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Bibi Zainab, the Greatest Messenger of the Hussaini Revolution
Hadrat Zainab (A.S.) proclaimed to the world the greatest sacrifices made by Imam Husayn (A.S.) and other members of the family of the Holy Prophet of Islam (S.A.W.) who were brutally martyred at Karbala in 61 A.H by the Yazidi forces.
This is the story of the victory of truth. It is the story of a unique woman whose own fate was inextricably bound with the historical events of Karbala that have impressed upon mankind the true reality of living Islam.
It was on the plains of Karbala that the conflict between Imam Husayn, ‘alayhi ‘salam, and the pretender to the caliphate, Yazid ibn Mu’awiya, was waged in battle. Imam Husayn had steadfastly refused to pay homage to Yazid and acknowledge him as leader of the Muslim world. It was no secret that Yazid flagrantly flaunted the laws of Islam and even publicly derided its beliefs. His claim to the caliphate bore no legitimacy or acceptability in the eyes of Imam Husayn, ‘alayhi ‘salam.
It would be facile and dishonest to consider their confrontation as but an isolated instance of power-jockeying in the early days of Islam. The issue on which they clashed is one that continues to be a source of needless antagonism among Muslims today, and that is: What manner of man has the right to rule the Muslim world, or indeed, mankind? Could Muslims be ruled by one integrated, complementary set of laws rooted in the knowledge of Allah ta’ala’s supreme tawhid (unity), or by a power that seeks to elevate temporal values to hard and fast law at the cost of allegiance to the Sole Source of all creation?
This story unfolds through the life of Zaynab Kubrah, grand-daughter of the Holy Prophet, salla’llahu ‘alayhi wa alihi wa sallam, daughter of Hadrat Fatima and Imam Ali, ‘alayhim as-salam. From what we know of her actions and speeches, it is clear that in her was reflected the divine prophetic light that was her heritage.
In writing on Zaynab bint Ali, ‘alayha ‘s-salam, we must first bear in mind an unalterable fact: that is, despite the efforts of numerous biographers, very little actual recorded historical fact is available about her. Even the exact dates of her birth, death, marriage, or number of children, cannot be ascertained with complete confidence.
Oral tradition about Zaynab (A.S.) has gradually evolved to a point-of subjective elaboration and emotional hyperbola that have eventually clouded her real persona and the context from which we have come to know her.
Indeed, the romantic mythology that now shrouds both her and her brother Imam Husayn (A.S.) seems to distance us from wanting to understand what they really stood for and what their actions really meant, both in the context of their afflicted times and throughout all times, present and future. It is not necessary however to dig up as many facts or versions of her life as are available in order to perceive her purity and the strategic importance of her contribution. Though the information may be little, it is enough. The fact that we remember her at all is sufficient to rekindle our understanding of the intimate ideals for which life is worth serving. This book seeks to let these facts speak for themselves. The conclusions to be drawn are implicit to any reader whose heart and mind are available and receptive to the essence of submission.
According to the shari’ah (revealed law) of Allah women are hidden treasures, neither to be displayed nor advertised. Theirs is a subtle, fundamental and discreet domain. Imam Ali, ‘alayhi ‘s-salam, once asked Hadrat Fatima, ‘alayha ‘s-salam, “Ma khayru ‘n-nisa (who are the best among women)?”
She replied, “La yarina ‘r-rijala wa la yarunahunna (those who do not see men nor are seen by them).”
This then is another reason why so little is known about Zaynab (A.S.) or any other women throughout the history of Islam. But this rule can only apply if all the other elements of a pure Muslim society are equal. If the application of the divinely directed formula is chaotic and imbalanced, then that is the time when a woman feels compelled to emerge into the open arena. This is the situation in which Zaynab (A.S.) found herself. After Karbala no one was left that had the courage to stand up to tyranny, speak the truth, and submit to the consequences.
Thus what we know of her is only because of exceptional circumstances. A twist in history created the conditions that forced Zaynab [a.s] to declare, not herself, but the truth. It is through her extraordinary handling of the wretched trials she endured that we have caught glimpses of the untold depths of her courage, forbearance, patience and submission to the decree of Allah. It is partly through her that the prophetic legacy was rescued from being eclipsed by the ever-present shadows of kufr (denial of Truth), and it is in this light that we must forever remember her and take inspiration and guidance from her example.
It was five years after the Muslims had accompanied the Prophet [s.a.w.] and his family in the migration (hijrah) to Medina, when the Holy Prophet’s daughter, Hadrat Fatima (A.S.), gave birth to a little girl. When her father, Imam Ali (A.S.), saw his daughter for the first time Imam Husayn (A.S.), who was then almost three years old, was with him. The boy exclaimed in delight, “O father, Allah has given me a sister.” At those words Imam Ali (A.S.) began to weep, and when Husayn (A.S.) asked why he was crying so, his father answered that he would soon come to know. Fatima (A.S.) and Ali (A.S.) did not name their child until a few days after her birth, for they awaited the Prophet’s return from a journey so that he could propose the name.
When finally the baby girl was brought before him he held her in his lap and kissed her. The Angel Jibra’il came to him and conveyed the name that was to be hers, and then he began to weep.
The Prophet [s.a.w.] asked why Jibra’il wept and he answered, “O Prophet of Allah, from early on in life this girl will remain entangled in tribulations and trials in this world.- First she will weep over your separation (from this world); thereafter she will bemoan the loss of her mother, then her father, and then her brother Hasan. After all this she will be confronted with the trials of the land of Karbala and the tribulations of that lonely desert, as a result of which her hair will turn grey and her back will be bent.”
When the members of the family heard this prophecy they all broke down in tears. Imam Husayn (A.S.) now understood why earlier his father had also wept. Then the Prophet [s.a.w.] named her Zaynab (A.S.).
When the news of Zaynab’s birth reached Salman al-Farsi, he went to Ali (A.S.) to congratulate him. But instead of seeing him happy and rejoicing he saw Ali (A.S.) shed tears, and he too was apprised of the events of Karbala and the hardships that were to befall Zaynab (A.S.).
One day, when Zaynab (A.S.) was about five years old, she had a strange and terrible dream. A violent wind arose in the city and darkened the earth and the sky. The little girl was tossed hither and thither, and suddenly she found herself stuck in the branches of a huge tree. But the wind was so strong that it uprooted the tree. Zaynab (A.S.) caught hold of a branch but that broke. In a panic she grabbed two twigs but these too gave way and she was left falling with no support.
Then she woke up. When she told her grandfather, the Prophet [s.a.w.], about this dream he wept bitterly and said, “O my daughter that tree is me who is shortly going to leave this world.
The branches are your father Ali and your mother Fatima Zahra, and the twigs are your brothers Hasan and Husayn. They will all depart this world before you do, and you will suffer their separation and loss.”
Growing Up in Madina
Zaynab (A.S.) shared with her brothers and sister the extraordinary position of having such examples to look up to, emulate and learn from, as her grandfather, the Prophet of Allah [s.a.w.], her mother Fatima (A.S.), daughter of the Prophet, and her father Imam Ali (A.S.), cousin-brother of the Prophet.
In the pure environment that enveloped her, she absorbed the teachings of Islam that her grandfather imparted and after him her father. Here too she learnt to master all household skills with great proficiency. She had barely attained the tender age of seven when her beloved mother passed away. Her mother’s death had closely followed her cherished grandfather’s passing away. Some time later Imam Ali [a.s ] married Umm ul-Banin, whose devotion and pledge encouraged Zaynab (A.S.) in her learning.
Whilst still a young girl she was fully able to care for and be responsible for the running of her father’s household. As much as she cared for the comforts and ease of her brothers and sisters, in her own wants she was frugal and unstintingly generous to the poor, homeless and parentless. After her marriage her husband is reported as having said, “Zaynab is the best housewife.”
From very early on she developed an unbreakable bond of attachment to her brother Imam Husayn (A.S.). At times, when as a baby in her mother’s arms she could not be pacified and made to stop crying, she would quieten down upon being held by her brother, and there she would sit quietly gazing at his face. Before she would pray she used to first cast a glance at the face of her beloved brother.
One day Fatima (A.S.) mentioned the intensity of her daughter’s love for Imam Husayn (A.S.) to the Prophet [s.a.w.]. He breathed a deep sigh and said with moistened eyes, “My dear child.
This child of mine, Zaynab, would be confronted with a thousand and one calamities and face serious hardships in Karbala.”
Zaynab [as.] grew into a fine statured young woman. Of her physical appearance little is known. When the tragedy of Karbala befell her in her mid-fifties she was forced to go out uncovered. It was then that some people remarked that she appeared as a ‘shining sun’ and a ‘piece of the moon’.
In her character she reflected the best attributes of those who raised her. In sobriety and serenity she was likened to Umm ul-Mu’minin Khadija, her grandmother (A.S.); in chastity and modesty to her mother Fatima Zahra (A.S.); in eloquence to her father Ali (A.S.); in forbearance and patience to her brother Imam Hasan (A.S.); and in bravery and tranquility of the heart to Imam Husayn (A.S.). Her face reflected her father’s awe and her grandfather’s reverence.
When the time came for marriage, she was married in a simple ceremony to her first cousin, Abdullah ibn Ja’far Tayyar. Abdullah had been brought up under the direct care of the Prophet [s.a.w.]. After his death, Imam Ali (A.S.) became his supporter and guardian until he came of age. He grew up to be a handsome youth with pleasing manners and was known for his sincere hospitality to guests and selfless generosity to the poor and needy.
Together this young couple had five children, of whom four were sons, Ali, Aun, Muhammad, and Abbas, and one daughter, Umm Kulthum.
In Medina it was Zaynab’s practise to hold regular meetings for women in which she shared her knowledge and taught them the precepts of the Deen of Islam as laid out in the Holy Qur’an. Her gatherings were well and regularly attended. She was able to impart the teachings with such clarity and eloquence that she became known as Fasihah (skillfully fluent) and Balighah (intensely eloquent).
In the thirty-seventh year A.H. (after Hijrah), Imam Ali (A.S.) moved to Kufa to finally take up his rightful position as khalifah. He was accompanied by his daughter Zaynab (A.S.) and her husband.
Her reputation as an inspiring teacher among the women had preceded her. There too women would throng to her daily sittings where they all benefited from her erudition, wisdom and scholarship in the exegesis of the Qur’an.
The depth and certainty of her knowledge earned her the name given to her by her nephew, Imam Ali Zayn ul-Abidin (A.S.), of ‘Alimah Ghayr Mu’allamah, she who has knowledge without being taught.
Zaynab (A.S.) was also nicknamed Zahidah (abstemious) and ‘Abidah (devoted) because of her abstemiousness and piety. She found little of interest in worldly adornments, 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 as a resting place to relieve fatigue along a journey. Humble and of high morals, her main concern was to strive to please Allah and in doing so she avoided anything which was the least bit doubtful
Martyrdom of Imam Ali (A.S.)
On the night before Friday the 19th of Ramadan in the fortieth year after hijrah, Imam Ali (A.S.) went to the central mosque for prayers. Shortly after the adhan (call to prayer), Zaynab (A.S.) heard a heart-rending cry. Soon the cries came nearer to her house and she realised that they were bringing her the news of her father’s assassination. Ibn Muljim had struck Imam Ali (A.S.) a fatal blow while he was in the defenceless state of sajdah (devotional prostration). Mortally wounded, he was carried back home on the shoulders of his followers.
There was to be no recovery from this wound. On the twenty-first night of Ramadan Imam Ali (A.S.) died, leaving his two sons and daughter to witness and face his enemies’ misguided lust for power and revenge.
After his father’s soul was released, Imam Hasan (A.S.) said, “Tonight such a great man has died with whose good conduct no one in the past or the future can compare. He fought holy wars side by side with the Holy Prophet, and made his life a shield for him. The Prophet used to make him a standard-bearer of the army while the angels Jibra’il walked on his right and Mika’il on his left. He never came back from any war without victory. At the time of his death he left nothing save seven hundred dirhams with which he had intended to provide the people of his house a servant.” Zaynab (A.S.) was submerged in grief at the brutal loss of her dear father. Together with her husband she returned to Medina.
Some ten years later Zaynab (A.S.) was once again stricken with a grievous loss, that of her brother Imam Hasan (A.S.). He too fell victim to the schemes of the power-hungry Bani Umayya.
Mu’awiya was intent on converting the caliphate into a hereditary kingship so as to retain the seat of power within his clan. To achieve this it was necessary that he secure allegiance of the people for his son Yazid. This proved to be impossible as long as Imam Hasan (A.S.) was alive. Therefore he successfully eliminated him through an ingenious intrigue in which the hand that dealt Imam Hasan (A.S.) the deadly poison was none other than the Imam’s wife.
The rights of leadership now passed into the hands of Imam Husayn (A.S.), but the Bani Umayya would not leave him in peace. Within six years of Husayn’s brother’s death, Mu’awiya started to openly call upon people to swear allegiance to his son Yazid, and people met his desire willingly or unwillingly. Imam Husayn (A.S.) numbered among the five men who alone refused to pledge themselves to Yazid.
During the four years left to his life after securing allegiance for his son, Mu’awiya was unable to dissuade Imam Husayn (A.S.) from his firm opposition to such a system of rule. If the caliphate was to be based on heredity, then none other than the Prophet’s grandson and nearest surviving kin was more suitable. And if the right to rule was to be given on the basis of piety and learning, then to whom else other than Husayn (A.S.) – proven to be possessed of untainted wisdom, complete knowledge of Islamic law, piety and devotion of the highest degree – could this position be rightfully apportioned.
In the month of Rajab in the sixtieth year after Hijrah, the Bani Hashim were confronted with the caliphate of Yazid. Yazid did not have the forbearance of his father, and was not content to let Husayn (A.S.) stay in Medina in peace. The day after his father’s death he wrote to Walid ibn ‘Utba ibn Abu Sufyan, then governor of Medina, asking him to pursue Imam Husayn (A.S.), Abdullah ibn Umar, and Abdullah ibn Zubayr, and compel them to swear allegiance to him. Again Imam Husayn (A.S.) refused. He decided to leave Medina, and, at the behest of other oppressed people, to go to Kufa where, he had been led to believe, there were many who wished to combat the tyrannical rule of the transgressing Bani Umayya and see to it that pure enlightened leadership of Muslims prevailed instead.
Rendezvous with Fate
When Zaynab (A.S.) learnt of her brother’s proposed journey to Kufa she begged her husband to give her leave to accompany her brother. Abdullah pointed out that such a journey was fraught with difficulties and hardship. Zaynab (A.S.) insisted, saying, “My mother did not leave me behind to watch from afar as recreation the day when my brother is all alone, surrounded by enemies with no friend or supporter. You know that for fifty-five years my brother and I have never been separated. Now is the time of our old age and the closing period of our lives. If I leave him now, how shall I be able to face my mother, who at the time of her death had willed, ‘Zaynab, after me you are both mother and sister for Husayn (A.S.)’? It is obligatory for me to stay with you, but if I do not go with him at this time, I shall not be able to bear the separation.” Abdullah himself had wanted to accompany the Imam, but since he had been weakened by illness, he gave her permission to go on this destined journey. With her he sent two of their sons. Zaynab (A.S.) had been prepared all her life for what was written for her and her brother. She preferred to face the trials of Karbala than to ever be separated from him.
Having decided to leave, Imam Husayn (A.S.) ordered that litters be prepared for the ladies of his family. Abu’l-Fadl Abbas, his half-brother (for they shared the same father), helped Zaynab (A.S.) and her sister Umm Kulthum into their litter. They were followed by two young girls, Fatima Kubra and Sakina, daughters of Imam Husayn (A.S.).
After the first day of their journey, the party camped at Khuzaymiyyah for the night. While Zaynab (A.S.) was seeing to her brother’s comfort, he said to her, “What will come to pass has long since been decreed.”
When later on their journey, they reached Ruhayma, they found their way blocked by Hur ibn Yazid Riyahi. Sakina saw what had happened and when she told Zaynab (A.S.), Zaynab wept and said to her, “Would that the enemy killed all of us rather than slay my brother.”
When Imam Husayn (A.S.) heard of his sister’s distress, he went to her tent and she said to him, “O my brother, talk to them. Tell them about your nearness to the Holy Prophet and of your kinship with him.” Imam Husayn (A.S.) replied, ”O sister! I spoke to them at length. I tried to convince them but they are so immersed in misguidance and obsessed with greed that they cannot set aside their evil intentions. They will not rest till they have killed me and seen me rolling around in my blood. O sister, I advise you to patiently endure the forthcoming troubles. My grandfather the Holy Prophet had told me of my martyrdom, and his foretelling cannot be untrue.”
Imam Husayn’s (A.S.) party reached Karbala on the second of Muharram. But the supporters that had originally invited him to Kufa were no longer his to command. Having got wind of their intentions, Yazid appointed Ibn Ziyad, governor of Kufa, to carry out orders to subvert their plans, and this they had achieved successfully. With the Imam’s following cunningly eliminated, forces were sent to meet him near Karbala.
The tents were pitched and at night Imam Husayn (A.S.) sat cleaning his sword and reciting couplets forecasting his doom. His son Zayn ul-Abidin (A.S.) listened quietly but in sorrow. When Zaynab (A.S.) heard him she could not restrain her tears. She went to her brother and prayed that death would overtake her. Imam Husayn (A.S.) urged her not to let Shaytan deprive her of her power of fortitude. She asked whether she might be killed in his place, and when she heard his negative reply she fainted. When she came to, her brother said, “Everything is mortal. The final word lies with Allah and to Him is the return. My father and grandfather were better men than I but where are they now? Their example is the standard for me and for all Muslims.”
So saying he bade her be patient and not to weep over his death or shed tears or beat her cheeks. He then took her to the tent of his son Ali Zayn ul-Abidin (A.S.) and left her there. But Zaynab (A.S.) was not to be consoled, and from this time came to be known as Baakiyah (one who weeps).
On the eve of the tenth day of Muharram, Imam Husayn (A.S.) addressed his followers, the Ansar and the Bani Hashim. It had become clear that this was to be a battle unto death. He therefore released them from any obligation to remain by his side, and let them know that no grudge would be held against them were they to turn away from the coming decisive battle and return to safety.
There was now no doubt about the slaughter that was to come. Despite the heavy burden of knowing this insurmountable fact, Zaynab (A.S.) maintained her tranquillity through constant prayer and remembrance of the ultimate cause for which their lives were being sacrificed.
On the insistence of Shimr, Umar ibn Sa’d prepared to attack Imam Husayn’s dwindled forces.
When Zaynab (A.S.) heard the battle-cries of their approaching troops she ran to her brother’s tent and found that he had fallen asleep while cleaning his sword. She stood there quietly for a moment. He woke up, and seeing her said that he had just had a dream in which he saw his grandfather, the Holy Prophet [s.a.w.], his father Ali (A.S.), his mother Fatima (A.S.), and his brother Hasan (A.S.) telling him that he would soon join them. Seeing how distressed Zaynab (A.S.) was on hearing these words, he said to her, “The blessings of Allah are upon you. Do not worry about the troubles these wretched people will cause.”
The Greatest Sacrifice at Karbala
The tenth day of Muharram, ‘Ashura, dawned. Before going into battle Imam Husayn (A.S.) went into the tent of his son Zayn ul-Abidin (A.S.) who was lying ill on a sheep’s skin, too weak to join his father in battle. He was being tended to by his aunt Zaynab (A.S.). Husayn (A.S.) bade him farewell, saying, “My son, you are the best and purest of my children. After me you will be my successor and deputy. Take care of these women and children during captivity and the rigours of travel. Console them. My son, convey to my friends my Salam (greetings of peace) and tell them their Imam has been killed away from his home and that they should mourn for me.”
Sighing deeply, he turned to Zaynab (A.S.) and the other women of the Bani Hashim and said, “Take heed and remember that this my son is my successor and Imam and is to be obeyed by everyone.” Then to Zaynab (A.S.) he said, “After killing me my enemies would take off the clothes from my body. Therefore please bring me some old and tattered dress to wear so that they might not undress me and leave me naked.” Zaynab (A.S.) did as he requested.
That same day, Zaynab (A.S.) brought to him her two sons Aun and Mohammed and said to him, “O my brother, if women were permitted to fight I would have courted death to save you. But it is not allowed. Accept therefore the sacrifice of my two sons.”
The bloody battle raged all day. One by one Imam Husayn’s sons, kinsmen and supporters were butchered on the battlefield. When Zaynab’s sons were killed she bore their death with fortitude.
She did not come out of her tent, nor did she loudly lament for she did not wish to cause grief or shame to her brother. But when the corpse of Ali Akbar (A.S.) (the son of Imam Husayn (A.S.) was brought to the tents of the women Zaynab (A.S.) was distraught. Oblivious of her veil she came out of her tent and clasped the body saying, “O my son, would that I had become blind, or had been buried beneath the ground so as not to have seen this day.”
Their enemies did not even give them access to any water that might soothe their parched throats. Their water supplies had long since been finished. When the Imam was taking his final leave of the ladies, Zaynab (A.S.) asked that he try to get a little water for his dehydrated infant son Ali Asghar (A.S.). The Imam took him in his arms and went to beseech Umar ibn Sa’d for water for the innocent child. But his request fell on deaf ears and stone hearts. Instead, an arrow pierced the child’s neck, killing him instantly. Imam Husayn (A.S.) returned with the child still in his arms, himself spattered with his son’s blood. Zaynab (A.S.) took the small corpse from her brother and pressing it close to her chest lamented pitifully the heavy toll on life that the injustices of the enemy extracted.
The fateful day wore on. Husayn (A.S.) was wounded so many times until eventually he fell off his horse. His enemies surrounded him and attacked him with swords and spears. When Zaynab (A.S.) saw his agony from her tent door she went on to the field of battle and approaching the Imam, she said, “O my brother, my master, would that the sky fell down on the earth and the mountains toppled to the ground.” Then she turned to Umar ibn Sa’d and said, “O Sa’d, Husayn is being butchered and you are only watching.” Hearing this his eyes filled with tears, but he made no reply.
Then Zaynab addressed the others of the army: “Is there no Muslim among you who could help the grandson of the Prophet of Allah?” And then the fighting came to an end. Seventy-three brave men had faced four thousand, and after the bloody encounter was over none of the Imam’s supporters were left alive. The Imam’s body was trampled by his enemies’ horses, his head was severed, and even the tattered cloth with which he had hoped to preserve his modesty was snatched off him.
At the moment of the Imam’s death, Hadrat Jibra’il proclaimed: “Beware, Husayn has been murdered in Karbala.”
Upon hearing this Zaynab [a.s] rushed to Imam Zayn ul-Abidin (A.S.) and told him about the tragedy that had just occurred. At his asking she raised the curtain of the tent door for him and looking towards the battlefield, he exclaimed: “My Aunt, my father has been killed, and with him the spring of generosity and honour too has come to an end. Inform the women and ask them to conduct themselves with patience and forbearance; let them be prepared to be plundered and taken captive.”
Now the enemy came to the women’s tents. Umar ibn Sa’d gave the order to loot.
Barging in, they plundered what they could and set the tents on fire. They beat the women with their swords and snatched away their veils. Imam Zayn ul-Abidin’s bedding was ripped from beneath him and he was left lying feeble, weak and unable to move. Both Sakina’s and Fatima’s earrings were wrenched from their ears, making them bleed.
While the tents burned away Zaynab (A.S.) gathered the young women and went to find Imam Ali Zayn ul-Abidin (A.S.). Finding that he had not been killed, Shimr had come to behead him. Zaynab (A.S.) threw herself on her sick nephew to protect him and Shimr was stopped from carrying out his evil intention.
Most of the women and the children had fled into the open in terror. As night fell Zaynab (A.S.) collected them all together, but could not find Sakina, daughter of Husayn (A.S.). She was greatly perturbed and called on her dead brother to tell her where the girl was. A voice replied, “O my sister, my daughter is with me.” Sakina had slipped away to where the body of her dead father lay. Zaynab (A.S.) found her there clinging to his body and brought the orphaned child back.
Eloquent Defiance at Kufa
The next day the members of the Prophet’s family were made to leave for Kufa to be presented to Ibn Ziyad. Among the prisoners were Zaynab (A.S.), her sister Umm Kulthum (A.S.), other women of the Bani Hashim, Imam Zayn ul-Abidin (A.S.), three young sons of Imam Hasan (A.S.) and other daughters of Imam Husayn. When, on their way, they reached the battlefield, a heart-rending sight met their eyes. The bodies of the martyrs lay naked on the burning sand, covered with dust and blood. The enemy had not buried them, although they had buried their own dead.
Seeing this scene of carnage, Imam Ali (A.S.) was so affected that he appeared to be on the verge of death himself. Noticing his state, Zaynab (A.S.) said to him, “O you who are a reminder of my grandfather and father. What has happened to you for I see that you are about to lose your life.” He replied “Dear Aunt, how can I be otherwise when I see that the bodies of my father, uncle, brothers and cousins are lying on the ground neglected while their clothes have been removed and there is no arrangement for shrouding and burying them.” Zaynab (A.S.) then also openly lamented the murder of her beloved brother and their imprisonment.
Umar ibn Sa’d had entrusted the severed heads of Husayn (A.S.), his sons, and other martyrs, to different tribal chiefs so that on the way people would see that various tribes had taken part in the battle and none would dare to interrupt their march. The captives were made to ride on camels without saddles, their faces unveiled for all the world to see, while ahead of them their captors gleefully carried the chopped off heads of their loved ones impaled on spears.
Kufa was then regarded as the principal city of Islam. Ali (A.S.) had made it his capital during his caliphate and here Zaynab (A.S.) and Umm Kulthum had once lived respected and loved. Now they came to this city of their memories as captives.
It was night when they arrived at the city, and the palace of Ibn Ziyad was shut, so they were made to camp outside. When he was informed of their arrival the next day he ordered that a great function should take place to which all would be invited without distinction. The head of Imam Husayn (A.S.) was to be placed on a gold tray near the court chair, and the heads of the other martyrs were also to be displayed. The people of Kufa were told that some tribe had committed aggression against the Muslims, but the Muslims had secured victory and because of this there was to be a celebration.
Festively dressed and in anticipation of joyful celebrations the people poured into the streets and market place and the music of victory was heard as the captives arrived. But there were a few who guessed the truth, and they looked on with downcast eyes. One woman, on recognising Zaynab (A.S.) and her retinue of unveiled women, ran into her house and brought them all head covers and sheets with which to cover their bodies. But they were not allowed to preserve their modesty and the enemy guards snatched them away.
When Zaynab (A.S.) saw some of the men and women who had realised what had really happened weeping and wailing she bade them be quiet and spoke to them with piercing eloquence and insight, “Praise be to Allah and blessings be on my grandfather Muhammad and his purified and chosen progeny.” “So now, O people who deceive, forsake and contrive, it is you who weep. May Allah not stop your tears and may your chests burn incessantly with the fire of grief and sorrow. Your example is that of a woman who assiduously prepares a strong rope and then untwines it herself, wasting her own hard labour.”
“You swear such false oaths which bear no truthfulness at all. Beware that you have nothing except vain talk, false pride, mischief, malice, evil, rancour, falsehood, and sycophancy. Beware that your position is that of slave-maids and purchased girls who are but the meanest beings.”
“Your hearts are full of enmity and rancour. You are like the vegetation that grows on filthy soil and is yet green, or like the mortar applied unto graves.”
“You should know that you have perpetrated a very morbid deed and that have prepared evil provision for your next life, because of which Allah’s anger is against you and His wrath would fall upon you.”
“Now you are crying aloud and wailing over my brother! Yes, cry, because it behoves you to cry. Yes, weep profusely and laugh less, because you have earned the shame of killing the Imam of the age. The stain of his blood is now on your clothes and you cannot remove it, nor can you secure acquittal from the charge of killing the son of the last Prophet of Allah, the Chief of the youths in Paradise. You have killed a person who was your support, the knower of the Sunnah and the ultimate arbitrator at the time of your mutual disputations. He was the basis of your talks and actions. He was your place of refuge in the event of hardship.”
“Know that you have been guilty of the most heinous crime in the world and have prepared the worst provision for the Day of Judgement. Curses be upon you and may destruction overtake you. Your efforts have gone wasted and you have been ruined. You have transacted a losing trade. You have become the victim of Allah’s wrath and have fallen into ignominy and degradation.”
“O people of Kufa, woe upon you. Do you realise which piece of Muhammad’s heart you have severed, which pledge you have broken, whose blood you have shed and whose honour you have desecrated? You have certainly committed such a crime because of which the sky may fall down on the earth, the earth may crack and mountains crumble to pieces. By killing your Imam you have committed a singularly evil act of rebellious behaviour and heedlessness towards dignity. In view of all these acts would you wonder if blood should rain down from the sky? In any case you should mind that the chastisement of the Next World will be severe. At that juncture there will be no one to help you. Do not regard the time and opportunity given you by Allah as small and unimportant, and do not be satisfied with it because if Allah is not quick in acting it does not imply that He is unable. For Him there is no fear that the time of vengeance is passing away. Allah is certainly keeping watch over you.”
People wept, putting their fingers in their mouths and biting them. Without appealing to sentiments of pity, she exposed to them the reality of their selves and their evil deeds. The eyes that had previously been raised in expectation of celebration were now downcast with shame by the truthful force of her speech.
Zaynab (A.S.) entered the government palace with which she was so familiar. In the great audience hall her father had dispensed justice during his caliphate. Her sons had played there and her brothers had been accorded great respect by the people there. Although she was shabbily dressed, and her head was uncovered, she entered with awe-inspiring dignity and took her place in silence. Ibn Ziyad was amazed at her boldness and enquired who she was. Zaynab (A.S.) did not reply, and it was left to one of her slaves to inform him of her identity. Enraged because of her apparently haughty behaviour, Ibn Ziyad addressed her, “Allah be praised! Your brother and your kinsmen are dead and their false claims have come to nought.” Zaynab (A.S.) replied, “It was Allah’s wish that they should be martyred, and they met their deaths bravely. If this was your heart’s desire then you must indeed be content today. But you have killed those whom the Holy Prophet[s.a.w.] held upon his knee when they were children, and, whose play filled him with joy. Soon you will stand with them before Allah and they will demand justice. Beware the day of reckoning.”
And it seemed to all that heard that she spoke with the voice of Ali (A.S.), her father. Angrily, Ibn Ziyad turned to a young man and enquired who he was. The youth replied, “I am Ali, son of Husayn.” Ibn Ziyad was amazed that he was still alive, and ordered that he should be killed. But Zaynab (A.S.) intervened and said that if the boy was to be killed then she should be killed with him. Ibn Ziyad was moved by her love and allowed the young Imam to live.
Chains were then put around him, and a ring around his neck; then he was permitted to remain with the women.
The family of the Holy Prophet [s.a.w.] were then kept prisoner in a house near the central mosque. There they were kept locked in and under guard, and none save slave-maids were able to visit them.
The day after their arrival Ibn Ziyad wrote to Yazid informing him about the killing of Husayn (A.S.) and the capture of his womenfolk. Yazid replied that the captives be sent to him in Damascus along with the heads of the martyrs. After about a month and seven days in Kufa they were made to set off for Damascus with a large escort of horsemen and footmen of the army so that none should intercept their journey. With their steely-hearted escort the caravan left Kufa on the eighteenth day of Safar. The women suffered untold hardships on their journey to Damascus, which was no less than six hundred miles away. Their journey took them through many villages and towns, among them Karbala, Ba’albeck, Musal and Hums. They were made to travel unveiled, on unsaddled camels like slaves, and the heads of the menfolk were carried on spears before them. In some of the towns crowds flocked to jeer at them, but if it happened that they were to pass through some place where the people were friendly towards the family of the Holy Prophet [s.a.w.], they came out to fight the Yazidites. They therefore were very often forced to take other routes involving long diversions, and the camels were made to run faster so as to cover the extra distance. The captives were harshly treated by their escort, and many of the children perished from the rigours of the journey.
After about twenty-eight days, on the sixteenth of Rabi’ ul-Awwal, the caravan reached Damascus.
The Defeat of the Umayyad Empire
When they reached the outskirts of Damascus they were made to halt. Yazid was informed of their arrival and he fixed a date for their entry into the city.
On the morning of the appointed day, the members of the family of the Holy Prophet [s.a.w.] were led into Damascus. They were tied with ropes and herded together like goats. If anyone stumbled she was whipped. The city streets had been decorated and the sound of music filled the air. People came out in throngs wearing festive clothes and rejoiced when they saw the procession, preceded as always by the heads of the martyrs. Bearing themselves with dignity and self-respect, the prisoners were paraded through Damascus. Zaynab (A.S.) even cast aside the offerings of food that some of them out of compassion offered them.
The son of an enemy of the Prophet [s.a.w.] who had waged war with Imam Ali (A.S.) was among the crowds. When he saw Imam Zayn ul-Abidin (A.S.) he jeeringly asked him who was now victorious. In reply the Imam said: “If you wish to find out who has been victorious, do so when it is time for prayer and the Adhan and Iqamat are recited.”
In this manner the captives were paraded until the afternoon when they reached the palace of Yazid. There he was seated on his throne and was much pleased when he saw the forty-four bound captives arrive. The head of Husayn was then brought to him on a golden tray. He struck the Imam’s teeth with his stick and said: “O Husayn! You have paid the price of your revolt.”
When Zaynab (A.S.) and her companions saw this show of arrogance they burst into tears and there were many present who were ashamed. But Yazid carried on gloating over his victory. He said to his subjects: “My ancestors who were killed at Badr have been avenged today. Now it is clear that the Bani Hashim had just staged a play to gain power and there was never any divine revelation.”
Zaynab (A.S.) however was not afraid. She drew herself up and boldly said for all to hear: “Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds and blessings on my grandfather, the Chief of divine prophets.”
“O Yazid, Allah says, and his word is true, that: ‘Then evil was the end of those who did evil because they rejected the communications of Allah and used to mock them’ [30:10].”
“O Yazid, do you believe that you have succeeded in closing the sky and the earth for us and that we have become your captives just because we have been brought before you in a row and that you have secured control over us? Do you believe that we have been afflicted with insult and dishonour by Allah and that you have been given honour and respect by Him? You have become boastful of this apparent victory that you have secured and you have started feeling jubilant and proud over this prestige and honour. You think that you have achieved worldly good, that your affairs have become stabilised and our rule has fallen into your hands. Wait for a while. Do not be so joyful. Have you forgotten Allah’s saying: ‘The unbelievers should not carry the impression that the time allowed to them by us is good for them. Surely we give them time so that they may increase their evil deeds, and eventually they will be given insulting chastisement’ [3:178].”
“O son of freed slaves, is this your justice that you keep your own daughters and slave maids veiled while the daughters of the Prophet of Allah are being paraded from place to place exposed.”
“You have dishonoured us by unveiling our faces. Your men take us from town to town where all sorts of people, whether they be residents of the hills or of riversides have been looking at us.”
“The near as well as the remote ones, the poor as well as the rich, the low as well as the high – all casting their glances at us while our position is such that there is no male relative of ours to render s help or support.”
“O Yazid, whatever you have done proves your revolt against Allah and your denial of His Prophet [s.a.w.] and of the Book and Sunnah that the Holy Prophet [s.a.w.] brought from Allah. Your deeds should not cause amazement because one whose ancestors chewed the livers of the martyrs, whose flesh grew up on virtuous people, who fought against the Chief of divine prophets, who mobilised parties for fighting against him and drew swords against him, should conspicuously excel all Arabs in unbelief, sinfulness, excesses, and enmity against Allah and His Prophet [s.a.w.].”
“Remember that the evil deeds and sinful actions that you have committed are the result of unbelief and old rancour you bear because of your ancestors who were killed in Badr.”
“One who cast his glance of enmity, malice and rancour upon us does not lag behind in practising enmity against us. He proves his unbelief, declares it with his tongue and jubilantly proclaims: ‘I have killed the sons of the Prophet [s.a.w.] of Allah and made his progeny captive,’ and wishes that his ancestors had lived to see his achievement and to have exclaimed, ‘O Yazid, may your hands not lose their strength, you have wreaked good vengeance on our behalf.’”
“O Yazid, you are striking the lips of Imam Husayn with your stick in front of this crowd while these very lips used to be kissed by the Prophet [s.a.w.] of Allah, and yet your face reflects pleasure and happiness.”
“By my life, by killing the chief of youths of Paradise, the son of the chief of Arabs (Ali (A.S.)) and the shining sun of the progeny of Abd ul-Muttalib, you have deepened our wound and uprooted us completely.”
“By killing Husayn ibn Ali (A.S.) you have gained nearness to the state of your unbelieving ancestors. You proclaim your deed with pride and if they were to see you they would approve of your action and pray that Allah may not paralyse your arms.”
“O Yazid! If you had heart enough to take account of your nefarious deeds, you yourself would surely wish your arms to be paralysed and severed from your elbow and you would wish that your parents had not given birth to you because you would know that Allah has become displeased with you. Allah, Grant us our rights. Avenge those who have oppressed us.”
“O Yazid! you did what you wished, but remember that you have cut your own skin and your own flesh to pieces. Soon you will be brought before the Holy Prophet. You will be overburdened with the weight of your sins committed by shedding the blood of his progeny and by dishonouring his family. The place to which you will be taken will be before all the members of his family. The oppressed will be avenged and the enemies will be punished.”
“O Yazid ! It is not seeming for you to swell with joy after slaying the Prophet’s progeny. ‘Reckon not those who are killed in Allah’s way as dead; nay, they are alive and are provided sustenance from their Lord; rejoicing in what Allah has given them out of His grace’ [3:169-170].”
“Allah is sufficient to deal with you. The Messenger of Allah is your antagonist and Hadrat Jibra’il is our support and help against you.”
“Those who have made you the head of state and burdened the Muslims with your leadership will soon find out what awaits them. The end of all tyrants is agony.”
“O Yazid. I speak not to you thus to warn you of the severe chastisement in store for you so that you should be regretful for you are one of those whose hearts are hardened, souls are rebellious and whose bodies are busy in Allah’s disobedience while they are under the curse of the Prophet of Allah. You are from among those in whose heart Shaytan has made his abode and has been breeding young ones.”
“How amazing it is that the virtuous people, sons of the divine prophets and vicegerents are killed at the hands of liberated slaves, evil-doers and sinners. Our blood is shed by their hands and our flesh serves as food for them. We feel grieved for those whose bodies are lying unshrouded and unburied in the battlefield, wounded with arrows.”
“O Yazid, if you consider our defeat as your achievement then you will have to pay its price.”
“Allah commits not injustice to His servants. Our reliance is on Allah. He alone is our Relief and place of Protection, and in Him alone do we repose our hope.”
“You may contrive and try however much you can. By Him who honoured us with revelation, the Book and Prophethood, you cannot achieve our status, nor reach our position, nor can you effect our mention, nor remove from yourself that shame and dishonour that is now your lot because of perpetrating excess and oppression on us. Your word now is weak and your days are counted. Beware of the day when the announcer would announce the curse of Allah on the oppressors and the unjust.”
“Praise be to Allah who gave good end to His friends and granted them success in their aims, and thereafter called them back to His Mercy, Pleasure and Bliss, while you hurled yourself into evil and mischief by committing injustice against them. We pray to Allah to favour us with full recompense through them and grant us the good of Khilafat and Imamat. Surely Allah is Kind and the Most Merciful over His creatures.”
Among the gathering was a red haired Syrian who saw Fatima Kubra, daughter of Imam Husayn and asked Yazid to give her to him. When the girl heard this she clung to Zaynab (A.S.) and started to weep. She feared that now after the loss of her father she was to be made a slave girl. Zaynab (A.S.) was not afraid. She turned to Yazid and told him that he had neither right nor authority to give the young girl away like that, at which he bristled, retorting that he could do so.
Zaynab (A.S.) riposted, “You are abusing me because of your authority and power.” At this Yazid was shamed into silence. To the Syrian she said: “My the curse of Allah be upon you. May hell be your eternal abode. May your eyes be blinded and your limbs paralysed.” Immediately paralysis gripped the man and he fell to the ground dead.
Yazid was so enraged with Zaynab bold defiance of his authority that he might have ordered her killed had not Abdullah ibn Umar ibn Aas intervened and begged that no notice be taken of her harsh words since she had suffered much grief and hardship and was broken-hearted.
Imam Zayn ul-Abidin (A.S.) would also have suffered death at the hands of Yazid on account of his fearless speech, had not Zaynab (A.S.) saved his life by begging Yazid to slay her also along with the boy. Yazid was moved by her love for the boy and spared his life. But death nevertheless took its toll. Sakina, daughter of Imam Husayn, died in captivity in Damascus at the age of four and was buried there.
Through Zaynab’s bold and fearless speeches and from the word that spread as a result of their journey, people came to know of the events of Karbala and their hearts were stirred. The continued captivity and humiliation of the family of the Prophet of Allah was bringing their cause to the attention of an ever increasing number of people. Word came to Yazid that there was turmoil and unrest in the realm and he decided to release the captives.
When it seemed to him that the Ahl ul-Bayt had been adequately humiliated, and upon the urgings of certain people who were alert to the public’s growing dissension upon learning the truth, Yazid sent for Imam Zayn ul-Abidin (A.S.). He informed him of his impending release and asked if he wished for anything. The youth said he would have to consult his aunt Zaynab (A.S.).
Arrangements were made and she arrived, properly veiled. She asked, “O Yazid, since the day our leader and our chief Husayn was butchered we have not had any opportunity to mourn for him.”
A large house was therefore provided for them in the residential sector of Damascus and here Zaynab (A.S.) held her first gathering for the mourning and remembrance (majlis-e-aza) of Imam Husayn. The women of the Quraysh and Bani Hashim arrived clad in black, with their heads uncovered, weeping wretchedly.
Imam Zayn ul-Abidin (A.S.) sat on the carpet of Imam Husayn and then Zaynab (A.S.) told the women of Syria what had befallen them. They shed tears and mourned. They had not known about the events of Karbala and Kufa, but when they went home they told their men folk.
Gradually illusions of Yazid’s good intentions were dispelled. It was fear of revolt that caused Yazid to release the members of the family of the Holy Prophet [s.a.w.].
Return to Madina
Yazid gave them the choice of remaining in Damascus or returning to Medina. When Zaynab (A.S.) decided to return to Medina he called Nu’man ibn Bashir, who had been a companion of the Holy Prophel [s.a.w.], and ordered him to make suitable arrangements for their journey. A contingent of horsemen, foot-soldiers and adequate provisions were made available. Gaily decorated litters with velvet seats were provided, but Zaynab (A.S.) ordered that these should be covered in black so that people would know the travelers were in mourning.
When the citizens of Damascus came to know that the members of the Holy Prophet’s family were leaving, the women came to the house they were staying in for a last farewell. Many people accompanied the caravan for part of the journey and then returned to their homes with heavy hearts.
During the journey Nu’man ibn Bashir showed the travelers every consideration and respect.
Whenever they stopped, the tents of the men were pitched a mile away from those of the women so that the women could move unhindered and unobserved by strangers. Gatherings of mourners were held wherever they stopped and many people came, listened and learned the truth. The travelers returned to Medina via Karbala. When they reached Karbala they found Jabir ibn Abdullah Ansari and some of the chiefs of Bani Hashim were already there for they had come to pay homage at the grave of Imam Husayn. It is related that the journeyers had brought the severed head of the chief of martyrs with them from Damascus and that in Karbala it was rejoined with his body by his son Imam Zayn ul-Abidin (A.S.). A great majlis was held before they resumed their journey.
When the time came to leave Karbala, Zaynab (A.S.) wanted to remain near her brother’s grave till the day of her death. But Zayn ul-Abidin (A.S.) pleaded with her not to leave them and reluctantly she agreed to return to Medina.
Wherever the caravan stopped on its way to Medina a majlis-e-aza’ was held. When the city was in sight Zaynab (A.S.) bade the women alight from their camels and pitch their tents. Black flags were raised. On learning of their arrival the people of Medina came out in droves, and once again Zaynab (A.S.) recounted to them the events at Karbala and the hardships of their subsequent captivity.
After some time Imam Zayn ul-Abidin (A.S.) asked the women to ready themselves for entering Medina. Then they entered the city on foot, with black flags raised aloft. Zaynab (A.S.) went straight to the grave of the Holy Prophet [s.a.w.] where she prayed and told him of the massacre of his beloved grandson.
Zaynab (A.S.) had returned altered, her hair white, and her back bent. Although upon her return she had been reunited with her husband, she did not live long after the tortuous trials she had to bear. The exact date and place of her death is not clear but it is probable that she died in the year 62 A.H. some six months after her return.
It was her destiny to proclaim to the world the sacrifices made by Imam Husayn and the other members of the family of the Holy Prophet [s.a.w.] for the cause of Islam. She exposed the evil deeds of Ibn Ziyad and Yazid with courage and fearlessness. Had it not been for her the sacrifice of Karbala might have faded into oblivion. She endured physical pain and mental torture with fortitude and was a source of strength to all around her. The sorrow and grief she expressed was an outpouring of her intense humanity. Never did she rebel against the destiny decreed by Allah. The strength of her submission was divine, yet her lamentation poignantly human.
The spirit of Zaynab (A.S.) will live forever. Her courage, forbearance, and submission will continue to inspire those who hear her story for all time to come.