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Hazrat Zaynab bint Ali (a.s)

Angelic Appellation

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 Prophet’s 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 why 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 Prophet’s return from a journey so that he could propose the name.
When finally the baby girl was brought before him, he held her in his lap and kissed her.  The Angel Jibra’il came to him and conveyed the name that was to be hers, and then he began to weep.  The Prophet (s.a.w.) asked why Jibra’il wept and he answered, "O Prophet of Allah.  From early on in the life, this girl will remain entangled in tribulations and trials in this world.  First she will weep over you separation from this world; thereafter she will bemoan the loss of her mother, then her father, and then her brother Hasan.  After all this she will be confronted with the trials of the land of Karbala and the tribulations of that lonely desert, as a result of which her hair will turn gray and her back will be bent."

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 Zaynab’s 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 that 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 great proficiency.
She had barely attained the tender age of seven when her beloved mother passed away. Her mother’s death had closely followed her cherished grandfather’s passing away. Some time later, Imam Ali (a.s.) married Umm ul-Banin, whose devotion and piety encouraged Zaynab (a.s.) in her learning.

While still a young girl she was fully able to care for and be responsible for the running of her father’s 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 very early on she developed an unbreakable bond of attachment to her brother Imam Husain (a.s.). At times when as a baby in her mother’s 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 daughter’s 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.’
In her character, she reflected the best attributes of those who raised her.  In sobriety and serenity, she was likened to Umm ul-Mu’minin Khadija, her grandmother (a.s.); in chastity and modesty to her mother Fatimah A-Zahraa (a.s.); in eloquence to her father Imam Ali (a.s.) in forbearance and patience to her brother Imam Hasan (a.s.); and in bravery and tranquillity of the heart to Imam Husain (a.s.). Her face reflected her father’s awe and her grandfather’s reverence.

When the time came for marriage, she was married in a simple ceremony to her first cousin, Abdullah ibn Ja’far 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 with 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 Zaynab’s 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 Qur’an. 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 Qur’an. 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 Mu’allamah, ‘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 father’s 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.
There was to be no recovery from this wound. On the twenty-first night of the Month of Ramadan, Imam Ali (a.s.) died, leaving his two sons and daughter to witness and face his enemies’ misguided lust for power and revenge. After his father’s soul was released, Imam Hasan (a.s.) said, "Tonight such a great man has died with whose good conduct no one in the past or the future can compare. He fought holy wars side by side with the Holy Prophet, and made his life a shield for him. The Prophet used to make him a standard - bearer of the army while the angels Jibra’il walked on his right and Mika’il on his left. He never came back from any war without victory. At that time of his death he left nothing, save seven hundred dirhams with which he had intended to provide the people of his house with a servant."
Zaynab (a.s.) was submerged in grief at the brutal loss of her dear father. Together with her husband she returned to Medina.

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.  Mu’awiya was intent on converting the caliphate into a hereditary kingship so as to retain the seat of power within his clan. To 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 Imam’s 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 Husain’s brother’s death, Mu’awiya started to openly call upon people to swear allegiance to his son Yazid, and people met his desire willingly or unwillingly. Imam Husain (a.s.) 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, Mu’awiya 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 Prophet’s 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 rightfully apportioned.

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 father’s 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 brother’s 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 when my 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, after 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 be separated from him.
Having decided to leave, Imam Husayn (a.s.) ordered that litters be prepared for the ladies of his family. Abu’l-Fadl Abbas, his half-brother (for they shared the same father), helped Zaynab (a.s.) and her sister Umm Kulthum into their litter. They were followed by two young girls, Fatima Kubra and Sakina, daughters of Imam Husayn (a.s.). After the first day of their journey, the party camped at Khuzaymiyyah for the night. While Zaynab (a.s.) was seeing to her brother’s comfort, he said to her, "What will come to pass has long since been decreed."
When later on their journey, they reached Ruhayma, they found their way blocked by Hur ibn Yazid Riyahi.  Sakina saw what had happened and when she told

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