By: Seyyed Ali Shahbaz
“You are by the grace of God a scholar unschooled by anyone and a sage by connation”.
These words were expressed in praise of the God-given knowledge of an Aunt by a Nephew, who himself was gifted by the Almighty with wisdom not found in ordinary mortals.
Today the 5th of the month of Jamadi al-Awwal ought to make us better aware of the Impeccable Lady who nursed Islam back to life after history’s most heart-wrenching tragedy, and whose birthday is celebrated in the Islamic Republic of Iran as the “Day of Nurse”.
The eldest granddaughter of the Almighty’s Last and Greatest Messenger was born in Medina in 6 AH, and was named by the loving grandfather as “Zayn-Ab” – a compounded Arabic word which means “Ornament of her Father”.
And what a wonderful ornament she proved, not just for Imam Ali (AS), but also for mother, Fatema az-Zahra (SA), the Infallible Daughter of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), to the extent that she acquired the epithet “Na’ebat az-Zahra”, which means Deputy of Hazrat Zahra (SA).
As a matter of fact, the Heroine of Karbala was not only “Na’ebat az-Zahra”, but also the Deputy of her brother Imam Husain (AS) following his martyrdom.
Shaikh Saddouq, the famous Iranian scholar who flourished over a millennium ago writes in this regard: “Zainab (SA) had a special deputation on behalf of Imam Husain (AS). People used to refer to her in (jurisprudential) matters related to the sanctioned and forbidden until (her nephew), Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) recovered from his illness (that afflicted him in Karbala).”
Now we better understand the words of gratitude of the Nephew for his Aunt who at every turn in those tragic days came to the rescue of Islam, and through her electrifying sermons in the court of the tyrant Yazid in Damascus, she shook the usurper Omayyad regime to its very foundations, while immortalizing and universalizing the message of her brother.
No wonder, the day she was born Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) had informed her parents of her heroic role to salvage Islam and humanitarian values over half-a-century later during the tragedy of Karbala and its equally tragic aftermath, with the words: “Whoever cries on the sufferings of this girl is like the one cried for (the sufferings of) her two brothers, Hasan and Husain –peace upon them.”
She was much attached to her younger brother Husain (AS) since childhood to the extent that not a day would pass when Hazrat Zainab (SA) would not see him. So great was the affection and mutual respect between the siblings that when she married her cousin Abdullah ibn Ja’far at-Tayyar (AS) with the same simple dowry of her mother, the first condition stipulated by her father in the marriage deed was that the husband will allow the wife to visit her younger brother every day either during daytime or at night. The second condition was that if Imam Husain (AS) was forced to leave Medina, Abdullah should permit Zainab (SA) to accompany her brother.
It was the habit of Imam Husain (AS) to stand to his feet whenever Hazrat Zainab (SA) entered his presence. This was not mere brotherly regard but a confirmation of the sister’s exalted status in terms of piety and knowledge. This behaviour brought memories of the Prophet’s habit of standing up whenever his daughter Fatema Zahra (SA) would visit him.
Although not Infallible (Ma’soum) in the strict sense of the word, she was immune from any ignorance and was considered next only to her Infallible Mother in terms of all excellent merits including possessing knowledge with certitude.
It is actually one’s own ignorance to raise such am issue in view of the fact that no less a personality than her nephew Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) – as noted at the beginning of this column – has paid tributes to her knowledge and wisdom. The 4th Imam, in praise of her eloquent sermons in Kufa and Damascus when the noble prisoners were brought before the Omayyud rulers, said the realities and finer points of God-given intelligence that his Aunt demonstrated is not easy to grasp by even the most erudite scholars.
A quarter century before the tragedy of Karbala, when Imam Ali (AS) had shifted his capital from Medina to Kufa in Iraq, the people of that city requested him to allow their wives and daughters to learn the tenets of Islam and the meanings of the Ayahs of the Holy Qur’an from his daughter, Hazrat Zainab (SA). The Imam obliged, and for the next four years, Hazrat Zainab (SA) used to school the women of Kufa in the rudiments of Islam and the correct interpretation of the Holy Qur’an, as was her habit of grooming the women of Medina.
Imam Ali (AS) explained to his daughter the meaning of the Qur’anic letters: “Kaaf” “Ha”, “Ya”, “Ayn”, and “Suaad”. He told her, God refers through these seemingly disjointed letters to the tragedy that would befall her brother Imam Husain (AS) in whose suffering she will be an equal partner.
He explained that “Kaaf” stands for Karbala, “Ha” refers to “halaakah” or martyrdom of Imam Husain (AS), “Ya” is a reference to the accursed Yazid, the perpetrator of the tragedy, “Ayn” is for “atash” or the thirst of Imam Husain (AS) and his blessed group, and “Suaad” signifies “sabr” or the exemplary patience of Imam Husain (AS).
Like her parents and brothers, Hazrat Zainab (SA) was undoubtedly the paragon of patience and never for a moment did she ever show emotion or other negative traits. In accordance with the benefits of patience as mentioned in the Holy Qur’an (over 70 ayahs) she exercised self-control in the midst of the most menacing calamities. In Karbala, on the Day of Ashura (Muharram 10), she gave permission to her two young sons to march to the battlefield and when after a brave fight the two achieved martyrdom, the aggrieved mother prostrated in thanks to God for having accepted her sacrifice.
Hazrat Zainab (SA), like a true scion of the family of Prophets Abraham (AS) and Ishmael (AS), demonstrated to the world the practical meaning of patience throughout all those heart-rending scenes at Karbala.
Never for a moment did her feet falter when her dear brother Imam Husain (AS) achieved martyrdom, when almost all male members of the household were gruesomely killed in front of her eyes, when the heads of martyrs were inhumanly mounted on lances, when the encampment was burned by enemy soldiers, when the orphans were mercilessly thrashed for crying, when her bed-ridden nephew Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) was flogged by the seemingly victorious hordes, and last but not the least when the captives were deliberately taken past the unburied corpses of their dear ones lying without shrouds under the hot and burning sun.
It was thus the Sister’s patience that made the message of the Brother resound with glory in the courts of the perpetrators of history’s greatest tragedy and ensured that as long as the martyrdom of Imam Husain (AS) is commemorated around the world, the name of Hazrat Zainab (SA) will also shine with radiance.