Hazrat Zainab (A.S.): The Unschooled Scholar
By: Seyyed Ali Shahbaz
It is beyond the power of ordinary mortals to pen the merits and virtues of Hazrat Zainab (A.S.), whose praise requires a tongue as eloquent as that of the Holy Qur’an or as fluently expressive as that of Prophet Muahammad (SAWA) and his Infallible progeny.
Her genealogy is impeccable. Hazrat Zainab (A.S.) was a blue blood scion of the House of Hashem (AS), the noble leader of the Quraysh tribe who was descended from Prophet Abraham’s (AS) firstborn son, Prophet Ishmael (AS). Her father Imam Ali (AS) and mother Hazrat Fatema Zahra (A.S.) need no introduction. If Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) was her maternal grandfather, her paternal grandfather was that protector of infant Islam, the Prophet’s beloved uncle and guardian, Abu Taleb (AS) – the consanguineous brother of the Prophet’s father ‘Abdullah (AS). If her maternal grand- mother was the Mother of all true Believers (Umm al-Momineen) Hazrat Khadija (A.S.) – also known as Maleekat al-‘Arab for her fabulous wealth that she all spent for Islam – her paternal grand- mother was Fatema bint Asad (A.S.), the lady who had brought up the orphaned Prophet as her own son following the death of his grandfather ‘Abdul-Mutallib (AS) and of his mother Amena bint Wahb (A.S.).
The merits of Hazrat Zainab (A.S.), who gave her two youthful sons ‘Aun and Muhammad as sacrifices for the cause of Islam at Karbala, do not end here, in view of the fact that her brothers were Imam Hasan (AS) and Imam Husain (AS), the Leaders of the Youth of Paradise. Moreover, she was married to her first cousin ‘Abdullah (AS) the son of Ja’far at-Tayyaar (AS), the first migrant in Islam whose famous expounding of monotheism and the merits of Prophet Jesus (AS) and the Virgin Mary (A.S.) in the court of King Negus (Najashi) of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) when the polytheists of Mecca pursued him there is recorded in golden letters.
Hazrat Zainab (A.S.) was too great to rest on family laurels. She explored a distinctive path of her own and that is the reason her virtues merited the title Sani-e Zahra or second only to her impeccable mother, Hazrat Zahra (A.S.), the greatest lady of all times. Hazrat Zahra (A.S.), needed an immaculate deputy to demonstrate to the women of the world the greatness of Islam and the practical meaning of piety, virtue and feminine rights. This is why her elder daughter, Zainab al-Kubra (A.S.), rose to the occasion to carve out an immortal niche for herself in history. Although not infallible like the Prophets, the Imams and her own mother, the Heroine of Karbala set a lasting example of flawlessness that not even the infallible Adam could match because of his slight negligence in approaching the forbidden tree while in heaven.
Hazrat Zainab (A.S.) was the embodiment of practical knowledge. Shaikh Saddouq writes: “Kaanat Zainab laha niyabata khassa an-il-Husain wa kaan-an-naas yarja’ouna alayha fi’l-halaal wa’l-haraam hatta bariun Zain al-Abedin min marazahu (Zainab [SA] had a special deputation on behalf of [Imam] Husain [AS]. People used to refer to her in [jurisprudential] matters related to the sanctioned and forbidden until [her nephew, Imam] Zain al-‘Abedin [AS] recovered from his illness.)”
It is knowledge that unravels all realities. In other words there is no aspect of human life that does not require knowledge and awareness. Her father Imam ‘Ali (AS) in his famous advice to his disciple Kumail ibn Ziyad (as mentioned in the Nahj al-Balagha) has beautifully outlined the indispensable nature of knowledge as more worthy than wealth, saying: “Knowledge guards you while you have to guard wealth. Wealth decreases by spending while knowledge increases by spending.”
In Islam, the pursuit of knowledge is not confined to men, but women are also urged to acquire it. Unlike other creeds and cultures, Islam restored woman to her natural status in society with emphasis on learning so that literate and knowledgeable mothers could properly groom their children, the future hope of the society. Thus Hazrat Zainab (A.S.) was immune from any ignorance and possessed God-given knowledge with certitude. No less a personality than her nephew Imam Zain al-‘Abedin (AS) says about her: “Ante be-hamdillah, ‘alematun ghaira mu’allema, wa fahmatun ghaira mufahema (You are by the grace of God a scholar unschooled by anyone and a sage by connation).”
The Fourth Imam in praise of her eloquent sermons in Kufa and Damascus when in the aftermath of the Karbala tragedy the noble prisoners were brought before the Omayyud rulers, said the realities and finer points of God-given intelligence and knowledge that his aunt demonstrated is not easy to grasp by even the most erudite scholars. Her clarity of language and choice of words to expound the mission of her brother in the court of the tyrant Yazid is rather unique. History is incapable of doing full justice to her sermons that ensured eternity for the mission of Imam Husain (AS). Scholars, pointing to a single phrase from her memorable sermon in the court of Damascus, say that besides being an indicator of her firm faith, trust in God, sincerity of purpose and dauntlessness under the most adverse circumstances, it shattered to pieces the power and pride of Yazid. Her bold address to the seemingly proud caliph: “Ain al-adl yabna at-tulaqa (Is it justice O’ sons of freed slaves)” shook the very foundations of Omayyad rule and exposed its illegitimacy not only for the courtiers but for all generations to come. By her use of the word tulaqa (pl. or taleeq or freed slave), Zainab (A.S.) was actually reminding the ruler how her grandfather Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), on the day of the peaceful surrender of Mecca to Muslims, had shown magnanimity to the arch infidel Abu Sufyan, his accursed wife Hind and his equally criminal son Mua’wiyah (the grandfather, grandmother and father of Yazid) despite the fact that Hind had so savagely carved out the liver of the Prophet’s martyred uncle Hamza at the Battle of Ohod and tried to chew it. On the day of the liberation of Mecca, the Prophet had called Abu Sufyan, Mua’wiyah and their other idolatrous kinsmen tulaqa or freed slaves, and had spared their lives by accepting their lip service to Islam in order to teach humanity a lasting lesson that what evil such despised ingrates do when opportunity comes their way to strike at the humanitarian principles that they had always opposed.