There have been many persons in the past who left deep imprints on the course of history and who, as leader and mentor of seekers of truth carried, on their backs, the shining torch of humanism through the darkness of times, who changed the course of the history and got immortalized in the history of mankind. One such eminent personage was Zainab bint Ali ( S.A.), who is known to the history as the Messenger of the Kerbala Revolution.
She was brought up in the highest household of learning. She shared her knowledge and taught women of Medina the precepts of the religion ( Deen) of Islam as laid out in the Holy Qur’an. 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 the name given to her by her nephew, Zayn ul-Abidin, of ‘Alimah Ghayr Mu’allamah, ‘she who has knowledge without being taught’. Zainab became prominent in the history only after the ‘battle’ of Karbala. She played an indispensable role in exposing the real enemies of Islam and the household of the Prophet. It is an admitted fact that with out Zainab, Hussein’s ( A.S.) mission would have remained unfinished and with out her, the real culprits could not have been exposed to the world.
There is no escaping the fact that if today we hear the call to prayers, it is only because of the sacrifice of that virtuous woman, who devoted her entire life to deliver the message of the martyrs of Karbala to the people of her time and to the generations to come. She was an incredibly courageous and patient woman, who saw her brother being mercilessly ‘butchered’ before her eyes, who saw the dead bodies of her children being brought back from the battlefield.
Despite the fact that she was physically abused, she didn’t complain to anyone instead glanced at the sky and exclaimed, “Thank you God for all the generosity and greatness which you gave to our family: the honor of prophecy and the honor of martyrdom!”
She was an eye witness of the atrocious carnage, the massive onslaught that took place in Kerbala in 61A.H. After assassinating Husain (A.S.), members of his family and his companions, Yazid, one of the most malicious persons in the history of Islam, thought that he would be able to ascend the throne of Caliphate without facing any resistance. But destiny had something else in store for him.
When Zainab realized Yazid’s wicked ambitions, she, as a spokeswomen of her brother, came to the rescue of Islam. The caravan which Husain had led from Medina to Kerbala was led by his sister after his martyrdom. The difference between the two caravans was that when it arrived in Kerbala there were old and young men, not many in number though, present in the caravan, which include the companions of prophet Mohammed ( S.A.W.W.) and friends of Ali (A.S.), but when the caravan left Kerbala there were 72 severed heads of those pious men poised on the sky-touching spears. Nonetheless, the martyrs had done their job.
The sun of the 10th of Muharram had confirmed the truth in Margaret Mead’s sayings, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Edward Gibbon has noted that the tragic scene of the death of Hussain (A.S.) and his companions and also the oppressions made to his family members and children are such that will “awaken the sympathy of even the coldest Readers”.
The women, children and an ailing man in the caravan were taken all the way through the streets of Kufa and Damascus to the court of Yazid as captives. The bystanders were laughing and gazing at the unveiled women in the caravan and many were indiscriminatingly pelting stones on them.
The renowned historian al-Biruni has stated, “Nobody in the history of the human kind has seen such attrocities.”
When the caravan reached Kufa, Zainab (A.S.) addressed the Kufians, who had betrayed Hussain (A.S.) by first sending him 12000 invitations and later drawing their swords against him, thus:
“Oh people of Kufa! Oh you deceivers! You traitors! You sinners! Now you weep? May God never diminish the flow of tears and may your hearts forever burn with grief and sorrow! Your false pledges contain no element of truth and sincerity. Know that you are as disgraceful and devoid of good moral character as the low and despicable purchased slave girls. Now you are weeping for my brother and raise wailing cries after him? Yes, by God you weep because you deserve it. Yes, weep more and laugh less because you have contaminated yourself in the ignominy of slaying the beloved grandson of the Prophet ( S.A.W.). The stain of the unjustly shed blood of my brother is on your forehead and you can never wipe it off.Oh Kufians! Woe be upon you! Do you know which part of Mohammad (SAW) you have cut and the vow that you have broken and whose blood you have shed and whose sanctity you have violated? By killing Hussain (A.S.) you have assumed responsibility for such a disgraceful, grievous and gruesome deed. Would you doubt if after all blood rains from the skies above? Remember! The punishment of the Day of Judgement which will be more severe and extremely harsh!”
From Kufa the caravan was taken to the court of Yazid. Yazid was disrespecting the severed head of Hussain (A.S.) with a cane . Zainab, the Mother of Sufferings (Ummul Masaib), could not bear this humiliation and broke her silence in the court of Yazid (darbar-i-Yazid), with the eloquence and valor of her father, and the bravery and spirit of her brother, Husain ( A.S.), before the mammoth gathering. Her face reflected the awe of her grandfather, Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.W).
Her poignant speech shook the very foundation of Yazid’s court and unveiled the inhumane and anti-Islamic policies of the Ummayads. She stoop up and said, “God says, and He says the truth, the end of miscreants will be awful, those who belied the signs of God and mocked them. Oh Yazid, do you feel that you have made our life miserable and existence impossible? And you think that God has dishonoured us and that you have been honoured and elevated? This apparent success of yours is the result of grandeur of your might and lofty status for which you are proud…. You feel that you have conquered the whole world and your affairs are organised and that our domain is now under you control…
Wait! Wait! Let not your ignorance make you so elated for have you not heard God’s words – Let not those who disbelieve think that our giving them respite is good for themselves. We only give respite to them so that they may increase in sins and for them is a disgraceful chastisement. (3:177)
“Oh Yazid! Your misdeed has proved your rebellion against God…. And this action of yours comes as no surprise from a person whose ancestors chewed the liver of such saintly martyrs. The descendants of such enemies of God should naturally be the most deadly!
“Oh Yazid! You are happily disrespecting the teeth of Husain (A.S.) even though it was the place of kissing for the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.W.)!
“Oh Yazid! You did what you wished, but remember that you have cut your own skin. In the near future you will be taken in the presence of the Holy Prophet (SAW). On that occasion you will be burdened with the sins of the misdeed committed by you shedding the blood of his progeny and dishonouring the sanctity of his family.
“Oh Yazid! It does not befit you to get inflated with joy after slaying the Prophet’s (S.A.W.) progeny and reckon not those slain in the way of God to be dead: nay! “Alive they are with their Lord, being sustained, rejoicing in what God has granted them” (2:168).
“Oh Yazid! Feel not elated with our defeat, for you will have to pay the penalty of it on the day when you will be rewarded for your misdeeds. God is not unjust to anyone. We trust in Him. He is our place of refuge. In Him we seek sanctity and with Him rest our hopes!
“You can never reach the level of our lofty position, nor can you destroy our remembrances, nor can you wipe out the ignominy you have earned for yourself by your abominable and vile performance. Your decisions are poor and your days are numbered. Your party will disperse the day when the Announcer will announce – ‘God’s curse be on tyrants and transgressors’.”
This was a moral defeat of Yazid and his philosophy. The blood sacrifice of Hussain (A.S.) and the bravado of his sister sparked a revolution which in a short period of time brought the downfall of Yazid’s evil rule.
It is the primary and foremost duty of our women to safeguard the immortal sacrifice of Zainab. Her ‘rida’ (scarf) was snatched away and she was left unveiled by the Banu Umayyads’ ‘terrorists’. That indeed would have been the most melancholic and agonizing experience even for a woman who had witnessed one of the greatest massacres known to the history of mankind – the massacre of Kerbala.
She enveloped her face with dust to prevent herself from the watchful eyes of the strangers, so that she is not recognized. This event is indeed a considerable example for those Muslim women who do not respect ‘hijab’ and instead see it as a ‘stumbling block’. This is, however, the effect of the misinterpretation of the concept of ‘modernization’ by the West, which has by and large confined its scope.
Modernization, in the context of women, does not only mean to make her an object for fulfillment of carnal desires or a desirable ‘commodity’ of beauty pageants. West is suffering the consequences of its illogical and incomprehensive interpretation of the so-called modernization.
The rate of crime against women is persistently on rise in the countries where unveiled and shamefully dressed women are considered a symbol of modernization, and are encouraged to exhibit before strangers. I cannot help but quote Anita Rai here: “Veil is the symbol of dignity of a woman. It is not merely a piece of cloth to cover her head or face….…A true lady cannot compromise her lofty stature by clothing herself disrespectfully or in such way that do not become her position as the daughter of Eve” (The Essential Woman).
Muslim Women should realize that Zainab sacrificed her rida and endured stiff tribulations only to safeguard the rights of Muslims and ideals of social justice and human liberty. Zainab saved the humanity from the tyranny, oppression, brutality and transgression of Banu Umayyad rulers, who had converted caliphate into hereditary kinship.
Zainab was a pioneer of the Kerbala Revolution. She is the best role model not only for the Muslim women but all womenfolk all over the world. She was immensely knowledgeable, incredibly brave, enormously sublime and unquestionably pious. She is the woman who pre-demonstrated the saying of a French poet, Alphonse de Lamartine , “There is a woman at the beginning of all great things”.
Zainab was the woman who was originally responsible for the decline and fall of Yazid’s brutal regime. Events like Karbala and Zainab’s trials remain as wounds in our consciousness, reminding us of battles, yet to be fought and tasks still to be accomplished.
However, we have unfortunately failed to do justice to her mission. We must learn to connect with the past events. It is our moral responsibility to safeguard her legacy and to realize that only admiring her and holding her in great esteem is not enough. We must, at the same time, follow the path she has shown to us. She abides where there is a fight against evil. Today, Islam is being attacked from all quarters just it was in the time of Zainab. It’s imperative for us to come to its rescue as Zainab did some 1400 years ago. Dr. Ali Shariati, has perfectly articulated the idea in the following words, “Those who died committed a Husaynic act. Those who remain must perform a Zainabic act. Otherwise, they are Yazids”.