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The Calling: Tahirih of Persia and Her American Contemporaries
A New Book by
Hussein Ahdieh & Hillary Chapman

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Reviews of The Calling

Calling Cover

Championing women’s rights has become more important in recent weeks since the US Presidential election, and you might think the fight for female justice started in the 1960’s, or perhaps after WWI, when Women’s Suffrage was pushed forward. But you’d be wrong. And we have Hussein Ahdieh and Hillary Chapman to thank for writing a comprehensive narrative of two simultaneous struggles for women’s rights, both of which started in the mid-19th century. One of them is known by an early meeting in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848 and the other began in Persia (now Iran) in the 1840’s.

Ahdieh and Chapman’s book, The Calling, is engaging and illuminating. How many knew that the women’s movement was born of women leaders and speakers in the First Great Awakening, that time of American evangelical religious fervor around 1740? Or how important the voice of female slaves was to the growing emergence of women’s independent spirit? And then the shift to an as-yet unknown woman in Persia.

Tahirih the poet was born in the women’s wing of her family home and “grew up in a world bounded by the lattice work on the walls.” Against tradition, her father had the courage to educate her, and she became well-known for her eloquence and mastery of many subjects. Added to her unique status was the fact that she became an early follower of what is now the Baha’i Faith, a religion that taught, even back then, that women should have equal rights to men.

Moving back and forth between the two struggles in such distant lands, the authors skillfully illustrate the common themes of what might otherwise seem as disparate social phenomenon. The book reads smoothly, and the reader wants to keep turning the page to find out what happens. How unusual is such writing in a work as thoroughly researched and referenced as The Calling. Writing such as this is not easy, and yet the authors make it appear as effortless as an autumn leaf blowing in a chilly wind.

If you think women’s rights are important, or you are just curious about how women first started to aspire to equal justice, read The Calling. You will not be disappointed.

Dr. Dorothy Marcic, Columbia University

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I have finally finished reading [The Calling]. You and Hillary have created a masterpiece that will be a very special book for hundreds of years to come. You should win a Baha'i Pullitzer Prize for your accomplishment!

The depth of your research is amazing. The rich details, both of Tahirih and her American contemporaries is unequaled. Although I was familiar with many of the Americans, I was uninformed about the importance of Sojourner Truth and the birth of spiritualism. I knew of Gobineau, but not of Renan, Bellcombe, Lessona. Cheyne, Iqbal etc. etc. etc. I also learned so much more about the importance of Martha Root and Laura Barney. I could go on and on, but I will simply say your research andwriting is extraordinary.

I have absolutely nothing to suggest that would make this book any more exceptional than it is.

Dorothy Nelson, Senior U.S. Judge, Former Member National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States

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The Calling is a book of tears and laughter, yet factual and rich with insightful historical, social and psychological analysis. It brings to life mesmerizing but forgotten stories of the 18th–19th century heroines of America and their contemporary Tahirih, a martyred woman of Persia—their spiritual ecstasy and zeal, high-mindedness, courageous undertakings, unwavering faith, and steadfastness. Through the power their pen, or by passionate public speeches, these women introduced novel humanitarian discourses and altered, globally and permanently, the public opinion about their gender; and they did so at a time when the female gender was not allowed to be visible or heard in the public sphere, valued only for “passivity, emotionality, and physical weakness.”

Their support of various causes, be it women’s suffrage, abolitionism, Indian rights, opposition to capital punishment, temperance, or the support of the marginalized populations, led not only to the eventual realization of many of their altruistic objectives, but also to a change in the social status of women, allowing them to go to universities, preach, and fill jobs they had never done or been permitted to do—journalism, nursing, teaching, factory and clerical work and even being employed as spies and soldiers. This was merely a humble beginning for the redemption of half of the population of the world from their eternal condemnation. The book demonstrates, with detailed historical evidence, how these groundbreaking social changes took place in the cultural context of messianic beliefs—driven by the expectation of the Christians in the US and the Moslems in Persia for the advent of the Day of the End, the era of the fulfillment of eschatological prophesies.

The timing cannot be more appropriate for the publication of this invaluable book: at the brink of the 21st century, when East is East and Wet is West no longer, when we witness, globally, women of various races, ethnicities and creeds, raising their voices for the cause of justice, compassion and love, echoing Tahirih’s calling of hope and faith:

Injustice will be convicted by the power of justice.
Ignorance will be defeated by the power of thought.
Everywhere the carpet of equity will be rolled out.
Everywhere the seeds of amity will be scattered.

At this point in history when attempts for global unity, sympathy, justice, and equity feel ever so trying—as challenging as they were two centuries back—may Tahirih’s far reaching sagacity inform the vision of all women and men of insight and faith:

The reign of disunity will be vanquished from all regions,
Diverse peoples of the world will become one nation.

Dr.Amrollah Hemmat

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In their forthcoming book—The Calling: Tahirih of Persia and Her American Contemporaries—authors Hussein Ahdieh and Hillary Chapman celebrate one of the world’s pre-eminent champions of the emancipation of women and basic human rights. Such a book could not be timelier. Today the topic of basic human rights—especially the rights of women—is passionately debated in the halls of government and centres of worship everywhere.

Both Ahdieh and Chapman visually set the scene of women in society in both Persia and America. Women’s rights, privations,and obligations are explored.

Táhirih (pronounced taw-hair-eh), meaning “The Pure One” was born Fátimah Baraghání in c.1817 in the northern Persian city Qazvín. From childhood Táhirih exhibited deep piety and intellectual brilliance; so much so that her father, a high rankingcleric, permitted her to undertake higher Islamic studies which were then reserved to men alone. Even as a youngster she won a reputation for scholarship and debate.

What draws the Western reader into this setting is how the authors play off the role of women in Persia against that of American women in the 19th century. Not unlike a compelling screenplay they cut back and forth from Persia to America where we easily sympathize with the sufferings and privations of women in both societies.

In those days Persian women were cloistered at home and sequestered behind robes called chadors when out in public. Women were invisible and mute at that time.

American women were neither invisible nor mute but had little outlet for their talents and faculties. They were the ‘weaker sex’ confined to the tasks of home-making and child-rearing, in ways not unlike their Persian counterparts.

In both Persian and American society the spirit of a new religious awakening was sweeping through society. Women responded to this new calling which inevitably brought them into conflict with men, who dominated government and religion in both settings.

In the West it was the “Great Awakening” and the anticipation of the “Second Coming of Christ”. In Persia there was an expectation among followers of some Muslim denominations of the appearance of a “Promised One”. Religion became the vehicle that propelled women in both societies to make advances for their sex.

Back and forth the authors take us from Persia—as we follow the progress of Tahirih—to America were women are slowly insinuating themselves into popular causes and writing and speaking to defend those causes. And back to Persia where we learn about the youthful Báb, and the incredible response to His Teachings which included the now eloquent poetess Táhirih.

Surprisingly it was the separation of church and state in America that created public education and gave a place to girls to be educated equally with boys, at least in lower education. We learn that by mid-19th century American girls are in public schools on a par with their male counterparts.

In America freedom of religion was guaranteed by The Bill of Rights. In Persia people were not free to believe as they wished if those beliefs ran counter to interpretations of a powerful Shi’ih clergy who could order them arrested and even killed.

Ahdieh and Chapman review the fascinating account of William Miller, who ultimately predicted Christ’s return in October 1844 and whose Millerite Movement initially attracted thousands. Back in Persia 1844 was the exact year in which the Báb arose to proclaim the Advent of the Promised One of All Religions was at hand.

Back in Persia Táhirih had found an ideal outlet for her passion and eloquence: poetry. The authors make judicious use of Táhirih’s poetry to express her sentiments and flights of spiritual ecstasy.

For example, she champions the cause of the Promised One with lines such as these:

Lovers! Creation veils his face no more!
Lovers, look! He himself is visible!
Order, justice, law are now possible.
Minds in darkness now burn light with knowledge
Tell the priest. Shut your books! Lock the temple!

“The Báb had not come to renew Islam by reviving the old traditions and institutions but by bringing a new divine revelation to reinvigorate the inner lives of people.” A corrupt Shi’i clergy attempted to slander Táhirih’s character and morals. The Báb Himself stepped forward declared her pure and one of His ‘Letters of the Living’.

By mid-century in the U.S.A. women “were participating and playing important roles in all the major social reform movements: the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance (1826), the American Peace Society (1828), the American Anti-Slavery Society (1833), and the American Female Reform Society (1834)”.

It is tragic to relate how Táhirih prepared herself for her martyrdom by dressing as a bride preparing for her bridegroom. So frightened were Persian authorities of a backlash that would result from her daytime execution that she was ordered strangled in the darkness of night. Before her execution she gave expression to these deathless words: “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”

The authors of The Calling skillfully weave the existingfragments of Táhirih’s life into a seamless tapestry of U.S., Persian and Bábí-Bahá’í history.

This book should be part of every high school and university literature course the issues it raises should be discussed today, as the station of women is still pathetically below that of men in nearly every aspect of life.

Dr. Duane K. Troxel