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The Life of Hazrat Zaynab Kubra (s.a.)


This is the story of the victory of truth. It is the story of a unique woman whose own fate was inextricably bound with the historical events of Karbala that have impressed upon mankind the true reality of living Islam.

It was on the plains of Karbala that the conflict between Imam Hosein (pbuh) and the pretender to the caliphate, Yazid bin Mu'awiya, was waged in battle. Imam Hosein had steadfastly refused to pay homage to Yazid and acknowledge him as leader of the Muslim world. It was no secret that Yazid flagrantly flaunted the laws of Islam and even publicly derided its beliefs. His claim to the caliphate bore no legitimacy or acceptability in the eyes of Imam Hosein (pbuh).

It would be facile and dishonest to consider their confrontation as but an isolated instance of power-jockeying in the early days of Islam. The issue on which they clashed is one that continues to be a source of needless antagonism among Muslims today, and that is: What manner of man has the right to rule the Muslim world, or indeed, mankind? Could Muslims be ruled by one integrated, complementary set of laws rooted in the knowledge of Allah's supreme tawhid (unity), or by a power that seeks to elevate temporal values to hard and fast law at the cost of allegiance to the Sole Source of all creation?

This story unfolds through the life of Zaynab Kubra, grand-daughter of the Holy Prophet, daughter of Hazrat Fatima and Imam Ali. From what we know of her actions and speeches, it is clear that in her was reflected the divine prophetic light that was her heritage.

In writing on Zaynab bint Ali, we must first bear in mind an unalterable fact: that is, despite the efforts of numerous biographers, very little actual recorded historical fact is available about her. Even the exact dates of her birth, death, marriage, or number of children, cannot be ascertained with complete confidence.

Oral tradition about Zaynab (pbuh) has gradually evolved to a point-of subjective elaboration and emotional hyperbola that have eventually clouded her real persona and the context from which we have come to know her.

Indeed, the romantic mythology that now shrouds both her and her brother Imam Hosein (pbuh) seems to distance us from wanting to understand what they really stood for and what their actions really meant, both in the context of their afflicted times and throughout all times, present and future.

It is not necessary however to dig up as many facts or versions of her life as are available in order to perceive her purity and the strategic importance of her contribution. Though the information may be little, it is enough. The fact that we remember her at all is sufficient to rekindle our understanding of the intimate ideals for which life is worth serving. This book seeks to let these facts speak for themselves. The conclusions to be drawn are implicit to any reader whose heart and mind are available and receptive to the essence of submission.

According to the shari'ah (revealed law) of Allah women are hidden treasures, neither to be displayed nor advertised. Theirs is a subtle, fundamental and discreet domain. Imam Ali, once asked Hazrat Fatima, “Who are the best among women?"

She replied, "Those who do not see men nor are seen by them."

This then is another reason why so little is known about Zaynab (pbuh) or any other women throughout the history of Islam. But this rule can only apply if all the other elements of a pure Muslim society are equal. If the application of the divinely directed formula is chaotic and imbalanced, then that is the time when a woman feels compelled to emerge into the open arena. This is the situation in which Zaynab (pbuh) found herself. After Karbala no one was left that had the courage to stand up to tyranny, speak the truth, and submit to the consequences.

Thus what we know of her is only because of exceptional circumstances. A twist in history created the conditions that forced Zaynab (pbuh) to declare, not herself, but the truth. It is through her extraordinary handling of the wretched trials she endured that we have caught glimpses of the untold depths of her courage, forbearance, patience and submission to the decree of Allah. It is partly through her that the prophetic legacy was rescued from being eclipsed by the ever-present shadows of kufr (denial of Truth), and it is in this light that we must forever remember her and take inspiration and guidance from her example.

Chapter One : Angelic Appellation

It was five years after the Muslims had accompanied the Prophet (pbuh) and his family in the migration (hijrah) to Medina, when the Holy Prophet's daughter, Hazrat Fatima (pbuh), gave birth to a little girl. When her father, Imam Ali (pbuh), saw his daughter for the first time Imam Hosein (pbuh), who was then almost three years old, was with him. The boy exclaimed in delight, "O father, Allah has given me a sister." At those words Imam Ali (pbuh) began to weep, and when Hosein (pbuh) asked why he was crying so, his father answered that he would soon come to know. Fatima (pbuh) and Ali (pbuh) did not name their child until a few days after her birth, for they awaited the Prophet's return from a journey so that he could propose the name.

When finally the baby girl was brought before him he held her in his lap and kissed her. The Angel Jibra'il came to him and conveyed the name that was to be hers, and then he began to weep.

The Prophet (pbuh) asked why Jibra'il wept and he answered, "O Prophet of Allah, from early on in life this girl will remain entangled in tribulations and trials in this world.- First she will weep over your separation (from this world); thereafter she will bemoan the loss of her mother, then her father, and then her brother Hasan. After all this she will be confronted with the trials of the land of Karbala and the tribulations of that lonely desert, as a result of which her hair will turn grey and her back will be bent."

When the members of the family heard this prophecy they all broke down in tears. Imam Hosein (pbuh) now understood why earlier his father had also wept. Then the Prophet (pbuh) named her Zaynab (pbuh).

When the news of Zaynab's birth reached Salman Farsi, he went to Ali (pbuh) to congratulate him. But instead of seeing him happy and rejoicing he saw Ali (pbuh) shed tears, and he too was apprised of the events of Karbala and the hardships that were to befall Zaynab (pbuh).

One day, when Zaynab (pbuh) was about five years old, she had a strange and terrible dream. A violent wind arose in the city and darkened the earth and the sky. The little girl was tossed hither and thither, and suddenly she found herself stuck in the branches of a huge tree. But the wind was so strong that it uprooted the tree. Zaynab (pbuh) caught hold of a branch but that broke. In a panic she grabbed two twigs but these too gave way and she was left falling with no support.

Then she woke up. When she told her grandfather, the Prophet (pbuh), about this dream he wept bitterly and said, "O my daughter that tree is me who is shortly going to leave this world.

The branches are your father Ali and your mother Fatima Zahra, and the twigs are your brothers Hasan and Hosein. They will all depart this world before you do, and you will suffer their separation and loss."

Chapter 2 : Growing Up in Medina

Zaynab (pbuh) shared with her brothers and sister the extraordinary position of having such examples to look up to, emulate and learn from, as her grandfather, the Prophet of Allah (pbuh), her mother Fatima (pbuh), daughter of the Prophet, and her father Imam Ali (pbuh), cousin-brother of the Prophet.

In the pure environment that enveloped her, she absorbed the teachings of Islam that her grandfather imparted and after him her father. Here too she learnt to master all household skills with great proficiency. She had barely attained the tender age of seven when her beloved mother passed away. Her mother's death had closely followed her cherished grandfather's passing away. Some time later Imam Ali (pbuh) married Umm ul-Banin, whose devotion and pledge encouraged Zaynab (pbuh) in her learning.

Whilst still a young girl she was fully able to care for and be responsible for the running of her father's household. As much as she cared for the comforts and ease of her brothers and sisters, in her own wants she was frugal and unstintingly generous to the poor, homeless and parentless.

After her marriage her husband is reported as having said, "Zaynab is the best housewife."

From very early on she developed an unbreakable bond of attachment to her brother Imam Hosein (pbuh). At times, when as a baby in her mother's arms she could not be pacified and made to stop crying, she would quieten down upon being held by her brother, and there she would sit quietly gazing at his face. Before she would pray she used to first cast a glance at the face of her beloved brother.

One day Fatima (pbuh) mentioned the intensity of her daughter's love for Imam Hosein (pbuh) to the Prophet (pbuh). He breathed a deep sigh and said with moistened eyes, "My dear child.

This child of mine, Zaynab, would be confronted with a thousand and one calamities and face serious hardships in Karbala."

Chapter 3 : Womanhood

Zaynab (pbuh) grew into a fine statured young woman. Of her physical appearance little is known.

When the tragedy of Karbala befell her in her mid-fifties she was forced to go out uncovered. It was then that some people remarked that she appeared as a 'shining sun' and a 'piece of the moon'.

In her character she reflected the best attributes of those who raised her. In sobriety and serenity she was likened to Umm ul-Mu'minin Khadija, her grandmother (pbuh); in chastity and modesty to her mother Fatima Zahra (pbuh); in eloquence to her father Ali (pbuh); in forbearance and patience to her brother Imam Hasan (pbuh); and in bravery and tranquility of the heart to Imam Hosein (pbuh). Her face reflected her father's awe and her grandfather's reverence.

When the time came for marriage, she was married in a simple ceremony to her first cousin, Abdullah bin  Ja'far Tayyar. Abdullah had been brought up under the direct care of the Prophet (pbuh). After his death, Imam Ali (pbuh) became his supporter and guardian until he came of age. He grew up to be a handsome youth with pleasing manners and was known for his sincere hospitality to guests and selfless generosity to the poor and needy.

Together this young couple had five children, of whom four were sons, Ali, Aun, Muhammad, and Abbas, and one daughter, Umm Kulthum.

In Medina it was Zaynab's practise to hold regular meetings for women in which she shared her knowledge and taught them the precepts 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 Balighah (intensely eloquent).

In the thirty-seventh year A.H. (after Hijrah), Imam Ali (pbuh) moved to Kufa to finally take up his rightful position as Calif. He was accompanied by his daughter Zaynab (pbuh) and her husband.

Her reputation as an inspiring teacher among the women had preceded her. There too women would throng to her daily sittings where they all benefited from her erudition, wisdom and scholarship in the exegesis of the Qur'an.

The depth and certainty of her knowledge earned her the name given to her by her nephew, Imam Ali Zayn ul-Abidin (pbuh), of Alimah Ghayr Mu'allamah, she who has knowledge without being taught.

Zaynab (pbuh) was also nicknamed Zahidah (abstemious) and 'Abidah (devoted) because of her abstemiousness and piety. She found little of interest in worldly adornments, always preferring the bliss and comfort of the Next World over that of this world. She used to say that for her the life of this world was as a resting place to relieve fatigue along a journey. Humble and of high morals, her main concern was to strive to please Allah and in doing so she avoided anything which was the least bit doubtful.

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