In the afternoon of 10th of Moharrum, in 61 AH (10th October, 680 AD), the day we commemorate as Ashoor, a woman was running from the khaimagaah(tents) to a small hillock near it.
A lady who like her mother, Janab e Fatima Zehra valued pardah, ran out of the khaimagaah in anguish to see her beloved brother for the last time.
From this hillock now immortalized as Tilla e Zaynab, Zaynabbinte Ali saw her brother Hussainibn Ali being martyred by the army of the Yezid I the Umayyad Caliph.
It was on her delicate yet strong shoulders that Hussain had laid the responsibility of keeping the motley caravan of widows, orphans and his sick son safe and in good spirits.
Now she watched the jubilation of Yezid’s army as they celebrated the beheading of Hussain.
But was this their victory? Not as long as Zaynab-binte-Ali was alive!
She singlehandedly carried the message of Karbala forward.
The battle of Karbala was a fight of right over wrong.
It was fought between the small, determined band of followers of Imam Hussain, the Prophet’s grandson and the mighty army of Yazeed the ruler of Syria. Yezid flouted almost every norm that had been preached and followed by Hussain’s grandfather, the Prophet of Islam, Mohammad pbuh.
Yazeed wanted Hussain to accept him as his spiritual leader and pledge allegiance to him.
Imam Hussain said: “The likes of me will never pledge allegiance to the likes of Yazeed”.
To avoid confrontation Hussain left Medina for Iraq on the invitation of the people of Kufa with his family. A few friends also joined him.
They were not allowed to reach Kufa by ObaidullahIbnZiyad, Yezid’s governor in Iraq and were forced to pitch their tents in the hot sands of Karbala. Initially their camp was near the river Euphrates but after a few days Yezid’s commanders forced them to leave the river. Hussain did not want to start a war and be branded a rebel. His was a righteous fight and he was willing to lose his all in his effort to preserve the religion his grandfather had preached.
On the morning of 10th of Moharram, Yezid’scommanderUmaribnSa’dordered opening of hostility and the soldiers started shooting arrows at their tents and the battle began.
One by one the 72 male members went out to the battlefield and were martyred. Some like Zaynab’s son were not even in their teens. Some like HabibibnMzahir, a companion of Hussain was 75. The youngest to be martyred was Ali Asghar, Hussain’ssix month old son, who was killed by a soldier named Shimr when Hussain asked Yezid’s troops to give some water for the thirsty infant.
The commander of Hussain’s army was the Lion of Arabia, Abbas ibn Ali. Since in those days combat was one to one, he could have single handedly wiped out the army and so he wasn’t given permission to go to war. He was martyred while bringing water from the river for the thirsty children, who hadn’t had a drop of water for three days.
All the 72 males members of the family and friends had all been martyred by late afternoon.
The last to go out to battle was Hussain. He was severely wounded and fell of his horse and was killed while he was praying in that condition by the army of Yezid.
In Hussain’s resistance to accepting evil and willingness to accept martyrdom instead of aggression, lay his biggest victory.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “I learned from Hussain how to be wronged and be a winner, I learnt from Hussain how to attain victory while being oppressed.”
His eldest son ZaynulAbidin was the sole male survivor and that was because he was sick and bed ridden.
But this fight of right over might just have become lost in the annals of history as a fight of a rebel against a king because that is what Yezid tried to project it as were it not for the courage and efforts of one woman.
ZaynabKubrah, granddaughter of the Holy Prophet, daughter of Hadrat Fatima and Imam Ali. Every action and deed of hers reflected the divine prophetic light that was her heritage.
She had inherited her grandmother Janab Khadija’s tranquility andstrength of character, her mother Fatima’s forbearance and patience, and eloquence and bravery from her father Ali
She was married in a simple ceremony to her first cousin, Abdullah ibnJa’farTayyar.
In Medina and later in Kufa which her father made his capital as the fourth Caliph ,it was Zaynab’spractice to hold regular meetings for women in which she shared her knowledge of Islam as laid out in the Holy Qur’an. Her gatherings were well and regularly attended.
She shared a deep bond with her brother Hussain and accompanied him when she heard of his journey to Kufa. Her husband sent two of their sons with her.
On the eve of the tenth day of Muharram, it was clear to Imam Hussain [that this was to be a battle unto death.
Despite the heavy burden of knowing this Zaynab maintained her tranquility through constant prayer and remembrance of the ultimate cause for which their lives were being sacrificed for she did not wish to cause grief or shame to her brother.
When ImamHussain went to fight there were no able male members leftand it was she who held his horse’s reins and helped him mount.
But her forbearance broke when she saw her brother being attacked and martyred from a small hillock now named Tila e Zaynab after her.
She called out loudly for help but there were only deaf people around her on the battlefield
Zaynab went into her nephewZaynul-Abidin’s tent and told him about the tragedy that had just occurred and raised the curtain of the tent door for him.
This was not the end of their trial as the enemy came to the women’s tents on Umar ibnSa’d orders to loot.
And plundered what they could, even taking away the veils of the ladies and jewelry of the children and then set the tents on fire.
While the tents burned away Zaynab gathered the young women and went to find Imam Ali Zaynul-Abidin
She asked for permission to go out, as they were unveiled. The Imam said that saving their lives was paramount.
Finding that he had not been killed, Shimr had come to behead him. Zaynab threw herself on her sick nephew to protect him and Shimr was stopped from carrying out his evil intention. She saved him in same way in Darbar e Kufa and Shaam.
As night fell it was Zaynab who collected them all together and comforted them.
The next day the members of the Prophet’s family were made to leave for Kufa to be presented to IbnZiyad, the governor of Kufa.
Kufa was Ali’s capital. Where he had once ruled from.
Zaynaband Umm Kulthumher sister had once lived there, respected and loved by all. Now they came to this city of their memories as captives.
IbnZiyad told the people of Kufa that some tribe had committed aggression against the Muslims, but the Muslims had secured victory and because of this there was to be a celebration.
The residents of Kufa were ready in their festive best to celebrate the victory little knowing who were the captives.
When Zaynab saw some of the men and women who had realized what had really happened weeping and wailing she bade them be quiet and spoke to them with piercing eloquence and insight,
“So now, O people who deceive, forsake and contrive, it is you who weep.
“O people of Kufa, woe upon you. Do you realise which piece of Muhammad’s heart you have severed, which pledge you have broken, whose blood you have shed and whose honour you have desecrated? “
She exposed the reality of their deeds to them with fearless courage and despite being a prisoner without appealing to their sentiments of pity.
Zaynab gave such speeches at almost every place they stopped on their journey to Damascus thus bringing Imam Hussain’s sacrifice into everyone’s knowledge.
Zaynab entered the government palace with which she was so familiar.
Although she was shabbily dressed, and her head was uncovered, she entered with awe-inspiring dignity and took her place in silence. IbnZiyad was amazed at her boldness and enquired who she was. Zaynabdid not reply, and it was left to one of her slaves to inform him of her identity.
Enraged because of her apparently haughty behaviour, IbnZiyad addressed her, “Allah be praised! Your brother and your kinsmen are dead and their false claims have come to nought.”
Zaynab replied, “It was Allah’s wish that they should be martyred, and they met their deaths bravely. If this was your heart’s desire then you must indeed be content today. But you have killed those whom the Holy Prophet[pbuh] held upon his knee when they were children, and, whose play filled him with joy. Soon you will stand with them before Allah and they will demand justice. Beware the day of reckoning.”
It seemed to all that heard that she spoke with the voice of Ali her father.
On Yezid’s orders they were sent to Damascus They were made to travel unveiled, on unsaddled camels like slaves, and the heads of the martyred menfolk were carried on spears before them.
Their escorts harshly treated the captives, and many of the children perished from the rigours of the journey.
After about twenty-eight days, the caravan reached Damascus.
Once again they were made to wait while the darbar was decorated.
Yet Zaynab was unbowed &undeterred when they reached the palace of Yezid. There he was seated on his throne and was very pleased when he saw the forty-four captives arrive.
They were shackledand made to sit on a platform in the middle.
Yazedseated above them on his throne gloated over his victory.
Zaynab however was not afraid. She drew herself up and boldly said for all to hear: “Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds and blessings on my grandfather, the Chief of divine prophets.”
“O Yezid, Allah says, and his word is true, that:
‘Then evil was the end of those who did evil because they rejected the communications of Allah and used to mock them’ [30:10].”
“O Yezid, do you believe that you have succeeded in closing the sky and the earth for us and that we have become your captives just because we have been brought before you in a row and that you have secured control over us? Do you believe that we have been afflicted with insult and dishonour by Allah and that he has given you honour and respect?
You have become boastful of this apparent victory that you have secured and you have started feeling jubilant and proud over this prestige and honour. You think that you have achieved worldly good, that your affairs have become stabilised and our rule has fallen into your hands. Wait for a while. Do not be so joyful. Have you forgotten Allah’s saying:
‘The unbelievers should not carry the impression that the time allowed to them by us is good for them. Surely we give them time so that they may increase their evil deeds, and eventually they will be given insulting chastisement’ [3:178].”
“O Yezid, if you consider our defeat as your achievement then you will have to pay its price.”
“Allah commits not injustice to His servants. Our reliance is on Allah. He alone is our Relief and place of Protection, and in Him alone do we repose our hope.”
Through Zaynab’s bold and fearless speeches and from the word that spread as a result of their journey, people came to know of the events of Karbala and their hearts were stirred. The continued captivity and humiliation of the family of the Prophet of Allah was bringing their cause to the attention of an ever-increasing number of people. Word came to Yezid that there was turmoil and unrest in the realm and he decided to release the captives.
After 2 years of captivity when Yezid sent for Imam Zaynul-Abidin. He informed him of his impending release and asked if he wished for anything. The youth said he would have to consult his aunt Zaynab.
Arrangements were made and she arrived, properly veiled. She asked, for a place where they could mourn their dead.
A large house was therefore provided for them in the residential sector of Damascus and here Zaynab held her first gathering for the mourning and remembrance (majlis-e-aza) of Imam Hussain. The women of the Quraysh and BaniHashim arrived clad in black, with their heads uncovered, weeping wretchedly.
Imam Zaynul-Abidin sat on the carpet of Imam Hussain and then Zaynab told the women of Syria what had befallen them.
Zaynab established the first majlis (assembly for mourning the martyrs of Karbala). She held another great majlis in Karbala and this continued the practice in Medina
Zaynab had returned altered, her hair white, and her back bent but determined to let the world know of her brother’s sacrifice..
Remember had there been no Zaynab there would not be Islam as we know it today. Imam Hussain’s supreme sacrifice would have been lost somewhere. There would be no majlisnoMoharrum.
Janab Zaynab was the sherdilkhatoon of Karbala and will always remain so.