By: Fatema Makki
Historically, female leaders have been overshadowed in the mainstream Muslim world. In fact, Islam would not have survived all that time if it were not for the phenomenal female figures who propagated the Message of Islam including Lady Khadijah, Lady Fatima (a.s.) and Lady Zeinab.
On 5 Jumada Al-Awwal, Muslims around the world celebrate the birthday of the daughter of Imam Ali (a.s.) and Lady Fatima (a.s.), Lady Zeinab. She inherited bravery from her father, and knowledge from her mother. Born into a family known for its knowledge, Lady Zeinab grew up to become one of the most knowledgeable women in Muslim history.
Throughout her life, she was so keen in acquiring knowledge that that she made great efforts to hold gatherings for women and give them religious training, where she disseminated the teachings of her grandfather, the Messenger of Allah (p). As she became known for her ability to teach, she gained the titles of “the scholar without a teacher” and “the most eloquent one”. Lady Zeinab married Abdullah, son of Ja'far Tayyar.
What is peculiar about her character is that not only did she survive the calamities that struck her during her life, but also bore them with utmost patience and forbearance. She witnessed the unspeakable tragedy of her brother, Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) and continued the mission that he started and became to be known as “the patient one”.
In the aftermath of the massacre of Karbala, she led the women and children who were taken as prisoners by the army of the tyrant, Yazid. She delivered a sermon in Yazid’s palace, after the tragedy of Karbala, in which she faced him very bravely and told him of his evildoings, winning the hearts of the people present at the palace. Moreover, she revealed to the people the principles and practices of Islam and the wrong and merciless killings of the followers of Imam Al-Hussein in the battle of Karbala by Yazid and his cruel army. This sermon, along with others, reflects the bravery, serenity, chastity, eloquence, forbearance and patience that Sayyeda Zeinab (a.s.) enjoyed.
In her sermon, she stood up for her beliefs and did not waver in front of the might tyrant who had just butchered her family members with utmost cruelty: “So scheme whatever you wish to scheme, and carry out your plots, and intensify your efforts, for, by Allah, you shall never be able to obliterate our mention, nor will you ever be able to kill the revelation (that was revealed to us), nor will you ever exalt our position, nor will your shame ever be washed away. Your view shall be proven futile, your days limited in number, and your wealth wasted on the Day when the caller calls out: ‘The curse of Allah be upon the oppressors’” (11:18).
In addition, she described martyrdom as a blessing sent from God and means to attaining his gratification: “All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, Who sealed the life of our early ones with happiness and forgiveness, and that of our last ones with martyrdom and mercy. We plead to Allah to complete His rewards for them, grant them an increase, and recompense us pleasingly. He is the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate, Allah suffices us, and He is the best Guardian.”
The sermon is a brilliant example of how her bereaved heart impacted the people through her sermon. This sermon was so powerful that it converted the glorious show of victory into a mournful ceremony, where the evildoings of the governor were revealed, and it made the delighted happy faces sadden, and many even began to cry. As a matter of fact, her eloquent speech even boosted people's anger toward the governor.
Even after her return to Medina, Lady Zeinab did not sit still. Instead, despite having endured such hardships, she traveled all over the Islamic world and continued to preach the Message of Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.), causing a reawakening in the Muslim nation that continues to this day in the form of Ashoura commemorations.