Tag Archives: Muhammad

Jews of the Week: Sarah of Yemen and Qasmuna bint Ismail

Great Arabic Poets

The single surviving poem of Sarah of Yemen

Sarah (fl. 6th-7th century) was born to the Jewish Banu Qurayza clan of the Arabian Peninsula, in the pre-Islamic era when much of the peninsula was inhabited by Jews. Her family originally hailed from what is today Yemen. They lived in Yathrib, the flourishing oasis of the Banu Qurayza Jews. In 622, Muhammad entered the city, and in 627 he annihilated the Banu Qurayza tribe (and renamed the city “Medina”, making it the first capital of the Islamic empire). Sarah was a poet, and one of her poems describing the devastation of Yathrib has survived. It was first printed in a 10th-century anthology of Arabic poems called Kitab al-Aghani. She wrote: “By my life, there is a people not long in Du Hurud; obliterated by the wind. Men of Qurayza destroyed by Khazraji swords and lances; We have lost, and our loss is so grave…” According to legend, she fought in the battle against Muhammad and was killed. (In a little-known quirk of history, Muhammad actually took two of the Jewish captives for himself as wives, and one of them is even considered a “mother of Islam”!) Incredibly, Sarah of Yemen may be history’s oldest and first known Arabic poet.

Another famous Jewish-Arab poet was Qasmuna bint Ismail (fl. 11th-12th century), who lived in Andalusia (today’s Spain). She was the child of a wealthy and well-educated Jew, who made sure his daughter was literate and taught her the art of poetry. Qasmuna is the only Sephardic Jewish female poet whose work has survived. Three of her poems were published in a 15th century anthology. In one of her poems she wrote: “Always grazing, here in this garden; I’m dark-eyed just like you, and lonely; We both live far from friends, forsaken; patiently bearing our fate’s decree.” In another she describes reaching the age of marriage and the struggle of finding the right partner: “I see an orchard, Where the time has come; For harvesting, But I do not see; A gardener reaching out a hand, Towards its fruits; Youth goes, vanishing; I wait alone, For somebody I do not wish to name.” She has also been referred to as “Qasmuna the Jewess” and “Xemone”.

The Guardian Angels of Israel

Back When Palestinians Insisted There’s No Such Thing as Palestine

Words of the Week

In Judaism the word for “education” (chinukh) is the same as for “consecration”. Is your child being consecrated for a life of beneficence for Israel and humanity?
Rabbi Dr. J.H. Hertz, former Chief Rabbi of Britain

Jews of the Week: Rayhana and Safiyya

The Jewish Wives of Muhammad

A map of the Arabian Peninsula showing the Jewish-Arab Kingdom of Himyar, together with other notable Jewish villages

A map of the Arabian Peninsula showing the Jewish-Arab Kingdom of Himyar, together with other notable Jewish villages

Rayhana bat Zayd (c. 600-631 CE) was a woman of the Arab-Jewish tribe of Banu Nadir which inhabited the Arabian Peninsula before the advent of Islam. At a young age, she married a man from the neighbouring Arab-Jewish tribe of Banu Qurayza. By 627 CE, Muhammad was taking over the Arabian Peninsula and invaded the Banu Qurayza territory. What followed is known as the “Massacre of Banu Qurayza”, where every Jewish male was slaughtered, and every woman and child enslaved. The beautiful women among the slaves were taken as wives by Muhammad’s men. Rayhana caught the eye of Muhammad himself, who wished to have her as his own wife. However, Rayhana refused time and again to convert to Islam, preferring to remain a slave. At the end, Muhammad married her anyway. Her refusal to wear a hijab brought further tension to their marriage. Some say she reverted to being a slave and died shortly after, while others say Muhammad freed her and she went back to live among the Jewish tribes.

Rayhana’s compatriot, Tsofiya bat Chai (c. 610-670), was born to the rabbi and chief of the Banu Nadir tribe. In 629 CE, Muhammad’s armies defeated the Jewish tribes at Khaybar, once again slaughtering much of the village, including Tsofiya’s husband. Tsofiya was enslaved, then given to a Muslim warrior. After spotting her, Muhammad wanted Tsofiya, too, for himself, and traded seven other woman for her. He freed her from slavery and she converted to Islam under duress. She went on to become among the greatest of Muhammad’s wives, and highly influential in the history of early Islam, where she is known as Safiyya bint Huyayy, and is considered one of the Umm-ul-Mo’mineen, or “Mothers” of Islam. When Muhammad’s other wives teased Safiyya for being Jewish, Muhammad instructed her to remind them that “your father was the prophet Aaron, and your uncle the prophet Moses” and to tell them: “Therefore, I am superior to you.” Safiyya never bore any children for Muhammad, and at her death, she left her estate of 100,000 dirhams to her Jewish nephew. Both Safiyya and Rayhana were buried in the Al-Baqi cemetery in Medina (part of today’s Saudi Arabia), where Muhammad was also buried.

Words of the Week

The Jews are like everybody else, only more so.
– Heinrich Heine