For this project I created an oil pastel rendering of Zaynab bint Ali after the battle of Karbala. In this romanticized illustration of Zaynab, she is set against a red background representative of the blood of the lives lost in the battlefield. I chose to draw Zaynab because I was struck by the story of the battle of Karbala and its impact on the separation between Sunni and Shia. I began to imagine what it would be like in Zaynab’s place- her brother and loved ones killed, then taken along with the other women and children as captives of Yazid’s army, and having to assume the role of a leader in a very short time. Scene 23 in Pelly’s The Miracle Play, sparked my interest in Zaynab and when I researched her story a bit more, I was impressed by the multiple accounts and depictions of her willingness to participate in the battle: “O my brother, if women were permitted to fight I would have courted death to save you” (The Victory of Truth: The Life of Zaynab bint Ali. Al-islam.org).
This drawing is an attempt to give Zaynab a moment of reflection probably not found in an actual battle. It depicts the moment before her Husayn’s surviving followers were captured, surrounded by remains of battle before she is made to unveil. It captures a moment of contemplation and reflection before she assumes the role of leader. The young girl looking up to Zaynab and clutching at her scarf is Sakayna, who in this drawing represents the women and small children who looked to the family of Muhammad for guidance. The Taziyeh, as a central experience for Shia around the world celebrating Husayn’s last stand also provides an opportunity to celebrate the resilience of muslims, those who like Zaynab and Husayn submit to god. I look forward to further exploring the identities and representations of muslim women through a cultural studies approach in week 10 of the class.