These days we find a lot of restrictions on women. In many cases they cannot even venture out of their homes and are required to restrict themselves to household chores. Very few Muslim women have public role, much less participating in tumultuous events of life. And all this is being done in the name of Islam. However, if we cast a glance on early history of Islam we will find women taking part in various events along with men. The Prophet (pbuh) had from Khadija (RA) four daughters and brought them up as model women participating in the Islamic revolution.
Islam was not only a spiritual but also a social and political revolution. It empowered women and gave them equal rights which was simply unthinkable in those days. Women could play at best a secondary role in any civilization in any part of the world during those times. However, Islam upheld their human dignity and assigned them equal role in all worldly affairs along with men. Many women like Umm ‘Amara even took part in various battles which the Prophet (pbuh) was forced by his enemies to fight. In the Battle of Uhud, Umm ‘Amarah took an attack by sword on her arm and saved the life of the Prophet (pbuh).
Hazrat Fatimah (RA), as all Muslims agree, was one of the five bodies (Panjatan) whom Muslims highly revere and Hazrat Fatima, who was brought up by the Prophet (pbuh) himself in the highest values of Islam, gave birth to Imam Hasan (RA), Imam Husain (RA) along with Hazrat Zainab (RA) who played pivotal role in the aftermath of the Battle of Karbala. Hazrat Shahr Banu (RA), or Shah Zanan, was the daughter of Kisra, the King of Iran who was defeated by Muslims and Hazrat Ali married her to his son Husain (RA).
Hazrat Shah Banu (RA) faced the tragic events of Karbala very bravely and sacrificed her two sons Ali Akbar and Ali Asghar gladly in the way of Allah. It is important to note that when Imam Husain (RA) was leaving Mecca for Kufa (Iraq) in response to the letters he had received from many important citizens of Kufa to lead them in a revolt against Yazid who had usurped Khilafat in violation of the conditions laid down by Imam Hasan (RA) while abdicating in favour of Mu’awiyah, he (Imam Husain (RA)) was advised by many of his well-wishers not to take his family members with him to Kufa and go there alone as people of Kufa may betray him and side with the rulers.
However, despite the foreseen risks, Imam Husain (RA) turned down the advice and took all his family members including women with him. He knew better than his advisors that these women which included his wife, his sister and his daughters, would play very important role, even if he had to fight against Yazid’s forces in or near Kufa. As feared, people of Kufa did betray him including those very people who had invited him to lead them in a fight against Yazid and his counter-revolution.
Yazid stood for all that which was against Islam. Not only his life-style was against that of the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions but he also tried to destroy the institute of khilafah and introduced the reactionary institution of monarchy which was totally against the revolutionary political system introduced by the Islam Husain (RA) knew. Before he left for Kufah, Imam Husain (RA) knew what was in store and he deliberately took his womenfolk along with him to show to the world that women can also play very important role in saving the Islamic revolution.
And these women did play a very significant role which was no less significant than that of the male companions of the Imam. And Imam was right. These women played very important role, particularly the Imam’s sister Hazrat Zainab (RA). After the martyrdom of the Imam and his colleagues Imam Zainul Abidin and all women and children were arrested and taken to Damascus on bare camel back via Kufa. Syeda Zainab (RA), a brave and bold woman, addressed Muslims everywhere exposing Yazid and his evil actions and un-Islamic acts and his counter-revolutionary designs.
Syeda Zainab (RA) and the Imam’s entire family was kept in prison in Damascus and when they were brought to Yazid’s court, Zainab (RA), eloquently spoke in front of all Yazid’s courtiers and thoroughly exposed him. She never shied away in exposing him so much so that he had to release her and Imam’s entire family and sent them back to Madina ensuring their security.
Syeda Zainab (RA)’s role was exemplary and it very well shows how bold were Muslim women and how they played important roles in consolidating the Islamic revolution. Today despite so much progress and spread of education Muslim women are still suppressed and in some countries even their voice is considered ‘awrah, i.e., their voice should not be heard by outsiders and here Zainab (RA) and other women from Imam’s family were the main speakers publicly.
Hazrat Zainab (RA) was the eldest among those women and was leading the entire family including Imam Zainul Abidin who was then quite sick and unable to play an active role and it was Hazrat Zainab (RA) who had to perform the leadership role and she proved to be more than what was expected of her. Today women have to learn much from Hazrat Zainab (RA) and her leadership. Her public role and oratorical skills have much to learn from.
It is wrong to think, as many Muslim men do, that women are weak by nature and cannot achieve much in public life. Hazrat Zainab (RA)’s public role is very inspiring for Muslim women today and should be an example for those women who feel they are fit only for domestic chores.
By Asghar Ali Engineer