Zaynab bint Ali

Zaynab bint ʿAli
Native name زینب بنت علی

1 Shaban 5 AH

(named on) Wednesday, 5 Jumada I , 5 AH
October 2, 626 CE[1]
Medina, Al-Hijaz, Arabian Peninsula
Died 62 AH [aged 57 years]
Damascus, Umayyad Empire
Resting place Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque, Damascus, the Levant or Al-Sayeda Zainab Mosque, Cairo, Egypt
Known for Leading of the caravan of Al-Husayn after his death at the Battle of Karbala in Iraq, Umayyad Empire
Spouse(s)Abdullah ibn Ja'far
Children Ali, Aun, Muhammad, Abbas, Umm Kulthum
Parent(s) ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib
Fāṭimah bint Muḥammad
Relatives Muhammad (maternal grandfather)
two brothers: Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn, one half-brother Al-‘Abbas, and one sister: Umm Kulthum

Sayyidah Zaynab bint ʿAli (Arabic: الـسَّـيّـدة زَيـنـب بـنـت عـلي, Also: 'Zainab') was one of the daughters of the fourth caliph and the first Shia imam, ‘Ali and his first wife Fatimah. The Islamic Nabi (Arabic: نَـبِي, Prophet) Muhammad was her maternal grandfather, and thus she is a member of his Bayt (Arabic: بَـيـت, Household). Therefore, she is often revered not only for her admirable characteristics and actions, but also for her membership in, and continuation of, the biological line of Muhammad. Like other members of her family she became a great figure of sacrifice, strength, and piety in Islam – in the Sunni and Shi‘i sects of the religion. Zaynab married ‘Abdullah ibn Ja‘far, and had three sons and two daughters with him. When her brother, Imam Al-Husain, stood up against Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah in 680 CE (61 AH), Zaynab accompanied him. She played an important role in protecting the life of her nephew, Imam ‘Ali ibn Al-Husayn, and because of her sacrifice and heroism, she became known as the "Heroine of Karbala". Zaynab died in 681 CE, and her Masjid is located in Damascus, Syria.[2]

Early life

Zaynab was the third child of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib and his wife (Muhammad's daughter) Fatimah. Sources suggest she was born in Medina in the 5th year of the Hijrah (Wednesday, 5 Jumada al-awwal, 5 AH/October 2, 626 CE Julian calendar.[1] There is some debate over whether she was born on the 5th of Jumada al-awwal or the 1st of Sha'aban of the Islamic calendar. Like her two elder brothers, Al-Hasan and Al-Husain, Zaynab was named by Muhammad.[3] It is described that her face reflects resemblance and dignity of Prophet, while she was true picture of her father Ali. According to historian Arabian Peninsula never produced the like of Zainab, after her.[4]

The name "Zaynab" means "the adornment of her father" (Walid ki Zeenat in Urdu). Three of ‘Ali's daughters were in fact named Zaynab, so sometimes this Zaynab was referred to as "Zaynab the Elder".[5]

Fatimah died when Zaynab was seven years old. This tragic event at an early age and will of her mother to care as mother and sister of her brothers is plain enough to explain the special closeness with Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn.[6]

Marriage and family life

When Zaynab came of age, she was married to her first cousin ‘Abdullah ibn Ja'far, a nephew of ‘Ali, in a simple ceremony. Although Zaynab's husband was a man of means, the couple is said to have lived a modest life. Much of their wealth was devoted to charity.[7] He maintained a reputation for liberality and patronage in Medina, earning him the nickname “the Ocean of Generosity” (Bahr al jud in Arabic).[8]

The marriage of Zaynab did not diminish her strong attachment to her family. Ali felt a great affection for his daughter and son-in-law, so much so that in 37 AH (657/65/8[1]) when he became caliph and moved the capital from Medina to Kufa, Zaynab and Abdullah moved with him. Zaynab bore four sons – ‘Ali, Aun, Muhammad, and Abbas – and one daughter, Umm Kulthum.[7]

Some sources suggest that Zaynab held sessions to help other women study the Quran and learn more about Islam. According to one of her biographies, The Victory of Truth, she started this practice in Medina and later continued it when she moved with her father and family to Kufa.[7]

Abdullah later divorced Zaynab.[9] In line with Twelver’s rebuttal of divorce, Muhammad Al-Munajjid writes that Zainab died while married to him (Abdullah bin Jafar). There are many existing descendants of Zaynab and Abdullaah ibn Ja’far.[10]

Voyages by Zainab

According to Dr. Zameer Akhtar Zainab had finished 8 journeys during her life, from Madina to Kufa with her father Ali was the first trip. She travelled second time from Kufa to Madina with her brother Hassan. From Madina to Mecca, then to Karbala with Imam Hussain were third and fourth, respectively. During her 5th, 6th and 7th journeys from Karbala to Kufa, Syria and return to Medina via Karbala, she appeared to be the first lady Revolutionist. The 8th was the last voyage due to some political/socioeconomics concerns, consequently Abdullah Ibn Jaffar took the members of Bani Hashim including his wife Zainab towards Syria. She became sick and died at a location known as “Zainabia”.[11][12] With reference to travelling from Medina to Egypt it is also related that settling in Misar (a town in Egypt) she continued preaching, which resulted an order from court of Yazid that she be taken prisoner and brought to Syria. During voyage a follower and friend of Yazid, saw her and hit her with a spade on her head, this attack caused her death. Her husband Abdullah who was a very rich man, bought the surrounding land and made the shrine especially in the name of Zainab,[13] that is why Shia Muslims, specially in sub-continent, commemorate her martyrdom anniversary by conducting a Majlis.[14]

Zaynab and the Battle of Karbala

Some time after the death of the Muawiyah I, Husayn went to Kufa by the invitation of the people of Kufa for him to claim the leadership of the Muslim community. Zaynab accompanied him, as did most of his household. By the time Husayn's army arrived, the people of Kufa had changed their minds and betrayed and did not join Husayn's army at the Battle of Karbala.

In many ways Zaynab functioned as a model of defiance against oppression and other forms of injustice. When her nephew, Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin, was sentenced to death by the governor of Kufah (Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad), she threw herself over him in a protective embrace yelling "By God, I will not let go of him. If you are going to kill him, you will have to kill me along with him."[15][16] Moved by Zaynab's action, the captors spared Zayn al-Abidin's life. Because Zayn al-Abidin was the only one of Husayn's sons to survive the Battle of Karbala, this courageous action was pivotal in preserving the survival of an important part of Ali genetic line and thus the future Imams in Shia Islam.

Zaynab and the other survivors of Husayn's army, most of them women and children, were marched to Damascus, Yazid's capital, where they were held captive. Tradition says that Zaynab, already in anguish due to the death of her brother Husayn and her sons Aun and Muhammad, was forced to march unveiled. This was an extreme indignity to inflict on a high-ranking Muslim woman, the granddaughter of Muhammad.

While captive in Damascus, Zaynab held the first majlis, or lamentation assembly in the palace of Yazid to mourn the loss of her beloved brother Husayn.[15]

Another illustration of Zaynab's pious defiance was when a Syrian in Yazid's court demanded that he be given one of the younger captive girls, Fatimah bint Husayn.*[17] Zaynab countered by suggesting that Syrian man was not worthy and did not have that type of authority. When Yazid claimed he had the authority to decide either way, Zaynab issued a scathing retort, answering “You, a commander who has authority, are vilifying unjustly and oppress with your authority."[18]

This comment is representative of a larger sermon attributed to Zaynab in which she condemns Yazid and many of his actions, specifically focusing on his treatment of the household of Muhammad. The sermon is very eloquent and is reminiscent of the work in the Quran's exegesis, Zaynab did with other women in Medina and Kufa. The full text of this sermon is linked in the external links section below.[19]

Eventually Yazid released his captives and allowed them to return to Medina. On the way back, the party stopped once again at Karbala to mourn the loss of Husayn and the others that died there.[15]

Sermon of Zaynab bint ‘Ali in the court of Yazid

At the first day of Safar,[20] according to a narration of Turabi, when they arrived at Damascus, they and the heads of fallen ones were taken into Yazid's presence.[21] The identity of each head and killed persons were explained to him. Then he paid attention to an objecting woman. Yazid asked: "Who is this arrogant woman?" The woman rose to answer and said: "Why are you asking them [the women]? Ask me. I will tell you. I am the granddaughter of Muhammad. I am the daughter of Fatimah." People at the court were impressed and amazed by her. At this time, Zaynab gave her khutbah (Arabic: خـطـبـة, sermon).[21]

According to narration of Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid, in Yazid's presence, a man with red skin asked Yazid to give one of the captured woman as a bondwoman.[22] Zaynab gave her khutbah after Yazid knapped at his teeth with the staff of his hand while saying: "I wish those of my clan who were killed at Badr, and those who had seen the Khazraj clan wailing (in the Battle of Uhud) on account of lancet wounds, were here."[20][23]

Last days of her life

The exact date and place of her death is not clear but it is probable that she died in the year 62 AH (681/682[1]) some six months after her return to Medina.[24] The anniversary of her death is said to be either the 11th or 21st of Jumada al-Thani, the 24th of Safar, or the 16th of Dhu al-Hijjah. Some suggest that her grave can be found within Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque in Sayyidah Zaynab, Syria. Alternatively, many Sunnis believe her grave can be found within Al-Sayeda Zainab Mosque, a different mosque that is located in Cairo. The Fatimid/Dawoodi Bohra support the claim that Zaynab is buried in Cairo. Their 52nd Dai, Mohammed Burhanuddin, made zarih (a cage-like structure surrounding the tomb) for the shrine in Cairo. The Fatimids and some others believe that the Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque in Damascus is actually the burial site of one of her sisters, Umm Kulthum bint Ali (perhaps caused by confusion between "Sugra" and "Kubra"). There is some historical evidence suggesting Zaynab lived in Cairo near the end of her life.[25]


  • In Iran, her birthday is recognized as Nurse's Day because she nursed children such as Husayn's son Ali among others[18] but also because of her taking care of those wounded in the Battle of Karbala.[18]
  • The ritual of majlis, or lamentation assembly mourning the deaths of the Prophetic line, is still practiced as an integral part of Shia Islam.[15]

See also


  • Some sources suggest it was Zaynab's sister, Umm Kulthum, who acted on Fatimah's behalf in the case of the Syrian, not Zaynab.[15]


  1. 1 2 3 4 John Walker. "Calendar Converter".
  2. Esposito, J.L., The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, New York:2003
  3. Bilgrami, M. H. (1986). "Chapter One: Angelic Appellation". The Victory of Truth:The Life of Zaynab bint 'Ali. Pakistan: Zahra Publications. ISBN 0-88059-151-X. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  4. Shaikh Abbas Borhany, Qazi Dr. (30 June – 6 July 1994), "Syedah Zainab, Protector of the Renaissance of Karbala" (PDF), The Weekly Mag, Pakistan, pp. 5–6
  5. Mufīd, Muḥammad Ibn Muḥammad. Kitāb Al-irshād: The Book of Guidance into the Lives of the Twelve Imams. Trans. I.K.A. Howard. Partridge Green, Horsham: Balagha, 1981. Print.
  6. Bilgrami, M.H (1986). The Victory of Truth – The Life of Zaynab Binte Ali. Karachi, Pakistan: Zahra Publications. p. 82. ISBN 088059-151-X.
  7. 1 2 3 Bilgrami, M. H. (1986). "Chapter Three: Womanhood". The Victory of Truth:The Life of Zaynab bint 'Ali. Pakistan: Zahra Publications. ISBN 0-88059-151-X. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  8. Ibn Rashid, Mamar (May 2014). The Expeditions: An Early Biography of Muhammad. NY, USA: New York University Press. p. 316. online ref:
  9. Lammens, H. (1912). Fatima et les filles de Mahomet, p. 125. Rome: Scripta Pontificii Instituti Biblici.
  10. Al-Munajjid, Muhammad Saalih. HOW HE TREATED THEM (2014 (First) ed.). Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Zad Publishing. p. 128. ISBN 978-603-01-6237-6.
  11. Syed Zameer Akhtar Naqvi, Allama Dr. (2012). Princess Zainab-e-Kubra and History of Country Syria (Shahzadi Zainabe Kubra aur Tareekh-e-Mulk-e-Sham) (in Urdu). Karachi, Pakistan: Markz-e-Uloom-e-Islamia (Center for Islamic Studies). pp. 28–49.
  12. Nisar Ahmed Zainpuri, Akbar Asadi, Mehdi Raza’í (2002). Namoona-e-Sabr (Zainab) translation from Persian to Urdu (in Persian). Qum, Iran: Ansarian Publications. p. 257. ISBN 964-438-399-0.
  13. "Ziyaarat-e-Shaam" (PDF). Qafilaa-e-Zaa’ireen Houston, Texas & Ali Ali School. March 2008. Retrieved 26 November 2017.
  14. Admin (11 October 2014). "Shahadat Majlis of Bibi Zainab(S.A)". Mehfil-e-Murtaza, Karachi, Pakistan. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 Pinault, David. "Zaynab Bint 'Ali and the Place of the Women of the Households of the First Imams in Shi'ite Devotional Literature." Women in the Medieval Islamic World: Power, Patronage, and Piety. Ed. Gavin Hambly. New York: St. Martin's, 1998. Print.
  16. Tabari (1990). The History of al-Tabari Volume XIX: The Caliphate of Yazid b. Mu'awiyah. Albanty: State University of New York Press.
  17. 4
  18. 1 2 3 Ṭabarī, Muḥammad Ibn-Ǧarīr Aṭ-. The History of Al-Tabarī: The Caliphate of Yazid B. Mu'awiyah. Trans. I.K.A. Howard. Vol. XIX. Albany, NY: State Univ. of New York Pr., 1990. Print.
  19. "Sermon of Lady Zaynab in the court of Yazid". al-Islam.
  20. 1 2 Qumi, Abbas. Nafasul Mahmum, Relating to the heart rending tragedy of Karbala. Translated by Aejaz Ali T Bhujwala. Islamic Study Circle.
  21. 1 2 Syed Akbar Hyder Assistant Professor of Asian Studies and Islamic Studies University of Texas at Austin N.U.S. (23 March 2006). Reliving Karbala: Martyrdom in South Asian Memory: Martyrdom in South Asian Memory. Oxford University Press, USA. pp. 96–. ISBN 978-0-19-970662-4.
  22. Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid. al-Irshad. p. 479.
  23. "Martyrdom of Imam al-Hussain (Radhi Allah Anhu)". Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  24. M. H., Bilgrami. "Chapter Nine: Return to Medina". The Victory of Truth: The Life of Zaynab bint 'Ali. Pakistan: Zahra Publications. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  25. "Balaghatun Nisa", by Abul Fazl Ahmad bin Abi Tahir
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