I could not find any reliable reference clearly stating that Umm al-Baneen58 was alive during the Battle of Taff, and there are three theories refuting anyone's claim to the contrary:
First: ‘Allama Muhammad Hasan al-Qazwini says on p. 60 of his book Riyad al-Ahzan, “The mourning of that tragedy was held at the house of Umm al-Baneen, wife of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) and mother of al-’Abbas and his brothers.”
Second: On p. 31 of the second edition of al-Samawi's book Ibsar al-’Ayan, it is stated that, “I find my heart pouring out for the eulogy of his mother Fatima, Umm al-Baneen, which was recited by Abul-Hasan al-Akhfash in his book Sharh al-Kamil.
She used to go to al-Baqi’ [cemetery] daily in order to mourn him, and she would carry his son ‘Abdullah. The people of Medina used to assemble and listen to her eulogies. Among them was Marwan Ibn al-Hakam. They would all weep for the grief in her mourning.”
Third: Abul-Faraj [al-Isfahani] in his book Maqatil al-Talibiyyin says the following when he discusses how al-’Abbas was killed: “It is reported from Muhammad Ibn ‘Ali Ibn Hamzah who quotes Hammad Ibn ‘Eisa al-Juhni citing Mu’awiyah Ibn ‘Ammar citing Ja’far saying that Umm al-Baneen was the mother of four brothers who were all killed. She used to go out to al-Baqi’ to mourn the death of her sons in the most sad of tones and the most burning to the hearts. People would assemble to listen to her.
Marwan used to go among those who went there; he listened to her mourning.”
This is all I could find indicating that she was alive during the Battle of Taff. But the first quotation contains no proof; all it says is that the mourning was held at the house of Umm al-Baneen. There is no clue in it to her being present there and then, and it is no more than a tale recorded by Abul-Faraj that he accepted without conducting the least amount of investigation regarding its authenticity.
The second statement is clearly a quotation of what Abul-Faraj has written. Al-Samawi's Ibsar al-’Ayan contains pretty much what is included in Maqatil al-Talibiyyin, hence it cannot be regarded as a second independent opinion.
As to the text in Sharh al-Kamil, which is attributed to al-Akhfash, I could not find even one single biographer referring to it, although I examined the biographies of everyone named “al-Akhfash” As regarding shaikh al-Samawi, I personally quite often asked him about the source of the said Sharh, but he always met me with silence.
I even told him frankly that the verses of poetry in it must be his own, and that he built his tale around them; so, his reward will nevertheless be with the Almighty, all Praise to Him. Such is the case with al-Majlisi who quotes Abul-Faraj on p. 201, Vol. 10, of his encyclopedia Bihar al-Anwar. The narrative by Abul-Faraj with regard to this incident is faulty due to the following:
1. Nobody pays attention to the men upon whom he relies for his isnad. Yazid Ibn al-Mughirah Ibn Nawfal Ibn al-Harith Ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib Ibn Hashim al-Nawfali is mentioned on p. 347, Vol. 11, of Ibn Hajar's book Tahthib al-Tahthib where Ahmad is quoted as saying that the man has much to be criticized for. Abu Zar’ah describes his traditions as weak and affirms that most of what he narrates is not known to others.
Abu Hatim has said, “His traditions are very bad.” Al-Nasa’i says that the traditions he narrates should be discarded. On p. 214, Vol. 10, of Ibn Hajar’s book titled Tahthib al-Tahthib, Mu’awiyah Ibn ‘Ammar Ibn Abu Mu’awiyah cites Abu Hatim saying that his traditions are not to be used as arguments; besides, he is not well known [to other scholars of traditions].
2. Umm al-Baneen quotes a great deal of spiritual knowledge and prophetic ethics from the master of wasis as well as from the Masters of the Youths of Paradise (‘a), so much so that what she learned lifted her to the highest degrees of conviction.
She could not have said anything contradictory to the canon of the Shari’a that prohibits a woman from being exposed in any way to strangers either through prohibition or as a precaution so long as there was no extreme necessity for it.
It goes without saying that when a woman mourns someone she has lost, she ought to sit in her house and fortify herself against being seen by strangers or her voice being heard by them as long as there was no urgency for it.
Al-Sajjad (‘a), once said to Abu Khalid al-Kabuli who expressed his astonishment at finding the Imam's door open, “O Abu Khalid! One of our neighbours has just left our house and was not aware of the door not shutting properly. It does not fit the daughters of the Messenger of Allah (S) to go out and [noisily] slam the door behind them.”59
So, whoever grows up at their homes and learns their ethics does not deviate from their path. There is no room to charge Umm al-Baneen of having crossed the divine boundaries legislated by the Shari’a for women.
As regarding the truthful lady, al-Zahra’ (‘a), Medina's elders forced her to go out to the Baqi’ cemetery to mourn her father (S), so the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) built her a shed of palm leaves to shield her from the strangers, a shed which he called “Bayt al-Ahzan” (the house of griefs).60
Historians never say that people used to go there to hear her mourn the setting of the sun of Prophethood, the cessation of the heavens' wahi, and the obliteration of the divine counsels.
3. A woman mourns her lost one at the cemetery where he is buried. Nobody has written saying that a woman went out to a cemetery to mourn her dear one who is buried somewhere else. Such is the case in all generations. The claim made by Abul-Faraj that Umm al-Baneen used to go to al-Baqi’ cemetery is an evident fabrication since there is no proof for it.
His objective was to say that Marwan Ibn al-Hakam was kind of heart, for weeping is a sign of grief caused by oppression inflicted upon a dear deceased person to whom one is linked by a certain tie, so his heart gets excited and the emotion overflows, hence the tears pour down from his eyes when he weeps.
Marwan Ibn al-Hakam was the one who rejoiced at the killing of al-Husayn (‘a), and he demonstrated his elation and happiness about such a calamity when he looked at al-Husayn's head then instantly came forth with these verses:
How I wish your garment were on your arms
And redness were on your cheeks,
Looking like pieces of gold twain,
How happy I am today having killed Husayn!
4. Abul-Faraj, in his book Maqatil al-Talibiyyin, contradicts himself when he discusses the martyrdom of al-’Abbas (‘a) then comments by saying, “He was the last to be killed from those among his full-blooded brothers whom he inherited.”
Such narrative agrees with what Mis’ab Ibn al-Zubayr has recorded on p. 43 of Nasab Quraish where he says, “Al-’Abbas inherited his brothers who did not have offspring, and al-’Abbas inherited his son ‘Ubaydullah.
‘Umar and Muhammad were both alive; so, Muhammad handed over his inheritance from his uncles to ‘Ubaydullah whereas ‘Umar did not till someone mediated, and he accepted his share.”
Abu Nasr al-Bukhari has said on p. 89 of Sirr al-Silsila al-’Alawiyya (printed at Najaf by the Hayderi Press), “On the Taff Day, al-Husayn (‘a) advanced the brothers of al-’Abbas, namely Ja’far, ‘Uthman, and ‘Abdullah, who were all killed, so al-’Abbas inherited them. Then al-’Abbas was killed, so his son ‘Ubaydullah Ibn al-’Abbas inherited them all.”
This confirms our belief that Umm al-Baneen was dead during the Battle of Taff. Had she been alive, she would have inherited the wealth that belonged to al-’Abbas's brothers, being their mother, and they would not have been inherited by al-’Abbas till the inheritance is transferred to his son ‘Ubaydullah.
Muhammad Ibn al-Hanafiyya did not dispute with ‘Ubaydullah about his uncles' inheritance, in accordance with the Shari’a, because al-’Abbas was related through both his father and mother to his brothers who had by then been martyred, whereas Muhammad was related to them only through his father. A full-blooded brother is given priority in as far as inheritance is concerned over his half-brother.
‘Umar al-Atraf did not understand the problem although he was the son of ‘Ali (‘a), the gateway of the City of Knowledge (S), and he should have referred to the nation's Imam, Zayn al-’Abidin, in order not to fall in perdition.
The dispute attributed to him was true. What is stated in ‘Umdat al-Talib (Najaf's edition) confirms the existence of such a dispute: He went out to people wearing red-dyed clothes and made a statement wherein he said, “I am the wise man who did not go out to fight.”
The contradiction in what Abul-Faraj says becomes obvious: To say that Umm al-Baneen went out to al-Baqi’ cemetery to mourn her sons is to say that she was alive then, whereas his discussion of al-’Abbas's estate being inherited by his brothers testifies to the fact that she was actually dead by then... How often he [Abul-Faraj al-Isfahani] has fallen in error!
58. “Umm al-Baneen” literally means: “mother of the sons.” Such was called any bondmaid who was freed after giving birth to a son by her master and who remained in her husband/master's custody thereafter as his wife. It carries the same meaning as “umm walad.” N. Tr.
59. Sayyid Hashim al-Bahrani, Madinat al-Ma’ajiz, p. 318, hadith 86.
60. The following is recorded on p. 93 of Al-Isharat li Ma’rifat al-Ziyarat, where the author, Abu Muhsin ‘Ali Ibn Abu Bakr al-Harawi, says, “Bayt al-Ahzan at the Baqi’ belongs to Fatima (‘a).” Ibn Jubayr is quoted on p. 103, Vol. 2, of the 1316 A.H./1899 A.D. Egyptian edition of al-Samhudi's book Wafa’ al-Wafa’, saying, “Near al-Abbas's dome is Bayt al-Ahzan to which Fatima (‘a) used to retire after the demise of her father (S), and she spent her grieving time there.” Al-Khawarizmi, on p. 191 of the first 1310 A.H./1893 A.D. edition of his book Hamish al-’Ulum, says that ‘Ali (‘a) built a shed of palm leaves in the [then] outskirts of Medina for al-Zahra’ (‘a) to mourn her father (S).” On p. 328, Vol. 2, of Fath al-Qadir by Ibn Humam al-Hanafi, it is stated that prayers are offered at the masjid of Fatima (‘a) daughter of the Messenger of Allah (S) at the Baqi’, and it is the one called Bayt al-Ahzan.”
Adapted from: "Maqtal al-Husayn; Martyrdom Epic of Imam al-Husayn (a.s.)" by: "Abd al-Razzaq al-Muqarram"