July 29, 2019


The storm clouds were gathering and, fingering her beautiful silk handkerchief, the one she had long known would be wound about her throat – not with tender care but with violence – Táhirih prayed and fasted surrounded by myriad candles as she spiritually prepared for her reunion with her Beloved, the One she would meet for the very first time in the next world.

How many names had Táhirih borne in her short life, how many boundaries had she crossed that were forbidden to women, how many souls did she set afire with love for her Beloved! Born Fátimih Baraghaní in Qazvín, Persia, the daughter of a mujtahid, a scholar of Islamic law, now she stood in her room in the mayor of Tehrán’s house, a respected prisoner for over four years. While the mayor’s wife was weeping the upcoming loss of her dear friend, the mayor’s son was waiting to take her to the planned site of her martyrdom, having promised to ensure that she was neither molested nor forced to remove her clothes.

Who was this remarkable woman? Although she had been raised in the shadows of her home, unable to be seen unveiled by men other than her male relatives, her indulgent father, Haji Mullá Salih had allowed her to be educated by a tutor. Beautiful and brilliant and known as Zarrin-Taj, meaning “crowned in gold,” she surpassed her brothers in her studies, prompting her father to say, “Would that she had been a boy, for then he would have shed illumination upon my household and would have succeeded me.” She was even permitted to attend her father’s lectures from behind a curtain. Her reputation as a fine poet had also won her renown.

An avid reader, one fateful day she visited her cousin Mulla Javád, and while perusing his library, she came across some of Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kázim’s writings. Delighted by what she read, she asked her cousin to send her these books. He refused, stating that her father would be greatly displeased if he found these books in her possession. “I have searched many a long year for the truth. Send me these books, I will take care of my father.”

Not only did she openly read these books, she argued their contents with her father, who only ridiculed her nascent beliefs. Determined to know more, she wrote a paper in support of Shaykhí teachings and sent them to Siyyid Kázim himself. They soon embarked on a secret correspondence, and Siyyid Kázim, touched by her devotion and intelligence, wrote her back, addressing her thus: “O you, who are the solace of my eyes…” Now she had become Qurratu’l-Ayn, the Solace of the Eyes.” Determined to attend his lectures, she accomplished this goal by receiving permission to visit the famous shrines in Karbilá. When she arrived, however, she discovered that Siyyid Kázim had passed away ten days before, leaving her heartbroken. However, she had remained and attended classes, even giving a few of her own – from behind a curtain, of course.

One night, following a period of fasting and prayer in which she too longed to discover who the Promised One might be, she dreamt that she saw a young man floating in the heavens, His face shining like a noonday sun, His arms raised in prayer. He wore a long black coat and the green turban of a siyyid. Words were flowing like a river from His lips and, catching a portion of these words, when Qurratu’l-Ayn awoke, suffused with joy, she wrote them down immediately. When she received a copy of the Báb’s tablet on the Surih of Joseph He had revealed for Mullá Husayn and reading the very words she had dreamt, she knew she had found her Beloved at last. Upon learning that her cousin, Muhammad-‘Alí-i-Qazvíní had also accepted the Báb and was preparing to visit Him, she handed him a letter to give to the Báb, adding: “Say to Him from me: “The effulgence of Your face arose on high. Then speak the words ‘Am I not your Lord? And ‘You are, You are, we will all reply!’” Muhammad-‘Alí became the 16th Letter of the Living and she was named the 17th Letter of the Living, the only woman in that exalted company of souls.

One of the first women to accept the Báb as a result of her teaching efforts was none other than Siyyid Kázim’s wife, who loved Qurratu’l-‘Ayn as a dear friend. Other stellar women joined her, such as Mullá Husayn’s mother and sister, and her close companion, Shams-i-Duhá. These ladies were humble but ardent and knowledgeable teachers of the Faith.

She taught her newfound faith fearlessly. In every village, town or city she visited, she set many souls aflame, but she also angered the clergy, who, intimidated by her brilliance, often expelled her from their communities. On receiving reports of her actions and fearing for her safety, her father begged her to return to Qazvín, to which she reluctantly agreed. She then had an ugly confrontation with her narrow-minded husband, Mullá Muhammad – a cousin she had married at 13 according to her family’s wishes and with whom she had three children – and her father-in-law, the outraged Mullá Taqí. When the latter struck her in anger, she simply stared him and said: “O uncle, I see blood filling your mouth!”

When her husband demanded she return to her life as wife and mother, she refused, saying that “neither in this life nor the next can I ever be associated with you. I have cast you out of my life forever.” Within months, he divorced her and became her mortal enemy. When her former father-in-law denounced Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kázim from the pulpit, he enraged Mullá Abdu’lláh, a man who was not a Shaykhí but who greatly respected them. One night, he crept up behind Mullá Taqí in the mosque while he was praying and stabbed him in the throat. This touched off a firestorm of persecution and the murder of innocent Bábís. Mullá Muhammad, seeking revenge, remembered her words and accused her of his father’s murder. She was arrested, but Mullá Abdu’lláh eventually confessed to the murder. And she? She was whisked away one night by the aid of Mírzá Husayn ‘Alí, who took her to his home in Tehrán.

While there, she found herself in exalted company, which included Vahíd. One day, Qurratu’l-‘Ayn was bouncing Mirza Husayn ‘Ali’s two-year-old son, Abbas Effendi on her knee while listening to Vahíd expound on some obscure religious teaching. She decided she had had enough. “O Yahyá!’ she had told him, “Stop idly repeating the traditions of the past, for the day of service, of steadfast action has come. Let deeds, not words, be our adorning!”

In June 1848, Mírzá Husayn ‘Alí had rented three gardens in the hamlet of Badasht: one for himself, now called Bahá’u’lláh, one for Quddús and one for her, whom he named Táhirih, the Pure One. Eighty-one Bábís were invited to this conference whose outward goal was to find ways to free the Báb, now a prisoner in the fortress of Chiríq, but whose true purpose was soon revealed through a secretly organized event between Bahá’u’lláh, Quddús and Táhirih. There came a day when the faith of all the Bábís there were sorely tested.

Toward the close of the conference, Bahá’u’lláh stated he was not feeling well and remained in his tent. In the meantime, Quddús and Táhirih had a quarrel that was not yet resolved. As the Bábís and Quddús were keeping company with Bahá’u’lláh, who was recognized as the Bábí with the most authority, a messenger arrived requesting that Quddús visit her. “I have severed myself entirely from her,” he stated, and refused to see her. The messenger removed his sword and begged him to either cut off his head or return to Táhirih’s garden. Suddenly, she appeared without her veil, her lovely face revealed to all. What freedom it must have been to feel the sun and air upon her naked face! The Bábís were so shocked that most fled in terror at such a clean break in Muslim law, one man even slitting his own throat. She approached Quddús and addressed all who remained in the tent. “I am the Word which the Qa’im is to utter, the word which shall put to flight the chiefs and nobles of the earth!” Where once the Prophet Muhammad had sorely tested his disciples by changing the point of adoration from Jerusalem to the Ka’aba in Arabia, now her action boldly announced the Bábí Faith as an independent religion. Upon leaving the conference, however, she was arrested and sent to Tehrán.

Although she was only 36 years old, she awaited her martyrdom with calm and radiance. According to her instructions, the drunken guards in the Ilkhani Garden agreed to strangle her with her handkerchief and allow her body to be thrown in a well and covered with stones. Before letting her executioners do their evil deed, however, Táhirih, the Pure One, proudly said, “You can kill me if you like, but you can never stop the emancipation of women!”

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