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Táhirih (Arabic: طاهره‎ "The Pure One") or Qurratu'l-`Ayn (Arabic: قرة العين‎ "Solace/Consolation of the Eyes") are both titles of Fátimih Baraghání (1814/1817 – 1852), an influential poet and theologian of the Bábí faith in Iran.[1][2] As a prominent Bábí (she was the seventeenth disciple or "Letter of the Living" of the Báb) she is highly regarded by Bahá'ís and Azalis, and often mentioned in Bahá'í literature as an example of courage in the struggle for women's rights. Her date of birth is uncertain, as birth records were destroyed at her execution. Many sources agree that her birth date was in 1817.[3][4][5]

Contents

Early life (birth–1844)

Táhirih was born Fátimih Baraghání in Qazvin, Iran (near Tehran),[1] the daughter of Haji Muhammad-Salih Baraghani an Usuli mujtahid who was remembered for his interpretations of the Qur'an, his eulogies of the tragedies of Karbala, his zeal for the execution of punishments, and his active opposition to the consumption of wine.[6] Her mother was from a Persian noble family. Her uncle, Mulla Muhammad-Taqi Baraghani, was also a mujtahid whose power and influence dominated the court of Fat′h-Ali Shah Qajar.[2] The lack of contemporary evidence makes it impossible to determine her exact date of birth.[7] Historian and contemporary Nabíl-i-A`zam cites that it was in 1817,[3][8][9] whilst others claim an earlier date of 1814.[2][10][11] Her grandson suggests a much later date of 1819,[7] whilst some modern historians claim she was born about 1815.[8] After interviewing Táhirih's family and the families of contemporaries as well as reading documents about her life Martha Root believed that the most accurate date of birth was between 1817-1819.[7]

The Baraghani brothers had migrated from an obscure village near Qazvin to the city where they made their fortunes in ecclesiastical schools. They soon rose to the ranks of high ranking clerics in the court of the Shah of Persia and even running religious sections of Qazvin.[10] The brothers also involved themselves in the mercantile business accumulating great wealth and royal favour.[7] Her father was himself a noted and respected cleric, as was her older uncle who married a daughter of the monarch. Táhirih’s two younger uncles were not as elevated as the older ones but still had reasonable power in the court.[10] Her aunt was a renowned poetess and calligrapher in royal circles and wrote government decrees in her "beautiful hand".[8] At the time of her birth, the Baraghani's were one of the most respected and powerful families in Persia.[8][10]

Táhirih was educated particularly well for a girl of her era.[3] A literate woman was itself a rare phenomenon and surprisingly her father decided to break from protocol and personally tutor his daughter. Though still living in a strict religious home, Táhirih was educated in theology, jurisprudence, Persian literature, and poetry.[12] She was allowed to undertake Islamic studies, and was known for her ability to memorize the Qur'an as well as being able to grasp hard to understand points of religious law.[1][2] Her father was reported to have lamented at the fact that she was not a son. Táhirih was said to have surpassed her father’s male students which further convinced him of her literary talents. Contemporaries and modern historians comment on Táhirih’s rare physical beauty.[13][10] A courtier described her as "moonfaced",[14] "with hair like musk" whilst one of her fathers pupils wondered how a woman of her beauty could be so intelligent.[3][7]

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Marriage and developments

Sayyid Kazim Rashti

Though showing herself a capable writer and poetess,[8] Táhirih was forced to comply with familiar pressure and at the age of fourteen she was married to her cousin Muhammad Baraghani the son of her uncle.[3] The marriage resulted in three children, two sons: Ibrahim and Isma’il and one daughter.[3] The marriage however, was an unhappy one from the start and Muhammad Baraghani seemed to have been reluctant to allow his wife to further her literary persuits.[1][3] Her husband eventually became the leader of the Friday prayers.[2] Her two sons fled from their father after their mothers dead to Najaf and Tehran whilst the daughter died shortly after her mothers passing.[7]

It was in the home of her cousin that Táhirih first became acquainted with and started correspondence with leaders of the Shaykhi movement,[7] including Siyyid Kazim, which flourished in the Shi`ah shrine cities in Iraq. It was Siyyid Kazim who gave her the title "Qurratu'l-`Ayn".[2][15] She eventually become a supporter of the Shaykhi teachings even though her family was enemies of the movement.[1] The differences in religious beliefs in the family caused tensions between Táhirih and her husband, and in 1843 at the age of about 26,[7] she separated from her husband and travelled to Karbala with her sister to visit Siyyid Kazim.[2] However, by the time she had arrived, Siyyid Kazim had died.[1]

With his widow's approval, she set up in Siyyid Kazim's house and continued teaching his followers from behind a curtain.[1] In 1844, she, through correspondence, found and accepted `Ali Muhammad of Shiraz (known as the Báb) as the Mahdi. She became the seventeenth disciple or "Letter of the Living" of the Báb, and rapidly become known as one of his most renowned followers.[2] She was the only woman in that group and thus she is sometimes been compared to Mary Magdalene in that aspect.[16] Unlike the other Letters of the Living, Táhirih never met the Báb. Continuing to reside in Siyyid Kazim's home, she started to promulgate the new religion of the Báb, Bábism, and attracted many Shakhis to Karbala.[2] English Orientalist Edward Granville Browne described Táhirih as "the appearance of such a woman as Qurratu'l-'Ayn is in any country and any age a rare phenomenon, but in such a country as Persia it is a prodigy-nay, almost a miracle. Alike in virtue of her marvelous beauty, her rare intellectual gifts, her fervid eloquence, her fearless devotion and her glorious martyrdom, she stands forth incomparable and immortal amidst her country-women. Had the Bábí religion no other claim to greatness, this were sufficient-that it produced a heroine like Qurratu'l-'Ayn."[17]

As a Bábí

While in Karbala in Iraq, Táhirih continued teaching her new faith. After some of the Shi`ah clergy complained, the government moved her to Baghdad,[13] where she resided at the home of the mufti of Baghdad, Shaykh Mahmud Alusi, who was impressed by her devotion and intellect.[1][2] There she started giving public statements teaching the new faith, and challenging and debating issues with the Shi'a clergy. At this point the authorities in Baghdad argued with the governor that since Táhirih was Persian she should instead be arguing her case in Iran, and in 1847, on instructions from the Ottoman authorities she, along with a number other Bábís, was deported to the Persian border.[2]

During her journey back to Qazvin, Iran, she openly taught the Bábí faith,[2] including on stops in Kirand and Kermanshah, where she debated with the leading clergy of the town, Aqa `Abdu'llah-i-Bihbihani.[18] Aqa `Abdu'llah-i-Bihbihani, at this point, wrote to Táhirih's father asking his relatives to remove her from Kermanshah. She then travelled to the small town of Sahneh and then to Hamedan, where she met her brothers who had been sent to ask for her return to Qazvin. She agreed to return with her brothers after making a public statement in Hamedan regarding the Báb.[18] Upon returning to Qazvin in July 1847 she refused to live with her husband who she considered an infidel, and instead stayed with her brother.[2]

While she was in Qazvin, her uncle, Mulla Muhammad Taqi Baraghani, was murdered, and the blame for this placed on her by her husband,[1][18] even though she denied any involvement.[2] Baraghani had been an inveterate enemy of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i.[9] During Táhirih's stay in Qazvin, Baraghani had embarked on a series of sermons in which he attacked the Báb and his followers. There is no hard evidence as to the identity of the murderer, nor any proof as to Táhirih's involvement or lack of it. This accusation led to her life being in danger, and through the help of Bahá'u'lláh, she was escaped to Tehran.[1][2]

Conference of Badasht

After the Báb's arrest in 1848, Bahá'u'lláh made arrangements for Táhirih to leave Tehran and attend a conference of Bábí leaders in Badasht. She was one of the principals at the conference, and she advocated a radical break with Islam.[2] She is perhaps best remembered for appearing in public without her veil in the course of this conference signalling that the Islamic Sharia law was abrogated and superseded by Bábí law.[1][9] Due to her appearing unveiled in front of men, she was accused of immorality,[3] and in response to this the Báb, who supported her position, named her the Pure, Táhirih.[2]

Death

After the conference of Badasht ended, Táhirih was captured and once again put under house arrest in Tehran.[1][18] During this time many people, especially women would come and listen to her talks.[9] Two years after the execution of the Báb, three Bábís, acting on their own initiative, attempted to assassinate Nasser-al-Din Shah as he was returning from the chase to his palace at Niyávarfin. The attempt failed, but was the cause of a fresh persecution of the Bábís, and on the August 31, 1852 some thirty Bábís, including Táhirih, were put to death in Tehran.[9] She was in her early to mid 30's and was killed in the garden of Ilkhani in Tehran. A prominent Bábí, and subsequently Bahá'í, historian cites the wife of an officer who had the chance to know her that she was strangled by a drunken officer of the government with her own veil which she had chosen for her anticipated martyrdom. Afterwards her body was thrown into a well located in the garden.[9] One of her most notable quotes is her final utterance, "You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women."[9]

Legacy

Táhirih is considered one of the foremost women of the Bábí religion and she played an important role in the development religion.[1][2] Her role as a charismatic figure, in addition to her being able to transcend the restrictions normally placed on women in traditional society where she lived attracted attention.[2] While she wrote extensively on Bábí matters, little of her writings have survived other than her poems which are regarded highly in the Persian cultural world.[2] In addition to being well-known among Bahá'ís, her influence has extended beyond the Bahá'ís who consider her one of the leading women figures of their religion, her life has come to inspire later generations of feminists. Persian scholar Azar Nafisi on PBS's NewsHour on October 10, 2003: "The first woman to unveil and to question both political and religious orthodoxy was a woman named Tahireh who lived in early 1800s... And we carry this tradition." [19]

In fiction

Bahiyyih Nakhjavani published her La femme qui lisait trop (The Woman Who Reads Too Much) in 2007. It tells the story of Táhirih. The writer adopts the revolving points of view, of mother, sister, daughter and wife respectively, to trace the impact of this woman's actions on her contemporaries and read her prophetic insights regarding her times, and perhaps ours too.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Momen, Moojan; Lawson, B. Todd (2004), "Tahirih", in Jestice, Phyllis G., Holy People of the World: A Cross-cultural Encyclopedia, Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, ISBN 1576073556 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Smith, Peter (2000). "Táhirih". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 332–333. ISBN 1-85168-184-1. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Milani, Farzaneh (1992). Veils and Words: The Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers. Syracuse University Press. pp. 77–100. ISBN 1931847266. http://books.google.com/books?id=Ia1tCQK7yXEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Veils+and+Words:+The+Emerging+Voices+of+Iranian+Women+Writers&cd=1#v=onepage&q=&f=false. 
  4. ^ Effendi, Shoghi (1944). God Passes By. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. pp. 72. ISBN 0877430209. http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/GPB/. 
  5. ^ "The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá’í Revelation". US Bahá’í Publishing Trust. http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/nz/DB/db-45.html.utf8?query=1817&action=highlight#fr37. Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  6. ^ Momen, Moojan (2003). "Usuli, Akhbari, Shaykhi, Babi: The Tribulations of a Qazvin Family". Iranian Studies 36 (3): 317–337. doi:10.1080/021086032000139113. 
  7. ^ Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named root; see Help:Cite error.
  8. ^ a b c d e Āfāqī, Ṣābir (2004). Táhirih in history: perspectives on Qurratu'l-'Ayn from East and West. Kalimat Press. http://books.google.com/books?id=u_4CBxfhsnIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=tahirih&cd=1#v=onepage&q=tahirih&f=false. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Maneck, Susan (1994). "Religion and Women". Albany: SUNY Press. http://bahai-library.org/articles/women.faith.html. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Amanat, Abbas (1989). Resurrection and Renewal. Ithaca, New York, USA: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-2098-9. 
  11. ^ Foltz 2004, pp. 151
  12. ^ "Early Bahá'í Heroines". Bahá'í International Community. http://info.bahai.org/article-1-3-7-2.html. Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  13. ^ a b Nabíl-i-Zarandí (1932). Shoghi Effendi (Translator). ed. The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative (Hardcover ed.). Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. pp. 278–300. ISBN 0900125225. http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/nz/DB/. 
  14. ^ A typical Persian expression meaning exceedingly beautiful
  15. ^ `Abdu'l-Bahá (1997) [1915]. Memorials of the Faithful (Softcover ed.). Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust. ISBN 0877432422. http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/MF/. 
  16. ^ Mazal, Peter (2003-10-21). "Selected Topics of Comparison in Christianity and the Bahá'í Faith". bahai-library.org. http://bahai-library.com/?file=mazal_comparison_christianity_bahai.html&chapter=2. Retrieved 2006-06-25. 
  17. ^ `Abdu'l-Bahá (1891). Browne, E.G. (Tr.). ed. A Traveller's Narrative: Written to illustrate the episode of the Bab. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. (See Browne's "Introduction" and "Notes", esp. "Note W".). http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/diglib/books/A-E/B/browne/tn/hometn.htm. 
  18. ^ a b c d Balyuzi, Hasan (1973). The Báb: The Herald of the Day of Days. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. pp. 163–171. ISBN 0853980489. 
  19. ^ Táhirih mentioned on PBS NewsHour - Mention of Táhirih as founder of Persian feminism by renowned scholar Azar Nafizi in a discussion on PBS about Shirin Ebadi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

Further reading

  • Balyuzi, Hasan (1973). The Báb: The Herald of the Day of Days. Oxford, UK: George Ronald. ISBN 0853980489. 
  • Nakhjavani, Bahiyyih (2007). La femme qui lisait trop (The Woman Who Read Too Much). France: Actes Sud. ISBN 978-2-7427-7036-6. 

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