Introducing Lady Zainab

Zaynab / Zainab

This article is supposed to describe the life of Lady Zaynab who was one of the most influential women in shaping true reality of Islam. Her resistance and eloquent courageous speech in front of Yazid shows her strong and confident spirit. She is also a great example of tolerance and patience.

Zaynab’s birthday

The Holy Prophet’s daughter, Hadrat Fatima, gave birth to a little girl when it was five years after migration of them to Medina (Hijra). Three-year-old Imam Hussain accompanied his father, Imam Ali [a.s.] in seeing the baby for the first time.

The exact date of her birth is uncertain and some dates are widely accepted: the first of Sha’ban or the fifth of Jamadi ul-Awwal of the fifth or sixth year A.H., or the ninth day of holy Ramadan in the ninth year A.H.


The parents didn’t name her until the prophet came back from a journey, put her in His lap and kissed her. Angel Jibra’il conveyed the name to Him and He wept and said: “O Prophet of Allah, from early on in life, this girl will remain entangled in tribulations and trials in this world.- First she will sweep over my separation (from this world); thereafter she will bemoan the loss of her mother, then her father, and then her brother Hasan. 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.”

Zainab is thought to mean ‘she who weeps excessively’, and other linguistic sources state that it once meant a good looking or smelling tree. The name might also possibly be a compound of the two Arabic words, zayn (beauty) and ab (father).

Zaynab’s childhood

Zaynab grew up in pure environment of Ahl-al-Bayt and emulated and learned from the Prophet, Her Mother and Father and Her brothers. Following the loss of Her grandfather, she had to deal with the passing away of her beloved mother, while She had barely attained the tender age of seven.

As a young girl, she could take care of households and was fully able to be responsible for them.

From very early on she developed an unbreakable bond of attachment to her brother Hussain. One day Her mother, Fatima mentioned the intensity of her daughter’s love for Hussain to the Prophet [PBUH]. He breathed a deep sigh and said with moistened eyes, “My dear child. This child of mine, Zaynab, would be confronted with a thousand and one calamities and face serious hardships in Karbala.”

Zaynab’s Womanhood

There is no information about her physical appearance.

Her character absorbed and reflected the best attributes of those who raised Her. In sobriety and serenity, she was likened to Khadija, her grandmother; chastity and modesty to her mother Fatima Zahra; in eloquence to her father Ali Ibn Abi-Talib; in forbearance and patience to her brother Hasan ; and in bravery and tranquility of the heart to Hussain.Her face reflected her father’s awe and her grandfather’s reverence.

Zaynab’s marriage

She married her first cousin, Abdullah ibn Ja’far Tayyar. He had been brought up under the direct care of the Prophet [s.a.w.]. Abdullah grew up to be a handsome youth with pleasing manners and he was known for his sincere hospitality to guests and selfless generosity to the poor ones.  This couple together had five children; four of them were sons, Ali, Aun, Muhammad, and Abbas, and one daughter, Umm Kulthum.

In Medina, regular meetings for women were held by Zaynab  and she shared her knowledge and taught them the precepts of Islam as laid out in the Holy Qur’an. She was able to impart the teachings with such clarity and eloquence that she became known as Fasihah (skillfully fluent) and Balighah (intensely eloquent). The depth and certainty of her knowledge earned her the name given to her by her nephew, Ali Zayn ul-Abidin , of ‘Alimah Ghayr Mu’allamah, she who has knowledge without being taught.

Assassination and Political Milestones

Zaynab al-Kobra had witnessed significant turning points in the world of Islam.

On the night before Friday the 19th of Ramadan in the fortieth year after Hijrah, Ali went to the central mosque for prayers. Shortly after the adhan (call to prayer), Zainab heard a heartrending cry. Soon the cries came nearer to her house and she realized that they were bringing her the news of her father’s assassination. Ibn Muljim had struck Imam Ali a fatal blow while he was in the defenseless state of sajdah (devotional prostration). Mortally wounded, he was carried back home on the shoulders of his followers.

There was to be no recovery from this wound. On the twenty-first night of Ramadan Imam Ali died. Zaynab was submerged in grief at the brutal loss of her dear father.

She was doomed to deal with loss and tolerance all her life; Some ten years later Zaynab was once again stricken with a grievous loss, that of her brother Hasan.He too fell victim to the schemes of the power-hungry Bani Umayya.

Bani Umayya

Mu’awiya tended to convert caliphate to hereditary kingship; To achieve this it was necessary that he secure allegiance of the people for his son Yazid.  So he decided to eliminate Hasan by poisons with the hand of Imam’s wife. Now Imam Hussain had the right to achieve leadership but Bani Umayya would not leave him in peace. Hussain refused to pledge himself to Yazid. Mu’awiya was unable to dissuade Hussain from his firm opposition to such a system of rule. Hussain was the best both on the basis of heredity and piety and wisdom.

Yazid received caliphate on the month of Rajab in the sixtieth year after Hijrah. The day after his father’s death, he compelled the governors of Medina to swear allegiance to Him. Hussain refused and decided to leave Medina for Kufa where, he had been led to believe, there were many who wished to combat the tyrannical rule of the transgressing Bani Umayya and see to it that pure enlightened leadership of Muslims prevailed instead.

Her Fate; Karbala

When Zaynab understood about her brother’s journey to Kufa, She asked her husband about accompanying Him. Abdullah pointed out that such a journey was fraught with difficulties and hardship. Zainab said: “You know that for fifty-five years my brother and I have never been separated. Now 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, ‘Zainab, after me you are both mother and sister for Hussain?” Abdullah didn’t accompany Her because of Illness. But with her he sent two of their sons. Zainab had been prepared all her life for what was written for her and her brother. She preferred to face the trials of Karbala than to ever be separated from him.

On their journey, when Hussain heard of his sister’s distress, he went to her tent and she said to him, “O my brother, talk to them. Tell them about your nearness 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.”


The supporters who invited Hussain to Kufa were no longer in His command. Forces of Yazid were sent toward Hussain’s party near Karbala. There was now no doubt about the slaughter that was to come. Despite the heavy burden of knowing this insurmountable fact, Zainab maintained her tranquility through constant prayer and remembrance of the ultimate cause for which their lives were being sacrificed.

After the bloody encounter was over none of the Imam’s supporters were left alive. The Imam’s body was trampled by his enemies’ horses, his head was severed, and even the tattered cloth with which he had hoped to preserve his modesty was snatched off him. The survivors were supposed to be plundered and taken captive.

Resistance after Ashura

Zaynab has eloquently defied the movement of His brother and concurrently had to soothe and calm down the orphaned kids and family. They were sent captive to Kufa, where they were behaved respectfully at the time of Her father’s caliphate.

Some people recognized Her and expressed their regret and sorrows but Zaynab bade them be quiet and spoke to them with piercing eloquence and insight. Yazid bade Ibn Ziyad that the captives be sent to him in Damascus along with the heads of the martyrs.

The Victory of Truth – Damascus

The captives were sent to the palace of Yazid in Damascus. Yazid carried on his arrogance gloating over his victory. He said to his subjects: “My ancestors who were killed at Badr have been avenged today. Now it is clear that the Bani Hashim had just staged a play to gain power and there was never any divine revelation.” Zaynab drew herself up and boldly said for all to hear her fearless speech.

As a result of Zainab and Zayn al-Abidin’s elaborative speech, increasing number of shameful people caused unrest and turmoil in the realm of Yazid so he decided to release the captives. Yazid gave them the choice of remaining in Damascus or returning to Medina. He surrendered and couldn’t take their pledge and that’s why, Hussain’s party is believed to be winner of this battle.

Death of Zaynab

Zaynab and other companions returned Medina via Karbala and they held a mourning ceremony there. Zaynabhad returned to Medina altered, her hair white, and her back bent. Although upon her return she had been reunited with her husband, she did not live long after the tortuous trials she had to bear. The exact date and place of her death is not clear but it is probable that she died in the year 62 A.H. some six months after her return. The spirit of Zainab will live forever. Her courage, forbearance, and submission will continue to inspire those who hear her story for all time to come.


The Victory of Truth: The Life of Zainab bint Ali by Muna Haeri Bilgrami; Ansariyan Publications – Qum

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