The Last Farewell: From Husayn to Zainab

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*This is a creative piece written eulogizing the final good bye between Imam al-Husayn (as) and his sister, Sayyida Zainab (as). This is not based on traditions in history. For any concerns, please contact us at editor@islamicinsights.com 

At last, a steady wind was carrying a distinct chill whistling through the ranks of an army who had gathered in circle surrounding the remaining pieces of a man who had died in solitude. This tender breeze had come as if to appease the earth of the bloodshed it had witnessed, to calm down agitated waves of a crying river, and to bring solace to a lady standing outside her tent, holding onto her black veil, not certain of when the time would come when she would have to part, with the piece of cloth she was born with.

Lady Zainab was contemplating the battleground.  The gentle airstream was brushing her eyelids letting her know that a storm was slowly going to take over the plains of Nainawa. Amidst the flying grains of sand hovering over her sight, she kept looking at the chest of her beloved brother desperately waiting for it to move, for it to breathe, even if for a last time. She wanted to witness the last moments of her brother’s existence, as if aware of the hardships that would befall on her as soon as the beheaders of Husayn would realize that the bodies of all men of Banu Hashim were now either deeply buried under the ground, or their pieces scattered all over the battlefield.

“Indeed, Allah is with those who are patient”

Lady Zainab lifted her rosary and kept reciting the same verse again and again. After a while she heard the footsteps of a child approaching her. She turned back and saw the face of Sakina. At first she couldn’t recognize her. Sakina had grown weak. Thirst had exhausted the face of al-Husayn’s daughter. The absence of her father had taken away the once shining brightness of her playful eyes. She came closer to her aunt and when Lady Zainab tried to caress her, Sakina remained still and handed her a letter.

“Ya Ama Zainab, Baba left this letter for you to my brother Sajjad,” she said.

Lady Zainab took the letter. She immediately recognized the writing of her beloved Husayn. As she was trying to open the sealed letter from which could smell the fragrance of her brother, she heard the breath of Sakina, which had grown faster. She gazed upon her niece and realized that her niece’s crying eyes were staring at the letter she was holding.

“What is it my beloved Sakina; don’t you know that your tears come down as arrows on my heart? Oh you who were the peace of my brother’s nights.”

Lady Sakina did not move. She couldn’t bear her life anymore. Everyone reminded her of her father. A father she knew she would not see again. A pain she couldn’t share with her brothers, for they had all but left her alone.

“Ya Ama, can I ask you a question?’ she said with a trembling voice, her eyes facing the very ground beneath which her father was now resting.

“Of course Sakina, ask my beloved. Ask Oh light of my eyes.”

“Did baba love me as much as he loved you and brother Sajjad?” she asked staring at the letter with her innocent eyes.

“Oh my beloved Sakina, he loved you more than he loved anyone else, my princess.”

“Ya ama Zainab, then why is it that he left you and brother Sajjad a letter, and didn’t write me anything?”

That question brought more pain to Zainab than the pain she felt when she saw water dripping from the pierced flask of al-Abbas. She took her niece in her arms and hugged her with the little strength that was still left in her body. It is when she tried to embrace her niece tighter that she realized she couldn’t hug her more, for Sakina had grown so weak that her ribs couldn’t behold the proximity of a sincere cuddle.

“Brother Sajjad had told me to leave you alone after giving you the letter, ya Ama,” Sakina said.

“But if Baba says anything about me, ya Ama, promise me you will make me read it,” she said looking at the face of Zainab.

“I promise Sakina, I promise I will,” Lady Zainab replied.

As Sakina was making her way back into her tent, not knowing that the only place in which she was still able to gather her thoughts in peace would soon be burnt to ashes, Lady Zainab (as) breathed deeply and opened the letter Sakina had handed her. Tears had filled her tired eyes. Tears so heavy they blurred her vision making it impossible for her to decipher her brother’s handwriting. Lady Zainab kept rubbing the last corner of her veil which wasn’t already drenched by tears shed on each and every men of her household. She kept rubbing her eyes in order to prevent her tears from falling over the last remaining words of her beloved brother. Finally, when her eyes became as thirsty as she was, she started reading the letter from her Imam.

“Peace be upon you, oh my beloved sister. Peace be upon you, who are the rightful heiress of our mother’s modesty. Peace be upon you, ya Zainab, the one whose name brought solace to the heart of our father Ali.

How fortunate must I be? As you are reading those words, my head must surely be on the spear of my enemies, but my soul must have already reached our beloved grandfather in heaven and there, I will finally be able to rest my head on the laps of our mother, Zahra (as).

Just like Baba had left a letter for us before he departed, I would like to take this opportunity, Oh Zainab, to bid my last farewell. My beloved sister, the time has come for you to look at my body one last time. If they haven’t beheaded me, then call on Sakina to kiss my face one last time. If they haven’t marched their horses on my body then call my daughter for her to lie down on my chest one last time. Like every father, my wish was for al-Sajjad to envelop me in a shroud so that I could face my Creator with dignity. But I know that those who didn’t shed a tear at the sight of my beloved Ali Asghar, will never allow my son to pray after me. Oh my beloved sister, my state is such that I do not even know if I will be buried. Ya Zainab, my state is such that I do not even know whether I will be united with every part of my being in my grave. Oh my sister, I do not know if ever my head will rest in Karbala. I swear on the Creator of this world and the hereafter that I pray for my enemies for they will taste the fire of hell because of me. But what shreds my heart to pieces Ya Zainab, is what my father had told me would happen to you, after I no longer exist.

Ya Zainab you will be made a prisoner. The very community of our grandfather who set fire the door behind which our mother was standing, will set our tents on fire, ya Zainab. Oh my beloved sister, they will forget your name, and the name of your father. Do not cry my sister for your tears will only bring peace to their hearts. Remember what our father had taught us. You must be strong, ya Zainab. You must be the flower that gives fragrance even to the hand that crushes it.

Oh my sister, they will not let you go to Madina. They will take you to Shaam where people will welcome you with stones and laughter. But you will remain steadfast my beloved sister, for you are a lion and the daughter of a lion, and no matter what they call you, no one will change your name and the name of your father. Remind everyone of who you are. Do not let them make you forget your name and the blood that rushes in your veins.

Ya Zainab, a time will come when they will call you by your name and ask for your allegiance, and the allegiance of al-Sajjad. You will be alone and you will have to face them. Oh my sister, at that time you will feel my presence in your heart. You will feel the presence of Abbas by your side. And when you do feel our presence, you will roar. Your voice will revive the eloquence of our father and each and every word of yours will befall on the face of your enemies like a piercing dhulfiqar. You will not shiver. You will rise above the rank of every living human being on earth, as you will become the voice of the Imam of your time.

Ya Zainab, if I had but one request, It would be that you do not stop commemorating and reviving the events of Ashura. Let every young man know that Ali Akbar’s voice did not shake when he gave his last call to prayer. Tell every mother holding a baby how they pierced the throat of my thirsty Ali Asghar. Describe to my followers, wherever they are, the certainty on the face of Qassim when he took his last breath. Tell every elderly man how youthful was Habib when he entered the battlefield.  When you meet Dhuljana, whisper in its ear how my enemies have marched their horses on me. And whenever you drink water, ya Zainab, remember the thirst of my beloved Abbas whose utmost loyalty did not let him quench his thirst even when he reached Furat. Allah has blessed you with the honor of being the first mourner of this tragedy. You will be the first from our lineage that will commemorate my martyrdom till my grandson al-Mahdi avenges our blood.

Ya Zainab, believing in Allah comes with a hefty price. Do not feel saddened for the greatness of man’s reward goes with the greatness of suffering, and God did not love a people but that He subjected them to suffering. Do not feel saddened, ya Zainab, for our mother Zahra had informed me that Allah would fill the hearts of millions with our love as they will keep the legacy of our tragedy alive. Do not feel saddened, Zainab, for you will be remembered. By God, our followers will come to visit your shrine wherever it is that Allah decides that you may rest. Your veil will inspire millions to walk on the footsteps of our mother. You will attain such a level of piety that our followers will name their daughter after you as much as they will name them after our mother Zahra.

My beloved sister, the time has come for me to bid my last farewell as it is my last night and I must spend time praying to Allah for I wouldn’t want to meet Him empty handed. I have learnt from our father never to stop praying, even if death was to strike in the middle of prostration. You are the queen of Banu Hashim and as much I worry for you, I know that nothing can shake the pillars of your faith. But Zainab, Sakina is a child. She might ask for water. She might cry in front of them. She is very weak. By God, she is the dearest soul to my heart. Ya Zainab, hold her tight. Ya Zainab, do not mention my name in front of her. Ya Zainab, do not mention the name of Abbas in front of her. Ya Zainab, do not drink before her. Ya Zainab, do not let her sleep on the ground. Make her sleep on your chest or on the chest of Sajjad. Ya Zainab, take off her earrings delicately before they snatch them forcefully from her. Ya Zainab, my last wish is that you protect my daughter so that I can recognize her when she meets me in the skies.

I pray to Allah that He does not make anyone experience the pain that our family went through. I will conclude this letter with the words of Allah, for there are no words dearer to me, than the words of the Almighty himself.

“O you who believe! be patient and remain steadfast, and be careful of your duty to Allah, so that you may be successful.”

Your Imam and loving brother,

Husayn ibn Ali”

Lady Zainab couldn’t bear the pain. Tears dripping from her eyes had watered the letter she was holding. But it did not matter. Words she had read were engraved in her heart and nothing in this world could make her forget the voice of her brother, which echoed and resonated in her depth long after she had finished reading them.

Lady Zainab gathered herself. A growing noise had reached her ears. The distinct sound of cracking branches amidst a blowing wind. Conscious of the fact that there was no vegetation around, Lady Zainab turned around and saw Sakina running towards her. And behind the waiving flap of Sakina’s veil, Lady Zainab saw disappearing in ashes, the tent in which her brother had last spent his night. When she took Sakina in her arms and buried her face in the intimate layers of love, she had unknowingly buried with it, her last hope of  reaching Medina and sending her salutations over the grave of her mother, Zahra.

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