Zainab bint Ali ra - Female Role Model of Muslim Umma
Zainab bint Ali is the eldest daughter of Ali bin Abi Talib and Sultan ul Faqr I, Syeda Fatima tu Zahra (ra). She is the granddaughter of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). According to verified traditions, she was born in Jumada al-Awwal 5H in Madina. Prophet Mohammad was not present in Madina at the time of her birth. Upon his return three days later, as usual, he headed to the house of Fatima tu Zahra.
When the Holy Prophet took the new-born baby in his lap, his eyes filled with tears. When Fatima tu Zahra saw this and enquired about it, the Holy Prophet said: “A time will come when she will face a lot of grief and distress”. Then, the Holy Prophet chew a date and put a bit of his saliva in her mouth and said: “She is the reflection of Khadija bint Khuwaylid”. The Holy Prophet then named her ‘Zainab’.
Titles of Zainab Bint Ali
Through the history books, we find 61 titles and filial appellations associated with Zainab Bint Ali. We mention some famous titles here:
- Naiba tu Zahra
- Sharika tul Hussain
- Radhia bil Qadar wal qadha
- Fasiha, baligha
Zainab bint Ali is very fortunate that her upbringing was under the guidance and training of the Holy Prophet, Ali ibn Abi Talib and Syeda Fatima tu Zahra. She had a special connection with the Holy Prophet. The Holy Prophet also paid special attention in her upbringing.
One day, whilst Zainab bint Ali was reciting Quran (at a young age), her head scarf slipped off. When her mother, Fatima tu Zahra saw this, she said, ‘My love, always have your head covered when reciting Holy Quran’.
One day, Zainab bint Ali and Hussain ibn Abi Talib had an argument over some matter. Upon seeing this, their mother read them few verses from Holy Quran and said: “Allah does not like quarrel”. Both of them obliged and promised not to quarrel ever again. Fatima tu Zahra felt very please seeing their reaction and embraced them with joy.
The guidance and training of Holy Prophet, Ali ibn Abi Talib and Fatima Tu Zahra meant that Zainab bint Abi Talib was very pious and filled with Divine love. She was well versed in the recitation and exegesis of Holy Quran.
She used to inculcate Quran to local women. Once she was explaining Surah Maryam (Chapter 19) to a group of women. When Ali ibn Abi Talib returned home and heard her giving the lecture. He carefully listened to the lecture and when it ended he said to her: “I heard your lecture and I am very pleased that you can explain Quran so well”.
In addition to reciting Quran, Zainab bint Ali used to perform the obligatory daily prayers as well as supererogatory prayers with devotion. For this reason, before setting off for Karbala, Imam Hussain said to her,
Imam Zain ul Abideen says,
There is a quote of her in Balaghat al-nisa,
When Zainab bint Ali reached puberty, her father, (Ali ibn Abi Talib) tied her knot to Abdullah bin Jaffar who was the son of his nephew Jaffar bin Abi Talib. Abdullah bin Jaffar was very well behaved and handsome young man amongst his peers. He used to trade for living and was well-off financially. He never hurt anyone’s feelings from his childhood. Due to this attribute, the Holy Prophet said about him, “His character is just like mine”.
Zainab bint Ali had a very pleasant and happy domestic life. Despite the servants, she used to do most of the household chores herself and really looked after her husband. Abdullah bin Jaffar said about her, “She is the best spouse”.
Despite all the abundance of wealth and affluence, she remained very humble and down to earth. She always remained patient, content, soft-hearted, pious and hardworking. She said about the worldly life,
Allah blessed her with five gorgeous offsprings. Their names are: Ali, Awn, Mohammad, Abbas and Umm Kulthoom (daughter). Two of her sons, Awn and Mohammad embraced martyrdom at Karbala. In 37H, during the Caliphate of Ali ibn Abi Talib, she along with her husband migrated to Kufa. Whilst there, she continued her teaching practice. Thus, a large number of local women benefited from her immense knowledge.
After the demise of Ali ibn Abi Talib in 40H, she returned to Madina. In 49H when Imam Hassan passed away, she was residing in Madina with her family. She was still grieving the loss of her father and brother (Imam Hassan) that time of martyrdom of Imam Hussain came fast approaching in 60H.
When Zainab bint Ali heard about Imam Hussain’s travel to Kufa along with his companions, she took permission from her husband and joined the caravan with her two sons (Awn and Mohammad) who embraced martyrdom at Karbala.
آدمیت کو ناز ہے جس پر
وہ تقدّس مآب ہے زینبؓ
Explanation: Humanity takes pride in Zainab bint Ali’s bravery and loyalty.
Her husband, Abdullah bin Jaffar also loved Imam Hussain ardently. It is reported that he had lost his eyesight and therefore was unable to travel or partake in battle.
It is narrated that Abdullah bin Jaffar had a slave. When he heard the news of martyrdom of the two sons of Zainab bint Ali, he said: ‘It is all because of Husayn ibn Ali’. When Abdullah bin Jaffar heard this, he strongly expressed his resentment over this. He even beat his slave and said ‘How you dare say such words about my beloved brother. By Lord, had I been with him, I would have sacrificed my life for him. It is an honour for me that my sons embraced martyrdom for him’.
Zainab bint Ali’s love for her brother and Spiritual Guide Imam Hussain
Syeda Zainab loved all her siblings but she had a special connection with Imam Hussain. The same love and affection was evident throughout her life including Karbala. Equally, Imam Hussain also respected her immensely. He consulted her in important matters, even at Karbala he consulted her many times. Here are some traditions in this regard:
Furthermore, throughout the journey from Karbala to Kufa and Syria, she very bravely spread the message of her brother despite being under immense grief. For this reason, she is also known as ‘Shareeka tul Hussain’.
حدیثِ کربلا کی روح، ثانی بتولؓ ہے
بقائے دینِ مصطفیؐ شریکۃ الحسینؓ ہے
Explanation: The daughter of Fatima tu Zahra (Zainab bint Ali) narrated the facts of Karbala to the world as she was eye witness to the whole incident. Her bravery and courage revived Islam.
Zainab bint Ali’s fight against Injustice
It is Zainab bint Ali who kept the incident of Karbala alive. It was due to her bravery and courage that her caravan returned to Madina from Karbala. After the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, it was Zainab bint Ali who fought the injustice – whether it was the streets of Kufa, the court of ibn Ziad or the palace of Yazid. Wherever she went, she left a long lasting memory in people’s minds.
فرمایا امانت سے خبردار ہو زینبؓ
ہم جاتے ہیں تم قافلہ سالار ہو زینبؓ
ایمان کی منہ بولتی تصویر تھی زینبؓ
شبیرؓ کا سر کٹتے ہی شبیرؓ تھی زینبؓ
Explanation: Zainab bint Ali had this big responsibility of keeping the incident of Karbala alive. She with immense bravery dealt with the grief of the martyrdom of her beloved brother yet fought the injustice and courageously told the world what a disaster Yazidians had done. She is a true picture of the faith. She did not let the grief of the martyrdom of her courageous brother weaken her. Rather, she understood that she must be fearless and brave for the religion and her brother, who was the perfect spiritual guide of that era. She courageously led the caravan from Karbala to Madina and was not afraid to call out people who had done injustice to Islam and her brother.
Travel Through Kufa
It is narrated in history books that when the caravan of Zainab bint Ali entered Kufa on the way from Karbala, many Kufans gathered there. Upon seeing them, she became very angry and said to the people, ‘O people! Lower your gaze, the daughters and children of the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) are passing by. Then she delivered a heart-wrenching sermon. After the opening verses, she said: ‘O people of Kufa, O double faced people and those who broke their promise! May you always keep weeping. You are like the woman who weaves a fabric and then tears it apart.
Syeda Zainab’s Address to Kufans
You pledged allegiance to my brother and then broke it. You are liars and hypocrites. What you have sent ahead (in the form of deeds for life in hereafter) is not good. You have martyred the (grand) son of Allah’s beloved who is the leader of all the dwellers of heaven. Allah’s torment awaits you. Ah, O people of Kufa, you have committed a very big sin. A sin that smears faces and afflicts in tribulations. Remember! Your Lord, chases the wrongdoers and He punishes them’. When the Kufans heard this sermon they felt very ashamed.
The second day, the governor of Kufa, ibn Ziad called Zainab ibn Abi Talib and her caravan to his court thinking they would be impressed by his status and would bow to him. However, things turned out to be completely opposite. No one from them bowed to him. Instead, they all entered quietly without requesting anyone’s permission. To overcome his fear, he enquired about Zainab bint Ali that who she was? His servants replied, she is Zainab bint Ali. Upon this he said, ‘Thank God, who proved your promises wrong and disgraced you’.
Zainab bint Ali very bravely responded, ‘I thank Allah, who gave us respect through His beloved – Prophet Mohammad. Soon, the liars will be disgraced and proven wrong’. Ibn Ziad said: ‘You saw what happened to your brother and his followers’. Upon this Zainab bint Ali replied: ‘Allah blessed them with martyrdom. Soon you and they will gather in the court of Allah (on the day of Judgement). You will then find out who reaps what’. Ibn Ziad said: ‘I feel very content upon the death of the most arrogant amongst Bani Hashim’.
Syeda Zainab’s Bold Dialogue with Ibn Ziad
Syeda Zainab felt deeply hurt upon hearing this. She said: ‘By God, you displaced my family, martyred our leaders, tried to cut roots of our generation. If this is what gives you peace then you have it’. Ibn Ziad then saw Zain ul Abideen. He intended to martyr him too. Zainab bint Abi Talib saved him from ibn Ziad’s evil intentions. She said, ‘O ibn Ziad, have you not yet sated with our blood? Would you kill this ill and feeble child too? If you intend to do so, then kill me too with him’. Then she embraced her nephew.
Ibn Ziad remained quiet for a while and then said: ‘Leave the boy with the women’. After few days they despatched the caravan of Zainab bint Ali along with the corpses of the martyrs to Yazid in Damascus. When the soldiers presented the head of Imam Hussain in the court of Yazid, the women with Syeda Zainab started crying. Seeing the head of Imam Hussain Zainab bint Ali said, ‘O Hussain, the beloved of Prophet Mohammad, who used to ride on the shoulders of Prophet Mohammad, O the son of Fatima tu Zahra and the leader of all the men in heaven’.
Yazid asked his courtiers, ‘Who is this woman?’ They said, she is the younger sister of Imam Hussain – Zainab bint Ali. Upon hearing this, he addressed her and said, ‘By my life, the grandad of Hussain ibn Ali was better than my grandad, Hussain’s mother was better than my mother. However, my father was better than the father of Imam Hussain.’
Syeda Zainab’s Sermon in the Court of Yazid
In response, Syeda Zainab delivered a powerful sermon that shook the listeners. She said:
“O Yazid, the circumstances have pushed me into addressing you directly. Remember! Allah will not leave us in this state for long. He will not fail us in our endeavours. You have not hurt us, instead you have ruined your own self. Ah, your men murdered the beloved grandson of Prophet Mohammad, his brothers, sons and followers. They disrespected the sacred women of the People of the Cloak. Alas, had you seen the martyrs of Karbala you would have wished to sacrifice every belonging for their sake and would have wished to be on their side. Soon, we will be in the court of our grandad (Prophet Mohammad) and will narrate all the atrocities of your men.
This will be at a place where the People of the Cloak and their followers will gather. The people of the Cloak will have the blood and dust on their faces cleaned. Then, the cruel will be punished. Imam Hussain and his followers are alive and with their Lord and He alone is sufficient for them. He (Allah) will surely take revenge from those who martyred the People of the Cloak and their followers. He is our refuge and only Him we ask for help.
O Yazid, put all your resources against us and do what you can in our enmity. But by Lord! You can never wipe out our name.”
Syeda Zainab Told People the Truth
Yazid and his courtiers were left speechless on hearing the powerful sermon by Zainab bint Ali. People started whispering about the cruelty of Yazid and in favour of the People of the Cloak. Seeing, this Yazid feared that people may revolt against him. He made arrangements for the syeds to stay at his palace. After few days, under the guardianship of Noman ibn Bashir, he despatched the caravan to Madina.
یزیدیت کے واسطے ہے موت، بنتِ فاطمہؓ
حسینیت کا آسرا شریکۃ الحسینؓ ہیں
Explanation: The daughter of Fatima tu Zahra (Zainab bint Ali) is like death for Yazid. She is the one who narrated what happened at Karbala and supported Imam Hussain.
Demise of Zainab bint Ali
There are various traditions about the demise of Zainab bint Ali:
- According to one tradition, a short while after arriving in Madina, she passed away in 62H.
- Another tradition is that after the incident of Karbala, she remained very heartbroken. Her husband, Abdullah bin Jaffar took her to Syria. She fell ill there and passed away.
- There is another tradition according to which she used to narrate the atrocities on People of the Cloak to the people of Madina. As the people became aware of the reality, this created love and affection for People of the Cloak in their hearts. When Yazid heard of this developing situation, he ordered the mayor of Madina to transfer her to another city. Initially she resisted but then on the advice of some close devotees, she migrated to Egypt along with some close relatives. The then ruler of Egypt Maslama ibn Mukhallad showed a lot of respect towards them. He provided them residence within his own palace. Zainab bint Ali died there in 62H.
Zainab bint Ali – Role Model for Muslim Women
There is no one to replace Zainab bint Ali in bravery, patience, perseverance eloquence. Every aspect of her life is a role model for Muslim women. Whether it is being a daughter, sister, wife, mother or as seeker of Allah. She excelled in every form. Ali ibn Abi Talib was very proud of her character as daughter. As sister, she was the advisor and sympathiser of her brothers – Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain. As Mother she brought up her children in such a way that her sons Awn and Mohammad embraced martyrdom at Karbala at a very young age.
In short, the beloved daughter of Fatima tu Zahra excelled in every character. Her character teaches the women seekers of Allah that on the path of Faqr (Sufism) no matter how hard things get, a sincere seeker of Allah must always remain positive and content upon Allah’s will. They must always have faith and trust in Allah and must always remain loyal to their Murshid (spiritual guide) and put their best in spreading the message of truth.
نشان و عظمت وفا، شریکۃ الحسینؓ ہے
جہاں میں عالی مرتبہ شریکۃ الحسینؓ ہے
Explanation: Syeda Zainab is the symbol of loyalty and grandeur. There is no one like her in grand status.
Zainab bit Ali is the eldest daughter of Fatima tu Zahra and Ali ibn Abi Talib. She is the granddaughter of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). Her upbringing under the guidance of the People of the Cloak had infused Divine love, patience, eloquence, perseverance and piety in her. She is well-known for standing by her brother and spiritual guide Hussain ibn Ali in Karbala. She not only participated herself but two of her sons Awn and Mohammad embraced martyrdom whilst fighting the Yazidis. Indeed, she is a role model for Muslim women and seekers of Allah.