Female Heroes of Asia: Iran
(or Qurratul-Ayn, Solace of my Eyes)
Tahirih was a disciple in the Babi religion, a predecessor to the Baha'i Faith, which originated in Persia in the early 1800's. Baha'i has roots in Islam and is related in some ways to Sufism, a mystical form of Islam, although it is a separate religion.
Tahirih was educated by her father, who was a mullah. Upon reading the writings of Shykh Ahmad-i-Ahsi, or the Bab (a forerunner of the Babi religion), she became a devotee and later was appointed one of His closest disciples. The religions positive views regarding the equality of men and women, and its drive to reform existing Muslim laws appealed to her. Tahirih was the only woman in the movement who became a disciple. Over the opposition of her father, she taught the faith publicly, claiming that the Bab was the fulfillment of the prophesies which pointed to the return of the Twelfth Imam. Using traditional rhyming forms, she wrote eloquent, ecstatic poems of love for God, as well as those deeply critical of the traditional clergy, whom she debated in public.
Persecution inevitably followed. In 1848, during a conference at Badasht which was to proclaim the Babs elevation to Twelfth Imam, and during which leaders advocated reforms, Tahirih was supposed to have proclaimed it as the day on which the fetters of the past are burst asunder. She also appeared in public without her veil, a provocative act seen by the clergy as defiling both God and themselves. Some of her followers denounced this action as well. Shortly after she was arrested. Imprisoned under house arrest, she continued to preach. In 1852, she was sentenced to death as a heretic. It was then she proclaimed her most famous cry: You can kill me as soon as you like but you cannot stop the emancipation of women! She later was strangled to death.
Tahirihs life and poems have been been retold throughout the years, most recently in public readings, a theatrical music drama, and a CD. In 1997 the Tahirih Justice Center was founded to address the acute need for legal service for immigrant and refugee women who have fled to the U.S. to seek protection from human rights abuses.
Selections from two Poems
The Morn of Guidance:
Truly, the Morn of Guidance commands the breeze to begin
All the world has been illuminated; every horizon, every people
No more sits the shaykh in the seat of hypocrisy
No more becomes the mosque a shop dispensing holiness....
The world will be free from superstitions and vain imaginings
The people free from deception and temptation...
The carpet of justice will be outspread everywhere
And the seeds of friendship and unity will be spread throughout
The false commands eradicated from the earth
The principle of opposition changed to that of unity.
Tahirihs imaginary meeting with the Bab:
If I met you face to face, I
would retrace - erase! - my heartbreak,
pain by pain,
ache by ache,
word by word,
point by point....
While I grieve, with love-your love!-I
will reweave the fabric of my soul,
stitch by stitch,
thread by thread,
warp by warp,
woof by woof.
Last, I-Tahirih-searched my heart, I
looked line by line. What did I find?
You and you,
you and you,
you and you.
Tahirih in History: Perspectives on Qurratul-Ayn, Sahir Afaql, editor.
Tahirih: A Poetic Vision, translation by Hamid Hedayati and Bijan Yazdani, illustrations by Ivn Lloyd.
Illustration: 17th Century Persian Lady, Miniature, Museum des Kunsthandwerks, Leipzig.