published in Amazons to fighter pilots, a biographical dictionary of military women, pages 503-504
Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003
ZAYNAB (killed 1850, Zanjan). Known as "Rustam-'Ali." Babi irregular fighter in the Babi urban revolt in Zanjan, Iran, 1850.
The Babis were the followers of the Iranian prophet Sayyid 'Ali-Muhammad Shirazi, usually known as the Bab (1819-50). After he announced his prophecy in 1844, his religion soon attracted bitter persecution by civil and religious authorities. In three places where there were significant concentrations of Babis, there was open fighting. The largest such conflict was in Zanjan, a small but strategic town in northwestern Iran. Here in 1850 a charismatic cleric known as Hujjat Zanjani led some two thousand Babi fighters with their families in an eight-month seige. The Babis, who carried out their defence with skill, energy, organization, and religious zeal, were aided by the incompetence and lack of enthusiasm of the government regular and irregular forces, eventually amounting to some 30,000 men. After eight months the Babi ranks had been reduced to fewer than a hundred fighters. When Hujjat was killed, the Babis surrendered, and most of the surviving men were executed. The women and children, after a brief informal imprisonment, were released.
Zaynab was one of two daughters of an elderly Zanjan Babi. When their father died, her sister married Hujjat and was killed by a shell near the end of the siege. Zaynab though protested that the prohibition of women fighting in the holy war had been abrogated by the Bab's new revelation. Having no brother, she ought to have the right to fight on behalf of her family in the holy war (jihad). She was allowed to cut her hair, dress in man's clothing and fight under the name of "Rustam- 'Ali." She is variously reported as having been in command of a platoon of nineteen men guarding a barricade or fighting independently where she was needed. She was killed during a sortie, having acquired a reputation among both the Babis and the beseiging troops for dash and valor.
Despite rumors that the Babis had "a regiment of virgins," Zaynab was
evidently atypical. The Babi women did play an important support role
remarked on by most of the historians of the siege, but for the most
part they did not fight. In the simultaneous siege of the Babis of
Nayriz in southern Iran, women also took an active part, but again are
not recorded as fighting.
It is interesting that one of the Muslim clerics of Zanjan issued a
ruling during the siege that Muslim women were obliged to participate in
the jihad in Zanjan. There is no evidence that any did so.
Sipihr, Nasikh al-Tawarikh: Dawra-yi Kamil-i Tarikh-i Qajariya, ed. Jahangir Qa'im-Maqami. Tehran: Amir-Kabir, 1344/1965 3:94.
Nabil Zarandi. The Dawn-Breakers: Nabil's Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá'í Revelation. Trans. Shoghi Effendi Rabbani. Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1932, pp. 549-52, 558-59, 563.
'Abd al-Ahad Zanjani, Aqa. "Personal Reminiscences of the Babi Insurrection in Zanjan in 1850," trans. E. G. Browne, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 29 (1897) 761-827.