Hadith, Islam, justice, Law, women
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Zaynab- The Hidden Light of Karbala

By Azhar Aslam and Shaista Kazmi

(Though they consider themselves Humans first and then Muslims, Azhar has Sunni background and Shaista comes from a Shia family)

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful…..

Allah says:  “Then the end of those who do evil deeds is that they reject the verses of Allah and ridicule them”.  (Quran 30:10)….

Oh Yazid! Do you think that by making us prisoners in such a way….. – do you think that by this you have humiliated us in the sight of Allah and have earned respect for yourself?!

This apparent success of yours is the result of grandeur of your might and lofty status for which you are proud…. You feel that you have conquered the whole world and your affairs are organised and that our domain is now under you control… And are you forgetting that Allah has said: “Surely those who have bought unbelief at the price of faith shall do no harm at all to Allah, and they shall have a painful chastisement”.  (Quran 3:177)

These were the words of Zainab (AS), the leader of the carvan of Hussain (AS), in the court of Yazid, after she was brought there as captive with the grief stricken women and children of her family. Bear in mind that in this group there were no men. Only children and women. The daughter of Ali and Fatima (AS), and the granddaughter of the Prophet spoke thus and she turned the so called victory of Yazid into the worst defeat in the history of Islam.

The emotionally charged and patriarchally dominated reading of the events of Kerbala predominantly talks about Hussain (AS) and his co martyrs, and their sacrifices. And tells us how the light shining form their blood shows us the path of Truth. Of courage and Justice. Of sacrifice. But what it conveniently forgets to highlight is the role played by the torch bearer of this light , Zaynab. A woman. The woman.

After the martyrdom of Hazrat Hussain (AS), the voice which announced the message of Imam’s supreme sacrifice was that of Zainab (AS). In the sounds the drum beats celebrating the joy of the forces of Yazid, the voice of Zainab (AS) trounced all noises by saying the Kalma e Haq. She unveiled the reality of Yazid and the delusion of his victory.

In the history of Karbala that we read today, the role and character of Zaynab (AS) is however portrayed merely as ‘helping’ her brother Imam Hussain (AS), who had remained under veil and was uncovered forcibly when she was left alone.

This reading of history has clouded what the heirs of Prophet really stood for and what their actions really meant. The great sacrifice of the whole family under the leadership of Hussain and later on Zainab (AS), in fact advocated the great message of ‘Truth’ and its victory.

It was a great event which differentiated clearly between the apparent success of the forceful tyrants and real victory of the faithful oppressed ones.  The life of Zaynab (AS) all in the troubled times and before and after that was a message for all humanity to understand that difference.

As she fearlessly said in her speech to Yazid:

“O Yazid! Do you think that we have become humble and despicable owing to the martyrdom of our people and our own captivity? ……..Do you think that by killing the godly persons you have become great and respectable and the Almighty looks at you with special grace and kindness? For this reason, and on account of this wrong thinking, you have become elated and arrogant. You have become boastful because you have seen that the matters have taken a turn in your favour. You have, however, forgotten what Allah says: The disbelievers must not think that Our respite is for their good We only give them time to let them increase their sins. For them there will be a humiliating torment.” (3: 178)

The traditional male concept of forcing women to be “a hidden treasure” is the reason due to which so little is known about Zainab (AS), or any other women throughout the history of Islam. This concept has successfully conspired with other cultural factors in fading out their roles and ultimately the message they carried, thereby causing a great loss to their legacy.

If the respect of the woman was in staying home and hiding behind veils and walls, then Imam Hussain (AS), despite knowing the situations and perilous troubles and tribulations he may face in Karbala, would not have taken along with him the women and children of his family. He would not have made Zainab (AS) the guardian of his family and the messenger of their great message.

Zaynab (AS) was the only one at that time who had courage to stand up to tyranny, speak the truth, and face the consequences.  She conveyed to the humanity, that Yazidiayt in its all forms is a disguise of villainy…that can never overpower the deed of virtue of which Hussainiyat is a metaphor. Even after seeing her loved ones being massacred and their bodies run over by the horses, her innocent little children being tortured and slaughtered, she lived the life of principle of dignity, truth, courage and bravery.

As a female Muslim I have a question for my Mulim brethren. ‘O Men. How many of you are willing to emulate Zaynab’s example?’

The significance of Zaynab’s courage stands out in one other respect, perhaps this one the most important one. It was the First Time ever, in Muslim history that someone was performing the ‘greatest jihad’, according to Prophet’s saying ‘Greatest Jihad is to pronounce truth in front of a Tyrant’.

It was Zainab (AS), whose words, in the court of Yazid, and throughout her Journey from Karbala to Syria and from there to Madina, spread the message of Truth and re invigorated the Deen of the Prophet. The ultimate role the great lady played is the real essence of the great sacrifice which kept Islam alive.

But unfortunately, in our Muslim societies, the way she acted is not supposed to be emulated by the women in Shiite or Muslim household.


“O Yazid, practice any trick you can and do anything that you think would vanish Islam, but you should know that you cannot eradicate our message, path and memory. You should know that our memory will never die.” It was the historical statement of Zynab (AS) in Yazid’s Court.

That  message, memory and path is still alive, but so is the Yazidiayt… as it is the constant fight between the villainy and virtue…that will remain forever…

What is lacking is the spirit of Zaynab (AS) in present times.

Who is to be blamed then, if today that message is distorted? that path is blurred? And that memory is lost?

Those who are non belivers? and non-Muslims?

Or those who claim to be Prophet’s heirs? …The Ummati and the Aal…? The sunni and the shia?


  1. Tariq says

    Event of Karbla, as they have reached us today, indeed, were possible only because of Hazrat Zainab. Probably that was the reason that the event upto 10th of Moharram are highlighted more and the real events which were responsible for spreading the message have remained somewhat hidden. There is, therefore, need to highlight such strong characters as Hazrat Zainab to do justice with the history. In this context, this article is a modest attempt to highlight the role of Hazrat Zainab. In the last may I add, that we should not use capital while writing the name of yazid to show the contempt, he deserves.


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