“I see nothing but beauty.”
That is the majestic answer from Lady Zainab’s powerful speech in the court of Yazid, which converted the boastful show of victory into a congregation of shame. There, one of the most courageous acts of defiance took place through the power of dignified eloquence. There, she fearlessly stood up against tyranny and denounced evil. It is through Lady Zainab’s extraordinary handling of calamitous trials that we get to glimpse the depths of courage, patience, and forbearance of the daughter of Ali ibn Abi Taleb.
Looking into the life of Lady Zainab, one can tell by her actions and words that she was a reflection of the divine prophetic light that emanated from her grandfather. Born into a family that has a high station in the eyes of Allah, she is the persona of patience and endurance, and a model of defiance against oppression and injustice.
Humble and of high morals, her main focus was to strive to please Allah. Much like her mother, Lady Fatima Al-Zahra, she portrayed modesty, mercy, and empowerment throughout her life. Regular gatherings for women to teach them how to write and read the Quran was one of the many ways she enlightened the women (and consequently the men) of her time. She was able to conduct her lessons with such clarity and eloquence that she earned the title “The Intensely Eloquent One.” [Fasiha]
At a very young age, she took up the responsibility of caring for her family. After the death of her mother, Zainab grew up to be the lady of the house of Ali, sharing whatever burden that was afflicted onto its occupants and comforting them in times of distress. She is described in history books as a pillar in the house of the holy progeny.
When her father, Imam Ali, traveled to Kufa, Iraq, she accompanied him with her two older brothers, Al-Hassan and Al-Hussain. It was the first time she left the city of her grandfather, but it wouldn’t be her last.
It was she who attended to the fatal wound on her father’s head, which came from a strike of an assassin’s sword as he was bent in prostration in Masjid Al-Kufa. Years later, it was Zainab who stood by her eldest brother Hassan, as he took his last breath, fatally poisoned. She witnessed the martyrdom and oppression of her mother, her father, her brother, and other loved ones, but the calamity of Karbala overshadowed all the tragedies in her life.
Lady Zainab’s loyalty is the answer to the common question regarding her death: why was she buried in Damascus, Syria and not in Madina with the rest of her family? Why was she buried so far away from her home? The truth is heartbreaking. Before his martyrdom, her brother Imam Hussain entrusted Zainab to look after his orphans. Such is her allegiance to Hussain that after her return to Madina, where she upheld a commemoration for the martyred family she unwillingly left in Karbala, she went back to Damascus because there, the four-year-old daughter of Hussain had been buried. Accompanied by the only other person who shared her responsibility and hardship, Zainab and Imam Zainul Abideen, son of Hussain, journeyed to Al-Sham to reach the grave of Ruqaya. After the unimaginable calamity of Karbala, the tragedies had not stopped for the Prophet’s family. Only a few days after her father’s death, young Ruqaya died from shock and grief at the sight of his severed head within the dungeon walls of Yazid’s palace. Lady Zainab did not live longer than a year after the events of Karbala. She died in a foreign land and was buried by foreigners.
In her lifetime, she had endured immense pain from witnessing her loved ones martyred before her eyes, but she never objected to the destiny decreed upon her by Allah. The completeness of her submission is monumental. The grief she expressed was an outpouring of her incredible humanity.
Today, millions of people visit her shrine from all over the world to pay respects to her sacrifice and gather inspiration to be courageous in the face of tyranny, patient in times of trouble, and submissive to the will of God, because she is a role model for the righteous. Zainab bint Ali had gone through countless trials in her life, but she had seen nothing but beauty in them.