ZAINAB BINTE ALI, THE SISTER OF IMAM HUSAIN
Zainab binte Ali holds a very high place in the history of Islam, with special reference to the bloody massacre of the Ahle Bait of the Prophet in
and its aftermath. The success of Imam Husain's mission as well as the education of the masses is owed to her. Her pains as the bereaved mother of her own martyred sons, as the aunt to her slain nephews and to the sufferings of her little nieces, as sister of the martyred Imam, and her own individual personality as a woman, emerged with amazing force and courage in the face of the worst calamity any family could have ever faced. Because of the significant role she had played, it is pertinent to include a brief biography of this beacon of Faith here. Karbala
Zainab was bom in Madinah on Sha'ban 1, 6 AH. Her mother was none other than Fatima, the beloved daughter of Prophet Muhammad. Her father was Ali, the gallant champion of Islam and the first Imam after the Prophet. At about the time of her birth, her father was actively serving the Prophet in the defense of Islam against its archenemy, the Umayyad Abu Sufyan. She was too small to comprehend the significance of her father's involvement or its far-reaching consequences years later in her life. However, it was her good fortune to receive the nurture from her grandfather, the holy Prophet for the first five years of her life. The Prophet died in II AH, and soon after that she lost the affections of her mother forever. She grew up under the supervision of her father, Imam Ali. She was very attached to her father and closely emulated him in his character and conduct. Although both of her brothers, Hasan and Husain were older to her, she was the eldest daughter of Imam All. She had learnt to assist her mother at an early age, and had to assume the management of the household after her death.
She was married to her cousin Abdullah bin Ja'far-e Tayyar when she was only eleven years of age. However, she continued to live with her father for several years before joining her husband. She had no luxury item in her home, and like her father, she lived an extremely simple and disciplined life. She never missed her prayers, and worshiped Allah with great devotion.
She was renowned for her knowledge and was sought after by her female peers for the teachings and the practice of Islam as well as for the interpretations of the meanings of al-Qur’an.
She moved to Kufa with her husband when Imarn Ali made that city the seat of his caliphate. She was about 36 years of age when her father was martyred in the main mosque of Kufa. During this span of her life, she had witnessed many significant changes in the land and people of
The death of her grandfather, the great leader and the Prophet of Islam occurred when she was at the impressionable age of five years. She saw the grief this had brought to her parents, and especially to her mother. The death of her mother within a of a few months must have brought a revolution in her tender life. She must have witnessed the grief this event had brought to her father. The inevitable shift of leadership had brought a clear shift of popularity by the people from the house of the Prophet to that of the house of the new Caliph. This change must have made her very sad.
She must have seen the fervor in connection with the expansion of Islam to far off lands and the activity that must have generated in Madinah during the reign of the Second Caliph. As she grew up, she must have observed and pondered why her father was kept away from participating in the Caliphate, and also why he had chosen not to use force to establish his rights. When the controversy occurred over the conduct of the Third Caliph, she was of mature age, and saw how the senior compa@ons of the Prophet got involved with the plot and the assassination of the Caliph. This was a time of crisis for Islam. The danger to the integrity of Islam this time was not from any out side force, but it .vas from amidst its own core. The Ummah remembered Ali again. The same Ali, who had been the foremost soldier of Islam, the savior and the defender of the Faith from its very inception. He was elected to the Caliphate by a popular vote. However, within days of his election, these very supporters started to brew opposition to the new caliph, leading to a series of bloody confrontations among the Muslims.
Muawiyah, son of Abu Sufyan, the governor of
Syria and , took the opportunity to fuel the sparks of dissent and became the major opponent of the Caliphate of her father. She saw the battles where "Muslims" led by senior and respectable companions of the Prophet drew swords against the Righteous Caliph. It was a time of immense confusion for the people, and a sad time for her father who had spent his youth serving the Prophet against the infidel towards establishing the very Islamic Community that he now had to fight against. The people became confused and divided. Palestine
Muawiyah, with his long-standing government, regular army and financial resources, spared no effort to baffle the stability of Imam Ali's caliphate. He sent raids in the Yaman, Hijaz and
. He slung abuses at the Caliph from the pulpit, and had this carried out in the Friday prayers throughout his provinces. He did not stop his negative propaganda against the members of the Ahle Bait even after the martyrdom of Imam Ali. Basra
Zainab saw the government of Imam Hasan fizzle away under pressure from Muawiyah, and knew the circumstances under which he had to hand over the charge of the Caliphate to Muawiyah. Muawiyah betrayed the terms of the truce. In the document of truce, Imam Hasan had stipulated that the government of the Caliphate was being transferred to Muawiyah for his lifetime only, and that he would not appoint his successor to the Caliphate. This truce lasted for about ten years. But when the time came, Muawiyah had Imam Hasan martyred with poison and appointed his own son Yazid to succeed him. Soon afterwards he died.
Coming of Yazid to power brought a relentless pressure to Imam Husain to accept Yazid as the representative of the Prophet of Islam, or lose his life for refusal to do so. The governor of Madinah had specific orders to obtain unconditional submission from the Imam or have him killed. Knowing the character and the conduct of Yazid, the hnam could not comply. She knew why Imam Husain just could not submit to the demands of Yazid. The entire back ground to these developments was known to Zainab. Her brother was the Imam of the time, and had the vested responsibility to protect and defend the spirit of the Truth. He decided to quit Madinah. Zainab accompanied her brother on this fateful journey. She saw how carefully the Imam selected members of his clan who would accompany him. They represented the progeny of Aqeel, Ja'far and Ali, all from the progeny of Abu Talib.
She accompanied her brother to Makkah, and then onward to
. By now, she had aged to 57 years, and had been amidst many grave changes in the behavior of the Ummah. She dearly loved her brother and was constantly in consort with him on all his decisions and moves. She was convinced that the little caravan of the Imam had come out to up hold the Tnith at any cost. On Muharram 10, 61 AH she sacrificed two of her youngest sons in defense of the Truth and assisted her brother mount his horse when he finally left and faced his martyrdom. She witnessed the deaths of the companions of the Imam followed by the members of his own clan. Karbala
The leadership that Zainab exhibited did not begin on the eve of Muharram I 1, but throughout the journey as well as during the encampment in the
. However, when all the adult males had laid down their lives at the alter of Truth, except Imam Ali Abid, who was ill with fever, the manifest leadership of the widows and children became the responsibility of Zainab. The heat of the desert, three days of total thirst for man and beast, the scenes of death and terror, and torching of their tents towards the evening complicated the duties of leadership of Zainab. desert of Karbala
The Imam had given his supreme sacrifice and was there no more. The detached heads from the bodies of the martyrs had been hoisted atop spears. All belongings of the survivors had been -snatched, including the hijabs (body wraps) from the ladies. Hands tied behind their backs, on bareback camels, the survivors were taken through the streets of Kufa, where Zainab had been before under different circumstances, when her father was alive, and her brothers were by her side. These circumstances would be enough for any self-respecting lady to cry out or faint. Zainab, with all her background and the most recent wounds of grief and suffering displayed great courage and fortitude. She addressed the killers of her loved ones in the manner that befitted them. When the caravan was marched through the streets of Kufa, she told the story of
to the excited mob that had gathered to see them. Karbala
The masses were oblivious to the events of
. Among the mob there were people who were loyal to the cause of the Truth. The oratory of Zainab pierced their hearts and stiffed their egos. The governor of Kufa and his supporters did not realize that a woman captive of Karbala would represent the martyred hnam Husain and his companions with such boldness, and would make their ill deeds known to people wherever the caravan was taken. Karbala
Zainab had both courage and strength in her apparent weakness. The captors had shown no mercy at the bereaved women and children in Kufa or during their journey to
. It was the energy of Zainab that kept their will to live strong and to endure the hardships thrust at them. Damascus
The captives of Imam Husain's camp were taken to
through a less frequented northern route. Many children could not withstand the perpetual fatigue and grief, and succumbed en-route to Damascus . As the survivors of the Imam's camp made stops at various settlements along the route, the simple and uninformed people brought food and clothing for the captives out of sympathy. Zainab took the opportunity of telling the people that they were the family of the Prophet and how Yazid had subjected them to such a tyrannical treatment. She repeated the story of the martyrs and preached to them the nature of the conflict as well as the Truth. Damascus
The superb Jehad of Zainab in the court of Yazid brought alive the Jehad of Imam Husain. The entire experience of her life long observations was now translated into the address she gave in the court of Yazid, and is appended in the section that follows below. It was through this oratory that the courtiers of Yazid got their education about what had transpired in
. The apparent victory of the tyrant was converted to his shameful loss. The captives remained in the Syrian prisons for about one year. Some children died during this captivity. Karbala
When the tyrant decided to release the captives, Zainab asked for a large open space where she could accommodate people who wished to come to them for homage and condolence. This, in effect was the first formal majlis (the commemorative gathering) whose tradition was thus initiated by Zainab, the sister of Imam Husain. On their way back to Madinah, the caravan of the captives came via
. Zainab again took the opportunity to tell the story of the gruesome massacre of the family of the Prophet undertaken by Yazid and his captains. Karbala
The home coming for Zainab was very different from that of her departure, when she was surrounded by brothers, nephews and sons. Now they were no more. Grief, fatigue and suffering had made her so weak and haggard that many were unable to reco@ze her. The family and residents of Madinah came out to meet the survivors of