Sitna Zainab: An Activist for Justice

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Growing up in a very religious family, I was raised on Muslim Shiite values; my sibling and I were named after the grandchildren of Prophet Mohammad. Growing up, I heard the stories of the lives of Mohammad and his grandchildren and how they survived the oppression of people that were against their beliefs. I was told to always look up to them, because they are perfection after God, were blessed with the gift of doing nothing wrong, and were destined to go to heaven.

Sitna Zainab, the daughter of Imam Ali and Sitna Fatima, was not blessed with that particular gift. Nevertheless, she was someone who managed to be free from the flaws that come with any human being. She succeeded in surviving the atrocity and loneliness of her father and brothers being killed in front of her very own eyes. The support that she provided for her brother and family in Ashouraa’ – the day of the martyrdom of Hussein Ibn Ali, Prophet Mohammad’s grandson at the battle of Karbalaa’ – would always be memorable by anyone who has heard the story. She was the one who carried the responsibility of the family and took care of the children even though her nephew, the next Imam after Al-Hussein, was still alive. She had done it to protect the descendants of Mohammad – even after Ashouraa’ – when they were about to kill the son of Imam Hussein, who was to inherit the leadership of the Muslims. She found the strength to stand up and sacrifice her life instead of his.

Kaarbalaa’ – the land of the free, the land of the struggle against injustice, tyranny and oppression – taught me to be the activist that I am today.

Growing up gay, I never really had that infamous struggle between sexuality and religion. Through my religion, I learned to be good, to love and respect myself and others, to fight for my rights, and to never let anyone take what was rightfully mine, because oppression is the doing of the devil.

Imam Hussein, along with his family and friends, spent 10 days in a war which he was forced to lead. He had found himself in a land where everyone who stood by him was forbidden from drinking water and eating food for 10 days. He lead a war on the people that took away his people’s right to live. He found the strength to go to war and fight thanks to the support of his younger sister Zainab. Her role was not only powerful throughout these 10 days; she protected the women of the family and friends after they were left alone, and as later on they were made to march across countries. She stood in the court of the people who killed her brother, and with great strength, confronted them.

To me, Sitna Zainab is the most inspiring activist. She emerged to be a strong idol for my own activism.

Activism is the one thing I never had to think twice about. I was raised on the values of people who spent their lives struggling for their rights. Now it is my turn – and fighting for my rights in such an oppressive society comes naturally. I will never doubt for a second that I don’t deserve my rights. Because I’m a queer feminist that was raised on values of strength in the face of injustice and oppression, I will never let go of my cause.

My fight is not, and will never be, against my religion; my fight is against societies that want us to conform to their standards, to be the persons they pressure us to be.

abdo al raQissa

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