The Tragedy of Uncovered Heads

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Standing in the vast court of Yazid (may Allah remove His mercy from him), bare-headed before a crowd of strange men, Lady Zainab (peace be upon her) spoke with dignity and confidence, true to her pure parentage, with her words piercing through the air: “So scheme whatever you wish to scheme, and carry out your plots, and intensify your efforts, for – by Allah! – you shall never be able to obliterate our mention, nor will you ever be able to kill our inspiration, nor will your shame ever be washed away.” (Maqtal al-Husayn)

Indeed, the mention and inspiration of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) and of the Tragedy of Tragedies continues until today. Even after the day of Ashura, mosques, centers, and houses are filled with mourners who gather to recount the atrocities committed against Imam Zainul Abideen (peace be upon him) and the women and children of Karbala. The women played a more crucial and obvious role in the events after Karbala, and the details of their journey are so heart-rending that we can never forget them.

They bore so much on the march from Karbala to Kufa, and from Kufa to Shaam. There was the heat of the sun bearing down upon them as the prisoners were tied together. There was the spiked chain that they saw being forced on to the Imam of their time that pierced him with every movement. There were the jeering crowds surrounding them as the heartless tyrants marched them onwards. And on top of that, the granddaughters of the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him and his progeny) were bare-headed all the while.

But surely that last detail could not be true; otherwise the Day of Judgment would have been upon the people! These were, after all, the granddaughters of Allah’s chosen beloved – so how is it possible that they be without proper Hijab in front of non-Mahrams? Perhaps their Abaya (robe) or Niqab (face-covering) were taken away, but surely no one had the audacity to snatch away their Maqna (head-covering), revealing their hair to one and all… right?

Recognizing Yazid’s Men for What They Are: Evil

Let’s be realistic here. If we believe that the women’s Abayas or Niqabs were taken away, what reason would there be for the tyrants to be so generous as to leave the headscarf? It would make no sense for us to infer that the killers of Imam Hussain were considerate enough to let the headscarves be. There is no getting around the obvious fact: the tyrants were the epitome of evil. If someone can let loose an arrow at a baby, and the others do nothing to speak out against it, it is apparent how blackened their souls have become. After having committed such heinous crimes as the brutal murders on the plains of Karbala, do the tyrants really seem like the type to have had the decency to especially leave the women’s headscarves intact while torturing them?

The men were so greedy that in their hurry to loot as much jewelery as possible, they would cut off the entire finger off the martyr’s body if the ring was difficult to remove! In all the books of Maqatil, there are accounts of the jewelery of the women and children being stolen. That means that Yazid’s men committed such outrageous crimes as violating Hijab by forcibly removing the jewelery from the limbs of the women, and by taking away their Maqna in order to tear earrings off their ears.

Those soldiers of Shaitan had no regard for the sanctity of any religious symbol. They were prepared to spill the blood of the Imam on the floors of the Ka’ba had he not left Mecca in time. They spilled the blood of the Prophet that was running through the veins of the Imam, even though they had witnessed the Prophet’s affection towards him. The tyrants had no kindness left in their hearts, so they obviously were not respectful of the symbol of Hijab that they would go out of their way to snatch the Abaya or Niqab yet leave the headscarf.

When the caravan was entering the decorated city of Shaam, the heads of the martyrs impaled on spears were placed near the imprisoned women. Umm Kulthum (peace be upon her), the daughter of Imam Ali, had to tell the murderer Shimr to march the heads away from the women so that the gazes of people would not be as much upon their uncovered state. But Shimr ignored her words because he desired the exact opposite effect to take place – he wanted the heads to be near the women so that people can see both tragic sights. (Nafas al-Mahmum) Such was the lowly mindset of the tyrants!

In her speech, Lady Zainab brought forth the nature of Yazid and his men out in the open: “O how horrible is the sin that you bear! Miserable you are and renegade from the path of righteousness; may you be distanced and crushed! Your effort is rendered futile, your toil is ruined, your deal is lost, and you earned nothing but Wrath from Allah and from His Messenger.” (Maqtal al-Husayn) This is in reference to the despicable ones who are bound to an eternity of punishment, about whom we ask Allah to remove His blessings until the Day of Judgment. Are we really trying to find excuses for them by saying that they were even slightly kind-hearted towards the Imam’s women? We cannot let ourselves be misled this way, otherwise we will be unable to show our faces to the Twelfth Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance) when he will return and seek justice for the oppression of his family.

Mention of Bare Heads and the Maqna

In al-Muqarram’s Maqtal al-Husayn, it says: “People raced to rob the ladies of the Messenger of Allah. The daughters of Fatima al-Zahra tearfully ran away, their hair uncovered. (Tarikh-e-Tabari) Scarves were snatched, rings were pulled off fingers, earrings were taken out, and so were ankle-rings. (Muthir al-Azan) A man took both earrings belonging to Umm Kulthum, riddling her ears in the process. (Al-Dam’a al-Sakiba)” Similarly, “it is related that the ladies were drawn out of the tents and the tents were set on fire. The women of the Prophet’s family were bare-headed, bare-feet and marauded similar to the ones in captivity.” (Nafas al-Mahmum)

Besides being clearly stated that their hair was uncovered, the theft of earrings is also a sign of an uncovered head. The women of the Prophet’s family did not wear their headscarves in such a way that their earrings would show, because that is not proper Hijab – so it is obvious that their headscarves were snatched away before their earrings were.

When the men of Yazid’s army set about plundering the camp of the Imam after the battle of Karbala, a man called Khuli entered the tent of Imam Sajjad. Shaikh Saduq says that Lady Zainab was in there too and she narrated: “…he took the Qinaa [Maqna] from my head… when my head was exposed, he looked at the earrings that I had, then came over to me and pulled the earrings from my ears.” Khuli was crying while doing all this and when Lady Zainab asked why, the greedy man responded that if he didn’t take the earrings for himself then someone else would. To that, Lady Zainab prayed: “May Allah cut your hands and your legs, and may He burn you in the fire of this world before the fire of the next!”

Abu Mikhnaf writes that years later, when Mukhtar al-Thaqafi would punish those who tortured the Imam’s family, Khuli was asked for the details of his deeds. He told Mukhtar: “I am the one who took the Maqna of Zainab bint Ali, and the earrings from her.” When he further told Mukhtar of Lady Zainab’s words, Mukhtar fulfilled her prayer and carried out her wishes against Khuli.

Describing the terrifying scene of the tyrants as they went around the Imam’s camp looting and setting fire to every tent, Fatima bint al-Hussain (peace be upon her) also narrated her own experience. She spoke of one of the evil men pulling off the Maqna and Abaya of other women and then coming after her: “I fell down, and he took away my Maqna and took away my earrings from me… my hair was exposed to sunlight.” Thereafter, Lady Fatima fell unconscious for a while. When she awoke she saw Lady Zainab and asked, “Oh my aunt, is there a piece of cloth to cover my head from the onlookers?” The tragic reply of Lady Zainab was for Lady Fatima to look at the state of her aunt. Lady Fatima says, “I looked at my aunt Zainab and I saw that her head was exposed…” (Bihar al-Anwar)

When the caravan of prisoners was going to enter the city of Kufa, they had to wait until the streets were decorated for them to march through. When they passed through the crowds looking upon them, some wondered who the belittled yet dignified prisoners were. One of the women asked “Of which family are you prisoners?” When she was told that they were of the family of the Prophet, she went back into her house and gathered food, coverings and Maqaani [plural of Maqna] to give the respected family since they had none. (Al-Luhuf)

Doing Justice to Their Memory

The tragedies that befell the women after Ashura were so great that we constantly remember the women, honour their sacrifices, and mourn their sufferings. One of the strongest aspects that breaks the heart is when we remember the violation of the sanctity of their Hijab. After all, these were the daughters of the noblewoman who observed full Hijab even in the presence of a blind man, amongst whom was she who requested a coffin be made so that non-Mahrams wouldn’t be able to see her figure perchance. These were the daughters of the Lady whose burial took place in the dark of night, concealed from the eyes of strangers. So how can we not be grieved at the violation of their Hijab?

By lessening the extent of the reality of their suffering, we would not be honoring the troubles these women went through. If we start ignoring certain facts and start altering others, if we claim that the women were never without their Maqna, we would be committing a grave injustice against the daughters of Lady Fatima (peace be upon her) by not recognizing all the humiliation that they went through.

The Prophet has told us, “I do not ask of you any reward for [everything I have done] but love for my near relatives” (Qur’an 42:23). If we love the Ahlul Bayt, then we will also love the ones whom they love – and when we love people, we care immensely about what happens to them. We stand by them in support if they go through difficulties, we help them when they are in need, and we speak up if injustice is carried out against them. We do all this and more – but one thing that we would never even think of doing to someone whom we love is to belittle their suffering.

Neither is this a ruse used by speakers to bring tears to our eyes, nor is this a cultural misconception that has seeped through the fabric of our mourning traditions. This is the tragic reality – the heads of the Prophet’s granddaughters were exposed to the sun, the moon, and the eyes of strange men. Rather than futilely attempt to restore their dignity by minimizing the intensity of their humiliation, we must honor these inspiring, worthy noblewomen by commemorating their grief in its entirety.


Al-Luhuf – Sayyid ibn Tawus
Bihar al-Anwar – Allamah Majlisi
Maqtal al-Husayn – Abd al-Razzaq al-Muqarram
Nafas al-Mahmum – Shaykh Abbas Qummi
10th of Imam Hussain, Muharram 1430 – Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi

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