Of her physical appearance little is known. When the tragedy of Karbala befell, Hazrat Zainab (sa) is in her mid-fifties she was forced to go out. It was then that some people remarked that she appeared as a ‘shining sun’ and a ‘piece of the moon’.
In her character she reflected the best attributes of those who raised her. In sobriety and serenity she was likened to Ummul Momineen Hazrat Khadijah (sa), her grandmother; in chastity and modesty to her mother Hazrat Fatima Zahra (sa); in eloquence to her father Imam Ali (as); in forbearance and patience to her brother Imam Hasan (as); and in bravery and tranquility of the heart to Imam Hussain (as). Her face reflected her father’s awe and her grandfather’s reverence.
In Madina it was Hazrat Zainab’s (sa) practice to hold regular meetings for women in which she shared her knowledge and taught them the precepts of the religion of Islam as laid out in the Noble Qur’an. Her gatherings were well-known and regularly attended. She was able to impart the teachings with such clarity and eloquence that she became known as Fasihah / Faseeha (Skillfully Fluent) and Balighah / Baleegha (Intensely Eloquent).
In the thirty-seventh year A.H. (after Hijrah), Imam Ali (as) moved to Kufa to finally take up his rightful position as Caliph (Khalifah). He was accompanied by his daughter Hazrat Zainab (sa) and her husband, Abdullah ibn Jafar.
Her reputation as an inspiring teacher among the women had preceded her. There too women would throng to her daily sittings where they all benefited from her erudition, wisdom and scholarship in the exegesis of the Noble Qur’an.
The depth and certainty of her knowledge earned her the name given to her by her nephew, Imam Zain al-Abideen, of ‘Alimah Ghayr Mu’allamah’, meaning ‘she who has knowledge without being taught’.
Hazrat Zainab (sa) was also titled Zahidah (Abstemious) and Aabidah (Devoted Worshiper) because of her abstemiousness and piety. She found little of interest in worldly adornments, always preferring the bliss and comfort of the Next World over that of this one. Humble and of high morals, her main concern was to strive to please Allah (SWT) and in doing so she avoided anything which was the least bit doubtful.