Zainab shared with-her brothers and sister the extraordinary position of having such examples to look up to, emulate and teach from, as her grandfather, the Prophet of Allah (PBUH&HF) her mother Fatimah, and her father Imam Ali.
Growing Up In Medina
In the pure environment that enveloped her, she absorbed the teachings of Islam that her grandfather imparted and after him her father. Here too she learnt to master all household skills with great proficiency.
She had barely attained the tender age of seven when her beloved mother passed away. Her mother’s death had closely followed her cherished grandfather’s passing away. Sometime later Imam Ali married Umm ul-Banin, whose devotion and piety encouraged Zainab in her learning.
While still a young girl, she was fully able to care for and responsible for the running of her father’s household. As much as she cared for the comforts and ease of her brothers and sisters, in her own wants, she was frugal and unstintingly generous to the poor, homeless and parentless. After her marriage her husband is reported as having said, ‘Zainab is the best housewife. ‘
From very early on she developed an unbreakable bond of attachment to her brother Imam Hussein. At times when as a baby in her mother’s arms she could not be pacified and made to stop crying, she would quieten down upon being held by her brother, and there she would sit quietly gazing at his face. Before she would pray she used to first cast a glance at the face of her beloved brother.
One day Fatimah mentioned the intensity of her daughter’s love for Imam Hussein to the Prophet (PBUH&HF). He breathed a deep sigh and said with moistened eyes, ‘My dear child, this child of mine Zainab would be confronted with a thousand and one calamities and face serious hardships in Karbala. ‘
Zainab grew into a fine statured young woman. Of her physical appearance little is known. When the tragedy of Karbala befell her in her mid-fifties she was forced to go out uncovered. It was then that some people remarked that she appeared as a ‘shining sun’ and a ‘piece of the moon’.
In her character, she reflected the best attributes of those who raised her.
In sobriety and serenity she was likened to Khadija, her grandmother; in chastity and modesty to her mother Fatimah; in eloquence to her father Ali; in forbearance and patience to her brother Imam Hassan; and in bravery and tranquillity of the heart to Imam Hussein. Her face reflected her father’s awe and her grandfather’s reverence.
When the time came for marriage, she was married in a simple ceremony to her first cousin, Abdullah ibn Ja’far Tayyar. Abdullah had been brought up under the direct care of the Prophet (PBUH&HF). After the Prophet’s death, Imam Ali became his supporter and guardian until he came of age. He grew up to be a handsome youth with pleasing manners and was known for his sincere hospitality to guests and selfless generosity to the poor and needy.
Together this young couple had five children, of whom four were sons, Ali, Aun, Muhammad, and Abbas, and one daughter, Umm Kulthum.
In Medina, it was Zainab’s practice to hold regular meetings for women in which she shared her knowledge and taught them the precepts of Islam as laid out in the Holy Qur’an. Her gatherings were well and regularly attended.
She was able to impart the teachings with such clarity and eloquence that she became known as Fasihah (skillfully fluent) and Balighah (intensely eloquent).
In the thirty-seventh year A.H. (after Hijrah), Imam Ali moved to Kufa to finally take up his rightful position as the Ruler. He was accompanied by his daughter Zainab and her husband. Her reputation as an inspiring teacher among the women had preceded her. There to women would throng to her daily sittings where they all benefited from her erudition, wisdom and scholarship in the exegesis of the Qur’an.’
The depth and certainty of her knowledge earned her the name given to her by her nephew, Imam Ali Zayn ul-Abidin, ‘she who has knowledge without being taught’.
Humble and of high morals, her main concern was to strive to please Allah and in doing so she avoided anything which was the least bit doubtful.

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