Thursday, 22 March 2012

Sakina, the young Hashemite princess

Syeda Ruqaiya (also known as Sakina or Sukena) was born on the 20th of the Islamic month of Rajab and was the youngest daughter of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Sakina’s mother was called Umm-e-Rubab. Her name, Sakina or Sukena, means “calmness” or “ tranquillity”.
Sakina was the beloved daughter of Hussain and used to sleep on his chest every night. She was a lively child, full of love and happiness. Her upbringing at the hands of Hussain made her different from other children of her age in many ways. From an early age she enjoyed reading the Holy Koran and learning about religion.
Hussain was often heard saying, a house without Sakina would not be worth living in. She always had a sweet and cheerful smile and a very friendly nature. Everyone loved Sakina and other children sought her company. She was very generous and always shared whatever she had with others.
Like any other four year old when Sakina went to bed at night she wanted to spend some time with her father. Hussain would tell her stories of the prophets and of the battles fought by her grandfather, Imam Ali. She would rest her head on her father’s chest and Hussain would not move from her until she fell asleep.
Journey to Karbala
There was a special bond between Sakina and her paternal uncle, Abbas. He loved her more than he did his own children. If Sakina asked for something, Abbas would not rest until he fulfilled her request. There was nothing that Abbas would not do to make Sakina happy. During the journey in which Hussain travelled from Medina to Makah and then Makah to Karbala with his family and friends to avoid attacks by the Umayyad Caliph Yazid’s army in 630 AD, Abbas was often seen riding up to the mahmel (a special saddle made for women) in which Sakina sat to make sure that she had everything she wanted. Sakina loved her uncle just as much. While in Medina she would, several times a day, visit the house in which Abbas lived with his family and his mother, Umm al-Banin (second wife of Imam Ali).
When from the 2nd of Muharram the armies of Yazid (Yazid was the son of Umayyad ruler Muawiyah) began to gather at Karbala, Hussain said to his sister Syeda Zainab, The time has come for you to get Sakina used to going to sleep without me being there. Sakina would follow her father at night and Hussain had to gently take her back to her aunt Zainab or mother Rubab.
At Karbala, Yazid’s troops barred Hussain and his caravan from accessing the river Euphrates and from the 7th of Muharram water became scarce. Sakina shared whatever little water she had with other children. When soon there was no water at all, the thirsty children would look at Sakina with their eyes full of hope, and because she could not help them she would have tears in her eyes. Sakina’s lips were parched with thirst.
Thirsty children
Several times Abbas asked Hussain for permission to go and fight the armies of Yazid. Each time Hussain would reply, Abbas, you are the chief of my army; you are my standard-bearer. Abbas could not argue with Hussain.
On the 10th of Muharram (Ashura) Sakina came out holding a dried up water-bag. The little princess was leading a group of over 40 children, each with a dry water-bag. The children were shouting as if in chorus;
Thirst, consuming thirst, is killing us.
She walked up to Abbas and told Abbas that the children had all come to her asking for water. He could see that thirst, aggravated by the scorching heat of the desert, was squeezing their young lives out of them. Abbas went to Hussain again and requested his permission to go and get water for Sakina and the other children. He said he did not intend to attack the enemy troops but only wanted to get water for the children. Hussain then gave his permission.
Abbas put Sakina’s water-bag on the alam (standard), mounted his horse and went back to Hussin, saying, I have come to say goodbye.
Hussain replied, my brother, come and embrace me. Abbas dismounted his horse. There were tears in their eyes. As Abbas prepared to mount his horse, Hussain said, my brother, I want a gift from you. I want your sword. Abbas, without uttering a word, gave his sword to Hussain and rode into the battlefield, armed only with a spear and holding the standard. Each action of his verified that he was not out there to attack the enemy troops.
Abbas, the standard-bearer
When Abbas went to get the water, the children gathered around Sakina with their little cups, knowing that as soon as Abbas would bring water she would first make sure that they had some before taking any herself.
Sakina was standing next to Hussain, also with her eyes fixed on the standard of Abbas. Abbas reached the river bank making his way through Yazid’s troops who tried to block his path, killing many with just his spear. Abbas’s bravery was well known among the Arabs and Yazid’s troops started to flee in different directions. As he bent down to fill the water-bag, the standard disappeared from sight. Sakina was frightened and looked at her father. Hussain said, Sakina, your uncle Abbas is at the river bank. Sakina smiled and said, Alhamdulillah (all praise is for Allah) and called out all the children to welcome Abbas back.
With the water-bag filled, Abbas wanted to get the water to the anxiously waiting children as quickly as possible. Seeing him gallop towards the camp of Hussain, a commander from Yazid’s army shouted at his men ordering them to stop Abbas before reaching Hussain’s camp. He yelled that it would be impossible to fight Hussain’s caravan on the battlefield if even a single drop of water were to reach Hussain’s camp.
While enemy arrows targeted Abbas from all sides, Abbas had one thought on his mind; to get the water back to the thirsty children in the camp. However, Abbas lost both his arms during the attack while trying to save the water-bag. The standard fell onto the ground. Sakina could not see it any longer. She looked at Hussain, but he turned his face away. Sakina began to tremble with fear and her eyes filled with tears. She raised her hands and prayed, O God! Do not let them kill my Uncle Abbas, I will not ask for water again and ran to her mother’s tent.
When Sakina saw Hussain bringing the blood drenched standard she knew that her uncle Abbas had been killed.
Sakina's baby brother
As the events of that tragic day unfolded, members of Hussain’s family and his friends were being slaughtered one by one at the hands of Yazid’s merciless army. Meanwhile, another heart rendering tragedy was unfolding inside Hussain’s camp. Hussain’s six-month old son, Ali Asghar, was dying of thirst.
Holding the baby in his arms, Hussain walked into the battlefield, raised the baby on his hands and asked Yazid’s army to give him some water for the dying baby. In response, Hurmal, a marksman in Yazid’s army, took aim and fired an arrow which pierced Ali Asghar’s tender throat. Hussain could not bare taking Ali Asghar’s body back to his mother and buried him in the desert sand.
Hussain then stood in the battlefield, surrounded by thousands of enemy troops. A final assault, the earth shook and little Sakina was orphaned.
The tyrannical forces of Yazid rampaged Hussain’s camp. They shamelessly looted and plundered the tents where women and children had taken refuge. They even snatched the veils worn by the holy ladies of Prophet Muhammad’s family. The prophet’s grand-daughters were left bare-headed. Surely they would stop now. But they did not. Yazid’s men began setting fire to the tents. The helpless ladies and children ran from one tent to another until none were left standing.
Shimr, said to be the most evil commander in Yazid’s army, saw young Sakina crying. Her clothes had caught fire. Shimr slapped Sakina’s face and pulled off the earrings from her ears. Blood gushed out from little Sakina’s ears.
Stricken with grief and shock, all Sakina wanted was the comforting company her dear father, Hussain. She ran to the battlefield screaming, Father, father, where are you? Father, father, speak to me.
Night of the destitute
Meanwhile, in Hussain’s camp, the desert night fell upon the destitute family of Islam’s prophet and Muhammad’s granddaughter and Hussain’s sister Syeda Zainab took it upon herself to protect the ladies and children. This tragic night is also known as Sham-e-Ghareeban (Night of the destitute)
Hussain’s eldest son, Ali Zainul Abideen, was unconscious due to ill health and had not been able to take part in the battle with Yazdi’s army. Syeda Zainab gathered all the ladies and children in the middle of the gutted camp. The moon watched in sadness as Ali Zainul Abideen lay unconscious on the desert sand, surrounded by widows and orphans.
Syeda Zainab noticed that little Sakina was missing from among the children. She asked Sakina’s mother Rubab but even she did not know where her daughter was. The two ladies ran out of the tents looking for her in panic. They searched everywhere for the young girl but in vain. Finally, in desperation, Zainab went to the place where the body of her brother Hussain lay and cried, O my brother, Sakina, who you left in my care, is nowhere to be found. Where shall I look for her in this wilderness? As Zainab got closer to her brother’s corpse, she saw little Sakina cuddling her father, sleeping on his chest like she always used to.
She shook the child awake and said, O Sakina! How did you recognize your father? A person can be recognized by their face or the clothes they wear. Your father has neither. Sakina replied innocently, I wanted to tell my father about what the people had done to me. I wanted to tell him how Shimr had robbed the earrings that my father had so lovingly given me. I wanted to tell him how he had ripped them from my ears leaving my earlobes torn and bleeding. I wanted to tell him how the beast had mercilessly slapped me when I cried in pain. When I was running aimlessly in the desert, I thought I heard my father’s voice telling me he was here. I followed the voice and I found him lying here. I told him everything and then I felt like sleeping on his chest the way I always did, for the last time. So I kept my head on his chest and slept till you came.
Water arrives
Later in the night, Umar ibn Sad, the general leading Yazid’s army, asked Hur’s widow to take some food and water to the ladies and the children in Hussain’s camp. Hur was also a general in Yazid’s army but left the tyrannical camp and joined Hussain in the early hours of 10 Muharram. Hur had realized that Yazid and his army were the oppressors and that they were set upon slaughtering the family of the Prophet Muhammad. Hur gave his life fighting for Hussain.
Syeda Zainab recognized Hur’s widow as she approached the camp. Zainab stood up, walked up to Hur’s widow and offered her condolences for Hur’s death. This gesture on the part of Zainab, who had suffered so much and lost so many members of her family including her brothers and her sons, tells us of the great mannerism and kindness of Muhammad and his progeny.
Zainab accepted the jug of water from Hur’s wife. She took it to Sakina, who, by then, had fallen asleep. Gently, she woke her up and said, here is some water Sakina, please drink a little. You have been thirsty for so long. On hearing the word ‘water’ Sakina cried out, has my uncle Abbas come back?
When she was told that Hur’s widow had brought the water, she got up, went to Hur’s widow, thanked her and then asked Zainab, Have you all drank water? Zainab shook her head in denial. Sakina asked, why then do you ask me to drink water? Zainab told Sakina that it is a custom that the youngest ones should eat and drink first. Hearing this, Sakina took the jug of water and started walking towards the battlefield. Zainab asked her where the little princess was going. Sakina replied, O Aunty you said the youngest should drink first. My brother Ali Asghar is the youngest. Sakina ran towards where Asghar lay buried, crying O Asghar, O Asghar.
Muhammad's captive granddaughters
The following day, Muhammad’s destitute progeny were forced to leave Karbala and travel towards Kufa. Hussain’s frail son Ali Zainul Abideen and other children were bound in heavy chains and forced to walk barefoot. The women were forced to sit on camels without any saddles while their necks and hands were tied tightly in ropes. Yazid’s army collected the severed heads of Hussain and his slain followers and carried them on their spears like trophies.
Upon arrival in Kufa, the captives were paraded through bazaars and various streets where the general public had gathered. Thirsty and tired, Sakina looked at her aunt Zainab with questioning eyes. Zainab asked Sakina what it was. Sakina replied, O my dear aunt my throat is so dry I do not think I can endure my thirst anymore. In the crowd, a kind woman called Um-e-Habiba, overheard the four-year-old asking for water. She approached Muhammad’s granddaughters and offered them some water. They thanked her for her kindness and asked if she wanted anything in return. The woman said she had two wishes. One, that her children may never be orphaned like Sakina and second, that God gives her the opportunity to visit Medina.
Upon hearing the name of Medina, Syeda Zainab asked the lady why she wanted to go to her home town. The woman said she would like to visit the grave of Prophet Muhammad and would also like to see the prophet’s granddaughters, Zainab and Um-e-Kulsoom.
Syeda Zainab asked the woman, dear woman, would you recognize Zainab if you saw her? She immediately answered, Of course I would. Zainab shook her head so her face would emerge from behind her hair and cried, Your prayer has been answered. Behold! Umm-e-Habiba, it is I, Zainab. Why can’t you recognize me? Can’t you recognize any of us?
Umm Habiba began to weep.
Zainab continued to speak. We are the children of the Holy Prophet, your master Hussain has been martyred along with his devotees and left unburied on the burning sands of Karbala; their heads have been severed and raised on spears.
The caravan moved forward.
Journey to Damascus
From the time when Hussain fell in the battlefield, Sakina had forgotten to smile. Kufa saw her as a sober little girl lost in thought. Quite often she would sit up at night. When asked if she wanted anything, she would say, I just heard a baby cry? Is it Ali Asghar? He must be calling out for me.
From Kufa, Muhammad’s captive family were taken to Damascus, the capital of Yazid’s caliphate.
Sakina was tied on the back of a camel with a rope. At one point the rope loosened and Sakina fell off the camel. Noor ‘Ali Merchant, in his poem titled “Sorrows and Sufferings” describes the event as,
Through the desert of Mesopotamia they marched on
Falling every few feet, due to sheer exhaustion
Ali Zain ul Abideen was mercilessly whipped
Even if he stumbled, even if he tripped.
Sakina fell down from the camel’s bare-back
Zainab raised an alarm; she was taken aback
The soldiers were intoxicated, they paid no heed
Without any succour, she would perish indeed!
In desperation, Zainab turned towards the spear
“Hussain, fallen down is your daughter dear;
I am helpless, my feet and hands are bound.”
The spear, with Hussain’s head, got planted down!
Khouli (ibn Yazid al-Asbahi) jumped down, to uproot the spear
The stooges rushed forth, from far and near
The spear remained stuck as if cemented
The impact would be great, if soldiers got scent.
Shimr approached Ali; his anger was boiling
He looked at the head; tears were trickling
He turned his gaze, Zainab caught his weeping eye
“Sakina has toppled over, the child may die!”
Shimr picked up the unconscious exhausted child
Dumping her in Zainab’s arms, rushed the hostile
Khouli could now lift the spear from the ground
The caravan proceeded quietly, onwards bound
After this incident, Yazid’s troops changed the formation of the prisoners. Ali Zainul Abideen’s neck and feet were already in shackles. The wretched army tied his son, Mohammed Baqir, on Zainul Abideen’s back and then used the same rope around Sakina’s neck, making it impossible for Zainul Abideen to stand up straight. From that moment onwards, Zainul Abideen was forced to walk bowed down throughout the journey to avoid pulling the rope around Sakina’s neck.
When the prisoners arrived near Damascus, Yazid ordered his army to keep them on the outskirts of the city for four days while he and his followers prepared to celebrate Yazid’s victory.
Years later, after he was freed, Zainul Abideen described these four days outside Damascus as one of the hardest times faced by the family of the Prophet Muhammad. He said they were treated like animals.
Muhammad's progeny in Yazid's court
Once Yazid had finished preparing his celebrations, the prisoners were taken to the city. Muhammad’s granddaughters were paraded through the bazaars while the locals cheered and threw stones at them. Finally they arrived at Yazid’s palace.
The household of the Prophet Muhammad now stood as captives in front of Yazid.
Hussain’s severed head was presented to Yazid who was holding a stick in his hand. Yazid started hitting the mouth and teeth of Hussain with the stick while young Sakina watched. Yazid happily watched the child cry.
Seeing the pleasure Yazid was having torturing the child, one of his courtiers asked Yazid if he could have the little princess as his slave. This enraged Syeda Zainab and she challenged Yazid.
Noor ‘Ali Merchant, in his poem titled “Sorrows and Sufferings” describes the event as,
A subservient courtier, anxious to curry favour
Bowed before him, thinking himself too clever.
“Your Majesty, your indulgence I crave
Bestow that girl, Sakina, on me as a slave.”
Zainab standing nearby, with her head bowed
Was furious, and infuriated as never before.
“You, wretched soul; no shame you have
Prophet’s grandchild, you wish to enslave
Is there none amongst you, even to protest?
Against the shocking and shameless request.”
Dungeons of Syria
The family of the Prophet Muhammad was later imprisoned in the dark, damp and roofless dungeons of Damascus with little food.
Princess Sakina had trouble sleeping every night as she missed her father, Hussain. Zainab used to try consoling Sakina.
Knowing that her tears would upset her mother, Sakina would cry silently and quickly wipe away her tears. She could see flocks of birds flying to their nests at sunset and used to ask her aunt, Zainab, will we ever return to Medina like those birds flying to their homes?
One night Sakina woke up from her sleep, weeping. She asked for her father. Her aunts and mother tried to console her but to no avail.
Oh my dear aunt , where is my father, a few minutes ago I was with my father and he kissed me and said to me that my dear Sakina you will soon be with me. But where is my father now?
The household of Muhammad started weeping when they heard of Sakina’s dream. Guards reported this to Yazid who sent a servant to enquire why the women were crying so loudly.
The servant returned to Yazid’s palace and told him about Sakina’s dream and how she missed her father. Yazid, for his sadistic pleasure, ordered Hussain’s severed head to be taken to young Sakina. He also ordered that Sakina be removed from the rest of her family and imprisoned in a separate cell.
Sakina begged the guards to not take her away from her family but they would not listen. She was finally imprisoned in solitude with her father’s severed head as the only company.
When Sakina saw her father’s severed head again, she started to cry even more and held it very tight while saying, who cut off my father’s head, who martyred my father, why are we held as captives?
Suddenly the crying stopped and silence filled the cell. Syeda Zainab anxiously asked Ali Zainul Abideen to see what had happened to Sakina. He asked the guards who allowed him into Sakina’s cell where he found her lying lifeless on the floor. He carried the child in his arms and brought her body back to the family.
Sakina was buried in the same dungeon. Zainab held the still child as Zain ul Abideen dug a grave for his little sister. As the grave was being filled up after the burial, Sakina’s mother, Um-e-Rubab, let out a scream. All the ladies huddled around her, and the prison walls began to shake with the cries, Ya Sakina , Ya Mazlouma. (Oh Sakina! Oh Oppressed one!)
When the time came and they were released from the prison, Rubab came to the grave of her beloved daughter, put her cheek on Sakina’s grave and cried out,
Speak to me Sakina. Only a word, my child, speak to me.
Sakina’s body was removed from its original burial place, the Dungeon of Syria, some centuries later when ground water started entering the grave. She is now buried in a shrine near Yazid’s palace and the Umayyad Mosque. Those who carried out the exhumation from the Dungeon said that Sakina’s body was in the condition that if she had been buried the same day.
She saw her father, Hussain, being brutally murdered in Karbala at the hands of fellow Muslims. She witnessed her baby brother dying of thirst and the enemy slitting his throat with an arrow. She saw her beloved uncle, Abbas, lose both his hands while trying to get water for her. She saw her family being taken as captives and paraded through the streets of the Muslim world. She spent her last days in a dungeon, weeping for her father. She was the beloved daughter of Hussain, Sakina, the young Hashemite Princess.