The Rising of Lady Zainab (a.s.)
Blog Post 62
July 17, 2023
(As the holy month of Muharram is quickly approaching, inshallah, we take this opportunity to highlight Lady Zainab, the granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad and the daughter of Imam Ali and Lady Fatimah, peace be upon them all.)
Most of us have been taught about Lady Zainab (a.s.)* in the madrassah and at majlises. Most of those who have taught us have been men or women who were taught by men. The image we are given is of the oppressed sister of Imam Husayn (a.s.) who had to take care of all the ladies and children, especially Imam Husayn’s (a.s.) daughter Sakinah, after the atrocities and miseries of Ashura.
Lady Zainab (a.s.) had her hijab ripped off, was forced to walk in chains to Damascus with the other captives and was imprisoned with them. She wanted to mourn for her brother, sons and the other shaheeds, but she had to be strong for the women and children. And we cry for her, for what happened to her, for her sorrow and ill-treatment at the hands of the accursed Yazid and his henchmen.
Lady Zainab (a.s.) was born on Jamadi al-Awwal 5, 5 AH (October 2, 626) to Lady Fatimah Zahra (a.s.) and Imam Ali (a.s.). Lady Fatimah (a.s.) told her husband to “Name her.” He said, “I will not name her before Allah’s Messenger.” Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.)** was away on a trip. When he returned, he said he would not name her before her Sustainer did. So Angel Jibreel descended and told the Prophet about Allah’s Blessings, saying: “The name of this baby is Zainab. Allah chose this name for her.” Her name is a combination of two words, Zain and Ab, and means “The Embellishment of her Father.”
Lady Zainab (a.s.) is the greatest and most outstanding female figure in the story of Karbala. She had divine steadfastness and fortitude. She was like her grandmother Lady Khadijah (a.s.) in sobriety and serenity, her mother Lady Fatimah (a.s.) in chastity and modesty and her father Imam Ali (a.s.) in eloquence and courage.
After her sons Awn and Muhammad and brother Imam Husayn (a.s.) were martyred, she said: “O my Lord! Accept our humble sacrifice to You.” Then Lady Zainab (a.s.) spoke to the people of Kufa after the Ashura massacre. She said:
“O the people of Kufa! Woe be upon you!
Do you know which part of the Messenger of Allah you have cut?
And which vow you have broken? And whose blood you have shed?
And which respected family you have brought to the public (as captives)?
And whose sanctity you have violated?
You have done that, which could tear down the skies,
open the Earth and make the mountains vanish.
As far as the Earth goes and as deep as the skies go,
your obvious deed has no like, no similarity and no decency.
Indeed you have done the ugliest, the most grievous and gruesome deed.”
Imam Khamenei, may Allah be pleased with him, tells us of Lady Zainab’s (a.s.) words in Kufa’s marketplace:
“[Lady] Zainab (pbuh)*** was surrounded by enemies, holding spears in their hands. However, there were also some common people there, the same people who gave up Muslim ibn Aqil to Ibn Ziyad, the same people who wrote letters to Imam Hussein (a.s.) and then broke their allegiance to him, the same people who hid in their homes exactly when they were supposed to stand up to Ibn Ziyad. Among the people there were also some individuals who were not courageous enough to do what they should have done and they were watching Imam Ali’s (a.s.) daughter in tears that day. [Lady] Zainab al-Kubra (pbuh) was [at] once confronted by a motley and unreliable faction, yet she faced them with great courage. This is why she is an exemplary woman in history. Such a woman cannot be considered weak! Her faithful and feminine nature revealed itself in the most difficult of situations. She is a role model for all great men and women around the globe. [Lady] Zainab (a.s.) presented a deep analysis of the problems facing the revolution, led by the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), his family and Imam Ali (pbut)***. She said,
‘You could not distinguish between right and wrong in the sedition (fitna).
You were unable to fulfill your duty as a result.
They severed the head of the Holy Prophet’s grandson (pbut) and put it on a spear.’
“We can now understand the greatness of her character when we consider such things. Lady Zainab (a.s.) said,
‘O plotters and pretenders, maybe you yourselves
were starting to believe that you were following Islam
and the Holy Prophet’s household,
but you failed miserably in the test.
You proved to be blind in the sedition (fitna).
Do you pledge allegiance while you are planning a conspiracy?
You can do nothing but engage in shifting allegiance, hypocrisy,
flattery, self-humiliation and empty talk.
Your actions were different from your words.
You became arrogant and wrongly thought that you were pious.
You thought you were still revolutionary.
You thought you were still the followers of the Commander of the Faithful,
but that was far from the truth.
You were not able to deal with the sedition (fitna).
You were not able to save yourselves.
You ruined everything you had done before.
Because of your lack of insight, your lack of knowledge
of the situation and your inability to distinguish right from wrong,
you ruined everything you had built.
You look faithful and you keep making revolutionary claims,
but deep down you are empty and weak.’
“[Lady] Zainab al-Kubra (a.s.) presented a deep analysis of her society’s pathologies.”
In a 1982 speech, Imam Khomeini, may Allah be pleased with him, said:
“The sermons of Imam Sajjad [Zain al-Abideen] (a.s.)
and those of Lady Zainab (a.s.), the sister of Imam Husayn (a.s.),
have done as much or nearly as much to propagate
the movement of Imam Husayn (a.s.)
and are equivalent to it before Allah.
They made us understand that neither men nor women
should fear the rule of tyranny…
Imam Husayn’s (a.s.) example taught us all that
his is the true path in all history.
Do not mind the inadequacy of numbers.
It is the quality that counts not quantity.
It is the quality of the jihad of numbers that triumphs…
We must fathom the depth of this martyrdom
and its influence on the world to this day.”
In another speech, Imam Khomeini, may Allah be pleased with him, said, “Ashura is the revolution of the advocates for justice. It rose amongst the few in number and great in faith and love to face the oppressors, people of palaces and arrogant thieves, and its law is that this approach addresses the life of this nation at all times and all the lands.”
Dr. Ali Shari’ati wrote, Lady Zainab (a.s.) “bears witness to all of the defenceless prisoners in the system of executioners, and is the messenger left after martyrdom, and the manifestation of the message of revolution.”
Lady Zainab’s (a.s.) sermon which she gave with utmost bravery in the gathering of the accursed Yazid in Damascus shook his gathering and still echoes through time and space:
“By Allah (SWT)****,
you cannot remove us from the minds (of people)
and you cannot fade our message.
You will never reach our glory
and can never wash the stain of this crime from your hands.
Your decisions will not be stable,
your period of ruling will be short
and your population will scatter.
In that day, a voice will shout:
‘Indeed may the curse of Allah (SWT)
be upon the oppressors...’”
Imam Khamenei, may Allah be pleased with him, said,
Lady Zainab (a.s.) “played a brilliant role in making the enemies –
who had apparently won the battle and slain all their opponents –
feel disgraced at their own base.
She branded them with permanent shame
and turned their supposed victory into a defeat.
That’s what [Lady] Zainab al-Kubra (a.s.) did.
She proved that it is possible to turn feminine morality
and modesty into glory and great jihad!
[She was] courageous in the face of tyranny,
patient in times of trouble
and submissive to the will of Allah.
[Lady] Zainab bint Ali (a.s.), the role model for the righteous,
will forever teach us all that
when we undergo countless trials in our lives,
we should see nothing but beauty in them.”
Lady Zainab (a.s.) was not weak! She did not spend her days and nights sobbing. She was a courageous, patient and Allah-conscious woman. Lady Zainab (a.s.) took up the mantle of Islam, of Shi’ism, at a time when her brother, Imam Zain al-Abideen (a.s.) needed her to, saved Islam from extinction and told the world what was happening. She is a true example of “Red Shi’ism,” as coined by Dr. Shari’ati, “the flame of the spirit of revolution, the search for freedom and justice, always inclining towards the common people and fighting relentlessly against oppression, ignorance and poverty.”
We, too, must be like Lady Zainab (a.s.), all of us, women, men, youth and children. We must speak up against oppression and injustice whether it’s committed against Muslims or our brothers and sisters in humanity. We must understand the methods of the enemies of Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala. We must understand history. We must understand the problems facing the Islamic Revolution. We must understand what’s happening. We must distinguish between right and wrong. We must understand society’s pathologies and diseases. We must not fear tyranny and the taghut. We must not fear the oppressors and the thieves of humanity. And we must do something with all of this faith and knowledge and love and courage. We must defend the defenceless prisoners and the defenceless people in the world. We must defend those who are being slaughtered by the enemies of Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala. We must be manifestations and messengers of Islamic revolution. We must be sober and serene, chaste and modest and speak with eloquence and courage. We must be steadfast, patient and display fortitude. We must expose the oppressors and shout out against them. We must shame them and bring them to account for their crimes. We must protect and propagate the Truth, Islam and the Revolution. We must be moral and obey Allah Subhanahu wa ta’ala and submit to Him in everything we do.
We must rise like Lady Zainab (a.s.), inshallah!
*(a.s.) - Abbreviation of 'alayhi as-salaam - Peace be upon him, her, them
**(s.a.w.) - Abbreviation of Salallahu 'alayhi wa ahlihi wa salaam - Blessings of Allah be upon him and his family and peace
***(pbuh) - Abbreviation of Peace be upon her; (pbut) - Abbreviation of Peace be upon them; see (a.s.) above
****(SWT) - Abbreviation of Subhanahu wa ta’ala - Glorified is He and Exalted
Ashura meant to reform society and maintain justice: Imam Khomeini. (Nov. 11, 2013). en.imam-khomeini.ir. http://en.imam-khomeini.ir/en/NewsPrint.aspx?ID=6689
Imam Khamenei. (April 24, 2016). Lady Zeinab, a role model for all great women and men around the globe: Leader. english.khamenei.ir. http://english.khamenei.ir/news/3677/Lady-Zeinab-a-role-model-for-all-great-women-and-men-around
Imam Khomeini. (1995). The Ashura Uprising in the Words & Messages of Imam Khomeini. Tehran, Iran: The Institute for Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works International Affairs Department. en.imam-khomeini.ir. http://en.imam-khomeini.ir/en/c5_3167/Book/English/The-Ashura-Uprising-in-the-Words-and-Messages-of-Imam-Khomeini
Ordoni, Abu Muhammad. Fatima the Gracious. Ansarian Publications. al-islam.org. www.al-islam.org/fatima-the-gracious-abu-muhammad-ordoni/birth-lady-zainab
Osman, Marwa. (Nov. 29, 2016). Zainab bint Ali: The woman who saved Islam. english.khamenei.ir. http://english.khamenei.ir/news/4376/Zainab-bint-Ali-as-The-woman-who-saved-Islam
Shari’ati, Ali. (1970). Red Shi’ism. Texas: Book Distribution Center. al-Islam.org. https://www.al-islam.org/articles/red-shiism-black-shiism-ali-shariati