Foundation of NJ, USA


the Message Continues 2/35

Newsletter for June 2004





The Essential Woman
by Anita Rai
---an excerpt from her book: the chapter : The hardest Times... on the life
and times of Sayyeda Zaynab binte Ali bin Abi Talib (a)

Chapter 4: The Hardest Times

" I wanted to quote Fatima before I would actually start to narrate the information on Zaynab's life that I have so far come across, because there are another two speeches at the heart of this book, which were delivered by Zaynab. What Zaynab has managed to accomplish is incredible and wonderful. Now, that you know what and how could Fatima speak, you would find it very natural and believable when you find Zaynab speak. It runs in their genes. But you would not believe when you see what preceded the speech of Zaynab. Before I go further, I wish to the Almighty that no one should go through what Zaynab went through, and that no one should be put through what she was put through, especially a woman, the most sublime of His creation.

In 5 A.H (after hijrat after the year of migration from Mecca to Medina) Zaynab was born. Hussain, her brother who was three years old then, was delighted and said to Ali, "O father, God has given me a sister." His father started crying, and when asked by Hussain of its reason, was told that he would soon come to know of it. Zaynab's parents did not name her immediately as they wanted Muhammad to name her and he was away from the city.

At his return, the Prophet held his eldest granddaughter in his lap and kissed her. Gabriel, the angel, came to him and conveyed the name that was to be Zaynab and began weeping. Muhammad asked him of the reason of his crying, and was told, "O Prophet of God, from early on in life this girl will remain entangled in tribulations and trials in this world. First she will weep over your separation (from this world); thereafter she will bemoan the loss of her mother, then her father, and then her brother Hassan. 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 grey and her back will be bent."

When Muhammad's family heard of this prophecy, they burst into tears. Now Hussain understood the reason why his father wept earlier. Muhammad named his granddaughter Zaynab. One day, when she was about five years old, Zaynab saw a strange dream. She saw that a turbulent storm rose in the city and it cast the earth and the sky into darkness. And the little Zaynab was tossed from place to place, and suddenly she found herself stuck in the branches of a huge tree. But the storm uprooted the tree. Zaynab caught hold of a branch. It broke. She caught hold of another. It broke. In panic she grabbed two twigs. These two broke. Zaynab started falling. There was no support.

She woke up. When Muhammad heard this from her, he wept bitterly. He said, "O my daughter, that tree isme who is shortly going to leave this world. The branches are your father Ali and your mother Fatima, and the twigs are your brothers Hassan and Hussain. They will all depart this world before you do, and you will suffer their separation and loss."

Zaynab was barely seven years old when Fatima passed away, soon after the Prophet himself. While still a young girl, Zaynab was fully capable of running her father's household. She cared a lot for the comforts of her brothers and sisters but herself. She was extremely generous to the poor, the orphans and the needy. After her marriage, her husband is reported to have said, "Zaynab is the best housewife."

>From very early in her life, Zaynab had an unusually strong bond with her brother, Hussain. Sometimes when as a baby she would not be pacified by her mother, she would be immediately when Hussain would hold her. Zaynab used to look at Hussain's face and then start to pray. Fatima spoke to Muhammad about Zaynab's intense love for Hussain. The Prophet sighed deeply and with moist eyes said, "My dear child, this child of mine, Zaynab, would be confronted with a thousand and one calamities and face serious hardships in Karbala."

Zaynab married her first cousin, Abdullah, the son of Ali's brother, Jafar. After the death of Jafar, as long as Muhammad was alive, Abdullah grew up under his personal supervision, and afterwards Ali became his guardian and supporter. Zaynab's husband was a handsome young man of knowledge, courage, generosity and pleasant manners. Zaynab and Abdullah had five children; four sons-Ali, Aun, Muhammad and Abbas; one daughter-Umm Kulthum.

Zaynab held regular classes, where she shared her knowledge with other women, and taught them her grandfather's religion, Islam. Her meetings were well attended by the women. Zaynab soon came to be known as Fasihah (skilfully fluent) and Balighah (intensely eloquent) for her quality to impart knowledge with exceptional clarity and eloquence. In 37 A.H. Ali moved the government seat from Medina to Kufa, when he finally became the fourth Caliph. Zaynab and Abdullah also accompanied him. Her reputation, as an inspiring teacher had preceded her. And women of Kufa started benefiting from Zaynab's erudition, wisdom and scholarship in the exegesis of the Quran. It was this depth and accuracy of knowledge, which earned her the name Alimah Ghayr Mu'allamah (she who has knowledge without being taught), given to her by her nephew, Ali Zayn ul-Abidin, the eldest son and successor of Hussain.

On 19 Ramadan in 40 A.H. Ali went to the central mosque of Kufa for prayers. Soon after the call to prayers, Zaynab heard a heart-rending cry. The noise and cries were coming nearer to her home and she knew that they were bringing her the news of her father's assassination. The assassin was Ibn Muljim who struck Ali a fatal blow deep in his head while he was in the state of devotional prostration. His followers carried him home on their shoulders wrapped in a blanket. On 21 Ramadan, just after two days of the attack, Ali breathed his last. Hassan, his eldest child said, "Tonight such a great man has died with whose good conduct no one in the past or in 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 the time of his death he left nothing save seven hundred dirhams with which he had intended to provide the people of his house a servant."

Even after being the brother and the vicegerent of the Prophet, the only son-in-law of the Prophet, and the Caliph of the Islamic world for almost five years, Ali's household remained incapable of securing the service of a domestic servant, which even a common citizen can afford. There is a lot in this house that would seem otherwise strange, if not properly studied and understood. The bereaved Zaynab returned with her husband to Medina. Approximately ten years later, she lost Hassan, who was another victim of the greedy and power-lusty Umayyads. Muawiya was determined to convert the Caliphate into hereditary kingship, which would facilitate in retaining the seat of power within the Umayyads. He could only achieve this by securing allegiance of the Muslims for Yazid, his son. Hence, he eliminated Hassan by feeding him poison from the hands of one of Hassan's wives.

The responsibility and the right of leadership of the nation passed on to Hussain, the younger brother of Hassan. But everything was done to hamper the situation. Within six years of Hassan's death, Muawiya started to persuade, cajole, tempt, bribe, threaten and even eliminate people to compel them to swear allegiance to Yazid. The people did so willingly or unwillingly. Only five men refused to give allegiance to Yazid. Hussain was one of them. Muawiya failed to pressurise Hussain, who opposed the oppressive and unethical regime of the Umayyads. If the rule of Mu'awiya, the son of Abu Sufian, the Prophet Muhammad's most bitterly adamant enemy in Mecca, had been offensive to some good Muslims, the accession of Yazid, a drunkard and a lecher who openly ridiculed and flouted the fundamentals of Islam, was an outrage. In Kufa the people began to stir once more and soon letters and messengers were arriving in Medina, urging Hussain to come to Kufa and assume leadership there. In 60 A.H. the Bani Hashim (the clan of Abu Talib, Muhammad, Ali, Hassan and Hussain, descendants of Hashim) were confronted with the issue of Yazid's Caliphate. Yazid refused to be as patient as Muawiya. The day after his father died, Yazid wrote to Walid ibn Utha ibn Abu Sufian, the governor of Medina, instructing him to pursue Hussain, Abdullah ibn Umar, and Abdullah ibn Zubair, and force them to swear allegiance to him. Hussain refused. At the behest of the oppressed people of Kufa, who led him to believe that there were many of them who wanted to oppose the tyranny of the transgressing Umayyads, he decided to go to Kufa.

Because of the pressure from Walid, Hussain moved from Medina to Mecca. He sent his cousin Muslim ibn Aqil as his emissary to Kufa to assess the situation. Despite some encouraging reports from Muslim Hussain was warned by some of his followers against going to Kufa as the Kufians had earlier proved to be weak and fickle in their support for Aliand Hassan.

But Hussain decided to leave for Kufa with his family. Zaynab learnt of Hussain's decision and requested her husband to allow her to accompany him in his proposed journey. Abdullah apprised Zaynab of the danger and hardships associated with this journey. Zaynab told him, "My mother did not leave me behind 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 it 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 Hussain? 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 pain of separation." Abdullah who, because of his illness, was unable to accompany Hussain, gave Zaynab his permission to do so. He sent two of his sons, Aun and Muhammad, with her. Zaynab left with Hussain and his family for Kufa. After the first day of their journey, they camped at Khuzaymiyyah to spend the night. As Zaynab was taking care of Hussain's comforts, he said to her, "What will come to pass has long since been decreed." After they resumed their journey, they found their way obstructed by Hur ibn Yazid Riahi at Ruhayma. Sakina, the youngest daughter of Hussain saw this and informed Zaynab of the situation. Zaynab wept and said, "Would that the enemy killed all of us rather than slay my brother." Hussain came to know of Zaynab's distress and went to see her in her tent. She told him, "O my brother, talk to them. Tell them about your closeness to the Holy Prophet and of your kinship with him." Hussain replied, "O sister, I spoke to them at length. I tried to convince them but they are so immersed in misguidance and obsessed with greed that they cannot set aside their evil intentions. They will not rest till they have killed me and seen me rolling around in my blood. O sister, I advise you to patiently endure the forthcoming troubles. My grandfather, the Holy Prophet had told me of my martyrdom, and his foretelling cannot be untrue."

On the 2nd of Muharram, Hussain's party reached Karbala. But the people who had originally invited and begged him to come to Kufa were no longer standing by him. Yazid appointed Ibn Ziyad, the governor of Kufa for the task of subverting the plans of the Kufians and to cunningly eliminate any one showing support for Hussain. When the task was successfully done, troops were sent to meet Hussain at Karbala.

Hussain's side had their tents pitched. At night, while cleaning his sword, Hussain was reciting couplets foretelling his martyrdom. His son Zayn ul-Abidin listened to him in sorrowful silence. Zaynab heard Hussain's recitation. She went to his tent and prayed that death would overtake her. Zaynab asked Hussain, whether she might be killed in his place. When she heard him say'no', she lost consciousness. When she regained it, Hussain said, "Everything is mortal. The final word lies with God and to Him is the return. My father and grandfather were better men than I but where are they now? Their example is the standard for me and for all Muslims." Aftersaying this Hussain tried to console her and took her to the tent of Zayn-ul-Abidin. Zaynab was however, unable to find any solace. Hence, she came to be known as Baakiyah (the one who weeps).

On the eve of 10th of Muharram, Hussain addressed his followers, who comprised of both friends and family-the Ansar and the Bani Hashim. He knew that this was going to be a battle unto death. Therefore, he relieved them of all obligations to remain by his side. He told them that, were they to avoid getting involved in this battle and return to safety, their decision would not be grudged. There was not any doubt in anyone's mind of the impending slaughter. How hard it is to remain calm and engage one's thoughts only in prayers, all the while knowing that one is to loose inevitably everyone and everything in the monstrous hands of one's own people? Zaynab has shown the world that this crisis too can be surmounted by sheer faith in the Power of God, and in total submission to His Will for the establishment of truth.

Umar ibn Sa'd, on the insistence of Shimr, prepared to attack the handful of Hussain's men. As soon as Zaynab heard the battle cries of the approaching enemy troops, she ran to Hussain's tent. There, she found that he had fallen asleep while cleaning his sword. She stood there watching him. Hussain woke up. He saw that Zaynab was watching him silently. He told her that he just had a dream and he saw his grandfather, his father, his mother and his elder brother telling him that he would soon join them. When he saw that this has distressed Zaynab very much, he said to her, "The blessings of God are upon you. Do not worry about the troubles these wretched people will cause."

The sun of the 10th of Muharram came up to attest the truth in Margaret Mead's saying, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Hussain went into the tent of his successor Ali Zaynul-Abidin, who was lying ill, as he was too weak to join his father in his battle. Zaynab was looking after him. Hussain bade him goodbye and said, "My son, you are the best and purest of my children. After me you will be my successor and deputy. Take care of these women and children during captivity and the rigors of travel. Console them. My son, convey to my friends my Salaam and tell them their Imam has been killed away from his home, who was thirsty and hungry, and that they should mourn for me." He told Zaynab and the other women that, "Take heed and remember that this my son is my successor and Imam and is to be obeyed by everyone." He turned to Zaynab, and said, "After killing me my enemies would take off the clothes from my body. Therefore, please bring me some old and tattered garment to wear so that they might not undress me and leave me naked." Zaynab did what was asked of her.

Zaynab brought her sons, Aun and Muhammad to Hussain and said to him, "O my dear brother, if women were permitted to fight I would have courted death to save you. But it is not allowed. Therefore, please accept the sacrifice of my two sons." The mindless massacre raged on the whole day. One by one, Hussain's sons, brothers, kinsmen, friends and supporters were martyred on the battlefield. None died an easy death. They were all practically butchered. Zaynab's sons met with the same fate. She accepted it with absolute fortitude. Neither did Zaynab come out of her tent, nor did she loudly lament as she did not want to cause grief or embarrassment to her brother. But when the corpse of Ali Akbar, the second son of Hussain was brought in the tent of the women, Zaynab was in deep anguish. She rushed out of her tent and clasped his body crying, "O my son, would that I had become blind, or had been buried beneath the ground so as not to have seen this day."

As the enemies stopped Muhammad's family's access to water, the water store has finished almost four days ago. Usually it is said that Hussain and his party did not have any water to drink for three days. But I would like to correct this as the water reserve finished on the 6th of Muharram, and from the 7th of Muharram any possible supply was stopped. So, as the battle took place on the 10th of Muharram and went on till sunset, Hussain and his people were thirsty for more than four days. When Hussain was taking his final leave from the women, Zaynab asked whether he could try to get a little water for his dehydrated six-month old son Ali Ashgar, as his mother's milk had also dried up. Hussain took the baby in his arms and went to request Umar ibn Sa'd for a little water for him. But Umar ibn Sa'd and his troops gave much more than that to the baby. They shot an arrow that pierced the child's neck and Hussain's shoulder. Hussain came back to the tent, with the body of his dead son. Zaynab wept as she pressed the tiny body to her chest.

The last person to go out in the battlefield was Hussain. This means, Hussain was thirstier than any of his warriors. He kept the extreme of pain and discomfort for himself. He was so heavily and numerously wounded that there was not a. part of. his body that remained unscathed. He stopped -bis sword because it was time for him to pray. His enemies attacked him from all sides with swords and spears. When Zaynab saw this -from her tent, she event out on the battlefield, and said to Hussain, "O my brother, my master, would that the. sky fell down on the earth and the mountains toppled to the ground." Then she turned to Umar ibn Sa'd and said, "O Sa'd, Hussain is being butchered and. you are only watching." Hearing this his eyes filled with tears but he made no reply. Zaynab addressed the others in the enemy army: "Is there no Muslim among you who could help the grandson of the Prophet of God?"

Hussain bent his head on the ground in prostration. Shimr lifted his severed head. There was no fight left. The troops had only one thing to do-trample and mince Hussain's body under the hooves of their horses, and loot him,so much so that even the tattered piece of cloth, which he hoped would preserve his modesty was snatched away. When Hussain's head was cut off, Zaynab heard Gabriel proclaim: "Beware, Hussain has been murdered in Karbala."

She rushed to Zayn ul-Abidin and told him of the tragedy that had just occurred. At his asking Zaynab raised the curtain of the tent for him to look towards the battlefield. When he saw that his father's head was held on the point of a spear, he started crying and exclaimed, "My aunt, my father has been killed, and with him the spring of generosity and honor too has come to an end. Inform the women and ask them to conduct themselves with patience and forbearance. Let them be prepared for plunder and captivity."

The enemy stormed into the women's tents and Umar ibn Sad ordered them to loot. They stole what they could and set the tents on fire. They beat the women with their swords and whips and snatched away their shawls (chadar). Zayn-ul-Abidin's bedding was ripped from beneath his body and he was left lying weak and shaking. Sakina's and Fatima's earrings were wrenched from their ears, causing them to bleed profusely. They were slapped so hard and so often by Shimr, that their cheeks started to bleed. After the battle there were more than one hundred children and almost fifty women present in Karbala. And amidst this carnage Zaynab was the only one, to take care of all of them, including her ill nephew.

While the tents were being devoured by fire, Zaynab gathered the women and went to get Hussain's ill son. Shimr had come to kill him after finding that there was still one man alive on Hussain's side. Zaynab threw herself on Zayn-ul-Abidin's body to protect him. Thus, she stopped Shimr from carrying out his satanic intentions. Zayn-ul-Abidin was too weak to move. His tent was burning. Zaynab lifted him in her arms and carried him out. Out of sheer terror most of the women and children had fled here and there in to the open desert. Zaynab started looking for them amidst the slaughterhouse of dead bodies, chopped limbs, streaming blood, severed heads, raging fire, choking smoke, scalding tears, benumbing grief, and hostile darkness. As night fell Zaynab gradually collected them all and assembled them in one place. But she could not find Sakina, the youngest daughter of Hussain. Distraught with worries Zaynab went where Hussains' beheaded and trampled body was lying in the dark battlefield. Sakina was lying on Hussain's chest, clinging to his body. "





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