Sayyeda Zainab (sa), the daughter of Imam Ali (as) and Sayyeda Fatima Zahra (sa), was an exemplary woman of great ability, intelligence, knowledge, insight, courage and perseverance; she performed her divine duties to the best of her ability. She was born to a family formed by Prophet Muhammad (saw), the most outstanding figure in history. The Prophet's wife Sayyeda Khadija (sa) a devoted woman, was her maternal grandmother, and her paternal grandmother was Fatima daughter of Assad, who mothered and nursed Prophet Muhammad (saw). The members of the family, in trio hierarchical order, were all great.
Sayyeda Zainab (sa) was a brilliant star in the mandate sky that received rays of holiness from the five suns. It was through her holy origins and pious edification that she manifested so great a fortitude in Karbala (Iraq).
The life of the daughter of Sayyeda Fatima Zahra (sa) was always laden with hardships, but she never feared coping with difficulties, this enhanced her endurance and elevated her soul.
She had barely attained the tender age of seven when her beloved mother passed away. Her mother's death had closely followed her cherished grand father's passing away. Some time later Imam Ali (as) married Ummul Banin (sa), whose devotion and piety encouraged Sayyeda Zainab (sa) in her learning.
Whilst 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 parentless. After her marriage her husband is reported as having said, "Zainab is the best housewife."
From very early on she developed an unbreakable bond of attachment to her brother Imam Hussein (as). At times when as a baby in her mother's arms she could not be pacified and made to stop crying, she would quieter down upon being held by her brother, and there she would sit quietly gazing at his face. Before she would pray she used to first cast a glance at the face of her beloved brother, Imam Hussein (as).
One day Sayyeda Fatima Zahra (sa) mentioned the intensity of her daughter's love for Imam Hussein (as) to Prophet Muhammad (saw). He breathed a deep sigh and said with moistened eyes, "My dear child, this child of mine Zainab would be confronted with a thousand and one calamities and face serious hardships in Karbala."
Sayyeda Zainab (sa), the sage of Bani Hashim
Ibn Abbas quoted Sayyeda Fatima Zahra (sa) as having said that her daughter Zainab, like her father, was unparalleled in literary eloquence and courage. The speech she delivered in the assembly in presence of Yazid was at the zenith of eloquence and impressiveness. (Refer Famous Women, Dr. Ahmed Beheshti, and p.51)
After the demise of Prophet Muhammad (saw), there came the period of distress and hardship in the life of Sayyeda Zainab (sa). She stood by her mother as far as the question of supreme mandate of her father was concerned. When her mother delivered the Fadak sermon, she was only 4 years old, but narrated the sermon so lucidly and expressively that the people from Bani Hashim remembered it by heart. Later the Shiite scholars recorded it that is why she is called Zainab the narrator of traditions.
Sayyeda Zainab's (sa) Marriage
Sayyeda Zainab (sa) grew into a fine stature young woman. When the time came for marriage, she was married in a simple ceremony to her first cousin, Abdullah Ibn Ja'far Tayyar. Her marriage settlement was equal to that of her mother's. Imam Ali (as) told Abdullah Ibn Ja'far Tayyar not to prevent Sayyeda Zainab (sa) from going on a journey with Imam Hussein (as), her brother.
Abdullah Ibn Ja'far Tayyar had been brought up under the direct care of Prophet Muhammad (saw). After his death, Imam Ali (as) 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.
Although Sayyeda Zainab's (sa) husband was a man of means, she lived a modest life, not a life of luxury. She and her husband were charitable to the needy people. The Arab tribes called Abdullah Ibn Ja'far Tayyar "the sea or the cloud of munificence".
The marriage of Sayyeda Zainab (sa) did not diminish her strong attachment to her family. Together this young couple had five children, of whom four were sons, Ali, Aun, Muhammad, and Abbas, and one daughter, Umm Kulthum.
Sayyeda Zainab (sa) and Imamate
In her life Sayyeda Zainab (sa) always saw the evildoers, oppressors, insurgents and breakers of covenants defy the truth and Imam Ali (as), the supporter of the truth and justice had to quell their revolts. Finally, an evil hand gave Imam Ali (as) a stroke from a poisoned sword on his head in the mosque of Kufa. After Imam Ali (as), his son Imam Hassan (as) became the Caliph. Imam Hassan (as) was also greatly oppressed until at last he signed a peace treaty with the ruler of that time, Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan and moved to Kufa in the company of Zainab, her husband, and his own companions. Imam Hassan (as) was poisoned by his treacherous wife Ja'da bint al-Ash'ath ibn Qays, by the order of the ruler of that time. After Imam Hassan (as), Imam Hussein (as) became the Imam, but the ruler of Syria Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan violated the peace treaty and appointed his son Yazid as his successor and insisted that Imam Hussein (as) should pledge allegiance to him. Imam Hussein (as) refused to pledge allegiance and made up his mind to move to Makkah.
Sayyeda Zainab (sa) said farewell to her husband, Abdullah Ibn Ja'far Tayyar and went with her brother accompanied by her sons Muhammad and Aun. They reached Makkah in 61 Hijrah year.
Imam Hussein (as) was informed that some agents of the ruler of that time had come to Makkah to assassinate him while circumambulating the Holy Ka'bah. Imam Hussein (as) deemed it advisable to move to Kufa and let people know of his secret mission. They arrived at Karbala on the 2nd Muharram. Sayyeda Zainab (sa) had heard from her grandfather and father that Karbala would be the place where Imam Hussein (as) would be martyred.
Sayyeda Zainab (sa) in Karbala
Sayyeda Zainab (sa) is the shining sun in the history of Islam and of humanity. Her brother's name and Karbala associate the idea of freedom, justice, humanity, virtue, fighting against despotism, with the realization of the sovereignty of Allah (SWT). The history of Karbala is based on two pillars: the rising of Imam Hussein (as) and the rising of Sayyeda Zainab (sa). She was an outstanding figure in the history of Karbala endowed with divine steadfastness and fortitude. She sacrificed her two sons and one should not say anything if one devoted his life for the cause of Allah (SWT). After the martyrdom of her brother and her two sons, she said: "O my Lord! Accept our humble sacrifice to You."
When Zainab reached Kufa, she addressed people with fury words: "Praise to Allah, and may the blessing of Allah be upon Muhammad and his progeny. O people of Kufa, you are hypocrites and deceitful. You feign to be sorry for the death of my brother and his companions. May you always shed tears. I find nothing in you but flattery, evil acts and thoughts, pride and spite and ill will. By Allah (SWT)! You deserve lasting sorrow instead of joy. Shames on you, your hands are imbrued with the blood of the son of Prophet Muhammad (saw), the one who was your sole refuge in case of adversity. By your evil act and disloyalty, you incurred the wrath of Allah (SWT) against you. Woe betides you! No one will intercede with Allah (SWT) for you." Her furious words provoked people of Kufa to avenge Imam Hussein's martyrdom. This frightened Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad and his cruel agents. She also delivered a furious sermon in the court of the caliph that made his authority and despotic rule feel undermined. She said: "I fear no one but Allah (SWT). Make whatever evil plot you can. Blazes are waiting for you in the hereafter. You'll he accountable to Allah (SWT) for your atrocities."
The Foundation of Mourning (Majalis-E-Aza) of Imam Hussein (as)
Another unique feature of Sayyeda Zainab's (sa) character was her establishment of mourning ceremonies. This tradition which has lived in the memories and hearts of millions of Muslims to this day, has kept the sacrifices of Imam Hussein (as) alive, and brought dynamism to every movement that aimed at removing injustices on earth.
After every Majlis, the women would offer their condolences to Sayyeda Zainab (sa) and the men to Imam Zainul Abedeen (as). These majales made quite a stir in the cities, and the sound of crying and beating of chests and heads affected the minds of the inhabitants, and made them sadder and wiser to the events of Karbala.
In the end...
As it is said, "the word is mightier than the sword", this should stay in the minds of all Muslims, particularly the women. They should realize that they could always make a difference. They can always reach for the better. Also, they can make their Ummah (Community) look better.
The Muslim women should read more about the hardships which faced the great women of Islam understand and practice the patience that characterized the life of Sayyeda Zainab (sa), and teach their children the value of these acts.
The men alone cannot win independence and prosperity, neither can the women. Together, and under the banner of Islam, they can achieve success.