Princess Sakinah (RA) teaches us justice and unity

This profound love for humanity is the need of the time

Dr Amineh Hoti November 14, 2017
An aerial view taken on December 1, 2015 shows Iraqi Shia pilgrims gathering at the shrines of Abbas ibn Ali (front) and Imam Hussein (background) during the Arbaeen religious festival in Karbala, Iraq. PHOTO: AFP

I had the privilege of joining my friend Naznin and her community on Nov 3rd to pay tribute to Sakinah (RA). As part of the tribute, I accompanied Naznin to a jaloos in Islamabad, which was followed by a ceremony paying tribute to Princess Sakinah (RA), as the community lovingly called her.

In this period of Ashura, I wanted to learn more about this important holiday. Naznin took me to the worship centre named Zainabia. Women took their shoes off as they entered. They were mostly dressed in black, with their heads covered. Many had their infant children with them. They all sat on the floor. All the ladies faced the raised platform where a group of elderly ladies sat, who read poems about the great tragedy.

After this, a lady sat on a raised stage and began to speak about the tragedy. She described the brutality, and the injustice. She became more and more passionate as she spoke, before losing her calm voice and beginning to bellow.

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The story of Sakinah’s (RA) death is one of great sadness and anguish. Her father, Imam Hussain (RA), would lovingly put her to bed every night. She would fall to sleep on his chest while he told her stories of her grandfather and great grandfather. Imam Hussain (RA) was heard saying, “A house without Sakinah is not one worth living in.” ‘Sakinah’ means ‘calmness and peace of mind’ in Arabic. When Imam Hussain (RA) realised that Yazid’s army had surrounded them and cut off access to the Euphrates water at Karbala, he told his sister Zainab (RA) to get little Sakinah (RA) used to sleeping alone as he would have to face the battlefield. Little Sakinah (RA) would still follow her father at night and Imam Hussain (RA) would gently hand her over to either his sister or wife.

It was the 2nd of Muharram and water ran out in the camp by the 7th. Four-year-old Sakinah (RA) and the other children had been thirsty and their lips terribly parched. Abbas (RA), the loving and caring paternal uncle of Sakinah (RA), did everything to answer her requests as he loved her more than his own children. On seeing her and the other children of the camp desperately thirsty, he marched towards the water and straight into Yazid’s army of 30,000 blood-thirsty men to fill up Sakinah’s (RA) bottle at the cost of his life. The arrows they shot injured every part of his body, including his arms, head and eyes. Holding the water bottle with his mouth, the only thought of Abbas (RA) was how to get the bottle back to Sakinah (RA) and the children. When Abbas’ (RA) flag fell, Sakinah (RA) looked at her father with despair; she wanted her uncle much more than the water, even in this state of desperation.

Despite his great valour and compassionate humanity in attempting to bring water for the children, Abbas (RA) was killed mercilessly on 10th of Muharram and is, thus, called ‘The hero of the Euphrates’ and ‘Ghazi’, the king of chivalry. He is buried where he fell from his horse in Karbala. After the slaughter of the rest of the camp, including Imam Hussain (RA), Yazid’s army and particularly the villain Shimr came to the tent of the Imam. When Sakinah (RA) cried for her father, Shimr slapped her face and tore off her earrings from ears causing them to bleed. The men set fire to the tents, which burnt the clothes that Sakinah (RA) was wearing and her skin. When the women and children ran from tent to tent to protect themselves, Sakinah (RA) ran into the battlefield calling out for her father. When Zainab (RA) noticed that Sakinah (RA) was missing she searched the battlefield profusely and found her sleeping on the chest of her beheaded father. When awoken by Zainab (RA) to drink water, Sakinah (RA) said she wanted to complain to her father that the mean man had slapped her and pulled off the earrings he had given her, causing her to bleed!

The Prophet’s (pbuh) family was dragged for weeks in chains around their necks, with no adequate water, to reach Yazid’s court, where he threw them into dungeons. Here Sakinah (RA) was locked up alone and when she cried out for her father, Yazid sent his severed head to her. On seeing this, she cried out “why?” in deep agony and cried herself to death. When her mother found out, she cried out from the prison, “Ya Sakinah, Ya Mazloomah! (Oh, Sakinah, Oh Oppressed One)!” The events of Karbala are so dreadful, that even the hard-hearted Yazid is said to have cried at one point.

After recounting the story, all the women in the hall cried “Ya Sakinah, Ya Mazlooma!” Others cried, “PANI!” (WATER!). At this point, the mourning took place, as the (imitation) funeral pier of little Sakinah (RA) was brought into the hall. The coffin was not even the standard two yards, bringing all the women to tears.

It is worth noting that, as Naznin explained to me, during Ashura, believers want to be close to where the incident happened and near to the revered ones so they feel a sense of connectedness. Her son had gone to Mashad and Qom in Iran. Yet, even here in Islamabad, I could see the power this story held for our brothers and sisters.

Naznin said, “This was the family of the Prophet of Islam (pbuh). His grandchildren. So what happened here? Why did it happen? Who put Yazid there? Karbala raises many questions. There is a deep sense of injustice. And little Sakinah (RA) teaches us that through pain and hardship, humans can overcome injustice, corruption and the evil side of human nature. Karbala is the ultimate victory of humanity’s good over evil.” Naznin, who is an affluent, well-respected lady, said humbly, “I want to be Sakinah’s (RA) kaneez (servant).” Indeed, it was the men and especially the women of the Prophet’s (pbuh) family who led by example: the story of Karbala was kept alive by Zainab (RA) and little Sakinah (RA) provided inspiration — her innocence, purity and struggle against the tide of evil men hungry for flesh, power and worldly wealth is a reminder to us all of the ultimate struggle and victory of righteousness, compassion and justice over cruelty and divisiveness.

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Naznin noted, “We are all divided. We have different Eids — there is a Pakistani date, a Saudi date, and even within Pakistan there are different dates, groups and mosques.” After a moment of silence, she said, “Religion demands of us that we believe in the whole (all of God/Rabbee’s creation and the ways of all people) and not just one part (our own).” Looking around at her home, she said, “I was reflecting on the story of Moses the other day and when I heard that God granted his people, after he saved them from Pharaoh, mano salwa, I thought that mano salwa is a symbol of all of God’s blessings — the food, the clothes, the knowledge and so forth. We must see and acknowledge and be grateful with a humble heart. I have learnt that nothing is about me, my children and family — it is about humanity.”

I, too, have found that in my interviews with people of different faiths in the country for my book Religions of Pakistan this is emerging as a key theme. This profound love for humanity is the need of the time and one that will allow for deeper understanding and much needed healing in our fractured world.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 14th, 2017.

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