About Tahirih the Pure
Fatima Begum Zarin Tajj Umm Salmih Baraghani Qazvini aka Tahirih Qurra'tul-'Ayn. Tahirih (the pure) Qurrat'ul-
Ayn (solace of the eyes). Iranian female poet, firebrand
and Babi religious leader, 1817-1852.
Tahirih, the most well-known woman in Babi-Baha'i history, this gifted poet of nineteenth-century Iran, far from being a dutiful daughter, continually opposed the theological positions of her father, Mulla Salih, a prominent Muslim cleric of Qazvin.
She had received an excellent education in all the traditional Islamic sciences and was able to translate many of the Bab's writings from Arabic into Persian. Despite her background, Tahirih's writings were fiercely anticlerical. Basing her authority on her claim to an inner awareness of God's purpose, she instituted a number of innovations within the Babi community. Claiming that much of Islamic law was no longer binding upon Babis, she refused to perform the daily ritual prayers.
Táhrih exerted a powerful charm and charisma on those who met her, and she was generally praised for her beauty. Contemporaries and modern historians comment on Táhirih’s rare physical beauty. One of her fathers pupils wondered how a woman of her beauty could be so intelligent. Historian Nabil-i-A
zam reports the "highest terms of [her] beauty", Lord Curzon writes "beauty and the female sex also lent their consecration to the new creed and the heroism… the lovely but ill-fated poetess of Qazvín". British Professor Edward Granville Browne who spoke to a great number of her contemporaries wrote she was renowned for her "marvellous beauty". The Shah's Austrian physician also cited her beauty. Abdu'l-Bahá and Bahíyyih Khánum noted her beauty in several talks and writings.
Tahirih's most audacious act was occasionally to appear unveiled in gatherings of believers. To Abbas Amanat, this was probably the first time an Iranian woman had considered unveiling at her own initiative. The circle of women who gathered around Tahirih in Karbila, and later Qazvin, Hamadan, Baghdad, and Teheran, were perhaps the first group of women in those regions to have attained an awareness of their deprivations as women. Yet Tahirih's activities did not represent a woman's liberation movement in the modern sense. For Tahirih, removing the veil was primarily an act of religious innovation. Neither the writings of Tahirih nor the Bab concern themselves with the issue of women's rights as such. Apparently Tahirih experienced the Bab's revelation as liberating, whether or not it addressed itself to the status of women per se.
Tahirih's activities created much controversy within the Babi community itself. Many Babis did not view the Bab's revelation as requiring a total break with the past or with Islamic law. They regarded Tahirih's behavior as scandalous and unchaste. For this reason, the Bab gave her the title by which she is now known, Tahirih, meaning the "pure." The opposition of the non-Babi ulama (Islamic clergymen) went much deeper. During the month of Muharram, 1847, Tahirih deliberately excited their reaction by dressing in gay colors and appearing unveiled instead of donning the customary mourning clothes to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husayn. She urged the Babis, instead, to celebrate the birthday of the Bab, which fell on the first day of that month.
The enraged clergy incited a mob to attack the house where she was staying. Finally the governor intervened and had Tahirih placed under house arrest before having her sent to Baghdad.
Accompanied by the leading Babi women of Karbila, along with a number of devoted male followers, Tahirih set out for Baghdad, where she continued her activities, offering public lectures from behind a curtain. This aroused further opposition and caused her to be imprisoned in the house of the mufti, or leading Sunni cleric of Baghdad. But she was not tried for apostasy, since the usual penalty for that crime (death) could not be applied to women. Meanwhile, her family in Qazvin was quite disturbed by her activities.
Her unveiling, in particular, led to rumors of immorality. Tahirih's father dispatched a relative to Iraq who induced the governor to order her return to Iran. Wherever she traveled en route, more excitement was raised. In the village of Krand some twelve hundred people immediately offered her their .allegiance.
In Kirmanshah her presence caused such an uproar that the Babis were attacked by a mob and driven out of the city, but not before Tahirih had expounded the teachings before its leading women, including the governor's wife. In Hamadan Tahirih met with both the leading ulama and the most notable women of the city, as well as members of the royal family. On the arrival in Qazvin, her husband, Mulla Muhammad, from whom she had been long estranged, urged her to return to his household. She told him:
" If your desire had really been to be a faithful mate and companion to me, you would have hastened to meet me in Karbila and would on foot have guided my howdah all the way to Qazvin. I would, while journeying with you, have aroused you from your sleep of heedlessness and would have shown you the way of truth. But this was not to be. Three years have lapsed since our separation. Neither in this world nor in the next can I ever be associated with you. I have cast you out of my life forever."
Tahirih's uncle and father-in-law, Muhammad Taqi, had a reputation for being virulently opposed to both the Babis and the Shaykhis. On numerous occasions he incited mob violence against them. After one of these incidents, Mulla Abdu'llah, a Shaykhi and a Babi sympathizer, decided to retaliate. When Mulla Taqi appeared in the local mosque to offer his dawn prayers, Mulla Abdu'llah fatally stabbed him and fled.
This led to the arrest and torture of many of the Babis in Qazvin. Tahirih was implicated as well. In order to stop this orgy of violence, Mulla Abdu'llah turned himself in. Despite this the other Babis were not released and many were executed. Tahirih escaped with the assistance of Baha'u'llah, who hid her in his home in Teheran. Later, following a general call to Babis to gather in Khurasan, Tahirih and Baha'u'llah traveled to a place called Badasht, where some eighty-one Babi leaders met to consider how they might effect the release of the Bab, who was then imprisoned, and to discuss the future direction of the Babi community in the face of growing persecution.
At the meeting tension developed between Tahirih-who headed the more radical Babis advocating a complete break with Islam as well as militant defense of their community-and the more conservative Quddus-who initially advocated policies aimed at the rejuvenation of Islam and prudent accommodation with religious and secular power.
Babis generally accepted Quddus as the chief of the Bab's disciples, but Tahirih reportedly said in regards to him. "I deem him a pupil whom the Bab has sent me to edify and instruct. I regard him in no other light." Quddus denounced Tahirih as "the author of heresy." At one time when Quddus was rapt in his devotions, Tahirih rushed out of her tent brandishing a sword. "Now is not the time for prayers and prostrations." she declared, "rather on to the battle field of love and sacrifice.". Her most startling act was to appear before the assembled believers unveiled. Shoghi Effendi vividly describes that scene:
"Tahirih, regarded as the fair and spotless emblem of chastity and the incarnation of the holy Fatimih, appeared suddenly, adorned yet unveiled, before the assembled companions, seated herself on the right-hand of the affrighted and infuriated Quddus, and, tearing through her fiery words the veils guarding the sanctity of the ordinances of Islam, sounded the clarion-call and proclaimed the inauguration of a new Dispensation. The effect was instantaneous. She, of such stainless purity, so reverenced that even to gaze at her shadow was deemed an improper act, appeared for a moment in the eyes of her scandalized beholders, to have defamed herself, shamed the Faith she espoused, and sullied the immortal Countenance she symbolized. Fear, anger, bewilderment swept their inmost souls, and stunned their faculties. Abdu'lKhaliq-i-Isfahani, aghast and deranged at the sight, cut his throat with his own hands. Spattered with blood, and frantic with excitement, he fled away from her face."
Unperturbed, Tahirih declared, "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!" Tahirih, much to the dismay of many Babis, finally won Quddus over to her point of view. He conceded that Islamic law had been abrogated.
So complete was their reconciliation that the two departed from Badasht riding in the same howdah. When they neared the village of Niyala, the local mulla, outraged at seeing an unveiled woman sitting next to a man and chanting poems aloud, led a mob against them.
Several people died in the resulting clash and the Babis dispersed in different directions. Pitched battles raged between the Babis and government forces between 1848 and 1850 in the Iranian province of Mazandaran and in the cities of Zanjan and Nayriz.. Tahirih remained in hiding, moving from village to village for about a year.
Around 1849 authorities arrested her on chargesof complicity in the assassination of her uncle. They brought her to Teheran where they imprisoned her in the in house of the kalantar (mayor). The kalantar's wife soon became very attached to Tahirih and women again flocked to hear her discourses. On July 9, 1850, the Bab was executed in Tabriz by order of the shah. Two years later a small group of Babis sought to take revenge by assassinating the shah. The attempt failed andgeneral massacre of Babis ensued.
The government decided to execute Tahirih as well. She was taken to a garden and strangled to death. Her body was thrown down a well. Her last words (perhaps apocryphal) are reported to be. "You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women."