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Appreciations of Tahirih

Mid-nineteenth century Persia saw the birth and quick stem of the new and controversial Faith. Its followers were called Babis and eventually, Baha'is. Up until that time in the world's history, women were seen as less than second class citizens. They could not own land, could not vote or excersise most any of the rights that men of the time (and we now)would take for granted. Now, after centuries of silence, women have found their voices and are themselves becoming vehicles for the changes and advancements of the world. It is quite a wonder to discover that the first Women's Rights Martyr was not even a westerner. She was from Persia (now Iran), a country still known for its oppression of women. Her name was Tahirih (The Pure One) or Quarratu'l-Ayn. She was one of the first followers of the Bab and her crime was simply showing her beautiful face.

A woman appearing unveiled, especially in context of the time and country in which she lived, was perceived as a sign of promiscuity and a grave transgression against the clegry and even God Himself.

The moment Tahirih unveiled herself in Badasht, became the first act of public unveiling in Iranian history and the first agressive movement against the oppression of women everywhere.



Abdu'l-Bahá in his talk to the Women’s Freedom League on January 2nd, 1913, said:

"Amongst the women of our time there is Qu'urat'ul Ain, the daughter of a Mohammedan priest; at the time of the appearance of the Bab she showed such tremendous courage and power, that all who heard her were astonished. She threw aside her veil, despite the immemorial custom of the Persians, and although it is considered impolite to speak with men, this heroic woman carried on controversies with the wisest men, and in every meeting she vanquished them.

The Persian government took her prisoner, she was stoned in the streets, anathematized, exiled from town to town, threatened with death, but she never failed in her determination to work for the freedom of her sisters. She bore persecution and suffering with the greatest heroism; even in prison she gained converts.

To-day in Persia among the Bahá'ís, there are women who also show unflinching courage, and are endowed with great poetic insight; they are most eloquent, and speak before large gatherings of people.

To a Persian Minister, in whose house she was imprisoned, she said: 'You may kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.' At last the end of her tragic life came; she was carried into a garden and strangled. She put on, however, the choicest robes as if she were going to join a bridal party. With such magnanimity and courage she gave her life, startling and thrilling all of saw her. She was truly a great heroine."


Arthur de Gobineau

The book which introduced the Báb to a broad generation of European intellectuals was “Religions et philosophies dans l'Asie central” (Religions and philosophies of Central Asia), by Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882). He wrote a description of Tahirih which conveys the degree of her talent and capacity and the high regard in which she was held:

"Not only did she have a rare command of Arabic, but she became outstanding in her understanding of the interpretation of the Qur’an, the Islamic traditions (hadiths), and great Islamic thinkers. In Qazvin, she came to be regarded as a prodigy."

"...she was not content with passive belief; she spoke publically about the teachings of her master; she stood up not only against polygamy but also against the use of the veil, and showed her face in public places to the great shock and scandal of her family and all sincere Muslims, but also to the applause of the numerous people who shared her enthusiasm and whose public preaching greatly added to the circle of believers."

"...she consecrated herself fully to her Apostleship of the Báb to which he had given all the rights and entrusted her with many responsibilities. Her knowledge of theology became immense...I never heard any Muslim put in doubt the virtue of such a unique person."


Lord Curzon

Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India in his famous book "Persia and the Persian Question", published in 1892 included this passage about Tahirih:

"Beauty and the female sex also lent their consecration to the new creed, and the heroism of the lovely but ill-fated poetess of Kazvin, Zerin Taj (Crown of Gold), or Kurrat-el-Ain (Solace of the Eyes), who, throwing off the veil, carried the missionary torch far and wide, is one of the most affecting episodes in modern history."


John Tunis

John Tunis, a Unitarian minister, in an article in 1885 praised the power of Tahirih’s faith:

"A passive sympathy was too little for her ardent spirit…She threw off the veil, she denounced polygamy and…began openly to preach and make brains for arguments to reduce her to the old state of subordination.In vain, she answered by the unanswerable argument of faith wearied of the old commonplace. In the end, she left her home and consecrated herself to the Apostolic mission which the new religion conferred on her.”She courageously called for emancipation of women from age old customs.

She began of telling of her great truth, that the time had come for the new religion of the Bab to cover all the surface of the earth, and that in obedience to this new faith God must be worshipped henceforth in the spirit and in truth…Therefore it was high time that woman should rouse herself, should share the toil of her father, her husband, should brave equally with them the dangers.

It was no longer time for them to be shut up in the inner women’s courts, waiting in listless indolence while men wrought for them…let them be companions of the men, follow them, die with them, even of the field of battle."


A. L. M. Nicolas

A. L. M. Nicolas ,In his book ( Siyyid Ali Muhammad dit le Bab , published in France 1905 ) devoted many pages to Tahirih.

He pointed out that Tahirih had responded immediately to the Bab’s teachings and did not allow petty literal interpretations of the Qur’an to interfere.

The whole of chapter twelve describes Tahirih’s execution. She is described as having attracted many women to the Bab by telling them of the liberty promised in the new Revelation and then having been subject to seven interviews about her beliefs and teachings by two prominent mullahs. She criticized the clerics for their literal interpretation of prophecy.

The clerics declared her a heretic and left. Nicolas tells the story of her martyrdom in which, after sunset, the streets were emptied, and she was taken to the Il-Khani gardens and, there, one of the captain’s soldiers was ordered to strangle her.


Edward Browne

Edward Browne ,one of the most important orientalist in 19th century wrote:

"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."


Lord Chirol

A British diplomat, Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol, wrote in his book ,published in 1903:

"Socially one of the most interesting features of Babiism is the raising of women to a much higher plane than she is usually admitted to in the East. The Bab himself had no more devoted a disciple than the beautiful and gifted lady, known as Kurrat-el-Ain, the "Consolation of the Eyes," who, having shared all the dangers of the first apostolic missions in the north, challenged and suffered death with virile fortitude, as one of the Seven Martyrs of Teheran. No memory is more deeply venerated or kindles greater enthusiasm than hers, and the influence which she wielded in her lifetime still ensures to her sex. That women, whom orthodox Islam barely credits with the possession of a soul, are freely admitted to the meetings of Babis, gives their enemies, the Mullahs, ample occasion to blaspheme.But they have never produced a tittle of evidence in support of the vague charges of immorality they are wont to bring against the followers of the new creed. Communism and socialism are also often imputed to them, and some of them appear to have borrowed from the West the terminology of advanced democracy. Probably Babiism is still in a state of flux, and represents, apart from its doctrinal aspects, an association of many heterogeneous elements loosely bound together by a common spirit of revolt against the scandalous depravity of the Court, the corruption of the ruling classes, and the intolerance and greed of the orthodox clergy."

Mohammad Iqbal

Lady Mary Sheila

Mohammad Iqbal

Mohammad Iqbal, the great Indian poet and thinker who was very interested in the relationship between sacrifice and progress: In his “Song of Tahira”, marvels at how spiritual passion can bring new life into being and break through the old ways.

Lady Mary Sheila

The first mention of Tahirih was in Lady Mary Sheila's, “Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persian”, published in 1856.