which can be added:

4. “The Prophet contracted some of these marriages for socio-political reasons. His principle concern was the future of Islam. He was interested in strengthening the Muslims by all bonds. It was through the marriage to Safiyyah that he neutralized a great section of the hostile Jews of Arabia. By accepting Mariyah, the Copt from Egypt, as his wife, he formed a political alliance with a king of great magnitude.”
Photo Credit: Quran Wallpapers

***This post has been picked up on SPRACI, Day Life, I Know Politics , Silobreaker , Blogrunner , Middle East & North Africa Group , MyBlogLog: Gender and Global Voices masha’Allah.***



Published by

Tara Umm Omar

American married to a Saudi.

10 thoughts on “Prophet Muhammad’s Mixed And Interfaith Marriages: Safiyyah And Maria”

  1. >Faraz- Thanks masha'Allah. Perhaps with nice, subtle reminders such as these two stories, all Muslims and non-Muslims who read them will reflect and change their racist way of thinking insha'Allah.


  2. >As Salaam Alaikum,Thanks for the article, but there is small but a major correction you may have to make.Its about the title "Prophet Muhammad's Non-Saudi And Interfaith Marriages: Safiyyah And Maria"Actually the Prophet was not a Saudi so the title could have been "Prophet Muhammad's Non-Arab And Interfaith Marriages: Safiyyah And Maria"Refererring to Prophet Mohammad as a Saudi would be quiet deroragatory to him.However I guess you have taken due care to avoid such confusions, but others specifically non-muslims could perceive the title in a different sense and refer the Prophet as a Saudi, which is absolutely deroragatory to him as we know.


  3. >Abu Abdullah- Thank you for your suggestions. I had to consult a Saudi on this lol…in this case…my husband masha'Allah. He instructed me to edit the first paragraph of the post as seen above. The title can not have non-Arab in it as Maria is considered an Arab. I did however swap the term non-Saudi for mixed.


  4. >As Salaamu Alaikum:Jazaka Allahu Khayrn for the beautiful post. I was of the Jewish religion before becoming a Muslim. I still consider myself Jewish by ethnicity. I chose the name "Safiyyah" for mine when I became a Muslim because I was inspired by Safiyyah (ra) in your post 🙂


  5. >Safiyyah- Wa alaikum salam wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh, wa iyaki. Welcome to FHWS and thank you for commenting. I'm intrigued by your statement that you still consider yourself ethnically Jewish. It reminds me of when Safiyyah's (radhia'Allahu 'anha) female slave accused her of maintaining Jewish ties and reported her to Umar ibn Al-Khattab (radia'Allahu 'anhu) who was the Caliph at the time. Safiyyah defended herself by saying she only maintained ties with those Jews who were related to her by kinship. I'm wondering (and if you don't mind me asking), in what way do you classify yourself as an ethnic Jew?


  6. >As-salamu `alaykum. Lovely article, masha'Allah, and I like how you include aesthetically-pleasing images along with the articles. One question–how do you figure Maria was an Arab? I thought she was a Copt, and the Copts were the indigenous inhabitants of Egypt. They have a separate language and, I believe, a separate ethnic identity from Arabs. They only began speaking Arabic sometime after the Muslims conquered Egypt, in the time of Umar (RA). Salams-Maryam


  7. >Maryam- Wa alaikum salam wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh. Welcome to FHWS and thank you for commenting. Jazaki'Allahu khair for your kind compliments. Its a good thing that you revived the subject of Maria being a non-Arab. I was discussing this with a friend earlier and we were wondering how she communicated with the Prophet (peace be upon him) if she didn't know any Arabic. As we learn in the linguistics branch of Anthropology, one of the ways languages can be dispersed is by contact through trade. It is possible that the earlier Egyptians (prior to the arrival of Islam) picked up knowledge of Arabic in this way through Arab traders who traveled to Egypt.I did read that Arabic was the language of the Islamic administration after the invasion of Egypt during Umar's (radia'Allahu 'anhu) reign but I can't exclude the possibility there may have been non-Arabs who spoke Arabic before then. For example, the letter from the Prophet to Al-Muqawqis was written in Arabic… friend and I think that Maria spoke Egyptian Coptic, Arabic (to what degree, Allahu alim) and possibly even Greek because she had a Greek mother. There is an interesting hadith that says if you speak Arabic then you are an Arab but I realize that would not make Maria an ethnic Arab. Anyway, I changed the title to read "mixed marriages" so that should cover Maria and Safiyyah insha'Allah.


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