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The Lady Zaynab (‘a) and the Awakening of the People of Kufah

At this point in time, Zaynab (‘a) had lost six or seven of her brothers; her son had been killed, ten of her nephews had been killed, and she and what was left of her family had been taken captive by the forces of Yazīd. In spite of all of this, she was put in a position where she had to defend herself and fight against what had happened to her and her family.

In addition to all of these things, she had to defend herself in a city which her father had ruled, in the very building which had been her father’s center of rule.[1]

Lady Zaynab’s (‘a) Sermon at Kūfah

At this point, Zaynab (‘a) was in the city of Kūfah, and Kūfah had many vast points of difference with the city of Damascus. Kūfah was a city which had been the center of Imam ‘Ali’s (‘a) rule only 20 years previous. It was also a center of the Shias. Its people, among whom a portion were Iraqis, were seekers of freedom and a just Islamic government; in addition, they were supporters of the Prophet’s family (‘a). In spite of these attributes, they were not willing to pay the price for gaining these freedoms and blessings. They wished a life full of material wealth, power, and freedom from oppressors, yet when the hour of action would come; they were not willing to stand up for their rights. If they came under pressure, or their own material well-being was at stake, they would quickly retreat from their positions. They were attributed as being two sided, and afflicted with a soul at conflict with its opposing wants and desires. From one aspect, they invited the son of the Prophet (ṣ) with enthusiasm and emotion, and from another angle, when they were put under pressure, they not only quickly forgot their own pledges and promises, but they also went forward and killed the very same person whom they had invited. People who have these attributes must be awakened from their slumber. They must be made aware of their mistakes and shown exactly what they did to themselves with the murder of Imam Husayn (‘a).

This responsibility of awakening the masses, fell mostly on Lady Zaynab (‘a) (from amongst the group of women who had been taken captive). The women in the city of Kūfah, who were above 30 years old, had seen Zaynab (‘a) approximately 20 years ago, during the caliphate of Imam ‘Ali (‘a). They knew how much Imam ‘Ali (‘a) respected and honored her, and they also had witnessed how their own fathers and husbands honored and respected her. Zaynab (‘a) was a familiar figure to them, and when they saw the moving scene of the captives of the army of Yazīd, many long faded memories were vividly jolted back to life. Zaynab (‘a) used this opportunity and began to speak. The people heard a voice that sounded familiar to them; it seemed to them as if it was Imam ‘Ali (‘a) himself who was speaking.

Aḥmad ibn Abī Ṭāhir, who is more famously known as ‘Ibn Ṭayfūr’ (204-280 Hijrī Qamari), is the author of a book called ‘Balāghāt al-Nisā’’. This book contains compilations of famous and eloquent speeches by Arab and Muslim women, and it is considered as one of the most enduring and classical of sources. In it, he has narrated that: Khadīm Asadī[2] has said ‘In the 61st year Hijrī, which was the year of the murder of Husayn (‘a), I entered in to Kūfah. I saw the women of Kūfah crying profusely in grief. I saw ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn (‘a), who was weakened by illness. ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn (‘a) raised his head and said: Oh People of Kūfah, do you cry for us (for the oppression and tragedy that we have undergone)? Was it anyone but yourselves who killed us?

At this time, Umm Kulthūm (‘a)[3] signaled to the people to be quiet, and at this, they all became silent. Then she began to speak and I have not seen a modest lady speak more eloquently than her; it was as if she was speaking with the tongue of ‘Ali (‘a). Her speech went like this: ‘Oh people of Kūfah! Oh people of deceit and treachery! May your eyes never be free from tears! May your wails never stop! You are like a woman who weaves what she has and then (when finished) breaks it apart. Neither your covenants are of value, nor your oaths trustworthy. What do you have besides boasting and self-praise? What do you have besides flattery in the open and making amends with the enemy in private? You resemble a green, wet, and fresh plant, which is growing on a pile of dung… What evil provisions you people have gathered for the next world! May God’s wrath and the punishment of the hellfire be upon you. Do you cry? Yes, by God you should cry, for you are worthy of crying. (You should) cry more and laugh less!

Why should you not cry, when you have gained such a disgrace for yourselves. This is a disgrace that cannot be washed off with any amount of water. What disgrace is worse than the killing of the son of the Prophet (ṣ) and the ‘Master of the Youth of Paradise’? A man who was the light of your way and your helper on the ‘Day of Darkness’. May you perish! Be ashamed! All at once, you put to waste all of your past (actions), and you gained nothing for your future from it. Henceforth, you must live in abjectness and disgrace, for you have gained God’s wrath for yourselves. You have done something where the sky is about to fall upon the earth, and the earth is about to split, and the mountains are about to fall on one another.

Do you know whose blood you have spilt? Do you know who these women and girls are, who have been brought in to the streets and in to the markets without their coverings? Do you know that you have broken the heart of the Messenger of God (ṣ)? What an evil and stupid thing you have done? The disgrace of your actions has reached the very corners of this world. Are you surprised that d r o ps of blood are falling from the sky onto the earth? Yet know that the misery of the torment of the Day of Judgment will be more severe and more difficult.  If God does not seize you at this very moment for your sins, do not feel at ease, for God does not punish immediately. At the same time, he does not leave the blood of innocents without punishment; God takes account of all things.’

These words, which were spoken from the heart and were the consequences of faith in God, moved everyone who was there and created great feelings of remorse.  In the midst of this sorrowful scene, a man from the tribe of Banī Ja’fī, whose beard had become soaked with his tears, recited a poem with the following content: He said: ‘The sons of this family are the best of sons, and on this family there was never the least stains of disgrace or abjectness.’[4], [5]



[1] Doctor Āyatī Bīrjandī, Muḥammad Ibrāhīm, Research in to the History of ‘Āshūrā, Second Edition, Tehran, Ṣadūq Bookstore, 1347 Hijrī Shamsī, p. 203.

[2] In the book Luhūf, the narrator of the sermon has been mentioned as being Bashīr ibn Khazīm Asadī. He has also been mentioned in the book Balāghāt al-Nisā’.

[3] Usually, whenever Umm Kulthūm is mentioned directly, it refers to Zaynab Kubrā (‘a), the elder daughter of Imam ‘Ali (a).

[4] Balāghāt al-nisā’, Qum, Maktabah Baṣīratī, p. 24; Doctor Shahīdī, Sayyid Ja’far, The Rise of Ḥusayn (a), Tehran, The Office of Cultural Islamic Publications, 1359 Hijrī Qamarī, p. 182.

[5] Taken from the text: Sīrah Pīshvāyān, Mahdī Pīshvāī, Mu’asasah Imam Sadiq (a), Qum, 1390 Shamsī Qamarī, 23rd Edition, p. 197.


About Ali Teymoori

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