Lady Zainab (peace be on her) was born in Madinah on the first or in early Shaʿban or, according to one narration, on the 5th of Rabi al-Thani in 628 CE, i.e., two years after the birth of her brother Imam Husain (peace be on him); a brother whose separation she could not bear from childhood and was with him till the last moment in the event of Karbala. She was the daughter of Imam Ali, the first Imam of the Shiʿas and Lady Fatima Zahra (peace be on them), the daughter of the Holy Prophet (peace be on him and his progeny) and sister to Imam Hasan and Imam Husain (peace be on them).
Her name was presented to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him and his progeny) by the angel Gabriel from God. Zainab means the adornment of her father as she is a daughter who possesses a holy soul and innumerable perfections. She is not only the adornment of her father but rather that of the entire world.
That she is known as the daughter of the last prophet and God’s best creation, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him and his progeny) from her mother’s side like the other children of Lady Fatimah al-Zahra (peace be on her), is enough for us to understand the nobility of her lineage and familial virtue. This can be seen in the text of the pilgrimage prayer that is specific to her:
السَّلامُ علیکِ یا بِنتَ سَیِّدِ الأَنبیاء…
Peace be upon you, O daughter of the leader of the Prophets
السَّلامُ علیکِ یا بنتَ نَبِیِّ الهُدی وَسَیِّدِ الوَری و مُنقِذِ العِبادِ مِنَ الرَّدی
Peace be upon you, O daughter of the Prophet of right guidance, the master of (all) human beings, and the savior of the servants (of Allah) from being destroyed
السَّلامُ علیکِ یا بنتَ صاحِبَ الخُلُقِ العَظیمِ…
Peace be upon you, O daughter of the one who has conformed (himself) to sublime morality…
السَّلام علیکِ یا بِنتَ صَفوَةِ الأَنبیاء وَ عَلَمِ الأَتقیاء
Peace and Allah’s Mercy and Blessings be upon you, O daughter of the choicest of the Prophets, the example of the pious ones
وَ مَشهُورِ الذِّکرِ فِی السَّماء وَ رَحَمَةُ اللهِ وَ بَرَکاتُهُ
And the well known in both the earth and the heavens
السَّلامُ علیکِ یا بِنتَ خَیرِ خَلقِ اللهِ… .
Peace and Allah’s Mercy and Blessings be upon you, O daughter of the best of Allah’s creation
It must be noted that in the Age of Ignorance when no importance was given to women, they would consider lineage only to be from the father’s side. However, with the emergence of Islam, this ignorant idea was nullified and in confirmation of this, God explained the lineage of Jesus in the Quran as being from the descendants of Prophet Ibrahim from whom he was descended through his mother.
Lady Zainab possessed all the perfections and beautiful attributes, such that our words are incapable of expressing them and one can only perhaps express but a drop of the sea of her perfections on paper. For example, Lady Zainab was so devout in her worship that she never abandoned her nightly vigils throughout her life, not even on the night of Ashura. She was a knowledgeable and eloquent lady. Her speeches and sermons in Kufa as well as in the court of Yazid which were accompanied with arguments from the Holy Quran show her knowledge and remind the listeners of her father, Imam Ali (peace be on him)’s sermons, one of whose titles was Lisan Allah al-Natiq (the Eloquent Tongue of God). This lady was similarly the embodiment and symbol of beautiful patience. Due to her intense love for her brother Imam Husain (peace be on him), she abandoned all that she loved and accompanied her brother on the journey to Karbala and did not cry on the martyrdom of two her sons. Among the other characteristics of her patience are perseverance in the protection of Islam, restraint in the face of adversity, not showing weakness when facing the enemy, and not complaining in the presence of people.
Many titles have been attributed to Lady Zainab (peace be on her); some of which are the following:
Siddiqah al-Sughra, the little intensely truthful one (in respect to her mother Lady Fatima Zahra who held the title of Siddiqah al-Kubra, the great intensely truthful one); ʿAalimah ghair Muʿallamah, the knowledgeable one who was not taught; Fahimah ghair Mufahhamah, the one who understood without being taught; Na’ibat al-Zahra, the successor of Lady Zahra (peace be on her); Fasihah, the eloquent; Fadilah, the virtuous; Kamilah, the complete and perfect; ʿAbidah, the devout; Muwaththaqah, the trustworthy; Shujaʿah, the brave; etc.
According to the popular view, her holy shrine is located in Damascus, Syria and is the object of the special reverence and attention of the Shiʿites.
Jazairi, Nur al-Din. Vizhagiha-yi Hazrat Zainab (Khasais al-Zainabiyyah) [the characteristics of Lady Zainab peace be on her]. Research by Nasir Baqiri BidHindi. Qom: Jamkaran Holy Mosque. 1379 SH.
Translated by: Rashed