Zainab bint ‘Ali

Umm Kulthum bint ‘Ali
June 13, 2018
Muhammad ibn al Hanafiyyah
June 13, 2018

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Zainab bint ‘Ali


We live the following pages with a Hashimi woman complete in nobleness, worship and intelligence. She is Zainab bint ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anha, the granddaughter of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and the inheritor of Hashimi intellect. Noble is her father, and grandfather.

Her maternal grandfather is the master of humanity, best of creation, leader of the pious, and seal of the prophets, Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Her maternal grandmother is the woman anointed with perseverance and sacrifice, the first believer and supporter of the Islamic creed, Umm al Mu’minin, and the most beloved of the Messengers wives, Khadijah al Kubra radiya Llahu ‘anha.

Her mother is the embodiment of purity and patience, queen of the worlds women, offspring of the trustworthy Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and his most loved daughter, Fatimah al Zahra radiya Llahu ‘anha Her father is Amir al Mu’minin, cousin of the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, father to his grandchildren, first of the children to believe, blessed with the glad tidings of Jannat, Sayyidina ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu.

Her paternal grandmother is Fatimah bint Asad al Hashimiyyah, one of the first to migrate, and the first to birth a pure Hashimi child. Her brothers are the darling grandsons of Allah’s Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, princes of the youth in Jannat, Hassan ibn ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib and Hussain ibn ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, the martyr.

The city of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, Madinah welcomed this child in the 5th year of the hijrah and the Messenger salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam named her Zainab. She grew up under his care and in his house, passing her days in the house of prophethood, enjoying the love and compassion therein. From her mother, Fatimah al Zahra radiya Llahu ‘anha modesty was transferred to this child who imbued in herself the qualities of bashfulness and attained high nobility from her father ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu.

Events of sorrow fell on her like a broken string of pearls whilst yet a child. Her grandfather, Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam left this worldly abode, an event of unexplainable grief for this ummah. A few months later this young girl lost her mother Fatimah al Zahra radiya Llahu ‘anha. She then turned to her father who she found to be an eloquent speaker, scholar par excellence, and one of the more knowledgeable Companions. She quenched her insatiable thirst of knowledge from him, becoming a unique historical figure in the sciences.

Sayyidina ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu had kept his daughters for the sons of his brother Jafar ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Zainab radiya Llahu ‘anha was married to ‘Abdullah ibn Jafar radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Both her husband and father-in-law were stalwarts of the Islamic struggle. ‘Abdullah was known for his immense generosity and was the last of the Banu Hashim to see and spend time with the Messenger of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. He was blessed with having the physical attributes as well as the characteristics of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam:


واما عبد الله فيشبه خُلُقي و خَلقي

As for Abdullah, he resembles my physical attributes and characteristics.[1]


The couple lived together in harmony and raised five children, ‘Ali, ‘Awn al Akbar, ‘Abbas, Muhammad, and Umm Kulthum.

Zainab was well known for her well-constructed views, sharp intellect, and articulateness uncommon amongst women of the time. She was steadfast and an eloquent speaker. She was with her brother Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu when he headed towards Karbala’, taking along with her some of her children. At Karbala’, she neared the tent of her brother Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu and heard him reciting the following couplets:

كم لك بالاشراق والاصيل

يا دهر اف لك من خليل
والدهر لا يقنع بالبديل

من صاحب او طالب قتيل

وكل حي سالك السبيل

و انما الامر الي الجليل

 What an unfortunate friend you are, time; how many days and nights have you witnessed?

How many a soul have you seen slain; time not replacing a lost one?

The command is with the Great; and every living thing is following its predestined path.


Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu repeated these heart wrenching couplets a few times upon which Zainab radiya Llahu ‘anha could not contain herself and said to him, “Only you remain, Khalifah of the bygone days. If only death had snatched my life before this day. My mother Fatimah, my father ‘Ali, and my brother Hassan have all drunk from the cup of death.”

Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu replied to her, “Dear sister, do not let Shaitan overpower your forbearance.”

She said to him, “May my parents be sacrificed for you, I hold my life as a ransom for yours.”

Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu repeated his call of distress, tears falling from his eyes he said, “If only I wasn’t wedged between a rock and a hard place.”

She fell unconscious knowing well that the time of separation between her and her brother had drawn close, she would not see him after this fateful day. Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu sprinkled water on her face rousing her and said to her, “Fear Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala and take solace in him, understand that those on the earth are to die sooner or later, those in the skies will not remain forever. Everything will come to an end besides the countenance of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala. My father, mother, and brother were all better than me. Our role model as individuals and as an ummah is Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. When I die, do not rip your collar or slap your face, nor wail over my passing.”[2] He thus consoled and advised Zainab radiya Llahu ‘anha.

Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu was martyred leaving behind a wound that would not heal nor lessen in pain yet Zainab radiya Llahu ‘anha adhered to his advices and patiently endured the death of yet another one of her family. When she was brought along with the rest of her family to Syria and stood in the court of Yazid, her stance was courageous, and her words eloquent and rhythmic. Her sister Fatimah bint ‘Ali describes her on that day saying, “My sister Zainab was elder and more intelligent than me.”[3] The sources of literature bear testimony to her intelligence and eloquence based on the dialogue between her and Yazid. The result of her articulateness was that Yazid was left gobsmacked and embarrassed. He honoured their stay and sent them back to Madinah in a most noble manner. He ordered someone be sent with them to see to their needs along the journey and protect them with their life if need be.

After leaving the court of Yazid, he had them stay at his home where the women of his family welcomed them with tears of sorrow on the martyrdom of Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu and those that were with him especially Zainab bint ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anha as she had lost her son ‘Awn al Akbar at Karbala’. The family of Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan consoled the Banu ‘Abdul Muttalib on their loss and grief.

Yazid ibn Muawiyah then sent them on their way with a Syrian envoy. The envoy would travel with them by night staying close behind on guard. As dawn would break they would take shelter and rest whilst the entourage of Syrian envoys would surround them, a safety net of sorts. They continued shading, being compassionate, and seeing to their needs throughout the journey till they entered the city of Madinah.[4]

The great trials they had faced merely days before did not rid them of their deep seeded generosity and kind heartedness which remains a lesson for the world to remember them by. Fatimah bint ‘Ali said to her sister Zainab, “This Syrian envoy has been good to us, should we then not return the favour of goodness?” They had nothing but their personal jewellery which they gathered and presented before them, apologising for not having anything else to give. The sisters presented the jewellery before them as a token of appreciation for the good during the journey. However, the reply was one of sincerity, “Had I done this for worldly gains I would have been pleased with your offerings and perhaps even less than this. I have done this act solely for the pleasure of Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala and due to your close relationship with Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.”[5]

Zainab bint ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anha was known as Umm al Masa’ib (mother of calamities), rightfully so too. Her life was filled with hardships and difficulties. She witnessed the demise of her grandfather Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, her mother al Zahra, her father Amir al Mu’minin, her brothers Hassan and Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhuma who were poisoned and martyred respectively, two of her sons, and many close family in a short period of time.

She did not live for long after the demise of her brother and her sons. A year had not passed since their demise that she accepted the call of her Creator and left this temporary abode in the 62nd year of the hijrah.

Some sources place her in Syria or Egypt at the time of her death however this has not been corroborated by any other authentic historian nor has anyone made a similar indication.[6] She was most probably in Madinah at her demise. And Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala knows best.


May Allah subhanahu wa ta ‘ala shower her with his choicest mercies and enter her into the gardens of bliss with the patient ones.


NEXT⇒Muhammad ibn al Hanafiyyah

[1] Musnad Imam Ahmed, 1750. Sheikh al Arna’ut has classified it as Sahih according to the conditions of Imam Muslim. Nasa’i fi al Kubra, 8160; Abu Bakr al Shaybani in al Ahad wa al Mathani, 434 (abridged). Hafiz al Haythami has concluded in Majma’, 10218 “Ahmed and al Tabarani have narrated it and the chain of narrators are strong.

[2] Al Kamil, vol. 4 pgs. 58/59 with some changes; Tarikh al Tabari, vol.3 pg. 316. This final advice of Hussain to his sister Zainab appears in Shia sources as well. Mustadrak al Wasa’il, vol. 2 pg. 451 has recorded the following from Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu, “O my sister, I take an oath on you, be sure to uphold it. Do not rip your collar or slap your face, nor wail over my passing.”

[3] Tarikh Dimashq, vol. 69 pg. 177.

[4] Tarikh al Tabari, vol.3 pgs. 339/340 with some changes.

[5] Tarikh al Tabari, vol.3 pg. 340; Al Kamil, vol. 4 pgs. 88 with some changes.

[6] Al A’lam, vol. 3 pg. 67.

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