Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018, marks the birth anniversary of Sayyida Zainab bint Ali (p), 5th…
An epithet, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is an adjective or phrase expressing a quality or attribute regarded as characteristic of the person or thing mentioned. In the case of our Ahl al-Bayt (pbut), there are many such epithets or titles describing their numerous inspiring qualities. These are meant to bring us closer to them and give us something to aspire to.
Zainab bint Ali (p), in particular, holds a special place in many of our hearts due to the hardships she faced during the tragic events of Karbala and while she was taken captive to Damascus. What do we know about the qualities she possessed that enabled her to conduct herself with strength and conviction of faith? And how can we do our best to embody the characteristics she manifested to improve our lives today?
Some of us may feel we cannot live up to these ideals, that they are unattainable and beyond our reach. Having ideals or high moral standards to look up to give us helpful guidelines as we develop who we are and how to conduct ourselves. When we think about who we should look up to, God has provided us with role models such as Zainab bint Ali (p).
Zainab bint Ali (p) has several attributes and titles associated with her such as, al-Aqilah or noble woman, al-Aalimah or the most knowledgable woman, and Aminatu al-Allah or the faithful of God. For more information on Zainab bint Ali (p), click here.
Noble Woman (al-Aqilah)
We know that Zainab bint Ali (p) was of the purest lineage. After all, her grandfather was the Messenger of God, the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp), and her parents were the Lady of Light, Fatimah al-Zahra (p) and the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (p). However, Zainab bint Ali’s (p) nobility was also rooted in her own moral excellence. She was so trustworthy that Imam Hussain ibn Ali (p) entrusted her with his will. Someone once asked Hakimah bint Muhammad ibn Ali (p) if a woman was capable of being entrusted with someone’s will. She referred to Imam al-Hussain (p) who entrusted his sister Zainab bin Ali (p) with his will.1
Imam Hussain (p) would not have trusted her with guarding his secrets or looking after the remaining family members if she was not an honorable and noble human being. Her decision to accompany Imam Hussain ibn Ali (p) with her sons to Karbala also required the highest strength of character and trust in the Almighty. She knew that to protect the religion of Islam, a great sacrifice would be made.
How can we be better?
We are not all born from such nobility and lineage and are not faced with the same challenges and choices. However, we do have the opportunity, every single day, to strive to be better than yesterday. The choices we make in our youth, when our personality is developing, has an effect on who we become when we are older. So, when we have children, we may, directly and indirectly, pass on the qualities we have acquired through the years to them. We will have thus set a new moral standard that, God willing, we will pass on to subsequent generations. So we do have the ability to introduce virtue and nobility into, not only ourselves, but also our progeny. The responsibility starts with us.
The Most Knowledgeable Woman (al-Aalimah)
Zainab bint Ali (p) had her grandfather, parents, and brothers (pbut) as her teachers. When you have such magnanimous guides sharing and imparting their knowledge to you there is little doubt that you will become illustrious yourself. Zainab bint Ali (p) thus served as the source of knowledge for Muslim women regarding religious affairs and other matters.
The Messenger of God (pbuh&hp) has said, “Seeking knowledge is obligatory for every Muslim. (People should) know that God loves those who seek knowledge.”2
Whether you are a man or woman, seeking and acquiring knowledge is a duty. Seeking knowledge is a gift that you benefit from without expiration or diminished value. Zainab bint Ali’s (p) possessing such a high level of knowledge and being fully supported by her family is a true inspiration to us all. Read ‘Raising Confident Young Muslim Women’ for more on the subject.
The Faithful of God (Aminatu al-Allah)
Aminatu al-Allah is the faithful of God, which is a testament to Zainab bint Ali’s (p) unyielding devotion to the Lord of the worlds. Zainab bint Ali (p) was recognized among Muslim believers as being a devout and committed worshipper. Her worship was so sincere and distinguished that even her brother Imam Hussain ibn Ali (p) asked her to pray for him in her night prayers.
It was narrated that Imam Hussain ibn Ali (p) said to his sister Lady Zainab (p): “Oh sister do not forget to pray for me in your night prayer”3
This kind of devotion to God is also what gave Zainab bint Ali (p) the strength and firm conviction she needed to endure the merciless slaughter of her children, brothers, and other family members (pbut). This is what gave her composure and conviction of faith when she and the remaining family members were taken as prisoner. And finally, it is why she remained composed and eloquent while delivering her speech in the courtyard of Yazid to the accomplices and bystanders of the events of Ashura.
Worship strengthens the connection and relationship we have with the Almighty. And it is with this connection that we are able to endure life’s many challenges. Although it is a very private practice, it exhibits itself by making the worshiper grounded and mindful of themselves and their surroundings. It is what builds our resilience to life’s challenges and gives us peace through our conviction and trust in the Lord of the universe.
Although we know that as human beings we are bound to make mistakes, we should strive to be the best version of ourselves using the Ahl al-Bayt (pbut) as our guides. Their lives were not without a multitude of difficulties and challenges, yet they never compromised on their morals, ethics, principles, and belief in God. Although we do not face the same challenges as they did, we can still derive the same lessons. Their illustrious lives serve as a ‘how to’ manual to navigate life’s many obstacles. Reflecting on the epithets or titles of Zainab bint Ali (p) allows us to appreciate her life, understand the challenges she faced, and learn from the way she conducted herself. This provides the blueprint we need to seek nobility, knowledge, and complete devotion to and worship of God in our own lives.
1. Al-Majlisi, Bihar-ul-Anwar – vol,46, pg 20
2. Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol.1, p. 180.
3. Jaafar al-Naqdy, Zainab am-Kubra, vol 1, p 62.