When studying the epic of Karbala, one should not be oblivious of the fact that during the course of this everlasting and important event which took place in 61 AH, some great and magnanimous women also participated and made sacrifices. So much so that some of them were even martyred in this path and their honorable names have been mentioned in the glorious history of the rising of Imam Hussain with honor and respect. Having witnessed the massacre of their loved ones and after being paraded across towns and cities in captivity, these noble ladies spread the revolution of Hussain and preserved it, as a model, for all generations – till the end of time.
When studying the epic of Karbala, one should not be oblivious of the fact
that during the course of this everlasting and important event which took place
in 61 AH, some great and magnanimous women also participated and made
sacrifices. So much so that some of them were even martyred in this path and
their honorable names have been mentioned in the glorious history of the rising
of Imam Hussain with honor and respect.
We now mention here the names of each of these great women in the historical
order and the role played by them.
Lady Dulham: The first whose name deserves to be remembered with honor and
respect was the wife of Zuhayr bin Qayn Bajali. She was the woman who acquired
the most honorable position in the history of Islam for all times to come.
A man belonging to the tribe of Bani Fazara says: "We were returning from Makkah
along with Zuhayr bin Qayn Bajali and were proceeding to Iraq. At that time
Hussain bin Ali was also on his way to Iraq. However we did not wish to halt at
the same halting-place at which Hussain halted. Hence as and when Imam Hussain
departed from a place, we halted there and when he halted at a place we moved
on. However, on one occasion it so happened that we were obliged to halt at the
same place at which Hussain bin Ali halted. We pitched our tents on one side and
he pitched his on the other. While we were taking our meals there suddenly came
a messenger of the Imam. He saluted us and said: "O Zuhayr bin Qayn! Hussain bin
Ali has called you."
We disliked this message so much that we put down the morsels which we had in
our hands and all of us were perplexed. However, Dulham, the daughter of Amr who
was the wife of Zuhayr said to him: "The son of the Holy Prophet of Allah has
sent someone to you and called you; are you not prepared to go to him? Allah be
praised! What is the harm if you go and see him, hear what he has to say and
then return!" The words of this woman had the desired effect and she placed her
husband in the category of the greatest martyrs of Islam. Zuhayr was impressed
by the words of his wife and presented himself before the Imam. After some time
he returned with a face beaming with happiness and ordered his tent to be
pitched adjacent to the camp of the Holy Imam.
Indeed, Allah is the guardian of those who believe. He takes them out of
darkness into light. (Surah al-Baqarah, 2: 257)
Zuhayr went with the Imam and met martyrdom and his wife returned to her
Another honor which is recorded in history about this woman has been mentioned
in the book entitled Tazkira-e Sibt. According to it when Zuhayr was martyred
his wife said to his slave: "Go and shroud your master." The slave came and saw
the Imam without a shroud. He said to himself: "Should I shroud my master and
leave the Imam without a shroud? By Allah I will do no such thing". He,
therefore, shrouded the sacred body of the Imam first and then he shrouded his
Lady Umme Wahab: The second lady who deserves to be It praised for her lofty
character and sacrifice was the wife of Abdullah bin Umayr Kalbi. Abdullah bin
Umayr was a resident of Kufa and belonged to the tribe of Bani Ulaym. One day he
saw that a large army had gathered in the date-palm garden of ‘Kufa. He enquired
about the army. He was informed that those people were going to fight against
Hussain, son of Fatima, the daughter of the Holy Prophet. Abdullah said: " Allah
knows that I have been keen to fight against the polytheists for His sake.
However, I now hope that the spiritual reward for fighting against these people
who are going to kill the grandson of the Holy Prophet will be not less than
that for fighting against the polytheists. Abdullah decided to leave and
informed his wife Umme Wahab, daughter of Abdullah about his intention. His wife
said: "It is an excellent idea. May Allah guide you in all circumstances. Please
take me also with you."
Both of them left Kufa at night and perhaps reached Karbala during the night of
the 8th of Muharram. When fighting was started by the enemy in the morning of
Āshura two slaves of Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad came forward for a single combat.
Habib bin Mazahir Asadi and Burayr bin Khuzayr Hamdani got ready to fight with
them, but the Imam asked them to wait. At this moment Abdullah bin Umayr sought
the Imam’s permission to fight. He faced both the enemies alone and killed them.
When the woman observed her husband fighting with them she also picked up the
stick of a tent and entered the battlefield. She said to her husband: "May my
parents be your ransom Sacrifice your life for the sake of the children of the
Holy Prophet." The Imam said to her: "May Allah give you a good reward! May
Allah bless you! Return towards the women and stay with them in the tent,
because women are not required to perform jihad." Abdullah was the second person
to be martyred on the day of Āshura, the first being Muslim bin Awsaja.
Lady Rubāb: The third lady whose illustrious name has been recorded in the
history of Āshura was Rubāb, daughter of Imraul Qays, a wife of the Holy Imam.
She was the wife of the Imam who accompanied him during his journey to Karbala.
As regards Shehr Banu, the daughter of Yazd Gard, the last King of Persia and
the mother of the fourth Imam, she had died about 24 years earlier than the
tragedy of Karbala.
No mention has also been made of the mother of Ja’far bin Hussain, who belonged
to the tribe of Quzā’ā. There is also no mention in the event of Āshura of the
mother of Fatima, daughter of Hussain i.e. Umme Ishaq daughter of Talha bin
Ubaydullah Taymi. Her daughter Fatima was however, present in Karbala. She also
went to Kufa and Syria.
During the period of the Caliphate of Umar he embraced Islam. From the very
first day the caliph made him the chief of the tribe of Quza’a. Besides the
honor of becoming a Muslim and an Islamic chief he also acquired another
distinction. He had three daughters and he gave one of them in marriage to Ali,
the second to Hasan and the youngest namely Rubāb to Imam Hussain. Thus he
became the father-in-law of three Imams.
Lady Rubāb had one daughter and one son from Imam Hussain who were named Sukayna
and Abdullah respectively. The son who was a suckling was killed on the day of
Āshura and she herself as well as her daughter Sukayna were made prisoners.
The fourth lady whose name may be mentioned in connection with the events of the
afternoon of the day of Āshura belonged to the tribe of Bakr bin Wa’il. She
enjoys an eminent position in depicting the tragedy of Karbala. She has recorded
on the pages of history a precise picture of the meanness of the enemy in a few
She was with her husband in the army of Ibn Saad. However, when she saw that the
soldiers of Kufa had made a rush on the tents of the children of Imam Hussain
and were looting even the dresses of the ladies she picked up a sword, proceeded
towards the tents of Imam Hussain and shouted: "O children of Bakr bin Wa’il!
You are alive and in spite of this these people are plundering the tents of the
daughters of the Holy Prophet. Allah is the only Arbitrator. Come on, and avenge
the bloodshed." By means of these brief words she showed to what extent the
enemy had become mean. It seems as if the cry of this lady is still resounding
at the doors of the tents of Imam Hussain.
While studying the history of Āshura we come across the names of many
magnanimous women who rose to support truth and the godly persons with perfect
sincerity and they are not the only four women mentioned above. However, just as
none of the martyrs, whether Hashimite or non-Hashimite, in spite of their
greatness, magnanimity and self-sacrifice, can attain to the position of Imam
Husyan, who was the leader of this revolution, none of these great women who
displayed an eminent performance at the time of the martyrdom of the martyrs or
during captivity, could acquire a position equal to that of Lady Zaynab, the
eldest daughter of Imam Ali.
It was she who could truly take the place of her brother during captivity and
followed the same movement from the afternoon of the day of Āshura till her
arrival in Madina. She truly followed what her brother said: "Abjectness and
humiliation are far removed from us, the Ahlul Bayt." She thus discharged the
responsibility devolved upon her. We may say that it was due to the education
given to her by her mother, Lady Fatima Zahra. She ought to have been as patient
in the path of faith as her mother Fatima and her grandmother Khadija had been.
Was it not lady Khadija who was the first to believe in the Prophethood of the
Prophet of Allah, and who made greater sacrifices than anyone else for the
advancement of his religion and supported him in all difficulties and hardships
for about ten years i.e. from the first year of his prophetic mission till the
tenth year when she died?
Was lady Zaynab not the grand-daughter of the same Lady Khadija and was the path
pursued by Imam Hussain any other path than the advancement of religion and the
revival of the call of the Holy Prophet? Hence, in case it was necessary that
for the sake of the true religion of Islam and for the Holy Qur’an, women should
become captives and as a consequence of this should address the people in the
bazaars and the streets so as to nullify the unjustified propaganda of the enemy
and to make the reality known to the people. Who could be more suited for this
task than the daughter of Imam Ali who had inherited self-sacrifice from Khadija,
the greatest self-sacrificing lady of Islam, and Imam Ali the greatest supporter
of the Prophet of Allah?
Lady Zaynab, who was the daughter of Ali ibn Abi Talib and also the
grand-daughter of Khadija addressed the people in the bazaar of Kufa and spoke
eloquently like her father. It might be said that she was speaking with the
tongue of Imam Ali. By making a sign to the people she made them quiet as if
they had ceased to breathe, and suppressed the tumult.
Ahmad bin Tahir Baghdadi (d. 280 A.H.) has given three versions of her address
in his book entitled Balāghatun Nisa, one of which is reported to have come down
from Imam Sadiq.
Umme Kulsum, the sister of Zaynab also addressed the people in the bazaar of
Kufa. Both the sisters severely reproached the Kufians who were touched so much
that they began to weep and lament.
Fatima, the daughter of Imam Hussain also addressed the people in the bazaar of
Kufa and invited their attention to the great sin which they had committed and
the bad luck and adversity in which they had involved themselves.
The task of Ahlul Bayt in the bazaar of Kufa came to an end and then they got an
opportunity to speak in the court of Ibn Ziyad. The daughter of Imam Ali came in
the court in a very simple dress. She was encircled by her slave-girls. She went
and sat down in a corner of the palace. Ibn Ziyad asked: "Who is the woman who
has gone and sat down in a corner along with her slave-girls?" None gave him a
reply. He then repeated his question. Thereupon one of the slave-girls of lady
Zaynab said: "It is Zaynab and she is the daughter of the same Fatima who was
the daughter of the Prophet of Allah."
At this moment a heavy responsibility devolved upon Zaynab. It was necessary
that she should exercise self-control. She should also give a reply to Ibn Ziyad
and should not give him a chance to let the matter be ambiguous in the eyes of
Ibn Ziyad said: "I thank Allah that He has disgraced you and killed you and made
the people aware of your fresh lies". Ibn Ziyad uttered these blasphemous words
on account of his being arrogant on his presumed victory in battle.
Lady Zaynab said immediately in reply to Ibn Ziyad: "Allah be thanked that He
has honored us by means of His Prophet Muhammad and purified us of every
impurity. You have said that we have been disgraced but it is a libertine who is
disgraced and you have said that we have lied but lies are told by the wicked.
And I thank Allah once again that others, and not we, are the libertines and the
In spite of this prompt reply by the daughter of Imam Ali Ibn Ziyad said again:
"Have you seen what Allah has done with your family?" It appears that by saying
this Ibn Ziyad wanted to remind her of those who had been martyred two days
earlier so that she might be moved and possibly say something according to his
wishes or make some requests. He was however, oblivious of the fact that the
AhlulBayt did everything very intelligently and did not utter even a word which
was not worthy of their position, and whatever they said was well calculated and
according to a plan, so that the object which they had in view might be
In reply to Ibn Ziyad’s question: "Have you seen what Allah has done with your
family?" Zaynab replied: "Nothing new has happened. These martyrs of our family
were persons for whom Allah had destined martyrdom, and they achieved this
blessing, and embraced martyrdom. However, a day will come soon when Allah will
summon you and them for the settlement of accounts and there you will grapple
and dispute with each other."
On hearing this Ibn Ziyad was so much disturbed and annoyed that if Amr bin
Harith had not reproached him, it was possible that he might have ordered the
sister of the Imam to be killed. However, of what use could it be to him? Zaynab
had already said what she had to say. She had also identified the libertines and
the wicked and introduced the pure and sacred family of the Holy Prophet.
After a month or a few days more had passed, the daughter of Imam Ali arrived in
a more important and more delicate assembly. Here also it was her duty to speak
more clearly. As compared with the Kufans, the Syrians were more mistaken and
more unacquainted with the AhlulBayt. It was therefore necessary that she should
mention the reality and introduce the AhlulBayt more emphatically. This assembly
was organized in Damascus, the Islamic capital of the time. Here too, Lady
Zaynab addressed the people and spoke to them. This speech has also been
mentioned by Ahmad bin Tahir Baghdadi in Balāghatun Nisa. He says: "When Yazid
saw the prisoners belonging to AhlulBayt and found them standing before him he
ordered the head of Imam Hussain to be brought in a tray. He hit the teeth of
Imam Hussain with a stick which he had in his hand and recited some poetic
verses which are summarized thus: "I wish that my ancestors, who were killed in
Badr, had been alive today so that they might see the present condition of the
descendants of Muhammad and had rejoiced and said: ‘O Yazid! May your hands
never ache." He added: "May I not be a descendant of my ancestors if I don’t
take revenge upon the children of Muhammad."
When the matters took such a turn, and Yazid, who killed Imam Hussain, now rose
to oppose and take revenge upon the Holy Prophet. Was then lady Zaynab justified
in ignoring his words and deeds and in keeping quiet before one who claimed to
be the successor of the Holy Prophet and ruled in that capacity and killed the
most pious persons of Islam avenging the murder of the polytheists of Makkah,
who were killed by the Prophet in the Battle of Badr? Could she remain silent
when she saw that the Syrians had accepted the words of Yazid as true and
believed them? Evidently Lady Zaynab could not keep quiet at this stage.
Whatever she said was her duty that she performed. Allah also preserved her
speech and it was not eliminated like many other religious documents. We should
be thankful to the Almighty Allah for this blessing.