Zaynab is the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammed and role model for Shi῾i female activists. Zaynab is among the prominent granddaughters of the Prophet Mohammed, and her fame in Islamic history derives from her passionate and eloquent defense of her family and in particular her brother, al-Hussain, the martyred hero of the Battle of Karbala (680). She was a daughter of ῾Ali ibn Abi Talib, Mohammed's cousin, and Fatima al-Zahra, the favored and youngest daughter of Mohammad.
Early Life[edit | edit source]
Early Muslim sources provide few details about Zaynab's life before the Battle of Karbala. Mohammed Ibn Sa῾d's (d. 845) biographical compendium, among the earliest sources for her life, simply relates her genealogy, mentions her marriage to ῾Abd Allah ibn Ja῾far ibn Abi Talib (her first cousin), and lists the names of her five children (῾Ali, ῾Awn al-Akbar, ῾Abbas, Mohammed, and Umm Kulthum). While there is general consensus that she was the oldest daughter of ῾Ali and Fatima, there is no clarity about other details of her birth and early life.
Battle of Karbala[edit | edit source]
In contrast to the relative obscurity of her early life, her actions as they are remembered on the battlefield of Karbala and in the subsequent years figure more prominently in early Muslim sources. The History of al-Tabari (d. 923), for example, depicts her as valiant, defiant, and outspoken in the face of the tremendous tragedy that befell her family at Karbala. Most importantly she is credited with the survival of the line of Shi῾i Imams itself through her defense of ῾Ali ibn al-Hussain, the only surviving son of al-Hussain and his successor to the leadership of the Shi῾is. Her eloquent, passionate defenses of her family before their Umayyad oppressors is recorded and widely commemorated in manuals of poetry and rhetoric (see, for example, Ibn Abi Tayfur, Balaghat al-Nisa᾽).
Sermon at Yazid’s Court[edit | edit source]
At the first day of Safar, according to a narration of Turabi, when the caravan of captives arrived at Damascus, they and the heads of fallen ones were taken into Yazid's presence. Yazid recited the blasphemous poetic verses of Abdullah bin Zab'ari Sahmi which he had composed while he was an unbeliever and also added some poetic verses of his own.
At this time, Zaynab, the daughter of Ali, rose and began speaking. She added a new chapter to the history of the Caliphate of Yazid which covered a period of three years and a few months, and said: "O Yazid! Allah and His Prophet have said that committing sins and considering the signs of Allah to be false is ridiculing them", i.e. deny the sign of Allah today and hold them in derision and have become happy, and recite poetic verses on account of the martyrdom of the children of the Holy Prophet just as the polytheists of Makkah became happy and sang songs because of the martyrdom of some Muslims in the Battle of Uhud, and talk about taking revenge upon the Holy Prophet.
This is how you become like them and how you have reached this stage? You have reached this stage because you have committed too many sins. Whoever treads the path of sin and persists in committing sins will, according to the verdict of the Qur'an, deny the signs of Allah one day and eventually will ridicule them and then deserve Divine punishment.
She added: "O Yazid! Do you think that we have become humble and despicable owing to the martyrdom of our people and our own captivity? As you have blocked all the paths for us, and we have been made captives and are being taken from one place to another, do you think that Allah has taken away his blessings from us? Do you think that by killing the godly persons you have become great and respectable and the Almighty looks at you with special grace and kindness?
For this reason and on account of this incorrect thinking you have become elated and arrogant. You have become boastful because you have seen that the matters have taken a turn in your favour. You have, however, forgotten what Allah says:
The disbelievers must not think that our respite is for their good We only give them time to let them increase their sins. For them there will be a humiliating torment." 
Then Zaynab reminded Yazid that on the day of the conquest of Makkah which took place in 8 A.H. the Prophet did favor to all the men and women of Makkah and set them free. Yazid himself was a descendant of those freed persons. His father Muawiya, his grandfather Abu Sufyan and Mu'awiya's mother were among those who were set free at the time of the conquest of Makkah. On that day the Prophet very magnanimously set all of them free irrespective of what they had done in the past and said: "Go, for all of you are free".
In the second part of her speech the daughter of Imam Ali made the conquest of Makkah her topic and said: "O son of the freed ones! Is it justice that you keep your women and slave-girls in seclusion but have made the helpless daughters of the Prophet ride on swift camels and given them in the hands of their enemies so that they may take them from one city to another".
Then she said: "Why shouldn't Yazid be spiteful against us, it is he, who looks at us with hostility. You say with perfect intrepidity and without imagining that you are committing a sin: 'I wish that my ancestors who were killed in Badr had been present here today'. Then you strike Imam Hussain in his teeth with a stick in your hand!
Why shouldn't you be like this, although you have done what you wanted to do and have pulled out the roots of piety and virtue! You have shed the blood of the sons of the Prophet and have hidden the brilliant stars on the earth from amongst the descendants of Abdul Muttalib under the clouds of oppression and injustice.
However, you shall go before Allah soon. You shall meet your ancestors and shall also be taken to their place. At that time you will wish that you had been blind and dumb and had not said that it was a day of rejoicing for your ancestors".
At this stage the daughter of Imam Ali prayed to Allah and said: "O Lord! Procure our right and take revenge upon those who have oppressed us". Then she turned to Yazid and said: "By Allah you have pulled off your skin and cut off your flesh. You will soon go before the Prophet of Allah and will see with your own eyes that his children are in Paradise.
It will be the day when Allah will deliver the descendants of the Holy Prophet from the state of being scattered and will bring all of them together in Paradise. This is the promise which Allah has made in the Holy Quran. He says:
Do not think of those who are slain for the cause of Allah as dead. They are alive with their Lord and receive sustenance from Him.
O Yazid! On the day when Allah will be the Judge and Muhammad will be the petitioner, and your limbs will give evidence against you, your father, who made you the ruler of the Muslims, will receive His punishment. On that day it will become known what reward the oppressors earn, whose position is worse and whose party is more humble.
O enemy of Allah and O son of the enemy of Allah! I swear by Allah that I consider you to be humble and not fit even to be reprimanded and reproached. But what am I to do? Our eyes are shedding tears, our hearts are burning, and our martyrs cannot come to life by our reprimanding and reproaching you. My Hussain has been killed and the partisans of Satan are taking us to the fools so that they may get their reward for insulting Allah.
Our blood is dripping from their hands and our flesh is falling down from their mouths. The sacred bodies of the martyrs have been placed at the disposal of the wolves and other carnivorous animals of the jungle. If you have gained something today by shedding blood, you will certainly be a loser on the Day of Judgment. On that day nothing but your deeds will count. On that day you will curse Ibn Marjana and he will curse you. On that day you and your followers will quarrel with one another by the side of the Divine scale of Justice.
On that day you will see that the best provision which your father made for you was that he enabled you to kill the children of the Prophet of Allah. I swear by Allah that I do not fear anyone except Him and do not complain to anyone else. You may employ your deceit and cunning efforts, but I swear by Allah that the shame and disgrace which you have earned by the treatment meted out to us cannot be eradicated".
The daughter of Fatima Zahra ended her speech with offering thanks to Allah. She said: "I thank Allah Who has concluded the task of the chiefs of the youths of Paradise with prosperity and forgiveness and accommodated them in Paradise. I pray to Allah that He may elevate their ranks and favor them more with His kindness, for Allah is Omnipotent".
Death[edit | edit source]
The exact date and place of her death are not clear but it is probable that she died in the year 62 AH (681/682).
There are three reports about her resting place:
- Al-Baqi' cemetery: Some historians have reported that she was buried in al-Baqi', Medina. Al-Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin, the author of A'yan al-Shi'a, accepted this report and mentioned some evidence refuting the other two reports.
- Zaynabiyya: It is widely believed that she was buried in Zaynabiyya, a southern suburb of Damascus, Syria, where nowadays her shrine is.
- Maqam of Sayeda Zaynab: Some historians said that she was buried in Egypt. Her shrine in Egypt has been renovated several times and now is a ziara site.
Historical Impact[edit | edit source]
While Sunni and Shi῾i sources concur about the centrality of Zaynab's role during and immediately after the Battle of Karbala, she figures far more prominently in Shi῾i historiography than in the Sunni sources. As such her life story is central to the hagiography on the family of ῾Ali as well as in the definition of contemporary gender roles in Shi῾i societies. A number of modern biographers, for example, provide extensive details about her life from birth to death and cast her as an exemplar for modern Shi῾i women in the domestic and political spheres. In many respects she is the Shi῾i counterpart to the Sunni ῾A᾽isha bint Abi Bakr, providing a model of political activism, remaining steadfast and brave in the face of tyranny and oppression, and living virtuously as a daughter, wife, and mother.
References[edit | edit source]
- Surah Ale Imran, 3: 178
- Surah Ale Imran, 3: 169
Bibliography[edit | edit source]
- Balāghatun Nisa', Abul Fazl Ahmad bin Abi Tahir, (208- 280 A.H.).
- Ibn Sa῾d, Mohammed. The Women of Medina. Translated by Aisha Bewley. Vol. 8 of Tabaqat, p. 300. London: Ta-Ha
- Publishers, 1995. Contains a brief, early biographical entry for Zaynab bint ῾Ali.
- Mufid, Mohammed al-. The Book of Guidance into the Lives of the Twelve Imams. Translated by I. K. A. Howard from Kitab al-Irshad. Horsham, U.K.: Balagha, and Elmhurst, N.Y.: Tahrike Tarsile Qur᾽an, 1981. Brief accounts of Zaynab's heroism and rhetoric are preserved in the account of al-Hussain's life.
- Tabari, Mohammed ibn Jarir al-. The Caliphate of Yazid b. Mu῾awiyah. Translated by I. K. A. Howard. Vol. 19 of History of al-Tabari. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990.