Adapted from: Islamic Insights. By: Nabila Rizvi
Being the ideal daughter that she was, Lady Zainab (peace be upon her) followed in the footsteps of her mother in so many ways: they were patient in the face of troubles, they supported the divinely appointed leaders of the times, and they kept the message of the true Islam alive. Yet Lady Zainab was not the only one who followed her parents' teachings; rather, Yazid and his tyrannical supporters also adopted those methods of oppression which their fathers had used.
Like her mother, Lady Zainab was born into a household blooming with the choicest blessings of the Almighty. They both had the greatest of upbringings - one by the Prophet and Lady Khadija, the other by Imam Ali and Lady Fatima (peace be upon them all). She grew up with the love of her grandfather and her parents, and they were the best of influences upon her character. At the same time, she witnessed the enemies of Islam committing acts of oppression against her parents, just as Lady Fatima had witnessed against hers.
During Lady Fatima's lifetime, conditions took such a turn that a social and economic boycott was placed on the Holy Prophet and his family. Later on, during the lifetime of Lady Zainab, Imam Ali refused to pledge allegiance to an illegitimate ruler. Abu Bakr imitated the methods of the past: he also placed an economic boycott on the Ahlul Bayt once again.
Growing up in an environment of immaculate character and immense knowledge obviously shaped her personality. Even as a child, Lady Zainab's words reflected the fundamental teachings of Islam. When Imam Ali was teaching her numbers, he asked her to say "one". After she repeated him, he then asked her to say "two". When she kept silent, the Imam asked, "Why do you not say 'two'?" She gave a gem in response: "A tongue which pronounces 'one' cannot say 'two'." This, from a child in reference to the concept of the Oneness of Allah!
Lady Zainab lost the sweet blessings of her grandfather's presence and then her mother's presence when she had not yet reached the age of maturity. She saw her mother's last days after the brutal attack by the enemies, and she witnessed the grief Lady Fatima still felt until her last breath. Lady Fatima had said, "O my father! After your death I was subjected to such tortures and tyranny that if they had been inflicted on the Day, it would have turned into Night." Similarly, at a young age Lady Fatima had seen her mother pass away after the difficulties they had faced. The time that was spent in the Valley of Abu Talib during the boycott took a toll on Lady Khadija. As a result, Lady Fatima also saw her mother pass away as a reaction to injustice.
Despite the fact that Lady Zainab only had a few years under the wings of her grandfather and mother, she gleaned much knowledge from them. When Lady Fatima delivered the speech about her right to the land of Fadak, Lady Zainab had also heard it and committed it to memory. The eloquence of her mother was apparent even decades later when Lady Zainab gave her famous speech in the court of the tyrant Yazid. These are some of the reasons why one of her titles is al-Aarifa, meaning "the Well-Versed".
Lady Zainab witnessed the injustices committed against her father and brothers as she grew older, and she supported them in their mission. She earned a reputation for being al-Aqila (the noble woman honored among her people), al-Aalima (the knowledgeable), al-Kaamila (the perfect), and as-Siddiqa-tus-Sughra (the junior veracious lady). The Fourth Imam (peace be upon him) also called her Al-'Aalima Ghairu Mu'allama, meaning "the one who is knowledgeable without being taught".
When it came time for her marriage, Imam Ali married her to his nephew Abdullah ibn Jafar. While Abdullah was an extremely successful businessman, by the blessings of the Prophet, he and Lady Zainab did not become attached to materialistic things. Just as Lady Fatima and Imam Ali had, they used their resources to help the needy and spread Islam.
After the deaths of Imam Ali and Imam Hasan, Lady Zainab focused her efforts on Imam Hussain's mission. When the time came to leave Madina, Lady Zainab had no hesitation in abandoning the comfort of her home in support of the Imam of the time - just as Lady Fatima had lived through difficulties with the Imam of her time.
The tragedy of Karbala is known, and the remembrance of Hussain and his household will forever live on. In the midst of the heartrending events, Lady Zainab never wavered in her conviction. Such was her strong faith that even after the events of 'Ashura, Lady Zainab did not let a single night pass without performing Salat al-Layl (the Night Prayer). In fact, her prayers were so precious that as he was bidding farewell to the ladies, Imam Hussain had asked her not to forget him in her Salat al-Layl.
That night after Ashura provides an incredibly strong example of the faith instilled in the children of Lady Fatima. Imam Hasan once related: "I saw my mother Fatima standing in her prayer-niche the night of one Friday. She kept praying, bending and prostrating, until day broke. I heard her pray for the male and female believers, mentioning them by name. She prayed too much for them, but she didn't pray for herself..." It is the devotion of Lady Fatima which echoed in the form of Lady Zainab, who was also known as Aabidatu ale-Ali, meaning "the Worshipper of Ali's Household".
Throughout the day, Lady Zainab had poured her energy into helping in whichever manner she could. Even after the battle was over, she took charge and cared for all the survivors whom Imam Hussain had left in her hands. Her virtuousness, earning her the title of al-Faadhila, shone through on that dark day as she rounded up the women and children after their tents had been burned. Like Lady Fatima had with the Prophet and the Imam, Lady Zainab also lent words of courage to Imam Zainul Abideen in the most crucial moments of the tragedy of Ashura.
Once again, her involvement in the struggle that took place on the plains of Karbala was a reflection of Lady Fatima's habit of tending to the Prophet upon his return from battles. She took such care of the Prophet that he called her Umm-e-Abiha, meaning "Mother of Her Father". Whenever some harm would befall him and Lady Fatima would be distressed, the Prophet would say, "My daughter, don't be sad and don't shed tears. God is the Protector and Guardian of your father!"
Lady Zainab took the same concept of trust in Allah to do what is best and lived by it her whole life. Upon the grievous sight of Imam Hussain's severed head, she called out, "O Allah, accept this sacrifice and reward [Hussain] for his deed."
Yet the injustice did not end with the death of Imam Hussain. Adopting the habit of his forefathers, Yazid did not let the women mourn their losses. Lady Zainab, Ummul Masaaib (mother of tragedies), was still patient, just as her mother had been when the Prophet had died. Upon requesting something to write down his will, the Prophet was said to be "not in his right mind". Moreover, he had not been buried yet when the gathering was held at Saqifa to decide who would be the next leader. The utter disrespect towards the Prophet was appalling to behold.
After the Prophet's death, Lady Zainab repeatedly saw the enemies commit injustices towards Imam Ali. She saw her father captured when her mother suffered the fatal assault and she saw her father fatally injured. Indeed, Lady Zainab had witnessed many injustices before, but none such as the ones in Karbala.
After the events that occurred on the hot desert sands of Karbala, the remaining people from the camp of Imam Hussain were taken prisoner and marched down a long route. How tragic it was that the daughters of the one who had been buried in the dark of night was being marched bareheaded in broad daylight! The daughters whose mother observed Hijab in front of a blind man out of piety! Yet even as she was made to walk the streets of Kufa and Shaam in chains, she maintained her dignity. She did not let the teachings of Islam get trampled in those streets; rather, she spread the message further.
As they were walking, women in the houses nearby brought out dates to give to them, as it was obvious that the captives had not been taken care of. As the daughter of Imam Hussain lifted one of the dates to her mouth, Lady Zainab stopped her from eating it. She said, "Charity is forbidden to us, the Ahlul Bayt." Although the daughter of Imam Hussain had not yet reached the age of maturity, Lady Zainab was sending a message: we are the Ahlul Bayt - the Ummah is idly standing by as the family of the Holy Prophet is being treated this way.
The powerful speeches Lady Zainab gave as she walked the streets and as she stood in the court of the barbaric Yazid were astounding. They shook the people who heard them, and she accomplished many purposes in her words. She not only revealed Yazid for the evil that he was, she not only called upon the people to realize their hypocrisy, but she also brought forth her status - not as a prisoner of a losing battle - as the granddaughter of the Prophet of Allah who will carry on the pure message of Islam.
When Lady Fatima delivered her famous speech of Fadak, she too had been conveying numerous messages. Not only was she exposing the ignorance of the enemies (in their lack of Islamic knowledge), but she was also talking about regaining rights. The rights were of her inheritance from the Prophet. But Lady Fatima had no attachment to this world - it was not the physical rights which she sought. While speaking about the usurpation of land that was rightfully hers, she was also addressing the usurpation of the caliphate which was rightfully Imam Ali's.
Lady Zainab's extraordinary manner of speaking has been said to be reminiscent of Imam Ali's; it is no doubt that the example of the courageous Lady Fatima and her speech of Fadak also gave her strength.
The brave Lady Zainab had no qualms in expressing her hatred towards the evil of Yazid and his men. Similarly, Lady Fatima had no hesitations in expressing her great disdain for Abu Bakr and Umar, despite their political positions. When they sought an audience before Lady Fatima and apologized to her, she gave a fiery address at the end of which she said: "By Allah, I swear that I will invoke Allah against you in every prayer I offer." Likewise, throughout Lady Zainab's speeches she openly condemned the tyrants and did not hold back any expressions of disgust.
Lady Zainab also showed her selflessness when protecting the Imam of the time, Imam Zainul Abideen. At one point, Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad was enraged at the articulate response of the Imam. Upon ordering one of his men to behead the Imam, Lady Zainab placed herself in front of the Imam. She said, "Son of Ziyad, suffices you what you have shed of our blood. Have you really spared anyone other than this? If you want to kill him, kill me with him as well." Shocked by the display of loyalty, Ibn Ziyad ordered his man to back down.
Lady Zainab's courage can be traced back to the example of her mother. When Imam Ali was captured and Lady Fatima was injured from the wound by the door, she still went to the aid of her Imam. Without thought of her own immense pain, Lady Fatima went out of the house and warned the enemies to release the Imam. Out of fear of Lady Fatima's strong prayer, they released him. Years later, in the court of Yazid, her daughter imitated her complete selflessness mother in protecting the Imam of her time.
After being released from the prisons for so long, they sought a house in which they were able to mourn their great losses without being punished for doing so. But that had not been a new concept; Yazid had merely used the oppressing tactic of the people before him. Whenever Lady Fatima mourned the death of the Holy Prophet, complaints would arise. When she wept day and night, people wanted her to mourn only during one or the other. When she wept under a tree, they uprooted it and she was left to mourn under the hot sun; therefore, Imam Ali constructed a house specifically for her to mourn in. Once again, it is apparent that the enemies of the Ahlul Bayt used the same methods of oppressing them and preventing them from mourning their loved ones.
The tragedies that Lady Zainab faced were many: the Ummah committed atrocities against her blessed family, they were treated as prisoners in the cities that they used to live in, they were prevented from mourning their losses, and what was rightfully theirs was snatched away. In all those situations, Lady Zainab remained composed and steadfast in her faith just as Lady Fatima had when she was faced with similar tribulations.
Despite the change in generations and despite the change in authority, the enemies of Islam resorted to the same methods of oppression to quell the divine message. Even today, tyrants attempt to reach the same goal. Sometimes they use the same methods of imprisoning Muslims or preventing them from commemorating religious events; other times they employ different means. But we must look to the examples of the Infallibles, just as Lady Zainab looked to her mother, for the courage, patience, and conviction needed to face difficulties and to fight the enemies of Islam.