With great respect to the Miracle of the Lights, which is Hanukkah, I post this good review of my book, UNTOLD, by Pamela Frydman. The review appeared in Tikkun Magazine March 2, 2011: http://tinyurl.com/4vvwvxb.
Part of the new material this book brings out is the relationship between Prophet Muhammad and his two Jewish wives Rayhana and Safiyya. This is a story that rarely is mentioned, but can lead to a more universal view of the early days of Islam. Here is an excerpt of the review:
A Refreshing Perspective on the Wives of Muhammad
by Pamela Frydman March 2, 2011
Untold: A History of the Wives of Prophet Muhammad by Tamam Kahn, Monkfish, 2010With ease and beauty, Untold gives readers a different perspective of Islam and its beginnings. As author Alicia Ostriker writes: “Untold should be read with joy by any reader who hopes to transcend current stereotypes about Islam. It is a bridge between worlds.”
….Muhammad had two Jewish wives among the eleven he married after Khadija’s death. Kahn begins her chapter about them by comparing the stories of Sarah and Hagar as they are told in the Torah and the Qur’an. She then shares her research about the Jewish communities in Arabia in the seventh century. Following an early battle during which Muhammad is betrayed by a Jewish tribe, he chooses Rayhana from among the captives as a wife, and he begins to learn from Rayhana about Jewish customs. When Muhammad brings home Safiyya, his next Jewish wife “from the family of Sarah,” Safiyya takes an unfortunate spill off Muhammad’s camel just as she rides through a crowd of “Hagar’s descendents.” Kahn described the scene in poetry:…They keep looking at the unconcealed woman, spilled out, bruised. They stare at her ankle, cheek, leg, shoulder, arm, neck, all the shock of luxurious curls, at the trickle of blood down her arm. Safiyya will spend the rest of her life dusting herself off, getting up again and again as if tripped by the shadow – Sarah’s words to Hagar — I’ll stay, you have to go.
The last line of the poem refers to Sarah, who asks her husband Abraham to send away Hagar, his other wife or concubine, together with Abraham and Hagar’s son Ishmael. The story of the Hebrew Sarah and her son Isaac, and the Egyptian Hagar and her son Ishmael, are recounted in both Torah and Qur’an and figure prominently among the stories of the founders of Judaism and Islam. In Kahn’s poem, she reverses the image, alluding to two of Muhammad’s Muslim wives who apparently taunted Safiyya for being Jewish. In the prose surrounding the poetry, Kahn writes that she suspects that Safiyya nevertheless created friendships with other wives of Muhammad and with Muhammad and Khadija’s daughter Fatima. As evidence of this, Kahn recounts that Safiyya is said to have offered Fatima precious gold earrings.
Kahn quotes author Reza Aslan from his book No god but God in which he states: “If Muhammad’s biographers reveal anything at all, it is the anti-Jewish sentiments of the prophet’s biographers, not of the Prophet himself.” In fact, positive stories about Muhammad’s Jewish wives seem to be missing from the Hadith — a compilation of stories from the community that expound on the Qur’an and the life of Muhammad and his wives and others important to the founding of the Muslim faith. Nevertheless, according to Kahn, Moroccan Sufis regard Safiyya as a murshida (spiritual teacher), who taught Torah to the women and girls in the inner circle of Muhammad’s family….
Rabbi Pamela Frydman, the director of the Holocaust Education Project, Academy for Jewish Religion, California, helped to found Or Shalom Jewish Community in San Francisco and OHALAH, international trans-denominational Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal.