Female leaders in Islam have been overlooked by the mainstream Muslim world for hundreds of years. The truth to be told is that if it were not for women like Lady Khadijah, Lady Fatima Zahra, and Lady Zainab (peace be upon all of them), Islam would not have survived.
Lady Zainab (also spelled as Zaynab or Zeynep) was born in the year 6 AH (627 CE) in Medina, present-day Saudi Arabia. She was the daughter of Imam Ali and Lady Fatima, sister of Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain and granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family). Born into a family known for its knowledge, Lady Zainab grew up to become one of the most knowledgeable women in Muslim history.
The Prophet named her “Zainab” explaining that this name was the combination of two words “Zain” and “ab” which meant father’s adornment, in other words she was like an image of Imam Ali’s character.
In her character, she reflected the best attributes of those who raised her. In sobriety and severity, she was likened to Ummul-Muminin Hazrat Khadija, her grandmother. In chastity and modesty to her mother Fatima Zahra; in eloquence to her father Imam Ali; in forbearance and patience to her brother Imam Hassan and in bravery and tranquillity of the heart to Imam Hussain. Her face reflected her father’s awe and her grandfather’s reverence.
In Medina, it was Zainab’s practice to hold regular meetings for women in which she shared her knowledge and taught them the precepts of the religion (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 intensely eloquent (Balighah).
The depth and certainty of her knowledge earned her epithel given to her by her nephew, Imam Zaynul-Abidin of ‘Alimah ghayr Mu’allamah’ – she who has knowledge without being taught by anyone.
Lady Zainab married Abdullah, son of Ja’far Tayyar. Although Lady Zainab’s husband was well-off, the couple lived a modest life, as much of their wealth was donated to charity.
Her Role in the Negation of Oppression
Lady Zainab is famous for her patience during the tragedy of Ashura (Karbala). She watched her two sons, Aun and Muhammad, get butchered before her eyes on the day of Ashura. She also witnessed the brutal mutilation and slaughter of her brother Imam Hussain.
Before his martyrdom, Imam Hussain is said to have asked Lady Zainab to be patient in spite of all the calamities. Lady Zainab was afflicted with unspeakable tragedies, but as she was always steadfast, she came to known as Sabira (the Patient One).
In the aftermath of the massacre of Karbala, Lady Zainab led the women and children who were taken as prisoners by the tyrant Yazeed’s army.
While Imam Hussain’s mission ended on the plains of Karbala, Lady Zainab continued his struggle to be the voice of Imam Hussain.
Zainab assumed the task of delivering the message of the martyrs of Karbala to the people of her time and to the generation to come. She spared no time disclosing the plots hatched by the ruling system to distort the real importance of the Karbala Movement. Her provocative speeches delivered in the Courts of Yazid in Kufa and Damascus, when taken as a captive, still echo throughout the Muslim World.
Delivering a fiery speech in Kufa, at the seat of Ibn Ziyad, she condemned and unveiled his inhumane attitude. In a long speech in Damascus at Yazid’s court, she castigated vicious Yazid and cursed him because of his mischievous acts.
In one of Lady Zainab’s famous speeches in the palace of the tyrant Yazeed, she condemned oppression and scorned Yazeed in his own court. With a heart filled with the fire of truth, she spoke her eternal words: “So scheme whatever you may scheme, and strive for whatever you may strive, and put forth your best efforts – but, by Allah, you will never erase our mention (the family of the Prophet). ‘And are your days not numbered? And is your gang not dispersed – on that day when the caller shall call: Is not the damnation of God upon the oppressors?!'”
Even after her return to Medina, Lady Zainab did not sit still. Instead, despite having endured such hardships, she traveled all over the Islamic world and continued to preach the message of Imam Hussain, causing a reawakening in the Muslim nation that continues to this day in the form of Ashura commemorations. He struggle against oppressors and usurpers is an inspiration even today, and millions visit her shrine every year.
It is a fact that neither Karbala nor true Islam would have come to be known in reality without Hazrat Zainab’s sacrifices, and the pain and torture she endured in that period of time, and her perseverance in challenging the Omayyad government of tyrants and usurpers.
Zainab’s Sermon in Darbar-e-Yazid
At the plush seat of government, Yazid, proud of himself, surrounded by men of influence, was seated in wait. It was somewhat startling when he saw the 44 (see Note 2) bound captives arrive. It was more startling when the head of Al-Husain was brought to him on a golden tray. He, playfully touched the Imam’s teeth with the end of his stick and said: “O Husain! You have paid the price of your revolt.”
Taken aback at this audacity, Zainab and her companions were inflamed. Present were many sympathizers who felt sorely aggravated. But Yazid carried on gloating over his victory. He said to his subjects: “An avenge for my ancestors killed at Badr. Now Benu Hashim had staged a ploy to gain power.” Zainab, however, was incensed. She drew herself up and said aloud:
“Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds and blessings on my grandfather, the Master of divine Prophets.”
“O Yazid, Allah says, and His word is true, that:
ثُمَّ كَانَ عَاقِبَةَ الَّذِينَ أَسَاؤُوا السُّوأَى أَن كَذَّبُوا بِآيَاتِ اللَّهِ وَكَانُوا بِهَا يَسْتَهْزِئُون
In the long run evil in the extreme will be the End of those who do evil; for that they rejected the Signs of Allah, and held them up to ridicule. [Quran 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 dishonor by Allah but that you have been given honor and respect by Him? You have become boastful of this apparent victory and you feel jubilant and proud over this honor. You think that you have achieved worldly good, that your affairs have become stable and that our rule has fallen into your hands. Wait for a while. Do not be so joyful. Have you forgotten Allah’s saying:
وَلاَ يَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ أَنَّمَا نُمْلِي لَهُمْ خَيْرٌ لِّأَنفُسِهِمْ إِنَّمَا نُمْلِي لَهُمْ لِيَزْدَادُواْ إِثْمًا وَلَهْمُ عَذَابٌ مُّهِينٌ
Let not the Unbelievers think that our respite to them is good for themselves: We grant them respite that they may grow in their iniquity: But they will have a shameful punishment. [Quran 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 dishonored us by unveiling our faces. Your men took 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 us help or support”.
“O Yazid, whatever you have done proves your revolt against Allah and your denial of His Prophet (pbuh) and of the Book and Sunnah that the Prophet 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 Master of the divine Prophets, who mobilized 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.”
“Remember that the evil deeds and sinful actions that you have committed are the result of unbelief and old rancor you bear because of your ancestors who were killed in Badr.”
“One who cast his glance of enmity, malice and rancor upon us does not lag behind in practicing enmity against us. He proves his unbelief, declares it with his tongue and jubilantly proclaims: ‘I have killed the sons of the Prophet 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 Al-Husain with your stick in front of this crowd while these very lips used to be kissed by the Prophet of Allah, and yet your face reflects pleasure and glee.”
“By my life, by killing the Master of youths of Paradise, the son of the Master of Arabs (Imam Ali) and the shining sun of the progeny of Abdul Mut’talib, you have deepened our wound and uprooted us completely.”
“By killing Al-Husain ibn Ali 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 paralyze your arms.”
“O Yazid! If you had heart enough to take account of your horrendous deeds, you yourself would surely wish your arms to be paralyzed 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 (pbuh). You will be overwhelmed with the weight of the sins committed by shedding the blood of his progeny and by dishonoring 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 Jubra’eel 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 Shaitan 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 uncovered and unburied in the battlefield, wounded with arrows.”
“O Yazid, if you consider our defeat is 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 abode of Protection, and in Him alone do we repose our hope.”
“You may contrive and try however much you can. By Him who honored 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 dishonor 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 tyrants 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 favor us with full recompense through them and grant us the good of Khilaafah and Imamah. Surely Allah is Kind and the Most Merciful over His creatures.”
Thus was how Zainab relayed the message of the martyrs of Karbala to the people, enlightening their minds towards the realities. Through her awe-inspiring speeches, she sought to disclose the tyranny of Umayyad’s rulers. Like sparks of fire, her fiery speeches would penetrate deep into the hearts of all tyrant rulers and oppressors, making them tremble on their feet.
Lady Zainab – Savior of Islam http://www.islamicinsights.com/religion/religion/lady-zainab-savior-of-islam.html
The Victory of Truth: The Life of Zaynab bint ‘Ali http://www.al-islam.org/victory/
ZAINAB, daughter of Ali (a.s.) http://www.islamicbooks.info/H-21-Math’habs/Zainab-13.htm
Hazrat Zainab (SA), Messenger Of the Karbala Revolution http://www.almujtaba.com
Nadeem Sarwar’s Noha: A tribute to Hazrat Zainab
Na rakh ab chadar…