ZAINAB, daughter of Ali (a.s.)
This article is about the family of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). It explains the sufferings, pain and grief born by women and children during Karbala and afterwards.
The article briefly unfolds the events that occurred mostly in Kufa and Damascus following the martyrdom of Imam Al-Husain (a.s.), seventeen of his family members, and his companions on 10th Muharram, Hijrah 61 in Karbala. The survivors included Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s.), Sayyedah Zainab (a.s.), women of the martyrs, and children including Al-Baaqir.
In Karbala, the bereft survivors (first Sham-e-Ghariban) agonized with frightful circumstances of terrible treatment, whereas Yazid’s army spent the evening jubilantly celebrating what they perceived their victory. Most of the tents of Al-Husain’s camp were filled with heart rending cries of agony over the losses of the loved ones. For hardly had the evening progressed than Yazid’s soldiers entered the tents and looted the occupants. They snatched away women’s hijab and jewelry. After having had set their tents on fire, they took everyone (including the ailing Imam Zainul Abideen) as captives.
The captives were treated quite harshly. They were placed on bare back camels, and put through a long exhaustive journey from Kufa to Damascus (a distance of about 700 miles). During the journey, the women were without their head-covers, while ahead of them the captors were carrying the severed heads of Al-Husain and others hoisted atop spears. The Muslim Ummah of Syria also joined the army in celebration, not knowing they were witnessing the family of the Prophet so desecrated. Yazid’s atrocious rule had prevailed over the Ummah through the power of their media and means of communication.
This article narrates the sufferings of Zainab in captivity, and deals with her remarkable leadership, patience, and perseverance, as well as her eloquent speeches delivered in Kufa and Damascus. Through her speeches she succeeded in exposing the infamy of Yazid’s notorious rule. Through her speeches she brought alive the high status of the family of the Prophet, and their struggle against the forces of evil, thus waking up the Ummah to its senses. This article addresses the circumstances that led to the captives’ freedom and their return journey to Karbala and Medina, where large numbers of people joined them in their grief and mourning.
After learning the truth, the people of Medina hailed Imam Al-Husain as a savior of Islam, and Zainab as a savior of the Ummah. In the end, the article highlights several Muslim groups expressing fury over the Karbala massacre, stood up to punish Yazid for his criminal acts. Imam Zainul Abideen showed his wisdom and far sightedness by opting to stay aloof of the groups. However, he did not hesitate to quietly bless Mukhtar al-Thaqafi for his vow to avenge the Karbala perpetrators. The article briefly mentions who Mukhtar was, and how did he accomplish his difficult mission.
Zainab’s Life History:
Zainab, the daughter of Imam Ali and Fatima al-Zahra, was born in Medina on Shaban 1, Hijrah 6. She had two older brothers, Al-Hasan and Al-Husain. One younger sister Umm Kulthoom was born about two years later.
From an early age, Zainab became very attached to her brother Al-Husain. One day Fatima Al-Zahra described the intense love of (Zainab to Al-Husain), to her father the Prophet (pbuh). The Holy Prophet took a deep breath, his complexion changed, and said with moistened eyes, “O Fatima! Zainab will be confronted with a thousand and one calamities, and will go through great hardships in Karbala.”
Zainab loved her grandfather the Prophet dearly. When the Holy Prophet passed away she was only four years old. After her grandfather’s death, Zainab faced a period of more distress and hardship. Within a few months, her mother Fatima, delivered the Fadak sermon in Medina, and Zainab was by her side. At the time she was 5 years old, yet she remembered the sermon in its entirety. She narrated the sermon word by word so clearly that the people of Banu Hashim remembered it by heart.
It wasn’t too long before her beloved mother Fatima Al-Zahra passed away. Her mother’s death was felt acutely and made Zainab very lonely. After some time, Imam Ali, considering the loneliness of the children, decided to marry again. He married Umm al-Baneen, to take care of the family. She was a devoted woman of piety who encouraged Zainab in her learning of Quran. While still a young girl, Zainab was known for helping others who were poor, homeless, or orphans.
Zainab was married at an early age to her cousin Abdullah Ibn Ja’far. Abdullah grew up to be a handsome young man with pleasant manners and was known for his generous hospitality towards guests and selfless generosity to the poor and needy. Although Zainab’s husband was a man of means, she preferred to live a modest life rather than a life of luxury.
Zainab who was also known as Zainab bint Ali, was an exemplary woman of great ability, intelligence, courage, and perseverance. She and her husband were always charitable to the needy people. Abdullah and Zainab had deep love and understanding for each other. Abdullah always praised his wife saying she was the very best. Together they had five children, four of whom were sons (Ali, Aun, Muhammad, and Abbas) and one of which was a daughter (Umm Kulthoom).
Zainab was also nicknamed Zahidah (ascetic الزاهده) and Abidah (devotee العابده) because of her selflessness and piety. She found little of interest in the glitter of the world, always preferring the bliss and comfort of the Next World over that of this world. She used to say that for her, the life of this world was not but as a resting place to relieve fatigue along a journey. Humble and of high morals, her main concern was to strive to please Allah (swt).
When Imam Ali (a.s.) moved to Kufa as the Khalifa, Zainab and her husband Abdullah also went to Kufa to live with him. The respected women of Kufa requested Imam Ali through their husbands to allow them to benefit from the knowledge of Zainab. Imam Ali complied with their requests and the interested women learned from Zainab the expounding wisdom of the Holy Quran. Her circles of discussion, being previously in Medina or now in Kufa, were quite popular. They were well attended, and eagerly sought after, and the discussions included many subjects. Her store of Islamic knowledge was vast, and she was generous to confer it to others.
Zainab was fully aware and intensely interested in Imam Ali’s dealings with the despots, oppressors and insurgents of the Ummah. Be it at Siffin, Khariji encounter, the troublesome times with Mu’awiya, Zainab had the presence of mind and empathy as to share her feelings with her family and her father. However, one evil person (Ibn Muljim ابن ملجم) conspired to kill Imam Ali, for he wanted to avenge the loss of so many Kharijis at the hand of Imam Ali. He hit Ali (a.s.) on his head with a poisoned sword, while the Imam was in Sujood of Morning prayer in the mosque of Kufa, and that was on the 21 Ramadhan, 40H, the night of Power (Leilatul Qadr ليلة القدر). The wound was serious and when Imam Ali’s conditions worsened, all family members (specifically Zainab) were keenly listening to the last advice. His loss was felt most acutely, not only by the society but especially so by his family members. Before his martyrdom, Imam Ali had told his son in-law, Abdullah not to prevent Zainab from going on a journey with her brother Imam Al-Husain. Accordingly, in 60H, when she found out that Imam Al-Husain was leaving Medina for Mecca to begin his eventful journey, Zainab decided to immediately join Al-Husain, and right away she bid farewell to her husband and children. Later, while still in Mecca, Abdullah took two of his grown up children to join Imam Husain: they were Muhammad and Aun. They left Medina to Mecca specifically for the purpose. Husain asked Abdullah to stay behind, however.
In Medina, Zainab was known as the shining star in the history of Islam. Because of her commitment to pure Islam, and her love of justice, humanity, and virtue, and her fight against tyranny and oppression, she was divinely put to a test in Karbala and during its aftermath. Her ecstasy was Islam, and her agony was what was against Islam.
On an elevation, the 56 year old Zainab watched how wantonly the enemy slay the loved ones: Al-Husain, her 5 other brothers, her many nephews some of whom teenagers, and a few month old baby. They were slain in front of her very eyes along with the brave companions of her brother. What a devastating feeling! Zainab was busily figuring out how to lead, how to collect, and how to help the remaining of the Prophet’s family: women, children including Al-Baaqir, a 4 Yr old. It was the 10th Muharram, 61H (see Karbala www.al-islam.org/karbala).
The tents were loud with cries of the frightened children and women, the survivors. No adult male was left to look after them except Zainul Abideen, a man who was seriously ill. Zainab bint Ali, her own emotions aside, shouldered the most agonizing and difficult responsibility. She gave solace, offered condolences, directed, and helped the bereaved women as a lioness toward her babes. She collected them, gave them consolation and firm support, more so to the children.
Still watching, she saw Omar ibn Sa’d dispatching ten volunteers to trample with their horses on the bodies of Imam Al-Husain and other martyrs, as if the death of Al-Husain and his companions was not enough. Shimr came to the tents (along with a number of his soldiers) for the purpose of killing the son of Al-Husain (Zainul Abideen). Since he was ill, Shimr’s companions objected and Omar ibn Sa’d came after them, reprimanded Shimr, and turned him out of the tents and said, “Ali ibn Husain is an ill man and he cannot do a thing, leave him alone.” The soldiers turned toward the tents to loot the women and children. They snatched the women’s golden jewelry and stripped off their head coverings. They had set fire to some of the tents, which alarmed the women and frightened the children so much as to run out of the tents in different directions. It was atrocious, mean, bad, very bad. The leader now is none but Zainab, the woman with the spine of steel.
Against this background at Husain’s camp, the other side was congratulating each other! At the enemy camp (very close by), Omar ibn Sa’d (the head of the force), along with Shimr, Harmala, and others celebrated the occasion, beating drums and blowing bugles.
For Zainab, the scene of the enemy ahead was of utter sacrilege, as the biggest insult to Islam; it was atrocious to the extreme. She went to Zainul Abideen, now the Imam of the time, and asked him whether to remain in the burning tents or be out without head cover. The Imam replied that it was mandatory religiously to save their lives. Therefore, Zainab first helped Zainul Abideen to move out of the burning tent, then gathered the women and children and guided them to a safer spot.
The women’s heads of Ahlul Bayt and their companion were without hijab before Omar ibn Sa’d and his soldiers. It was a humiliating and intolerable condition for them. Sakeena asked for her head cover but in response she was slapped on her face.
Hur’s wife had some bread and water, and she came to offer it to Zainab and others. Zainab embraced Hur’s wife and offered her condolences (since she had just lost her husband fighting for Husain). Zainab looked at the water offered and said it is the same water that was cut off to Imam Al-Husain, his companions, and the women and children for three days. She raised her hands and prayed to Allah asking for courage and endurance. As a courtesy, she took the bread and water and shared it with the widows and orphans. When she gave water to the frightened children, she suddenly noticed one child missing. It was Al-Husain’s daughter, Sakeena. Zainab, very distraught by now, ran all around to search for her but did not find her. However, not too far in the battle field she heard gasps of sobbing. She ran to the area and found Sakeena clinging to the headless body of her father Imam Husain, and crying, “Oh father, my dear father, why do you not listen to me? Oh father why do you not speak to me? Oh get up and see that our tents are on fire!”
Zainab took the terrified Sakeena in her arms, wiped off her tears, and brought her back where other women and children were anxiously waiting, with worried look on their faces.
Zainab could not resist thinking about the tragic and horrendous events that took place just a few hours hence, including the martyrdom of her two sons before her very eyes, and the martyrdom of her brother’s children, teenagers and preteen, and more importantly, the martyrdom of her brothers: Imam Al-Husain, Al-Abbas and four of his brothers, along with the martyrdom of his faithful companions. These tragedies were so deeply etched in her mind and so shocking that she could not take a sip of water, as thirsty as she was.
As the evening progressed, Omar ibn Sa’d approached the terrified survivors (altogether 55, see Note 1), and took them as captives. Among the prisoners were Zainab, her sister Umm Kulthoom, Imam Zainul Abideen, Imam Al-Hasan’s three young sons, Imam Al-Husain’s two daughters, and the martyrs’ widows and orphans. As the night descended, Imam Zainul Abideen lay on the ground surrounded by surviving widows and orphans. There was no fire, no light, all dark except a moon that cast its dull light.
Note 1. Imam Al-Husain (a.s.) caravan that arrived in Karbala included 128 persons of which 73 persons were martyred in Karbala leaving 55 survivors.
To be continue…