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Arif Mohammed Khan is a former Union Cabinet minister.

Zainab made Karbala courage, idealism immortal

uch has been written about the tragedy of Karbala that wiped out almost all the male members of the family of the Holy Prophet (Ahle Bayt), and the undying fame of its hero Imam Husain. On the eve of his martyrdom, the great Imam had declared that human dignity could not survive under political tyranny, and it was far more honourable to give your head to a despot than give him your hand and invite disgrace and humiliation.

Karbala is not a saga of a power struggle; it is the story of a heroic endeavour to uphold the principles of human dignity and freedom, the story of supreme sacrifice made in defence of freedom of conscience, which includes the right to reject a political regime that seeks to coerce and compel people into submission against their will. The story has become immortal as Husain refused to confer legitimacy on a despotic, hereditary monarch masquerading as caliph, and thus saved the soul of Islam.

The question is, who made the story of Karbala immortal? Who recorded the statements the Imam made during this fateful journey? Who conveyed to the people the minute details of the brutalities committed by the army of Yezid on the plains of Karbala? The answer is, Zainab bint Ali, the sister of Husain who had accompanied him on this journey and who took it upon herself to announce to the world the principles and ideals that inspired Husain to pursue his mission.

Yezid's regime knew that people had great reverence for the Prophet and his family. In order to demoralise and terrorise them into submission they decided to take the severed heads of the martyrs and surviving members of the family in a procession first to Kufa and then to Damascus. This procession attracted large crowds all through the journey and Zainab used the opportunity to let them know why and how the regime enacted Karbala. Her graphic accounts of the encounter were etched on the minds of her audiences, and subsequently, they were reduced into writings that became part of history. She successfully achieved what a modern day mediaperson hopes for while reporting live from the scene of action.

Zainab's speeches were marked by great force and persuasiveness. She had complete mastery over the language and chose the most appropriate words to convey the message.

Zainab not only proved to be an accomplished communicator, but she communicated with the zeal of a missionary. A careful reading of her accounts shows that her speeches were marked by great force and persuasiveness. She had complete mastery over the language and chose the most appropriate words to convey the message. At Kufa, she delivered her first speech and left people stunned with her eloquence. Reciting some Arabic poetry she asked them, "What answer will you give to the Holy Prophet when he questions you as the last of his followers: How did you treat my family and my progeny after me? Some of them are prisoners and others are writhing in blood."

The impact of this speech can be judged from the comment by the poet Bashir bin Hazeem Asadi, who was in the audience. He says, "I have never seen a lady delivering such a powerful speech. Her eloquence and articulation reminded me of the speech of her father, Ali bin Abi Talib. When she rose to speak, there was total silence and when she raised her voice, people were moved to tears."

Zainab is known not only for her eloquence, but also for her great mental and moral strength. She refused to be intimidated by the tyrants. When the governor of Kufa arrogantly suggested that Imam and his party were disgraced in Karbala, she rebuked him by saying, "Dying for a cause brings no disgrace; rather disgrace is the fate of those who are wicked and vicious." Zainab displayed the same pluck in the court of Yezid at Damascus when she told him, "You have become a ruler by force and you are misusing your power to oppress the people."

The life of Lady Zainab as the herald of Karbala will continue to be a beacon for all those who are engaged in the struggle to uphold human dignity and freedom for all.

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