Content warning: This post contains graphic descriptions of death and violence.
Part of what we memorialize and commemorate during Ashura is the sermon delivered by Zainab (as). Following the massacre of Ahlul-Bayt and their companions, our Lady Zainab (as) delivers a sermon in the court of Yazid, forever becoming a beacon of strength for Islam and women.
“I see nothing but beauty.”
Eyes filled with tears, and a heart filled with devotion and faith, a mind that is forever tainted with the view of the children losing the ability to speak, move, or cry. The sounds of the mothers weeping as their sons died, one by one, in the name of Allah (SWT) echo through the head of our Sayeda Zainab (as). Bodies with souls returning to Allah, or wounds that need aid that cannot be treated because of a lack of supplies, our Lady Zainab stood tall, prayed every salah, and waited for every fighting man to come back to their tent alive. Except the casualties kept coming…
“I see nothing but beauty.”
Her brothers were killed; our dear Hussain Ibn Ali (as) killed and decapitated. Her brother Abbas Ibn Ali with his limbs cut off in a valiant effort to bring back water for the children, utters a final cry he sends to his brother. A young Ruqaya dies immediately while seeing her father’s decapitated head. The bloodshed, the pain, the broken hearts, and the thirst…
“I see nothing but beauty. I see nothing but beauty. Alhamdulilah, I see nothing but beauty.”
This line is infamous for Sayeda Zainab (as), but I never quite understood it until she delivered her sermon, in front of Yazid and his following of ignorant soldiers. She sees nothing but beauty despite losing her brother, her nephews, and her children. She sees nothing but beauty despite her six-month-old nephew being struck in the neck by an arrow. She sees nothing but beauty, even while having her children stripped away by murderers and a war where they were far outnumbered.
She saw beauty despite losing everything…except she never viewed it as a loss. She viewed it as a sacrifice and the will of Allah to keep Islam vibrant and strong.
Lady Zainab understood, throughout the bloodshed and the killing, that the lovers of Ahlul-Bayt fulfilled their missions, and have attained peace knowing they have died for Allah and solely for Allah. They have finally rejoined our Creator in a land far more permanent and kind than Earth.
Sayeda Zainab not only kept Islam alive by caring for the wounded, or fighting for Imam Zain Al-Abadeen, but she ignited the flame of women’s rights through her confrontation with Yazid. She was the granddaughter of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and the daughter of Imam Ali (as) and Lady Fatima Al-Zahraa (as).
As our Beloved Prophet forewarned Lady Fatima of the massacre that would come and the brutal death of her dear Hussain, she asked, “Oh Father, who will be there to mourn his death when we are gone?” With that, our Prophet said, “Oh Fatima, the women of my nation will cry over the women of my household, and the men of my nation will cry over the men of my household. And mourning will occur every year [. . .] and we will lead those who have shed tears over the Believers to Paradise.” And it is through Sayeda Zainab that we continue to spread the stories, and messages of the tragic events of Karbala.
She was a veiled woman, a sister, a mother, and a friend. She stood in the court of Yazid after being chained and pulled from Karbala to Damascus, alongside the other women and our ill Imam Zain Al-Abadeen. She was tired, frustrated, and mourning, and yet, her words were sharp, intelligent, and alert.
She saw a woman alongside her be compelled to marry a soldier of Yazid so Lady Zainab took a step toward delivering a sermon studied by many today on the topics of Feminism, Gender Studies, and Women’s Rights.
Sayeda Zainab reprimanded him for the blood and shackles on their arms. She spoke of the injustice when Yazid pokes the lips on the decapitated head of Imam Hussain (as), the very lips Prophet Mohammad used to kiss. She questions his ability to veil his women and his mistresses, but forcibly exposes the women of the very family of the Beloved Prophet. He may have stripped her of her physical hijab, but her spiritual hijab could never be taken from her.
She angrily defends the honor of the dead, that was fed to wolves and hyenas, that were torn limb-by-limb, but she motions that they are not really dead, for their messages and stories will continue to live for centuries to come, and they did.
Their stories are heard every year, with hundreds, thousands, millions of Ahlul-Bayt lovers, not just Shias, who rush to mosques around the world, and to Karbala. Sayeda Zainab made sure to share and strengthen Shiism.
Their stories are heard every year, with hundreds, thousands, millions of Ahlul-Bayt lovers, not just Shias, who rush to mosques around the world, and to Karbala. Their stories, struggles, grief, love, and resilience are felt, heard, and seen. Sayeda Zainab made sure to share and strengthen Shiism.
Our Lady Zainab humiliated Yazid and changed some of the coldest hearts. She is the definition of sacrifice and having tawakkul in Allah. She is a symbol of both spiritual and familial love. And while she rests in her shrine in Damascus, her spirit is alive. Her spirit kept Islam alive.