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The Speech That Saved Islam: The Sermon of Zainab bint Ali

Yazid said: “How did you find the way Allah treated your brother and your family?” to which Bibi Zainab SA replied, “I saw nothing but beauty.”

It’s the year 61 AH, just 50 years after the death of Rasulullah Muhammad SAW, and Islam is in deep trouble; Imam Hussain, the grandson of the man who brought Islam, has just been slaughtered with his head mounted on a spear and his family paraded across the Arabian Peninsula. It almost seems unimaginable how today’s Islam still exists.

But it was Sayyidah Zainab SA, the sister of Imam Hussain AS and daughter of Lady Fatima SA as well as Imam Ali Zayn al Abidin AS, the son of Imam Hussain AS, who saved the legacy of Prophet Muhammad SAW and kept the sacrifice of Imam Hussain AS alive in our hearts by defying Caliph Yazid in powerful speeches delivered in his courtyard in Sham. 

On one side was the family who became the most powerful in the whole of the Islamic empire, and on the other was the family who’d just witnessed their men being butchered in front of their eyes – yet in the courtyard of Sham it was the family of purity who silenced the most powerful in a showcase of truth versus falsehood.

Most in the Islamic empire had no clue who the family of Rasulullah were – such was the state of Islam at the time so Imam as Sajjad AS began his sermon by addressing who he was. He said with great dignity: “I am the son of Makkah and Mina. I am the son of Zamzam and Safa. I am the son of the Prophet of Allah. I am the son of Fatima, the best woman of the world”, to which Yazid replied: “There was nothing like revelation or prophethood. On this pretext Bani Hashim wished to befool the people and to rule over them”.

Yazid, fearing a revolt from the people who began to blame him after hearing the Imam’s words, called for Adhaan. When the Muadhin said, “Ash hadu anna Mohammadan Rasoolullah”, the Imam stopped him from going any further. He then turned to Yazid and asked him,

“Tell me Oh Yazid, was Mohammad (pbuh) your grandfather or mine? If you say he was your grandfather, it would be an open lie, and if you say he was my grandfather then why have you killed his son and imprisoned his family? Why have you killed my father and brought his family to this city as prisoners?”

The second part of the sermon was delivered by Lady Zainab SA, the daughter of Ali ibn Abu Talib AS. When Yazid poked the teeth of Imam Hussain with a stick saying “I wish my ancestors who died at Badr were here”, Sayiddah Zainab SA began her speech.

Zainab SA warns Yazid of accountability in the hereafter by quoting Surah Al Imran: “The disbelievers must not think that our respite is for their good We only give them time to let them increase their sins. For them there will be a humiliating torment”. Lady Zainab then reminded Yazid of the favour her Grandfather Rasulullah Muhammad SAW did in the conquest of Makkah when he freed Yazid’s father, Muawiya’s grandfather, Abu Suffiyan, and grandmother, Hind.

She then said: “Why shouldn’t you be like this, although you have done what you wanted to do and have pulled out the roots of piety and virtue! You have shed the blood of the sons of the Holy Prophet and have hidden the brilliant stars on the earth from amongst the descendants of Abdul Muttalib under the clouds of oppression and injustice. However, you shall go before Allah soon.

“You shall meet your ancestors and shall also be taken to their place. At that time you will wish that you had been blind and dumb and had not said that it was a day of rejoicing for your ancestors. On the day when Allah will be the Judge and Muhammad will be the petitioner, and your limbs will give evidence against you, your father, who made you the ruler of the Muslims, will receive His punishment.”

The eloquence of Lady Zainab was what saved Islam from the tyranny of the time; she constantly presented the sides of good and evil, lines which were blurred by the Umayyads. Sayyidah Zainab ended her speech by offering praise to Allah: “I thank Allah Who has concluded the task of the chiefs of the youths of Paradise with prosperity and forgiveness and accommodated them in Paradise. I pray to Allah that He may elevate their ranks and favour them more with His kindness, for Allah is Omnipotent”.

The praise towards Allah SWT at the end shows Lady Zainab’s patience; even though she had witnessed the atrocities of Ashura and had been paraded from Karbala, Kufa to Sham, she remained thankful to Allah hence when Yazid said, “How did you find the way Allah treated your brother and your family?” Bibi Zainab SA replied, “I saw nothing but beauty”. 

Facing pressure following the sermon, Yazid freed the family of the Prophet, the Ahlulbayt, allowing them to return home to Medina where they told the story of Karbala to all of the people. This sparked revolution across the empire with Ibn al-Zubayr collecting an army in Makkah and Medina and defeating Yazid’s army in the bloody siege of Makkah – which saw part of the Ka’aba set on fire by Yazid’s forces.

A year after Karbala, Mukhtar At-Thaqafi began taking revenge for Imam Hussain’s death by rounding up the generals of Yazid’s army including Umar ibn Sa’ad. Whilst the Islamic empire was beginning to implode – seeing the end of the Umayyads and the beginning of the Abbasids – the true essence of Islam still survived as a result of the Ahlulbayt who would tell the story of Karbala in Majalis throughout their years, ensuring that the legacy of Prophet Muhammad and the sacrifice of Imam Hussain would always be remembered.


References

The Sermon of Lady Zaynab in the Court of Yazid

History of Ashura: Explanation of Sermon

The Sermon of Imam Sajjad (A.S.) in Damascus 

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