The women of Karbala and Hussain’s message
It was to a woman that Hussain, the saviour of Islam, left the rest of his mission
The women present at the Battle of Ashura in Karbala were entrusted with a special mission: to keep Hussain’s message alive. Under the leadership of Lady Zainab the women were to spread the message of Hussain’s sacrifice even while they went through huge ordeals and sorrows. Their grief at the murder of the Imam was a vehicle of change, and cannot be separated from their accomplishment of the mission.
It was to a woman that this savior of Islam left the rest of his mission, under the guidance of his successor Imam Zainul Abideen.
Women carried out the task of spreading news at the grimmest time of their lives, when their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons had just been killed.
The ladies’ tents were set on fire, their veils were ripped away, and they were put in chains. Made to walk through the desert, the ladies and children were paraded through Kufa and Damascus by Yazid’s army. Such was the women’s self-control that, despite having gone through such ordeals, they remained focused on their mission of propagating the truth.
The women of Karbala mourned with legitimate reason for Hussain’s murder, and that mourning led to purposeful action. These women were entrusted with a precious mission, and without them, the lives of the men would have been lost in vain if the Muslim community at large did not wake up.
Imam Zainul Abideen, Lady Zainab, Lady Umme Kulthoom, and the other women carried out the task of spreading news at the grimmest time of their lives, when their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons had just been killed as they protected Imam Hussain. In the end they saw the Imam himself ruthlessly killed.
When Lady Zainab gave powerful speeches in the streets about Ashura, her words also shook people to the core. When she spoke, she had the eloquence and fire of words that her father had had.
In the way Lady Zainab had been called the “Beauty of her Father”, Lady Fatima had been known as the “Mother of her Father”. They both knew when to stay quiet and when to speak out. They both gave fiery speeches while trying to preserve their modesty, and did so while having recently suffered personal family losses. They grieved, legitimately, while still standing up for the truth. Mourning and action went hand-in-hand.
If the ladies had not been there, Yazid’s men would have narrated their own version of events. Politicians would have twisted the story as they wished to make Yazid out as a hero, but with the women present and speaking the truth, there was living proof of Hussain’s message and his martyrdom.
The tragic events of Karbala were publicized so widely and effectively in such a short span of time that it caused a reversal of public feeling towards Yazid.
There were many other women who played important roles at Karbala. These were the wives and daughters of Hussain’s companions.
Lady Umme Wahab: Umme Wahab was watching her husban Abdullah from the families’ tents when he was fighting on the day of the battle at Karbala. She became so concerned for the Imam’s safety and had such devotion to him that, even though she had no weapon and no way to fight, she grabbed a stick and came to the battlefield. She told Abdullah, “May my parents be your ransom, sacrifice your life for the sake of the children of the Holy Prophet.”
Imam Hussain then said to her, “May Allah bless you with His best rewards, return towards the women and remain with them, may Allah bless you, women aren’t supposed to fight in the war.” She returned to the tents. With his wife’s moral support, Abdullah was able to protect the Imam and became the second martyr of Karbala on the day of Ashura. When he died, Umme Wahab went to her husband’s body on the battlefield, and wiping the dirt from his cheeks she said, “May paradise of Allah be pleasant for you! I ask Allah, who bestowed upon you Paradise, to make me your companion over there.” Just then, Shimr commanded his slave to hit Umme Wahab with a stick. The blow killed her, and she died at her husband’s side.
Another family that had come to Karbala with the Imam’s caravan was that of Junadah, son of Ka’b, who had come with his wife Lady Bahria and son Amr. When Janada died, Bahria sent Omar to help the Imam. Imam Hussain was hesitant to give the son permission to fight since his father had just been killed, and he thought that it would be too much of a trial for Bahria to lose her son too. The son told the Imam that it was Bahria herself who had dressed him for battle and sent him. So great was the strength of Bahria that she remained focused on the protection of the Imam when her husband had just been killed.
She had grief, yes, but she managed it for a higher purpose, which would not be an easy task for anyone in such circumstances, man or woman.
From her tent Bahria watched her son wage battle, and after Omar was martyred, Bahria herself went towards the enemy with an iron club. Such was her loyalty towards the Imam, she wanted to fight herself. In this instance also, Imam Hussain told her to go back, and she obeyed him and returned to the tents.
It must have been tempting for the women to fight when they saw their imam was in danger, but despite their feelings, they had enough strength inside to obey their Imam’s command. They submitted to Imam Hussain’s authority just as the men had submitted, because they knew he was the true leader, that he cared for them, and had a higher purpose in mind. That purpose would only become clear after the battle, when they would remain behind to continue the Imam’s mission.
Not all the women had relatives who were Imam Hussain’s companions from the start of the journey to Karbala. Some of the men switched to the Imam’s side during the journey, often due to the influence of their wives.
Most famous among these ladies is Lady Dulham. She was married to Zuhayr son of Qayn, who was on the enemy’s side during the journey to Karbala. At one of the stops, Imam Hussain sent a request for a meeting with Zuhayr, which surprised Zuhayr very much. That was when Dulham said, “Glory to Allah! The Holy Prophet’s on has called you, has sent someone to see you, and how would you refuse to see him? Why don’t you visit him and hear his words?!”
Respecting her advice, her husband went, came back elated, and declared that he was going to remain in the Imam’s company and sacrifice his life upon him. When she bid her husband farewell, weeping, Dulham said, “May Allah be your helper and protector, bestow upon you good in this journey, and don’t forget to mention about this, my self-sacrifice, to Imam’s Grandfather [the Prophet] on the Day of Judgment.” Her weeping as her husband left was not an impediment to her sacrifice – it was a part of it.
The women of Karbala contributed to the sacrifices for Islam in their own way at Karbala. They used their influence in their families to encourage their husbands, sons, and brothers to support Imam Hussain, even if they would possibly have to mourn their own men.
The women who were at Karbala are a supreme example of how ordinary people can become extraordinary beings who serve the Imam of their time in their own ways. By spreading the news of the events at Karbala, these women ensured that Imam Hussain’s message of truth would continue to live on.