The Life of Hazrat Bibi Zaynab (S.A.)
Author: Badr Shahin
To throw light upon the fragrant memories and to work with perseverance to obtain the details of such memories are the two things that cast good manners, virtues, and acquaintance with the conduct of the past personalities who were characterized by high merits, piety, righteousness, and decency on the souls.
Thus, the noble, deep-rooted character of Lady Zaynab should not be overlooked. She possessed all that points towards her immaculate majestic, dignified, and distinguished origin. She also possesses renowned bearings in the fields of perseverance upon principles, courage, eloquence, and whole-heartedness besides asceticism, chastity, piety, holiness, and magnanimity.
On that account, it is necessary for seekers of merits and fact-finders to take from her precious life account and please their ears by listening to her admirable memoirs so as to gain from the fragrance of her personality, which is a model of self-discipline, knowledge, and aspiration.
Let us now refer to a brief presentation of the life of Lady Zaynab.
Lady Zaynab enjoyed the most exalted lineage since she ramified from the tree of prophecy and Imamate and combined all the elements of honor and dignity. The family of Imam Ali (a) has been the most elevated one over the entire history in the field of struggle against wrong and in adapting the issues of human rights. The sons and descendants of Imam Ali (a) have provided hundreds of martyrs for this sake of these issues.
Lady Zaynab’s grandfather, from the maternal side, was Prophet Muhammad (S) exploded the springs of knowledge and wisdom on this earth, founded the features of civilization and development, constructed a noble society controlled by justice and law, smashed the customs, and superstitions of pagans and the savage tribal society that prevailed in the Arab Peninsula. He called for worshipping of the One Creator, and brought to his nation abundant goodness. Indeed, Almighty Allah sent Prophet Muhammad (S) as a mercy for humankind. From this great personality, Lady Zaynab inherited the value for standing in defense of the right and striving to elevate the Word of Allah.
Her grandmother, from the maternal side, was Khadijah who supported Islam in its darkest days. She struggled for sake of Allah in the best-ever way, and spent her entire fortune for the sake of her religion. She therefore has been one of the two supports on which Islam relied for its existence. The Prophet (S) used to appreciate his loyal wife and her situation in her life and after her death.
From this great grandmother, Lady Zaynab inherited the highest moral standards and perseverance on principles. Copying her grandmother, she supported her brother, Imam al-Husayn (a), in his revolution and supplied elements of eternity to his great uprising.
Lady Zaynab’s father is Imam Ali Amir al-Muminin (commander of the faithful believers): chief of the prophets’ successors, leader of the pious ones, and head of the worshippers. Ali was the representative, successor, and heir of Prophet Muhammad (S). His merits are innumerable and his striving for the sake of Allah are incomparable. He was the most knowledgeable, the most self-possessed, the most magnanimous, the most generous, the most ascetic, the most courageous, the most reputable, the best worshipper, the most loyal, the most faithful, and the most pious among Muslims.
Historians have recorded unanimously that Lady Zaynab followed her father in behavior, knowledge and conduct. She, too, positively adopted all of her father’s goals and efforts for the sake of supplying Islam with sustenance. Hence, she, along with her brother Imam al-Husayn (a), could thwart the infidel plots of the Umayyad that were aimed at wiping out Islam and replacing it with the pre-Islamic customs.
Lady Zaynab’s mother was Lady Fatimah al-Zahra (a), the Veracious who was a copy of her father in adoration of Allah, piety, self-discipline, knowledge, virtue, clemency, veneration, and the other features of perfection. Her father named her as the Chief of the Women of the World1. For these reasons, her father directed the best words of laudation and respect to his daughter who was the ideal woman on this earth. Such was the mother, educator, and instructor of Lady Zaynab who had been nourished with all aspects of human perfection.
Let us also refer briefly to the grandfather and grandmother of Lady Zaynab from the paternal side.
Abu Talib, father of Imam Ali (a), was a protector of Islam as he defended Prophet Muhammad (S) so bravely and suffered unbearable torments in this course. Only under the guardianship of Abu Talib could Prophet Muhammad (S) propagate his divine mission and spread its principles fearlessly. With the demise of his protector, the Prophet (S) expressed his great loss and grief. He therefore called that year as ‘year of grief’. After the demise of Abu Talib, the enemies of the Prophet (S) agreed on assassinating him, but Allah saved and ordered him to flee to Yathrib and let his cousin, Ali, sleep on his bed to make the plotters believe that he was still there.
From this great personality, Lady Zaynab drew the best lessons to act for defending the principles.
Lady Zaynab’s grandmother was Fatimah bint Asad - an example of faith and purity. On her hands, the Prophet (S) was brought up and treated so kindly and tenderly since she used to take care of him rather than her sons and bestow upon him with all colors of sympathy and love. Hence, she was highly respected by him; when she departed life, he dressed her in his own shirt and laid her down in the grave himself as an expression of his great love for her. From this grand mother, Lady Zaynab received the best lessons of love and support for the sake of religion and its legal leaders.
We, also, should not neglect the fact that Imam al-Hasan and Imam al-Husayn (a) participated in developing the unparalleled personality of their sister, Lady Zaynab, since she spent a long part of her life in their custody. The merits and virtues of the two Imams are too many to be contained here. As a result, the Prophet (S) called them ‘Chiefs of the Youth of Paradise.’2
Lady Zaynab imitated the morals and ethics of Imam al-Hasan (a) who was known for his composure and liberal approach in addition to his high moral standards. As he had noticed that his grandfather and parents took great care of Zaynab, Imam al-Hasan also encompassed her with much love and compassion and preferred her to the other harem of the Prophet’s household.
Imam al-Husayn’s relation with his sister Zaynab has been the melody of seekers of human perfection. She could occupy his feelings and bring emotions from the genuineness of her estimation, elevation of her ethics, and high moral standards. She was the most dependable person in the sight of Imam al-Husayn (a) who used to take her counsel in all of his affairs. She accompanied him in all the stages of his revolution.
Without Lady Zaynab’s struggle, efforts, and honorable situations, the revolution of Imam al-Husayn (a) would have been lost. As an example of Lady Zaynab’s great standing in the sight of her brother Imam al-Husayn (a) is that when he bade her the last farewell on the day of Ashura, he asked her to mention him in her Night Prayer.3
Through the second part of this book, we will refer to sections of the unmatched relation between Imam al-Husayn (a) and his sister, Lady Zaynab.
The Blessed Newborn
The life of the Prophet’s family was flourishing with the existence of the two Imams al-Hasan and al-Husayn (a) who occupied their grandfather’s heart completely. Their patents, too, were highly delighted when they saw their two sons and as they saw the Prophet’s love for them. Once, he (S) expressed his love for these two sons by saying: “These two are my only basils that I take from this world.”4
In the midst of this delightful atmosphere, Lady Fatimah al-Zahra became pregnant for the third time. Everybody, including the Messenger of Allah (S), was waiting for the new baby.5
With further delight and pleasure, Lady Fatimah gave birth to a baby girl who was to exceed all Muslim women in fields of faith, honor, chastity, and perseverance to the principles. The Ahl al-Bayt and the Prophet’s companions received the news of the birth of Lady Zaynab with gladness.
Imam Ali (a) hurried to take his newborn, kissed her frequently, and held the Shariite ceremonies of newborns. The Imam (a) recited azan6 in his newborn’s right ear and iqamah7 in the left. Hence, the first voice that penetrated the newborn’s hearing was her father stating: Allahu Akbar —Allah is the Greatest… La ilaha illa (a)llah —there is no god but Allah.
These great words found a strong ground in the inner self of Lady Zaynab. They, later on, became the most significant elements of her personality. In the future, she would adopt the calling to the true application of these words for which she would encounter horrible adversities.
As soon as he was informed about the news of the giving birth of this newborn, the Prophet (S) hurried to his daughter’s house, embraced the newborn to his chest warmly, and began to weep. It was a surprise for the mother, Fatimah al-Zahra, to see her father’s tears drop on his face, “What for are you weeping for, father?” she asked.
“Fatimah,” said the father (S) with sad tone, “you should know that this daughter would have to suffer horrible misfortunes and tragedies after your and my demise.”8
At that time the Prophet (S) had perceived the horrifying hardships that would afflict this granddaughter. Naturally, Fatimah al-Zahra (a) participated in her father’s grieving at this time. Then when the close friend of the Ahl al-Bayt, Salman, came to congratulate on the occasion, he found the household immersed in grief and unhappiness. Hence, he also participated in that ceremony of consolation9.
Choosing the name
The blessed mother carried her newborn to the father and asked to choose a name for her.
“I will not precede the Messenger of Allah in such a matter,” answered the father modestly. He then took the newborn and asked him to choose a name for her.
“I will not precede my Lord in such a matter,” answered the Messenger of Allah modestly.
From the Heavens then ascended Archangel Gabriel to say to the Prophet, “This newborn’s name is ‘Zaynab’10. Almighty Allah has chosen this name for her.”11 She was also given the nicknames - ‘Ummu-Kulthum’ or ‘Ummu-al-Hasan’12.
Epithet is a word or phrase expressing a quality or attribute regarded as characteristic of the person or thing mentioned. Epithets, then, depict one’s mental attitude and traits regardless of being good or bad.13 Thus, Lady Zaynab had many epithets that expressed aspects of her personality.
The Arabic Aqilah means a noble woman, who is honored among her people and is venerated in her house, by virtue of her wisdom.
Lady Zaynab was such an honorable and virtuous lady that all her descendants have been called Banu al-Aqilah—sons of the Noble and Wise woman.
During the journey of Imam al-Husayn (a) from Medina to Karbala, Lady Zaynab was the Chief Lady of the harem and was obeyed and respected by everybody.
It is to add that she was also called ‘Aqilatu Bani Hashim - the Wise woman of the Hashemites,’ and ‘Aqilat ut-Talibiyyin - the Wise woman of the sons (and descendants) of Abu Talib.’
For her supreme knowledge, Lady Zaynab was called al-Alimah – the Woman of Knowledge. Historians have confirmed that she was an authority for Muslim ladies who used to refer to her for their religious affairs. Of course, she received such knowledge from her grandfather, parents and brothers who were the sources of knowledge for the Islamic ummah. Furthermore, Lady Zaynab has had similar epithets, such as ‘al-Arifah’ — the Knower of Reality’, and ‘al-Muwathaqah - the Reliable one.’
Abidatu Ali - Ali
Lady Zaynab was recognized also as being distinguished worshipper among Muslim ladies. She committed herself to all the recommended rites of Islam to the degree that even on the most horrible night of her life – i.e. the night of the tenth of Muharram, 61 AH - she offered the supererogatory prayers. Thus, she was called Abidatu Ali - Ali, The Most Worshipping woman of Ali’s household’.
In all aspects of human perfection, Lady Zaynab preceded everybody and occupied the leading position. She therefore is called ‘al-Kamilah - the Perfect woman.’
Because of her great jihad, her service to Islam, and steadfastness for the sake of Allah, Lady Zaynab’s virtue has exceeded all limits and, therefore, she was proudly conferred with the epithet of ‘al-Fadhilah —the Virtuous Lady.’
Just like her mother who is known as the Senior Veracious, Lady Zaynab was so veracious that she gained worthily the epithet of ‘al-Siddiqah al-Sughra - the Junior Veracious Lady’.
As she had to suffer different and innumerable misfortunes all over her lifetime, Lady Zaynab was called Umm al-Masaib – Mother of misfortunes.
Let us refer to some of these misfortunes that she saw in a period of about a month: - She saw al-Hurr ibn Yazid force Imam al-Husayn to stop and put down camp in a desolate place.
• She saw the Imam’s with a few companions in comparison to the great numbers in the enemy’s army.
• She saw most of the Imam’s so-called partisans abandon him and join his enemies.
• She saw the women of the household fear and worry when they had to camp in Karbala.
• She saw the enemies deprive her people and her of water.
• She had to take care of the children and women while they were crying out of thirst.
• She had to witness her brother’s feelings of disappointment and loneliness.
• She had to witness the martyrdom of her two sons, as well as the other relatives and companions who were martyred one by one. The martyrdom of al-Abbas however was the most disastrous for her.
• She saw how Imam al-Husayn (a) was without any supporter or helper, while he was seeking help.
• She saw the head of Imam al-Husayn (a) cut off and then being raised on spearheads.
• She saw the enemies attack her brother’s caravan and women, trying to set fire to the tents.
• She had to gather the children and women who dispersed and fled to everywhere in that desert.
• She had to pass by the dead and severed body of her brother while gathering the women and children of the family.
• She had to ride on lean, unsaddled camels and to help the children and women to mount on such animals.
• She had to exert all efforts for taking care of her ill nephew and consoling him.
• She had to go through the scenes of being made captive, then being driven from one town to another while people were looked at them as rebels.
It is narrated that the Holy Prophet (S) once said, “To weep for the misfortunes of Zaynab is as same as to weep for her brothers; al-Hasan and al-Husayn.”14
Year of Birth
Historians and narrators have had different opinions about the year of Lady Zaynab’s birth. Some have referred to the fifth year after Hijrah,15 others to the sixth, and a third party to the ninth. The last opinion however is inaccurate,16 and the first is the most acceptable.
Lady Zaynab was brought up at the hands of Prophet Muhammad, Imam Ali, and Lady Fatimah the Veracious (a). In other words, she was brought up in the lap of the divine prophesy, spent her early life in the house of the divine mission, suckled the milk of the most perfect woman of all ages, and was nourished at the hands of the Commander of the Faithful Believers. Hence, she enjoyed a divine upbringing and spiritual education. She was garbed in the garments of elevation, eminence, chastity, and decency. After the demise of Prophet Muhammad (S) and his daughter Fatimah (a), Imam Ali married Umamah17 who took care of Lady Zaynab perfectly since this lady was known for her piety and submission to the Lord.
Lady Zaynab, hence, was raised up with the most exalted colors of education, honor, dignity, mercy, and compassion. She learnt many things that composed her perfect personality, from the behaviors of her parents and brothers.
For instance, whenever she visited her brother Imam al-Husayn, he would stand up as a sign of reverence and respect for her. Whenever she wanted to visit the holy tomb of her grandfather, her father and two brothers used to accompany her. They used to extinguish any lights there so that nobody could see her.18
She was really the inheritor of Imam Ali’s values, moralities, and ethics. To the scholars and narrators of Hadith,19 Lady Zaynab enjoyed a high position. They, therefore, used to refer to Imam Ali, during the Umayyad regime, which had banned any mention of the Imam’s name, by saying ‘Father of Zaynab reported…’
1. Fatimah al-Zahra (a), the Veracious was praised not only by Prophet Muhammad (S) but also by everyone who lived in her time. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, in his al-Isabah, records that Aishah, the Prophet’s wife had said: “Nobody is preferred more than Fatimah except Prophet Muhammad (S)”. Abdullah ibn Abbas has said, that it is recorded in the previous reference book that - “The best women of Paradise are four: Khadijah, Fatimah, Mary, and Asiyah - the Pharaoh’s wife.”
Al-Bukhari in his al-Sahih and Muslim in his al-Sahih, record the following: Al-Musawwir ibn Makhramah has quoted the Prophet (S) to say, “Fatimah is a part of me. Whatever hurts her is certainly hurtful to me and whatever pleases her is certainly pleasing to me.”
Ali (a) reported the Prophet’s addressing to Fatimah: “Fatimah, most surely Allah is pleased when you are pleased and enraged when you are enraged.”
Finally, reference books of Islamic history and narration are full of reports relating the elevated standing of Fatimah al-Zahra, the Veracious (a).
2. See Yanabi ul-Mawaddah; 196.
3. See Zaynab al-Kubra, 60.
4. See Kanz al-Ummal; 7/110, al-Bukhari’s al-Sahih; Chapter: Kitab al-Adab, Majma al-Zawaid; 9/181, and Ibn Asakir’s at-Tarikh; 13/39.
5. Although some historians say that the first female child of Lady Fatimah al-Zahra was Ruqayyah, nicknamed Ummu Kulthum, most of historians have proved Lady Zaynab was Lady Fatima’s first she-baby. As evidence it is cited that during the reign of the Umayyad State when the Ahl al-Bayt and their partisans were persecuted, anyone who wanted to relate something to Imam Ali, he would say, “Father of Zaynab said so-and-so.” This is because Zaynab was the elder daughter, and the enemies did not recognise this nickname. See Ibn Abu al-Hadid, Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah.
6. Azan is the call to prayer.
7. Iqamah is the prefatory statements of the ritual prayer.
8. See At-Tiraz al-Mudhahhab, 38
9. See Batalatu Karbala; 21.
10. In Arabic, the word ‘Zaynab’ is a name of a handsome, fragrant tree (see Ibn Manzhur’s Lisan al-Arab, vol. 6 p.88).
11. See Zaynab al-Kubra, 16-7.
12. See Zaynab al-Kubra, 17.
13. Excerpted from the Oxford Talking Dictionary, copyright © 1998 The Learning Company, Inc.
14. See Jafar al-Naqdi, Zaynab al-Kubra; 32.
15. Hijrah is the migration of Prophet Muhammad (a) and his family and companions from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D; the Muslim era reckoned from this history.
16. Shaykh Jafar al-Nadir, in his Zaynab al-Kubra, p.18, refutes the narrations that Lady Zaynab was born in the ninth year of the Hijrah. He says: “Despite the variation in narrations, Lady Fatimah al-Zahra, the Veracious (a) died in the tenth or eleventh year of the Hijrah. If Lady Zaynab was born in the ninth year of the Hijrah, then when was Ummu-Kulthum, her sister, born, and when was al-Muhsin, the third son of Imam Ali, born?
On this account, it is understandable that Lady Zaynab was born in the fifth year of the Hijrah.” Besides, Shaykh al-Naqdi has referred to other facts proving this opinion.
17. Umamah is the daughter of Zaynab stepdaughter of Prophet Muhammad (S). Implementing the will of Fatimah al-Zahra, Imam Ali married Umamah after the demise of Lady Fatimah. It is also worth mentioning here that Umamah was greatly respected by Prophet Muhammad (S).
18. See at-Tabarani’s al-Mujam al-Kabir as related to Yahya al-Mazini
19. Hadith is the body of traditions concerning the sayings and doings of the Prophet Muhammad (S).