(Persia Digest) - The historical uprising of Ashura was launched by the third Shia Imam, Imam Hossein (AS), but the person who provided the primary breeding grounds for that ongoing uprising was actually his sister, Zainab (SA), who shouldered great responsibility in nurturing the uprising.
After Imam Hossein (AS) was martyred, there was no one to lead the uprising to achieve all its goals. Therefore, the brave lady of Karbala, Zainab (SA), shouldered that responsibility and, hence has been known as the “partner of Hossein.” The Imam fought unfaithful enemy forces in the Ashura using his sword, and his sister used her sharp tongue to fight the enemies afterward.
The main mission of Imam Hossein (AS) was to defend the religion of God, to defend justice and liberty, and to fight humiliation, obscenity, and all kinds of moral deviation and diversion in Islam. His sister’s mission, on the other hand, was to publicize the uprising of Imam Hossein (AS) and to keep his message alive for the eternity. After the unequal battle of Ashura, the family and relatives of Imam Hossein (AS)—women and children led by Zainab (SA) and the ailing Imam Zeinolabedin (AS)—continued the uprising of their Imam during their journey from Karbala to Kufa and later to the Levant, thus laying the foundation for a great revolution. Although infidel enemies believed that they could distort the event of Ashura and lie about the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (S), Zainab’s (SA) disclosures awakened people from their slumber and foiled the enemy plot. Seeking righteousness, wisdom, eloquence, and bravery, and recognizing the best time to speak were Zainab’s (SA) major characteristics which had been handed down to her by her father, Imam Ali (AS), the first Shia Imam. These helped her to carry out her historic mission.
When Hossein (AS) decided to rise up against the corrupt usurper Yazid, the son of Muaaviyeh, he left the city of Medina. Many dignitaries rushed to advise him to leave behind his family, including women and children, because his journey would be a risky one, and Yazid and his lackeys would show no mercy to anyone. They advised him out of loyalty, and their fears came true. After the tragic event of Ashura, Yazid’s army showed no mercy and even took earrings from little girls. The women who were taken into captivity had the hardest time.
Imam Hossein (AS), however, was aware that after his martyrdom, his children would be responsible of informing people of what had happened and disseminating his message in all Islamic lands.
There were two important phases of the Ashura uprising. The first began soon after the martyrdom of Imam Hossein’s (AS) older brother, Imam Hassan (AS) and continued until noon on the day of Ashura. The second began immediately after Ashura. In that phase, Zainab (SA) and Imam Sajjad (AS) shouldered the heavy responsibility of conveying the message of Imam Hossein (AS) and his faithful disciples. Since Imam Sajjad (AS) was very ill at that time, the brunt of that mission fell on Zainab’s shoulders.
Zainab’s (SA) characteristics and abilities had been actually handed down to her from Imam Ali (AS), her father, who exemplified eloquent expression. Reflecting on the eloquence of his words in Nahj-ul-Balagha reveals how influential his example must have been for Zainab (SA).
The messenger of Karbala delivered two main speeches: one in Kufa at the residence of the ruler of the city and the other in the Levant (present-day Syria) at the royal court of Yazid. The forceful nature of those speeches was of great significance in disseminating the message of Karbala. They were also delivered under the most advantageous conditions of time and place. Their eloquence was so exquisite that they impressed all the audience and silenced the enemies.
After the event of Ashura and at the court of Ibn Ziyad, Yazid’s appointed ruler of Kufa, Zainab (SA) delivered a fiery speech. Having been forcibly marched through the desert for days, her attire at that time was by no means befitting the dignity and status of the progeny of Prophet Mohammad (S). Sheikh Mufid (one of the greatest jurists and narrators of Shiism who lived about 1,000 years ago and has authored important books) writes, “When Zainab (SA) arrived in Ibn Ziyad’s court, she was wearing the most worthless of clothes and was unknown to the audience.” When Ibn Ziyad asked, “Who is this unknown woman?” nobody answered him. He asked that question a second and third time. One of his bondwomen answered, “This woman is Zainab, the daughter of Fatima, the daughter of the Messenger of God.” Ibn Ziyad, then said shamelessly, “Thank God who discredited you.” To foil his plan, Zainab answered, “Thanks be to God who endeared us through his Prophet (S) and guided us from filth to purity. The one who is corrupt will be surely dishonored, and he who lies is a wrongdoer, and that person is not us, but other people.” The son of Ziyad, who did not expect to meet such a scholarly and brave woman, changed his words, saying, “How did you not see the way that God treated you and your family?” Zainab (SA) answered in a proud tone, “I saw nothing but good. They were people who were destined by God to be killed, and they went proudly to their resting places. But know this; God will soon gather you and them (in Resurrection Day) and will take you to task. So be concerned about who will prevail on that day.”
Zainab (SA) delivered a similar speech at the Green Palace of Yazid in Damascus, which nobody expected. Dr. Ayesha Bint ush-Shati writes, “When Zainab (SA) ended her speech, Yazid and those around him were as dumb-struck as if a bird had perched on their heads and they could not budge out of fear that the bird would move away. Yazid could not look Zainab in the eye and was trembling after what he had heard.”
Zainab’s (SA) fiery and brave speeches at the palaces of Ibn Ziyad and Yazid, and to large groups of state officials and ordinary people in both cities, as well as on the way from Kufa to the Levant (Damascus), awakened people who had been mesmerized by the false propaganda of Yazid and Ibn Ziyad and had considered Hossein (AS) an insurgent who had risen against the caliph of Muslims. As a result, people became aware of Imam Hossein’s (AS) righteousness and Yazid’s corruption.
Zainab’s (SA) behavior also answered the question posed by those who asked Imam Hossein (AS) why he was taking women to Karbala with him: If it were not for Zainab’s (SA) disclosures after the event at Karbala, the name of Ashura would have perhaps been forgotten.
A contemporary Iranian poet has said, “Karbala would have remained limited to Karbala if it were not for Zainab.” Undoubtedly, an uprising will continue if those related to it convey its message effectively. Those messengers should be deeply involved with what has happened and have understood the sorrows, calamities, and values of the event with their true hearts.
Zainab (SA) was, in fact, the tongue through which Imam Hossein (AS) spoke to future generations. Through her blazing words, Zainab (SA) conveyed her brother Imam Hossein’s (AS) cry for help to the whole world. If Zainab had not taken the message of Karbala out of that scorching desert, that message would have never touched the ears and hearts of those who yearned to hear it.
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