Seyyed Ali Shahbaz
“For what sin was she killed?”
This is the question that is frequently asked by both pilgrims whose devout eyes shed torrent of tears and by any casual visitor to a tomb in Damascus of a 4-year old girl of the blessed household of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
The answers they receive are indeed shocking and make hearts of even those devoid of any religious sentiments melt at the hardships to which the noble girl was subjected by her tormentors – the killers of her father, brothers, her uncles, her cousins, and her other male relatives.
Who was she, and why do we continue to mourn her, especially these days of the year?
We are passing through the mourning month of Safar, the month on the 5th of which the daughter of the Immortal Martyr of Karbala, achieved martyrdom in a distant land.
To be more precise, these are the days during which following history’s most heartrending tragedy on the 10th of the previous month (Muharram), the caravan of the noble captives of Karbala was being dragged in ropes and fetters through Iraq’s Kufa and towards Damascus in Syria.
It was made up mostly of children and ladies, with the lone grown-up male person being Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) – the Prophet’s great-grandson and 4th Infallible Heir – who was waging a unique jihad to awaken frozen human consciences.
The ladies indeed played an important role in conveying the message of Imam Husain (AS) to the people of their times, and subsequently to posterity. Their names are alive till this day.
The chief among them are, of course, the Prophet’s granddaughters, Hazrat Zainab (SA) and Hazrat Omm Kolsoum (SA). The other prominent female members of this caravan of captives were the daughters of the martyred Imam, Fatema, Sakina, and little Ruqaiyya, as well as Fatema the daughter of Imam Hasan Mojtaba (AS) and wife of Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS). Their sufferings and mourning led to purposeful action.
A little over four-years-old, Ruqaiyya, who continuously lamented the loss of her father and was constantly scolded by the captors, finally succumbed to her sufferings in Damascus and was laid to rest in the dungeon, which has now grown into a grand mausoleum and sight of pilgrimage in the Syrian capital.
These ladies were entrusted with a precious mission, and without them, the lives of the men would have been lost in vain if the Muslim community at large did not wake up.
Not only did the women mourn, the Fourth Imam mourned also. They all had sadness and they all had anger, but they channeled those emotions into their words and actions for a purpose.
When the public saw the Fourth Imam, along with the ladies and children as prisoners, they learned of their identity, and heard their words. Those who had been ignorant of the truth realized that Yazid had falsely portrayed Imam Husain (AS) to them as an enemy of Islam. Seeing the grief and hearing the words of the families, the people came to know the truth.
Such was the self-control of the noble ladies that despite having gone through heartrending ordeals, they remained focused on their mission of propagating the truth. The women were in sorrow because of the events that had transpired, but let it not be assumed that their grieving was a hindrance to their mission. On seeing the mistreatment of noble ladies and young children – all forced to go through the streets in horrible conditions – the public was left with no doubt that Yazid was making a deliberate personal attack on the grandson and family of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
The harsh way the prisoners were being treated served to underscore the ladies’ and children’s claim of being on the side of Truth. If the ladies had not been there, Yazid’s men would have narrated their own version of events. Politicians would have twisted the story out of context to make Yazid a hero, but with the women present and speaking the truth, there was living proof of the message and martyrdom of Imam Husain (AS).
These women were the shield of Islam, who informed the listeners that the martyrs were from the Household of the Prophet and that the Omayyad regime was illegal, oppressive and full of lies.
The agony of little Ruqaiyyah, however, is an unending saga. On the evening of Ashura, as the heartless enemies burst on the undefended camp to loot and burn, she huddled around her aunts, but Shemr, the dastardly assassin of her father, snatched away her earrings that caused her great pain as blood flowed from her earlobes. Despite her tender age, she was tied with ropes along with the rest of the noble members of the household and taken to Kufa and finally to Damascus, the capital of Yazid, where she saw the horrible sight of the head of her father placed before the tyrant in a tray.
In the prison of Damascus, Ruqaiyya (SA), who was wise beyond her tender years, saw a dream while asleep, and on waking up suddenly, started crying looking for her father everywhere. All the ladies tried to console her, but she didn’t get any peace and cried saying: “O my dear aunt where is my father? A few minutes ago I was in his arms and he kissed me and said to me that my dear Ruqaiyya you will soon be with me.”
On hearing about her dream, all the ladies started to cry and the wailing was so loud that it reached the palace of Yazid, who inquired the reason and on being informed of the situation, he sent in a sadistic manner the severed head of Imam Husain (AS) to the prison. On seeing the head, the little girl started to cry even more and held it very tight.
She wailed: “O’ father, who cut off your head; who killed you; why are we being held as captives?”
With these words of sorrow, Ruqayya suddenly felt silent. Everyone thought that she had finally gone to sleep but this was not the case. She had gone into permanent sleep. Her brother, Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS), on checking her pulse found that her soul had flown to the ethereal heavens, and she had finally achieved martyrdom. She was laid to rest in the same place, which is now a grand mausoleum visited by pilgrims from all over the world, who beseech God on her behalf, and their prayers are answered.