Hazrat Zaynab bint Ali (a.s)
It was five years after the Muslims had accompanied the Prophet (s.a.w.) and his family in the
migration (Hijrah) to Medina, when the Holy Prophets daughter, Fatimah
A-Zahraa (a.s.), gave birth
to a little girl. When her father, Imam Ali (a.s.), saw his
daughter for the first time, Imam Husayn (a.s.),
who was then almost three years old, was
with him. The boy exclaimed in delight, "O father, Allah
has given me a
sister." At those words, Imam Ali (a.s.) began to weep, and when Husayn (a.s.) asked
he was crying so, his father answered that he would soon come to know.
Fatimah (a.s.) and Ali (a.s.) did not name their child until a few days after her
birth, for they
awaited the Prophets return from a journey so that he could propose
When the members of the family heard this prophecy they all broke down in
tears. Imam Husayn (a.s.) now understood why earlier his father had also wept.
Then the Prophet (s.a.w.) named her Zaynab (a.s.). When the news of Zaynabs birth
reached Salman al Farsi,
he went to Imam Ali (a.s.) to congratulate him. But instead
of seeing him happy and rejoicing, he saw
Imam Ali (a.s.) shed tears, and he too was
apprised of the events of Karbala and the hardships that were to
befall Zaynab (a.s.).
One day, when Zaynab (a.s.) was about five years old, she had a strange and terrible dream. A violent wind arose in the city and darkened the earth and the sky. The little girl was tossed hither and thither, and suddenly she found herself stuck in the branches of a huge tree. But the wind was so strong that it uprooted the tree. Zaynab (a.s.) caught hold of a branch but that broke. In a panic, she grabbed two twigs but these two gave way and she was left falling with no support. Then she woke up. When she told her grandfather, the Prophet (s.a.w.), about the dream he wept bitterly and said, "O may daughter. That tree is me who is shortly going to leave this world. The branches are your father Ali and your mother Fatimah A-Zahraa, and the twigs are your brothers Hasan and Husayn. They will depart this world before you do, and you will suffer their separation and loss."
Growing up in Medina
Zaynab (a.s.) shared with her brothers and sister the extraordinary position of
having such examples to
look up to, emulate and learn from, as her grandfather, the
Prophet of Allah (s.a.w.), her mother Fatimah (a.s.),
daughter of the Prophet, and her
father Imam Ali (a.s.), cousin-brother of the Prophet. In the pure environment
enveloped her, she absorbed the teachings of Islam that her grandfather imparted, and
after him, her father.
Here too, she learnt to master all household skills with
While still a young girl she was fully able to care for and be responsible for the
running of her
fathers household. As much as she cared for the comforts and
ease of her brothers and sisters,
in her own wants, she was frugal and unstintingly
generous to the poor, homeless and parent less. After
her marriage, her husband is
reported as having said, "Zaynab (a.s.) is the best housewife." From
on she developed an unbreakable bond of attachment to her brother Imam Husain
(a.s.). At times
when as a baby in her mothers arms, she could not be pacified
and made to stop crying, she would quiet
down upon being held by her brother, and there
she would sit quiet gazing at his face. Before she would pray,
she used to first
cast a glance at the face of her beloved brother.
One day, Fatimah (a.s.) mentioned the intensity of her daughters love for Imam Husain (a.s.) to the Prophet (s.a.w.). He breathed a deep sigh and said with moistened eyes, "My dear child. This child of mine, Zaynab, would be confronted with a thousand and one calamities and face serious hardships in Karbala."
Zaynab (a.s.) grew into a fine statuted young woman. Of her physical
appearance, little is known.
When the tragedy of Karbala befell her in her mid -
fifties, she was forced to go out uncovered. It was then,
that some people remarked
that she appeared as a shining sun and a piece of the moon.
When the time came for marriage, she was married in a simple ceremony to her first
cousin, Abdullah ibn
Jafar Tayyar. Abdullah had been brought up under the
direct care of the Prophet (s.a.w.). After his death,
Imam Ali (a.s.) became his
supporter and guardian until he came of age. He grew up to be a handsome youth
pleasing manners and was known for his sincere hospitality to guests and selfless
generosity to the poor
and needy. Together, this young couple had five children, of whom
four were sons, Ali, Aun, Muhammad, and Abbas,
and one daughter, Umm Kulthum.
In Medina, it was Zaynabs practice to hold regular meetings for women in which she shared her knowledge and taught them the precepts of the Deen of Islam as laid out in the Holy Quran. Her gatherings were well and regularly attended. She was able to impart the teachings with such clarity and eloquence that she became known as Fasihah (skillfully fluent) and Balighah (intensely eloquent). In the thirty-seventh year A.H. (after Hijrah), Imam Ali (a.s.) moved to Kufa to finally take up his right ful position as khalifah. He was accompanied by his daughter Zaynab (a.s.) and her husband. Her reputation as an inspiring teacher among the women had preceded her. There too, women would throng to her daily sittings where they all benefited from her erudition, wisdom and scholarship in the exegesis of the Quran. The depth and certainty of her knowledge earned her the name given to her by her nephew, Imam Ali Zayn al Abideen (a.s.), of Alimah Ghayr Muallamah, she who has knowledge without being taught. Zaynab (a.s.) was also nicknamed Zahidah (abstemious) and Abidah (devoted) because of her abstinence and piety. She found worldly adornments, always preferring the bliss and comfort of the Next World over that of this world. She used to say that for her the life of this world was as a resting place to relive fatigue along a journey. Humble and of high morals, her main concern was to strive to please Allah and in doing so she avoided anything which was the least doubtful.
On the night before Friday the 19th of Ramadan in the fortieth year after Hijrah,
Imam Ali (a.s.) went to
the central mosque for prayers. Shortly after the adhan
(call to prayer), Zaynab (a.s.) heard a heart-rending cry.
Soon the cries came
nearer to her house and she realized that they were bringing her the news of her
assassination. Ibn Muljim had struck Imam Ali (a.s.) a fatal blow
while he was in the defenseless state of sajdah
(devotional prostration). Mortally
wounded, he was carried back home on the shoulders of his followers.
Some ten years later, Zaynab (a.s.) was once again stricken with a grievous loss,
that of her brother Imam
Hasan (a.s.). He too fell victim to the schemes of the
power - hungry Bani Umayya. Muawiya was intent
on converting the caliphate
into a hereditary kingship so as to retain the seat of power within his clan.
achieve this it was necessary that he secure allegiance of the people for his son
Yazid. This proved to be
impossible as long as Imam Hasan (a.s.) was alive.
Therefore he successfully eliminated him through an ingenious
intrigue in which the hand
that dealt Imam Hasan (a.s.) the deadly poison was none other than the Imams wife..
The rights of leadership now passed into the hands of Imam Husain (a.s.), but the
Bani Umayya would not leave
him in peace. Within six years of Husains
brothers death, Muawiya started to openly call upon
people to swear allegiance
to his son Yazid, and people met his desire willingly or unwillingly. Imam Husain
numbered among the five men who alone refused to pledge themselves to Yazid. During
the four years left to his life
after securing allegiance for his son, Muawiya was
unable to dissuade Imam Husain (a.s.) from his firm
opposition to such a system of
rule. If the caliphate was to be based on heredity, then none other than the
Prophets grandson and nearest surviving kin was more suitable. And if the
right to rule was to be given on
the basis of piety and learning, then to whom else other
than Husain (a.s.) - proven to be possessed of untainted
wisdom, complete knowledge of
Islamic Law, piety, and devotion of the highest degree could this position be
In the month of Rajab in the sixtieth year after Hijrah, the Bani Hashim were confronted with the caliphate of Yazid. Yazid did not have the forbearance of his father, and was not content to let Imam Husain (a.s.) stay in Medina in peace. The day after his fathers death he wrote to Walid ibn Utba ibn Abu Sufyan, the governor of Medina, asking him to pursue Imam Husain (a.s.), Abdullah ibn Umar, and Abdallah ibn Zubayr, and compel them to swear allegiance to him. Again Imam Husain (a.s.) refused. He decided to leave Medina, and, at the behest of other oppressed people, to go to Kufa where, he had been led to believe, there were many who wished to combat the tyrannical rule of the transgressing Bani Umayya and see to it that pure enlightened leadership of Muslims prevailed instead.
Rendezvous with Fate - Karbala
When Zaynab (a.s.) learnt of her brothers proposed journey to Kufa she begged
her husband to give her
leave to accompany her brother. Abdullah pointed out that
such a journey was fraught with difficulties and
hardship. Zaynab (a.s.) insisted,
saying, "My mother did not leave me to watch from afar as recreation the day
brother is all alone, surrounded by enemies with no friend or supporter. You know
that for fifty-five years
my brother and I have never been separated. Now is the
time of our old age and the closing period of our lives. If
I leave him now, how
shall I be able to face my mother, who at the time of her death had willed, Zaynab,
me you are both mother and sister for Husayn (a.s.)? It is obligatory
for me to stay with you, but if I do not
go with him at this time, I shall not be able to
bear the separation."
Abdullah himself had wanted to accompany the Imam, but since he had been weakened by
illness, he gave her
permission to go on this destined journey. With her he sent two
of their sons. Zaynab (a.s.) Had been prepared all
her life for what was written for
her and her brother. She preferred to face the trials of Karbala than to ever
separated from him.