Women of Sacrifice in the Epic of Karbala


When studying the epic of Karbala, one should not be oblivious of the fact that during the course of this everlasting and important event which took place in 61 AH, some great and magnanimous women also participated and made sacrifices. So much so that some of them were even martyred in this path and their honorable names have been mentioned in the glorious history of the rising of Imam Hussain with honor and respect. Having witnessed the massacre of their loved ones and after being paraded across towns and cities in captivity, these noble ladies spread the revolution of Hussain and preserved it, as a model, for all generations – till the end of time.

When studying the epic of Karbala, one should not be oblivious of the fact

that during the course of this everlasting and important event which took place

in 61 AH, some great and magnanimous women also participated and made

sacrifices. So much so that some of them were even martyred in this path and

their honorable names have been mentioned in the glorious history of the rising

of Imam Hussain with honor and respect.

We now mention here the names of each of these great women in the historical

order and the role played by them.

Lady Dulham: The first whose name deserves to be remembered with honor and

respect was the wife of Zuhayr bin Qayn Bajali. She was the woman who acquired

the most honorable position in the history of Islam for all times to come.

A man belonging to the tribe of Bani Fazara says: “We were returning from Makkah

along with Zuhayr bin Qayn Bajali and were proceeding to Iraq. At that time

Hussain bin Ali was also on his way to Iraq. However we did not wish to halt at

the same halting-place at which Hussain halted. Hence as and when Imam Hussain

departed from a place, we halted there and when he halted at a place we moved

on. However, on one occasion it so happened that we were obliged to halt at the

same place at which Hussain bin Ali halted. We pitched our tents on one side and

he pitched his on the other. While we were taking our meals there suddenly came

a messenger of the Imam. He saluted us and said: “O Zuhayr bin Qayn! Hussain bin

Ali has called you.”

We disliked this message so much that we put down the morsels which we had in

our hands and all of us were perplexed. However, Dulham, the daughter of Amr who

was the wife of Zuhayr said to him: “The son of the Holy Prophet of Allah has

sent someone to you and called you; are you not prepared to go to him? Allah be

praised! What is the harm if you go and see him, hear what he has to say and

then return!” The words of this woman had the desired effect and she placed her

husband in the category of the greatest martyrs of Islam. Zuhayr was impressed

by the words of his wife and presented himself before the Imam. After some time

he returned with a face beaming with happiness and ordered his tent to be

pitched adjacent to the camp of the Holy Imam.

Indeed, Allah is the guardian of those who believe. He takes them out of

darkness into light. (Surah al-Baqarah, 2: 257)

Zuhayr went with the Imam and met martyrdom and his wife returned to her


Another honor which is recorded in history about this woman has been mentioned

in the book entitled Tazkira-e Sibt. According to it when Zuhayr was martyred

his wife said to his slave: “Go and shroud your master.” The slave came and saw

the Imam without a shroud. He said to himself: “Should I shroud my master and

leave the Imam without a shroud? By Allah I will do no such thing”. He,

therefore, shrouded the sacred body of the Imam first and then he shrouded his


Lady Umme Wahab: The second lady who deserves to be It praised for her lofty

character and sacrifice was the wife of Abdullah bin Umayr Kalbi. Abdullah bin

Umayr was a resident of Kufa and belonged to the tribe of Bani Ulaym. One day he

saw that a large army had gathered in the date-palm garden of ‘Kufa. He enquired

about the army. He was informed that those people were going to fight against

Hussain, son of Fatima, the daughter of the Holy Prophet. Abdullah said: ” Allah

knows that I have been keen to fight against the polytheists for His sake.

However, I now hope that the spiritual reward for fighting against these people

who are going to kill the grandson of the Holy Prophet will be not less than

that for fighting against the polytheists. Abdullah decided to leave and

informed his wife Umme Wahab, daughter of Abdullah about his intention. His wife

said: “It is an excellent idea. May Allah guide you in all circumstances. Please

take me also with you.”

Both of them left Kufa at night and perhaps reached Karbala during the night of

the 8th of Muharram. When fighting was started by the enemy in the morning of

Ä€shura two slaves of Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad came forward for a single combat.

Habib bin Mazahir Asadi and Burayr bin Khuzayr Hamdani got ready to fight with

them, but the Imam asked them to wait. At this moment Abdullah bin Umayr sought

the Imam’s permission to fight. He faced both the enemies alone and killed them.

When the woman observed her husband fighting with them she also picked up the

stick of a tent and entered the battlefield. She said to her husband: “May my

parents be your ransom Sacrifice your life for the sake of the children of the

Holy Prophet.” The Imam said to her: “May Allah give you a good reward! May

Allah bless you! Return towards the women and stay with them in the tent,

because women are not required to perform jihad.” Abdullah was the second person

to be martyred on the day of Āshura, the first being Muslim bin Awsaja.

Lady Rubāb: The third lady whose illustrious name has been recorded in the

history of Āshura was Rubāb, daughter of Imraul Qays, a wife of the Holy Imam.

She was the wife of the Imam who accompanied him during his journey to Karbala.

As regards Shehr Banu, the daughter of Yazd Gard, the last King of Persia and

the mother of the fourth Imam, she had died about 24 years earlier than the

tragedy of Karbala.

No mention has also been made of the mother of Ja’far bin Hussain, who belonged

to the tribe of Quzā’ā. There is also no mention in the event of Āshura of the

mother of Fatima, daughter of Hussain i.e. Umme Ishaq daughter of Talha bin

Ubaydullah Taymi. Her daughter Fatima was however, present in Karbala. She also

went to Kufa and Syria.

During the period of the Caliphate of Umar he embraced Islam. From the very

first day the caliph made him the chief of the tribe of Quza’a. Besides the

honor of becoming a Muslim and an Islamic chief he also acquired another

distinction. He had three daughters and he gave one of them in marriage to Ali,

the second to Hasan and the youngest namely Rubāb to Imam Hussain. Thus he

became the father-in-law of three Imams.

Lady Rubāb had one daughter and one son from Imam Hussain who were named Sukayna

and Abdullah respectively. The son who was a suckling was killed on the day of

Ä€shura and she herself as well as her daughter Sukayna were made prisoners.

The fourth lady whose name may be mentioned in connection with the events of the

afternoon of the day of Āshura belonged to the tribe of Bakr bin Wa’il. She

enjoys an eminent position in depicting the tragedy of Karbala. She has recorded

on the pages of history a precise picture of the meanness of the enemy in a few


She was with her husband in the army of Ibn Saad. However, when she saw that the

soldiers of Kufa had made a rush on the tents of the children of Imam Hussain

and were looting even the dresses of the ladies she picked up a sword, proceeded

towards the tents of Imam Hussain and shouted: “O children of Bakr bin Wa’il!

You are alive and in spite of this these people are plundering the tents of the

daughters of the Holy Prophet. Allah is the only Arbitrator. Come on, and avenge

the bloodshed.” By means of these brief words she showed to what extent the

enemy had become mean. It seems as if the cry of this lady is still resounding

at the doors of the tents of Imam Hussain.

While studying the history of Āshura we come across the names of many

magnanimous women who rose to support truth and the godly persons with perfect

sincerity and they are not the only four women mentioned above. However, just as

none of the martyrs, whether Hashimite or non-Hashimite, in spite of their

greatness, magnanimity and self-sacrifice, can attain to the position of Imam

Husyan, who was the leader of this revolution, none of these great women who

displayed an eminent performance at the time of the martyrdom of the martyrs or

during captivity, could acquire a position equal to that of Lady Zaynab, the

eldest daughter of Imam Ali.

It was she who could truly take the place of her brother during captivity and

followed the same movement from the afternoon of the day of Āshura till her

arrival in Madina. She truly followed what her brother said: “Abjectness and

humiliation are far removed from us, the Ahlul Bayt.” She thus discharged the

responsibility devolved upon her. We may say that it was due to the education

given to her by her mother, Lady Fatima Zahra. She ought to have been as patient

in the path of faith as her mother Fatima and her grandmother Khadija had been.

Was it not lady Khadija who was the first to believe in the Prophethood of the

Prophet of Allah, and who made greater sacrifices than anyone else for the

advancement of his religion and supported him in all difficulties and hardships

for about ten years i.e. from the first year of his prophetic mission till the

tenth year when she died?

Was lady Zaynab not the grand-daughter of the same Lady Khadija and was the path

pursued by Imam Hussain any other path than the advancement of religion and the

revival of the call of the Holy Prophet? Hence, in case it was necessary that

for the sake of the true religion of Islam and for the Holy Qur’an, women should

become captives and as a consequence of this should address the people in the

bazaars and the streets so as to nullify the unjustified propaganda of the enemy

and to make the reality known to the people. Who could be more suited for this

task than the daughter of Imam Ali who had inherited self-sacrifice from Khadija,

the greatest self-sacrificing lady of Islam, and Imam Ali the greatest supporter

of the Prophet of Allah?

Lady Zaynab, who was the daughter of Ali ibn Abi Talib and also the

grand-daughter of Khadija addressed the people in the bazaar of Kufa and spoke

eloquently like her father. It might be said that she was speaking with the

tongue of Imam Ali. By making a sign to the people she made them quiet as if

they had ceased to breathe, and suppressed the tumult.

Ahmad bin Tahir Baghdadi (d. 280 A.H.) has given three versions of her address

in his book entitled Balāghatun Nisa, one of which is reported to have come down

from Imam Sadiq.

Umme Kulsum, the sister of Zaynab also addressed the people in the bazaar of

Kufa. Both the sisters severely reproached the Kufians who were touched so much

that they began to weep and lament.

Fatima, the daughter of Imam Hussain also addressed the people in the bazaar of

Kufa and invited their attention to the great sin which they had committed and

the bad luck and adversity in which they had involved themselves.

The task of Ahlul Bayt in the bazaar of Kufa came to an end and then they got an

opportunity to speak in the court of Ibn Ziyad. The daughter of Imam Ali came in

the court in a very simple dress. She was encircled by her slave-girls. She went

and sat down in a corner of the palace. Ibn Ziyad asked: “Who is the woman who

has gone and sat down in a corner along with her slave-girls?” None gave him a

reply. He then repeated his question. Thereupon one of the slave-girls of lady

Zaynab said: “It is Zaynab and she is the daughter of the same Fatima who was

the daughter of the Prophet of Allah.”

At this moment a heavy responsibility devolved upon Zaynab. It was necessary

that she should exercise self-control. She should also give a reply to Ibn Ziyad

and should not give him a chance to let the matter be ambiguous in the eyes of

the people.

Ibn Ziyad said: “I thank Allah that He has disgraced you and killed you and made

the people aware of your fresh lies”. Ibn Ziyad uttered these blasphemous words

on account of his being arrogant on his presumed victory in battle.

Lady Zaynab said immediately in reply to Ibn Ziyad: “Allah be thanked that He

has honored us by means of His Prophet Muhammad and purified us of every

impurity. You have said that we have been disgraced but it is a libertine who is

disgraced and you have said that we have lied but lies are told by the wicked.

And I thank Allah once again that others, and not we, are the libertines and the


In spite of this prompt reply by the daughter of Imam Ali Ibn Ziyad said again:

“Have you seen what Allah has done with your family?” It appears that by saying

this Ibn Ziyad wanted to remind her of those who had been martyred two days

earlier so that she might be moved and possibly say something according to his

wishes or make some requests. He was however, oblivious of the fact that the

AhlulBayt did everything very intelligently and did not utter even a word which

was not worthy of their position, and whatever they said was well calculated and

according to a plan, so that the object which they had in view might be


In reply to Ibn Ziyad’s question: “Have you seen what Allah has done with your

family?” Zaynab replied: “Nothing new has happened. These martyrs of our family

were persons for whom Allah had destined martyrdom, and they achieved this

blessing, and embraced martyrdom. However, a day will come soon when Allah will

summon you and them for the settlement of accounts and there you will grapple

and dispute with each other.”

On hearing this Ibn Ziyad was so much disturbed and annoyed that if Amr bin

Harith had not reproached him, it was possible that he might have ordered the

sister of the Imam to be killed. However, of what use could it be to him? Zaynab

had already said what she had to say. She had also identified the libertines and

the wicked and introduced the pure and sacred family of the Holy Prophet.

After a month or a few days more had passed, the daughter of Imam Ali arrived in

a more important and more delicate assembly. Here also it was her duty to speak

more clearly. As compared with the Kufans, the Syrians were more mistaken and

more unacquainted with the AhlulBayt. It was therefore necessary that she should

mention the reality and introduce the AhlulBayt more emphatically. This assembly

was organized in Damascus, the Islamic capital of the time. Here too, Lady

Zaynab addressed the people and spoke to them. This speech has also been

mentioned by Ahmad bin Tahir Baghdadi in Balāghatun Nisa. He says: “When Yazid

saw the prisoners belonging to AhlulBayt and found them standing before him he

ordered the head of Imam Hussain to be brought in a tray. He hit the teeth of

Imam Hussain with a stick which he had in his hand and recited some poetic

verses which are summarized thus: “I wish that my ancestors, who were killed in

Badr, had been alive today so that they might see the present condition of the

descendants of Muhammad and had rejoiced and said: ‘O Yazid! May your hands

never ache.” He added: “May I not be a descendant of my ancestors if I don’t

take revenge upon the children of Muhammad.”

When the matters took such a turn, and Yazid, who killed Imam Hussain, now rose

to oppose and take revenge upon the Holy Prophet. Was then lady Zaynab justified

in ignoring his words and deeds and in keeping quiet before one who claimed to

be the successor of the Holy Prophet and ruled in that capacity and killed the

most pious persons of Islam avenging the murder of the polytheists of Makkah,

who were killed by the Prophet in the Battle of Badr? Could she remain silent

when she saw that the Syrians had accepted the words of Yazid as true and

believed them? Evidently Lady Zaynab could not keep quiet at this stage.

Whatever she said was her duty that she performed. Allah also preserved her

speech and it was not eliminated like many other religious documents. We should

be thankful to the Almighty Allah for this blessing.

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