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Why She Inspires Me: Safiyyah bint Abdul-Muttalib

LaYinka Sanni looks to Safiyyah bint Abdul-Muttalib in her first instalment of a series about inspirational Muslim women

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I raised my fists, one in front of the other; my legs were bent and my gaze focussed intently on my opponent. Jabs and thrusts were blocked, kicks sidestepped, and a secret smile was tucked beneath my stern demeanour.

This isn’t the typical image of a Muslim woman – women who are so often solely attributed to flowery, pretty things – I had shed my earrings and flowing dress, wrapped up my hair, and donned my pristine karate attire. My mind was switched off from chores, bills, and cooking, and zoned on my next move against the person before me.

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I had a very specific goal when I started karate classes: to get fit and strong. If I were to come into harm’s way I wanted to be able to stand up and defend myself with the vivacity of Safiyyah bint Abdul-Muttalib, whose fierceness and determination inspires me. So often we think of the women around the Prophet (Peace be upon him) as being solely under the instruction of men, yet Safiyyah was proof that women are not pushovers, because she most certainly wasn’t.

She demonstrated this perfectly during the Battle of the Trench, where the womenfolk were protected within fortresses guarded by designated companions. A Jewish man climbed the fortress where women in the Prophet’s (Peace be upon him) family were being safeguarded, and gained access so he could see them. Hassan ibn Thabit was assigned to guard and protect the women, yet refused to kill the intruder as Safiyyah demanded. What is a woman to do in such a situation? Perhaps go with the women to seek shelter from a possible attack? Not Safiyyah – the matter had become a personal concern she had to deal with.

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Safiyyah rose and slammed a plank of wood over the intruder’s head until he fell dead. She chopped off his head to be taken to the Jews so they were fully aware that they had picked the wrong fortress to mess with, however Hassan refused to drag the head back to the enemy stationed at the bottom of the fort. So what is a woman to do in such circumstances? Perhaps dust her hands, shrug her shoulders, and join the rest of the womenfolk? Not Safiyyah – she bent and dragged the severed head and threw it to his comrades.

The Jews turned back saying, “We knew that this man (the Prophet [Peace be upon him]) would not leave his family without someone to look after them,” not knowing that the person they were referring to was in fact Safiyyah bint Abdul-Muttalib, not a mighty male warrior.

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Safiyyah was a woman of physical stamina, yet this didn’t make her any less of a woman. It was only due to the Prophet’s (Peace be upon him) love for her as his aunt that he commanded her son to remove her from the battlefield during the fierce battle of Uhud. She was deep within the throngs of battle, with a spear in hand as she attacked the faces of polytheists.

It wasn’t due to her ‘weakness’ as a woman that he (Peace be upon him) called for her removal, otherwise she wouldn’t have been amongst the male soldiers in battle. This very fact fuels my personal pursuit of physical strength in the footsteps of Safiyyah, because physical weakness is not a trait of womanhood.

The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.

The Qur’an, Surah At-Tawbah (Chapter of the repentance) 9:71

LaYinka Sanni has been writing for longer than she can count on two hands, and has had her works of fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry published in various publications online and in print. Aside from being an EFL lecturer based in London, LaYinka is also a freelance editor, proofreader, and writing mentor. Her writing can be found on her blog:

2 thoughts on “Why She Inspires Me: Safiyyah bint Abdul-Muttalib”

  1. A beautifully written,inspirational piece mashaAllah! Jazakillah u khairan katheeran for the enlightenment.

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