Sayyidah Zaynab (s.a.) was the grand-daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (swt), and daughter of Sayyidah Fatima al-Zahra (s.a.) and Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.). She was a distinguished daughter who treaded in the footsteps of her parents, and was thus bestowed the titles Aqeelat Bani Hashim and aqeelat al-qawm; meaning the leader of her kinfolk and the honoured one amongst them. Exceptional sparkles of faith emanated from her personality, due to which she was referred to as ‘a scholar [endowed with deep knowledge] without having being taught’; Ibn Abbas also narrated the Sermon of Fadak from her.
She was born in the sixth year of Hijra, and largely remained out of public sight until she resolved to embark on the revolutionary course alongside her brother, Imam Hussain (a.s) to Karbala where the leadership qualities within her personality became manifest. As a result, Muslims looked upon her as the inheritor of her mother’s legacy insofar as encapsulating the constant and resolute presence of the Islamic endeavor to safeguard the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad (s).
Before his martyrdom, Imam Hussain entrusted upon her the responsibility of leadership and safeguarding the Muslim community, such that it has been stated: Zaynab is the person that protected the narrative of the Hussaini epic and its values of liberation. She is the character that also protected the blood of the martyrs and the sanctity of Prophetic immaculateness.
She passed away in Damascus (Sham); through her exceptional ability to awaken the masses to rise against injustice she exhausted the efforts of the authorities and was subsequently exiled to the ruins of Damascus where she died and was buried in unclear circumstances.
Sayyidah Zaynab (s.a.) represents the most profound and purest symbol of the ‘spiritual-revolutionary’ after the grandson of the Holy Prophet, Abu Abdillah al-Hussain. Having drawn the historic characters of these personalities with the ink of revolutionary mourning, Sayyidah Zaynab represents the highest expression of the symbolism of this sacred revolutionary mourning to Shias.
The Symbolism of Sayyidah Zaynab (s.a)
By the word symbolism here I do not mean figurative meaning; rather it refers to the intense moral and intellectual connotation involving the truth of this personality, and the extent of her influence upon the character of Islam and religious consciousness. Among these connotations are:-
First: the lineage of Sayyidah Zaynab (s.a) and her kinship that traces her back to the heart of the Prophet’s family. Further, she voiced a declaration and challenge—which has been repeatedly echoed by Shias throughout the ages without fail and on whose basis they form their moral stance—when she addressed Yazid with the words: “you shall neither wipe out our memory, nor eradicate our inspiration”. Through this, her personality became the iconic symbol of safeguarding the Prophetic memory and Divine revelation. Thus, any laxity or oversight towards her personality even after her death amounts to treachery toward the [Prophetic] memory and [Divine] revelation.
Second: she is a symbol of purity and chastity that remained concealed until the battle of Karbala, during which the enemies wished to taint her loftiness except that this was Divinely protected. Thus, she represents the purity and chastity of every Muslim woman, and the zeal of every Muslim man. Any attack on her is an assault on the highest expressions of religious chastity. And it is well established that whoever dies in order to protect one’s honour and in defence of the inviolable dies as a martyr in the way of Allah.
Third: she is the symbol of the ideological and jihadi continuation of the revolution of Karbala. Rather it can be said: she is the personality that transformed the massacre of Karbala into a revolutionary paradigm in the moral, political and jihadi contexts which endures to the present day. Therefore, any shortcoming or oversight towards defending this symbolism is a grave treason in religious, political and jihadi terms which cannot be tolerated by the Islamic conscience.
Fourth: she represents the sanctuary of tears, pains, patience and solitude—starting with the tears of Imam Hussain, Abul Fadhl al-Abbas, Ali ibn Hussain and all those who were in Karbala; as well as all those who drew inspiration from the path of Karbala up to the present—and in accordance with the Islamic understanding, right up to the future [Divine] Deliverance represented by the Mahdi. Thus, Shias consider that the most important aspect in the features of the uprising of the Mahdi is to answer to the call of Sayyidah Zaynab when she stood between the torn limbs of the Karbala martyrs and cried out: ‘O Muhammad, this is your Hussain in the open wilderness…’ Therefore, to protect this affiliation to her personality is to safeguard the historic and revolutionary identity for a future that shall be constructed on the basis of patience, loyalty and victory.
Fifth: for every Muslim—be one a lay-follower or a scholar, or whether one is religiously steadfast or not—Sayyidah Zaynab represents a unique Islamic blessing. She has been granted the rank of intercession and is a source of blessings, as a result of which people throng to her proximity—and from there, they raise their deepest pleas to Allah and recite their supplications. In this sense therefore, her shrine is sacred; souls are attracted to it and there they entrust their hopes.
By Sheikh Chafiq JeradehTranslated by Ali Jawad