Scholarly Capacities of Hazrat Zaynab (S.A.)
Author: Badr Shahin
From early life, Lady Zaynab was marvelous in her intellect and wisdom. She had learnt the holy Quran by heart as well as the Prophet’s sayings regarding Islamic laws, rules of education, and principles of ethics. She had also memorized the famous, confounding speech of her mother - Lady Fatimah al-Zahra (a), which she delivered in the Prophet’s Masjid protesting against Abu Bakr’s usurpation of the Islamic ummah’s leadership, which was the right of Imam Ali according to the instructions of Almighty Allah and Prophet Muhammad (S). She had objected to the confiscation of Fadak as well because the Holy Prophet (S) had given it to her as gift within earshot of all Muslims. She narrated her mother’s speech in addition to many other narrations, when the Muslim women visited her in her final times.
Her father, too, greatly admired her sharp wit. One day, she asked him, “Father, do you love us?” He answered, “Of course I do, daughter. I do love you because you are the fruit of my heart.” She replied politely, “Father, love is exclusively for Almighty Allah, while it is compassion which is for us.”20
As he was teaching her the numbers, he asked, “ Say: one.” She said, “one.” As he asked her to say “two,” she kept silent. “Why do you not say: two?” asked her father. She answered, “A tongue which pronounces ‘one’ cannot say ‘two.’”21 When he heard this great answer, he kissed and embraced her.22
She also used to say: Anyone who intends not to have any other intercede for him or her before Allah should praise Him. Listen to His saying: ‘Allah listens to anyone who praises Him.’ Hence, one should fear Allah for He has authority over them, and should feel shy of Him for He is very close to them.”23
This statement in fact indicates that she was so virtuous and perfectly connected to Allah.
Moreover, she represented her brother, Imam al-Husayn (a) whenever he was absent. Hence, Muslims used to refer to her in the questions concerning Islamic laws. It was because of her extensive knowledge that Imam Zayn al-Abidin (a), Abdullah ibn Jafar, Lady Fatimah daughter of Imam al-Husayn, Muhammad ibn Amr, and Ata ibn al-Saib used to quote her sayings.24
In Kufa and during her father’s regime, Lady Zaynab had special sessions to which Muslim ladies came to listen to her precious lectures on Islam and exegesis of the Holy Quran. She was thus the trustworthiest reference from whom Muslim ladies took advice regarding questions about Islam, moral instructions, and general ethics.
For her tremendous virtue too, Abdullah ibn Abbas25 frequently asked her to answers the questions that he had ignored. He also proudly reported, a good number of narrations on her authority. In this regard, he would say: “Our Aqilah26 (i.e. the Wise Lady), Zaynab daughter of Ali narrated to us that… etc.”
One of the reports that he related on the authority of Lady Zaynab was Lady Fatimah al-Zahra’s famous speech in the Prophet’s Masjid.
Lady Zaynab also represented Imam Zayn al-Abidin (a) during his illness. About her, he (a) said: “She is so knowledgeable herself that she does not need to be taught by somebody else.”27
Finally, she was the most eloquent speaker in Islam; she could stir the emotions of enemies, divide the public opinion, and provoke the public against the ruling regime of Umayyads when she delivered her famous speeches in Kufa and Damascus. In fact, these speeches hint at her precious cultural and literate fortunes.
In addition, as a reason behind her peculiar scholarly capacity the following may be mentioned as key points: She was always pious and observant towards the Almighty Allah’s commandments and instructions. By being God-fearing and pious one achieves knowledge and notable learning. This is clear in Almighty Allah’s saying: “And be careful of (your duty) to Allah, Allah teaches you, and Allah knows all things.” (2:282)
Lady Zaynab was so God-fearing and pious that she dedicated a good time of her daily activities to her Lord; she was immersed in praising and glorifying Him during this time. At nights when sounds calm and eyes sleep, she used to turn her face and heart towards her Lord with tearful eyes, fearful heart, and hopeful mind to say confidently: O You Who dresses and adorns Himself with valor! O You Who deigns and dons Himself with glory! I implore to You by the seats of might in Your Throne, by the utmost of mercy in Your Book, by Your Grandest Name, by Your most High Majesty, and by Your Perfect Words that have been accomplished truly and honestly, (I implore to You) to send blessings upon Muhammad and the family of Muhammad and to arrange for me the good of both this world and the world to come.
Lady Zaynab was well known for her unparalleled intelligence, apposite opinion, and wisdom. Her words were carefully chosen and brought together as beads in a necklace and her opinions were to the point. She was the ideal of eloquence and expressiveness. Allah gifted her the utmost of knowledge, morality, composure, religiousness, and ethics. This is not strange since she was the granddaughter of the Holy Prophet, the daughter of the model parents of Islam, and the sister of the two Chiefs of the Youths of Paradise. In her grandfather, Lady Zaynab takes pride saying: “None is like my grandfather; the Arab, the Hashemite, and the Qurayshite Prophet who has been selected by Allah, the Elevated, for guiding people about good and evil tracts in the path of life, and he did it with such a handsome approach and pleasant, articulate statements full of softness, tenderness, sympathy, and compassion.”28
The couple that was most knowledgeable in Islam - her father and mother, had taught her. So it was natural that a student of such personalities will also be intelligent and knowledgeable.
About Lady Zaynab’s acumen and sagacity, let us listen to the following narration recorded by Ibn Humayd in his book entitled al-Musnad, and al-Yafii in Mirat al-Zaman: One day, Imam al-Hasan and Imam al-Husayn were discussing some of their grandfather’s sayings, “The Halal is obvious and the Haram is also obvious, but between these two there are many dubious matters most of people ignore. To avoid such dubious matters is acquittal for the religion and the honor, while to fall in such dubious matters is plunging into the Haram. A shepherd who grazes about a shelter will decisively pasture in it. There is a shelter to every kingdom, and the shelter of Allah is in avoiding what He deems unlawful. There is also a single part in each one’s body; when this is good, the whole body will be so, and when this part is bad, the whole body will be so. This is the heart.”29
Commenting on this statement, Lady Zaynab said: Listen to me, Hasan and Husayn! Your grandfather, the Messenger of Allah, has acquired the ethics from the Lord. It is Almighty Allah Who disciplined him so perfectly. In this regard, the Prophet says, ‘My Lord has disciplined me, and He has done so perfectly.’
None is like my grandfather; the Arab, the Hashemite, and the Qurayshite Prophet who was selected by Allah, the Highest, to guide people towards their path of life with its good and evil branches, and he did this with such a handsome approach and pleasant, articulate statements full of softness, tenderness, sympathy, and compassion.
The Halal is obvious and the Haram is also obvious, but between these two, there are many dubious matters. Accordingly, the religion is of three degrees; Halal, Haram, and dubious matters. The Halal is what Allah, the Exalted, has deemed lawful by way of a text in the Holy Quran or through the explanations of the Prophet, such as the legality of trade and rendition…
The Haram is whatever Allah has deemed unlawful in the Holy Quran. It is also the contrary of the Halal.
The dubious matter is everything that is not known to be Halal or Haram.
A faithful believer who intends to achieve happiness in this world and bliss in the world to come must perform all that which Allah has made incumbent, follow the path drawn by the Holy Quran, take my grandfather, the Prophet, as an example, and go away from the dubious as much as one can.
To avoid the dubious matters is acquittal for the religion and the honor and also purity for both. It also achieves sincere obedience to the Lord.
“Now, surely, sincere obedience is due to Allah alone. (Quran; 39:3)”
For those who follow the lines of the dubious matters, it is not safe as their feet can slip and, thus, they might commit an unlawful deed. There is a shelter beside each that one possesses. However the refuge of the King-of-All becomes available by avoiding what He deems as unlawful. The Holy Prophet says, ‘Avoid the unlawful and you will be the most pious.’
Allah the Exalted has put in every human being a minute gem - a part of his entirety; when it is good, the whole body is good, pure, and clear from filth, impairments, and acts of disobedience towards the Lord of the Worlds. This is the heart. If one’s heart is sound, he will be attentive to the affairs of his religion and the principles of its law, and will see real happiness in remaining steadfast with the lights of the guidance of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah. Those who follow this straight path and these divine instructions will be among the winners on the Day of Resurrection.
Our life is in fact only a stage among many stages that lead either to Paradise or to Hell. Death will be the end, and no blame can fall after it. Nothing is after this world except Paradise or Hell.”
As she finished, Imam al-Husayn said to her, “How great are you! You are surely from the tree of prophecy and in the core of the Divine Message.”
She once said: “My grandfather has decided for us (i.e. women) rights that are incumbent upon our husbands in the same way as he has decided rights for our husbands that is incumbent upon us.” In this regard, the Holy Quran says: And they have rights similar to those against them in a just manner, and the men are a degree above them. (2:228)
My noble Grandfather also said: “A woman who offers the five obligatory prayers, observes fasting on the month of fasting, guards her chastity, and obeys her husband shall have the choice to enter Paradise from any gate she likes.”
Ibn Asakir, in his al-Tarikh, records the following: After she arrived in Egypt, Lady Zaynab once was overcome with an indisposition. The chiefs of Egypt decided to fetch her a physician, but she refused saying: “We are not among those who hope for this world or for perpetuation in it. We belong to the Household of Prophecy and the most desirable meeting for us is the meeting with our Lord. A physician, however, cannot change one’s decided term of death.”
Ibn Humayd, Abu Asim, and Ibn Abu Shaybah narrated that Abdullah ibn Abbas has said: Once, Lady Zaynab recited Allah’s saying: O you who are wrapped up in your garments… and (also) a party of those with you. (73:1… 20)
She then commented: “Thanks to Allah, we are included with this party (of those who are with the Prophet).”
The public addresses of Lady Zaynab, on more than one occasion, are evidence for eloquence and rhetoric. These addresses changed the public opinion against Yazid and the Umayyad State and showed the real purpose of Imam al-Husayn’s revolution. Later on, these addresses will be referred to in detail.
Lady Zaynab enjoyed a peculiar rank in the world of mysticism. In this regard, Allamah al-Burghani says: “Lady Zaynab’s spiritual rank is very nigh to that of the Immaculate Imams…”
Al-Rawandi, in al-Tiraz al-Mudhahhab, says: “In addition to her high spiritual rank, Lady Zaynab comes after her mother in virtue, high merit, peculiarity, majesty, knowledge, infallibility, chastity, illumination, light, honor, and splendor.”
Muhammad Rida al-Isfahani, in Jannat al-Khulud, records: “Lady Zaynab was the one nearest to her parents in eloquence, asceticism, management, and courage. After the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn, she was the custodian of her family members and, furthermore, the Hashemites.
Ibn Anbah, in Ansab al-Talibiyyin, says: “Lady Zaynab is distinguished by her innumerable merits, elevated attributes, praiseworthy characters, admirable habits, remarkable esteem, and manifest virtues.”
When Lady Zaynab attained maturity, famous celebrities competed with each other for asking for her hand. Her father, however, refused all of them.
Abdullah son of Jafar son of Abu Talib also asked for her hand. He was one of the noblest men of the Hashemites and one of the most generous men of the Arabs. Besides, Imam Ali (a) loved him very much. He therefore responded to him and accepted to give him Lady Zaynab in marriage.
Abdullah’s father was Jafar who is described as the most similar to the Holy Prophet (S) in morality and nature.30 He was one of those who preceded others in embracing and defending Islam. He emigrated twice — once to Abyssinia and then to Medina, and was well known for his pity and sympathy to the poor and paupers. Like his brother Imam Ali, Jafar was very much respected by the Prophet of Allah (S) who housed him next to his Masjid because he recognized Jafar’s strong faith and the will to sacrifice himself for the sake of Islam.
In the eighth year after Hijrah, the Prophet (S) appointed Jafar as the commander of the Muslim army in their campaign at Mutah. In this battle, Jafar was martyred after his two arms were severed because he held fast on the pennon. The Holy Prophet (S) had then said about him: “Allah the Exalted shall give Jafar two wings with which he will fly in Paradise everywhere he wishes, instead of his two severed hands.”
Jafar therefore is named ‘Dhul-Janahayn’ (the two-winged). The martyrdom of Jafar was one of the most difficult misfortunes that the Prophet (S) had to encounter. Hence, he (S) said: “Weeping should be ceaseless for Jafar and his like.”31
Abdullah’s mother was the great lady Asma bint Umays. She was among those who embraced Islam early. Accompanying her husband, she migrated to Abyssinia where she gave birth of Abdullah, Awn, and Muhammad. She then immigrated to Medina. After Jafar’s martyrdom, Asma was married to Abu Bakr and gave birth of Muhammad who is one of the most celebrated men of Islam. When Abu Bakr died, Imam Ali Amir al-Muminin married her, and she gave birth to a boy called Yahya.32
Asma adhered sincerely with the Ahl al-Bayt (a) and had a strong connection with Lady Fatimah al-Zahra (a). She reported about sixty hadiths directly on the authority of the Holy Prophet (S).
She acted as a tender mother for Imam al-Hasan, Imam al-Husayn, and Lady Zaynab as soon as she entered Imam Ali’s house as a wife. They therefore appreciated her nice treatment, and tenderness. She was thus an example of chastity, purity, and loyalty to the Ahl al-Bayt (a).
Abdullah ibn Jafar was such a person that none, including his enemies, could hide admiration for his unparalleled personality. Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan had said about him that, “Abdullah ibn Jafar is worthy of all honor. He preceded everyone else to perform the noble deeds and qualities.”33
He was loyal to the Ahl al-Bayt in general and Imam al-Husayn in particular, though he did not join the Imam’s caravan to Karbala. Historians have recorded that Abdullah held the biggest obsequies for the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn, though his two sons were also martyred in the same time. During that ceremony, one of the slaves said to him, “We have suffered long because of al-Husayn!”
As he heard this statement, Abdullah threw a sandal on that slave out of his rage and said, “Son of the condemned one! How dare you say such a thing about al-Husayn? By Allah I swear, had I been with him, I would not have left him before I would be killed there. To me, he is undoubtedly more favored than my two sons are. What makes my misfortune easy is that they were killed with him without any complaint or impatience. Thanks to Allah, if I could not support al-Husayn during his battle, my two sons did.”34
Abdullah ibn Jaffar was also well known for his generosity about which narrators have reported many marvelous stories. It was because of the Prophet’s supplication to Allah for him that he was among the richest people of Medina. Besides, he was so virtuous. He reported many narrations on the authority of his uncle, Imam Ali Amir al-Muminin (a), and his two cousins, Imam al-Hasan and Imam al-Husayn (a).
Lady Zaynab gave birth to four sons and a daughter: Awn, Ali al-Zaynabi, Muhammad, Abbas, and Lady Ummu-Kulthum.
Awn was virtuous and well mannered. He accompanied his (maternal) uncle, Imam al-Husayn (a), to Iraq. In the battle of Karbala, Awn fought very bravely and brought pride to his father, Abdullah, and grandfather, Jafar. After a brave round of fighting, Awn was attacked by the vicious Abdullah al-Tai and killed by him.35
Ummu-Kulthum, daughter of Lady Zaynab, was famous for her beauty, chastity, and personality. She was highly respected by all people in general and the Hashemites in particular. As an attempt to curry favor with the Hashemites so as to find himself a respectful position in the Muslims’ view, Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan sent a missive to his governor in Medina, Marwan ibn al-Hakam, ordering him to ask the hand of Ummu-Kulthum, daughter of Lady Zaynab, for his son, Yazid.
Marwan ibn al-Hakam knew that Imam al-Husayn (a) would surely refuse and thwart the matter. He therefore postponed it as he looked for a proper opportunity. He seized the opportunity of Imam al-Husayn’s travel and hurried to Abdullah ibn Jafar who understood the whole matter. He said to Marwan that he should wait until Imam al-Husayn (a) would come back from his journey.
When the Imam was back, Abdullah rushed to him informing of the whole story. The Imam became very angry; he rejected completely that his niece would become the wife of the sinful, lewd grandson of Abu Sufyan. He therefore hurried to his sister, Lady Zaynab, and asked her to bring her daughter, Ummu-Kulthum, before him. When the daughter came, the Imam told that her cousin al-Qasim, son of Muhammad ibn Jafar, would be the worthiest of marrying her. The mother welcomed, the daughter accepted, the father showed no rejection, and the Imam gave her away with significant gift.
They kept the matter secret until the wedding night came. On that night, the Imam invited many personalities including Marwan ibn al-Hakam who thought that the invitation was held for announcing the Imam’s acceptance of Yazid’s marriage to his niece, Ummu-Kulthum. Yet, he was disappointed when the Imam declared the marriage of al-Qasim to Ummu-Kulthum. Marwan reported the matter to Muawiyah who as a result, harboured malice against the Imam.36
20. see Zaynab al-Kubra; 53.
21. This means that one who believes honestly in the oneness of Almighty Allah must never betake another as god.
22. See Rayahin al-Shariah, vol. 3 p.54, and Hajj Abd-ul-Hadi al-Shehristani’s Yanabi al-Rahmah (3), p.8. Ibn Asakir, Ibn Mandah and Ali Mullah al-Qari have also recorded this.
23. See Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin al-Amili, Ayan al-Shiah; vol. 7, p. 140.
24. See Baqir Sharif al-Qarashi’s al-Sayyidah Zaynab.
25. Abdullah ibn Abbas is regarded as a grand authority of the Islamic ummah for his knowledge of Hadith and Islamic laws.
26. Abdullah ibn Abbas used to say ‘our Aqilah’ because he belonged in kinship to Prophet Muhammad (S).
27. See al-Tabirsi’s al-Ihtijaj, p. 166.
28. See Musa Muhammad Ali, al-Sayyidah Zaynab, 69.
29. This hadith is recorded by al-Bukhari in his al-Sahih.
30. See Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, al-Istiab fi Marifat al-Ashab; vol. 1, p. 242
31. See Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Usd al-Ghabah fi Marifat al-Sahabah; vol. 1, p. 289
32. See Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Usd al-Ghabah fi Marifat al-Sahabah; vol. 5, p. 271
33. See Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Usd al-Ghabah fi Marifat al-Sahabah; vol. 5, p. 171
34. See Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari Tarikh al-Umam wa al-Muluk; 4:357.
35. See Shaykh al-Mufid, al-Irshad, p. 268.
36. See Zaynab Aqilatu Bani Hashim; 27