The forgotten journey – Lady Zainab’s walk to Damascus and the rise of a tradition

I was told once on the occasion of the month of Muharram that: “Seeking to forget makes exile all the longer; the secret of redemption lies in remembrance.” While I understood the reference to our collective need, and many will say imparted duty to recall the Day of Ashura as the crystallisation of all Islamic values, I only recently appreciated the hidden pain this statement holds.

Exile …

It is exile indeed that Lady Zaynad bint Ali faced as her persecutors dragged her a prisoner of war to the Court of Yazid ibn Muawiyah in Damascus. Her tragedy, that of the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad did not end at Imam Hussain’s martyrdom in the plains of Karbala … one can only hope that our remembrance will serve a shield to her bravery, and a tribute to the extraordinary quality of her character.

Our redemption one must admit lies in fact in our ability to atone through remembrance. But not partial remembrance, not selective remembrance – not a remembrance that ends on the last breath of our Imam but one that encompasses the tradition a daughter of Ali gifted the world so a fire could be set alight within our chest, and our allegiance made true to the sons of Zahra …

Our tears will remain locked in exile if not spent on the courage of Lady Zaynab. We will remain stranger to ourselves and our traditions if we do not acknowledge that which was given by the progeny of the Prophet through her courageous lips.

Lucky the pen that will encapsulate the depth of her piety and wisdom. Lucky the heart that can hold the magnificence of her bravery and humility of character when she rose a testimony of faith before that house which sought to disappear hers.

It is maybe because we have yet to understand the extent of her courage as she faced unparalleled hardship that we too often omit her remembrance from our gatherings. Her mother’s daughter, she was the nobility of a faith that does not bow to treachery and pledges not to tyranny.

If Karbala soil was consecrated in the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, reddened by the blood of the faithful, her walk to Damascus was that of martyrdom’s remembrance. A scribe of Islam, it is upon her lips, and the strength of her faith that a community was reborn to the Oath of Ghadeer, and Islam’s testimony of faith made complete.

La ilaha illalah, Muahammadan rasul allah was Alian waliullah

Who could convey the depth of her despair and not falter in the task? Who could ever paint the evil she faced without taking away from the majesty of her stand?

And no it is not exaggeration to say that she stood a giant over man at a time when infamy reigned unsheathed … still the daughter of Ali withstood.

As a tyrant mocked her lineage, poking and taunting the severed head of the prophet’s grandson Lady Zaynab taught a people in mourning that beyond the pain of separation, one must pay tribute to the blood of the martyrs, for their fall was not an admission of defeat, but a completion  of allegiance.

“So, may Allah curse the people who laid the basis of persecution and wronging against you, O Members of the Household.

May Allah curse the people who drove you away from your position

and removed you away from your ranks that Allah has put you in.

May Allah curse the people who slew you.

May Allah curse those who paved the way for them to do so

and who made possible for them to fight against you.

I repudiate them in the presence of Allah and You

and I repudiate their devotees, followers, and loyalists.” – Ziyarat Ashura

I realise today that many will wish for her name to be erased from history and the mention of Karbala struck out of our collective memory since the light they spoke screams too much of tyrants betrayal … and maybe it would be easier to comply and find safety in the consensus our modern-day Yazids architected.

But easy is not the path we walk … easy was not what we were promised … beauty however is all we can see.

It is in chains that Zaynab bint Ali entered the Court of Yazid – unveiled, mocked by the crowd of courtiers, she was made to watch as the new Caliph delighted himself in seeing the progeny of the prophet in humiliation before his might.

Where most would have receded in fear, Zaynab did not; she could not. With all her might she told her persecutor: “…Although calamities have forced me to speak to you, Indeed, your reach is trivial in my eyes and I find your talk big and I regard your berating excessive, and the eyes are tearful, and the chests are on fire. The surprise of all surprises is that those who are “Party to Shaitan [the Devil]” have murdered those who are the ‘Ones near to Allah’. Such hands are dripping with our blood; such mouths are feeding on our flesh, while those who are pure and sacred – their corpses have been offered as food to the wild beasts of the desert and have been desecrated by the brutes. If you regard us as your booty, you shall soon deem us as your opponents—that will be when you find nothing but what your hands had committed.”


“… Scheme whatever you wish to scheme, and carry out your plots, and intensify your efforts, for by Allah, you shall never be able to obliterate our mention, nor will you ever be able to kill the revelation (that was revealed to us), nor will you ever exalt to attain our position, nor will your shame ever be washed away. Your vision shall prove futile, your days are limited in number, and your wealth will be wasted on the Day when the caller calls out.”

Hardly words of submission! Hardly the behaviour of a broken spirit!

Through Zaynab women have learnt dignity and perseverance, courage and resilience, patience and pride.

It fell upon Lady Zaynab to carry, speak and teach Islam’s traditions after her kin was murdered. Without her intervention, her knowledge, her devotion and wisdom it is likely men like Yazid would have redacted Islam entirely, and on its ashes, manufactured the type of aberration we see today in Wahhabism.

Zaynab proved that Freedom is a state of mind, that to be truly free one needs only to have the courage to stand up and under the banner of the House of the Prophet speaks unadulterated Truth.

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