Women of Islam: how the stand of Lady Zaynab defined Islamic History



I will begin this article with a disclaimer – as I’m certain you are all aware, Islam has long been portrayed as misogynist faith – not only unjust but down-right oppressive towards women. I will not deny that Muslims have in fact been rather harsh against the fairer sex; most likely an expression of their own shortcomings and intellectual inadequacies. Wahhabism on the matter has a lot to answer to since it is under its paradigm that women have been downgraded to mere commodities … properties to be traded off, disposed of, exploited … the list goes on and on!

While I perfectly understand how the world has learnt to look upon Islam in disgust of its perceived barbarism, I would like to argue that if crimes have been committed, fault lies not with the faith, but those who claimed its name only to distort its message.

Islam I’m afraid should not been looked at through the lens of Wahhabism … nor should it be judged through Muslims’ actions. More often than not, Muslims have failed to live up to those principles which are found in the Quran.

And yes, many of my critics will argue that a faith is only as good as its followers, but then again religious principles exist to inspire – their validity cannot therefore be measured by individuals’ ability to comply with its tenets but rather the truth they offer.

If Islam is perfect in its own rights – and by that I mean that it needs not to exist in negation, or criticism of other faiths, its people are not.

When discussing Islam and Muslims it would also be useful to draw a clear line of demarcation in between faith and culture, religion and habits. If we were to judge Islam solely on the text, all would recognise that the Quran echoes of the very Message expressed in Judaism and Christianity –  but that would be the subject matter of another article.

Today it is the women of Islam I would like to discuss. Today it is the status of women in Islam I would like to elaborate on since everyone: from TV presenters to so-called experts have felt compelled to weigh in … often armed with much misapprehension.

Allow me to introduce you to a great Lady of Islam: Zaynab bint Ali – the granddaughter of the Prophet Muhammad, and daughter to Ali AbuTalib, and Fatimah al-Zahra. Her name, her story, and her character have been etched in the hearts of man, to rise together an example and an inspiration. And while there have been many great ladies in Islam: Myriam (Mary, mother of Jesus only to name one of them, none like Lady Zaynab have had a more compelling fate.

Her story speaks best of all, of the role Muslim women ought to play in society.

Do not believe for a second that the women of Islam are weak. Do not believe them to be disappeared figure behind ignorant men. Islam has taught and called upon its daughters to carry Society upon their back, to be immovable pillars of strength and virtue when all else crumbles.

If ever you truly wish to see the true face of a woman of Islam look no further than Lady Zaynab bint Ali; her grace remains unparalleled.

For those of you foaming at the mouth at my mention of Lady Zaynab as if her name was an insult upon your faith since she has been attached most of all to Shia Islam, I will ask you this: remember whose name you are mocking if indeed you must.

Remember too, whose lineage you are defacing when you deny her standing, and her legacy.

Finally, remember that honouring her memory equates not to sullying that of others’ – that, you do all by yourself when you redact History to better rationalise your blind fanaticism.

The days of Karbala

A daughter of the house of the prophet (AhlulBayt) Zaynab bin Ali saw her mother, father and two brothers martyred. She saw fell her kin, she watched her lineage be denied, cursed, abused and tortured. Fate wore heavy on Zaynab bin Ali, she, who stood alone before Tyranny itself and chained, rose taller than any man would have.

I would argue that her courage has yet to be matched, her strength met, and her grace replicated. And yes, I am most definitely bias … how can I not when she taught women how to be in the face of adversity? How can I not be in awe of such a personality when before the most abject of persecution she projected such absolute determination?

When Yazid’s armies successfully murdered Imam Hussain – a move, Yazid assumed would secure his own claim on the then-Caliphate and assert him as the most righteous of righteous over the ummah (community) – the new Commander of the Faithful. Interesting isn’t it how tyrants are always so eager on clamouring their sanctity by bleeding out whosoever challenges their insanity. We have many Yazids today … they enjoy sitting on golden thrones as well. And they most fiercely enjoy abusing those they feel they own … you know whom I speak of, they gave their name to the Hijaz (Saudi Arabia).

But back to History.

On the Day of Ashura, an important date for all three Abrahamic religions, Zaynab was seized by Yazid’s armies, to be dragged in chains through the desert of Iraq, all the way to Damascus in Syria, so that one tyrant could have his fill, and in the misery inflicted upon the progeny of the prophet Muhammad revels.

Yazid ibn Mu’awiyah ibn Abu Sufyan would have his day … or did he?

In fact he did not! And while he thought himself grand before the severed head of Imam Hussain, confident his sister would offer no resistance at all – she was a mere woman after all, a plaything to be toyed with before being discarded, Yazid had yet to meet with a daughter of Islam, and in her eyes, see reflected a light which would made him cower.

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. She also forever asserted women as the pillars upon which society can lean on and grow upon.

The House of the prophet as it were relied upon her strength entirely. It was she, who carried her grandfather’s message and dispelled the darkness. It was she, who, like her mother and grandmother before her, awoke the people from their slumber so that Truth could be spoken again.

The women of Islam may be modest but they are neither meek, nor weak. Islam teaches women to be their own person, it is men who have sought to enslave them – fault lies with the oppressor.

By Catherine Shakdam – Director of Programs for the Shafaqna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies



0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *