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February 27, 2021

Bibi Zainab’s leadership

February 27, 2021

More than thirteen centuries after the encounter at Karbala became a legend for all times to come, the epic story of this tragic massacre remains incomplete without the persona of Bibi Zainab (a.s.).

On Sunday (February 28/15th Rajab al murajab) scores of Muslim mourners will remember Bibi Zainab (a.s.), the younger sister of Imam Hussain (a.s.) on the day of her martyrdom.

Pilgrims will either head to her final resting place in Damascus at the center of a neighborhood known as ‘Zainabiya’ or the mausoleums of the martyrs of Karbala, southern Iraq, at the centre of the legend of Karbala.

The encounter at Karbala that took place between a small group of just 72 followers of Imam Hussain (a.s.) against anywhere between 30 thousand and 70 thousand soldiers of Yazid, the Ummayad caliph, extended beyond just a regular military encounter.

Today the legend of Karbala remains inspirational for Muslims worldwide, with remembrance of this epic event taking place in a variety of ways. These range from regular indoor gatherings addressed by eminent Muslim scholars to organized processions on the streets, notably on important dates tied to this event.

For pilgrims to Karbala, must visit spots include one known as ‘Tila-e-Zainabiya’ – a vantage point on a hill between the ground where Imam Hussain (a.s.) and his followers laid camp and the ground where he was brutally martyred. It is from ‘Tila-e-Zainabiya’ that Bibi Zainab (a.s.) watched her brother’s final battle and his brutal massacre.

The other places of deep relevance to the role of Bibi Zainab (a.s.) include the final resting places of her two teenaged sons, Hazrat Aun bin Abdullah (a.s.) and Hazrat Mohammad bin Abdullah (a.s.), who were both martyred in encounters with the forces of Yazid.

As sunset on that terrible day was followed by the burning of tents of women, children and just one adult male (Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s.), Imam Hussain’s son who was too frail and ill to join the battle), Bibi Zainab (a.s.) quickly assumed the mantle of leadership.

Her central role in assembling the individuals left behind by the martyrs of Karbala and taken captive by the army of Yazid has been frequently remembered in history as a shining example of leadership in the face of adversity.

Just a day after the massacre at Karbala, the survivors taken as captives began their long, agonizing and tortuous journey first to the court of Ubaydullah ibne Ziyad, the governor of Kufa, and then to the court of Yazid in Damascus.

So profound was the impact of this journey that it is remembered to this day as a living example of defiance against unprecedented odds. The remembrance of the aftermath of Karbala remains incomplete without a reference to the example of the leadership of Bibi Zainab (a.s.).

Despite facing the dangerous possibility of being imminently killed, Bibi Zainab repeatedly stood up to publicize the message of Imam Hussain. On one occasion, she rose empty handed and blocked soldiers of Yazid as they prepared to martyr Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s.).

One of the most towering examples of Bibi Zainab’s leadership in this journey was vividly witnessed in the court of Yazid where she delivered a powerful sermon.

Standing in captivity before the all-too-powerful ruler of the time, Bibi Zainab (a.s.) reminded Yazid of the sin he had committed by ordering the massacre of Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) family members and their followers.

So powerful was the impact of Bibi Zainab’s words that those present in the court were immediately struck with a sense of palpable disquiet. For days, Yazid’s information machinery had spread rumors that the captives left behind from an encounter at Karbala were followers of dissidents who rose against their ruler. But the official disinformation quickly unraveled as the facts were unveiled.

Bibi Zainab (a.s.) in her historically well-preserved sermon remarked; “O Yazid, on the day when Allah (SWT) will be the judge and Muhammad (may peace be upon him) will be the petitioner, your limbs will give evidence against you, [and] your father who made you the ruler of the Muslims”.

Amidst Sunday’s remembrance of Bibi Zainab (a.s.), her role as a towering figure in the encounter at Karbala promises to be highlighted once again.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on political and economic affairs.

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