Tahirih: The Pure One
Who is Tahirih
Born in the 19th century in Quazvin, Iran, the woman who would come to be known as Tahirih [The pure one], was called Zarrin-Taj [Crown of Gold], by her family.
Her father, Mullah Salih, as well as her uncle Mullah Taqui, were respected Ullamahs[Religious Leaders] And though it was against the Islamic law of Iran to educate a woman, Zarin-Taj's father taught her, and she showed signs of intelligence equal to that of the more learned in the land. Zarrin-Taj would later defy her father and uncle, as well as the government, in order to follow the Babi faith, which has grown into what we know today as the Baha'i faith.
Showing signs of nobility and intelligence beyond her sex indeed , even beyond that of most men -- Zarrin-Taj soon asked her father if she could sit and listen with the men who came to argue religious doctrine when he taught in the Mosque [Muslim religious temple] . Her father allowed her to listen, if she would sit behind a curtain and keep quiet so as not to reveal her presence. Eventually she would be allowed both to listen and to speak from behind this curtain, and her station became known throughout Quazvin.
The New Prophet
After being married to her Uncle Taqui's son, Mullah Muhammad, Zarrin-Taj gave birth to three children. It was after this that she discovered a book among those of one of her cousin's that had been written by Sayhid Quazim, who spoke of a prophet that was to come, and of the new role of women in upholding the faith. She began corresponding with him, and he gave her the name Quaratyl-Ain[Solace of the Eyes].
Quaratyl-Ain left her family behind and traveled to meet Siyad Qazim to the sacred city of Karbilah, where she found that he had died before she could reach him. His family allowed her to look through his things, and she began, from behind a curtain, to preach his words to his followers, and to develop her own beliefs on the faith. It was during her time in Karbilah that Quaratyl-Ain met the Bab[Litterally, "The Gate"], a man from Shiraz who she believed to be the New Prophet for a New Age.
Following the Bab and joining the Babi faith, Quaratyl-Ain was branded along with him as a heritic, and forced to leave Karbilah. On returning home, she met with the opposition of her family. When her Uncle Taqui was murdered by a Babi zealot who had not fully comprehended the Babi doctrine of compassion and understanding, it gave the government officials an excuse to arrest her, accusing her of plotting the act.
The Conference at Badasht
On hearing that the Bab had been taken captive Quaratyl-Ain, with the aid of her other uncle, Mullah Ali, escaped house arrest in the home of her father to meet with all the principle Babi teachers at the Iranian city of Badasht.
It was here that Baha'u'llah, the prophet for whom the Baha'i faith is named, took charge of the faith. It was also here that Quaratyl-Ain recieved the name Tahirih, The Pure One, and more importantly, where she appeared in public without her veil on, in direct defiance of Muslim law.
In the period that followed the conference at Badasht many Babis turned away from the faith while others grew stronger in supporting it's broad views.
The Islamic government of Iran began a persecution of Babis that continues with the Baha'is today, though not on the same scale. Torturers would stab the Babis, leaving them alive and placing burning candles in their open wounds. Tahirih was finally captured and strangled to death with her own scarf.
The Conference at Badasht
The Conference at Badasht
One of the major events in the life of Tahirih occurred at Badasht in 1848. It was there that three of
the Bab's most devote followers met to proclaim the Bab's station as the promised Qa'im (Promised One).
The three were Tahirih, Quddus and Baha'u'llah. It was Tahirih who made the proclamation:
"The Trumpet is sounding! The great Trump is blown! The universal Advent is now proclaimed!"
The fact that she did this without her veil served to punctuate this announcement. Those in attendance were panic-stricken
and many fled. Some even renounced their belief in this new faith, but there were those that returned
and remained steadfast. Shortly thereafter, the conference broke up, but the Advent of the Qa'im had
Tahirih was arrested shortly after this and was imprisoned in Tehran under house arrest. Still she
taught this new religion, which included the principle of the equality of men and women. Many of the
women of Tehran came to learn from Tahirih, and the Cause of the Bab continued to spread. The end of
her teaching came in 1852 when she was sentenced to death by the Shah. Her reply to this sentence was,
"You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women."
Her death is described by `Abdu'l-Baha in the book, Memorials of the Faithful:
". . . she was sentenced to death. Saying she was summoned to the Prime Minister's, they arrived to
lead her away from the Kalántar's house. She bathed her face and hands, arrayed herself in a costly
dress, and scented with attar of roses she came out of the house.
They brought her into a garden, where the headsmen waited; but these wavered and then refused to end
her life. A slave was found, far gone in drunkenness; besotted, vicious, black of heart. And he
strangled Tahirih. He forced a scarf between her lips and rammed it down her throat. Then they lifted
up her unsullied body and flung it in a well, there in the garden, and over it threw down earth and
stones. But Tahirih rejoiced; she had heard with a light heart the tidings of her martyrdom; she set
her eyes on the supernal Kingdom and offered up her life.
Salutations be unto her, and praise. Holy be her dust, as the tiers of light come down on it from
Such was the life of one of the foremost women in Baha'i history. E.G. Browne of Cambridge University
"The appearance of such a woman as Tahirih in any country and in any age is a rare phenomenon, but in
such a country as Iran 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 incomparable and immortal amidst her countrywomen. Had the religion of the Bab no other
claim to greatness, this were sufficient - that it produced a heroine like Qurratu'l-Ayn. (another of
the titles given to Tahirih meaning "Solace of the Eyes").
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.
She was captured in 1852, along with other Babis, imprisioned and eventually executed that year.
Dressed in white silk, she had prepared for her death with fasting and prayers. She was strangled
with a silk handkerchief and then thrown into a well, later filled with stones and dirt.
Táhirih, Letter of the Living
Martha Root, (who incidentally, attended the Seneca Falls conference,just days after the Badasht
conference) in her book 'Tahirih the Pure' wrote:
"Through her fearless stand the balance is shifting, man and woman are becoming more equal.
Force, the old standard, is losing its dominance and intuition, insight, glimpses of cosmic
and the spiritual qualities of love and service in which woman is strong are gaining ascendancy."
What is a martyr?
Anyone familiar with the early Christian Church knows that Christianity's martyrs gladly accepted
persecution and death in order to carry the healing message of Jesus to the world.
The martyrs of the Bábí and Bahá'í Faiths were like that. They gladly accepted the ordeals heaped upon
them in order to carry first the Báb's message and then Bahá'u'lláh's message to the world.
Men, women, and children all drank from the cup of martyrdom in this Path. Among them, the woman known
as Táhirih stands as one of the greatest. In her biography of Táhirih, the great Bahá'í pioneer and
teacher Martha Root said,
"Bahá'u'lláh gave her the name of Táhirih which means the Pure One; her teacher in Karbilá, Siyyid
Kázim-i-Rashtí called her Qurratu'l-'Ayn which means Consolation of the Eyes;
[~ Martha Root, Táhirih the Pure, 1981 Kalimát Press, Los Angeles, p44 ~]
Táhirih was born in the city of Qazvím, Persia between 1817 and 1820. The exact date is unknown because
her birth records were burned together with her books and clothing the day after she was killed.
She was the daughter of Hájí Mullá Sálih, one of the most learned mullás in the land, and her uncle
Hájí Mullá Muhammad Taqí was the leader of prayers in the city's mosque.
Her father married her to a cousin, Mullá Taqí's son, when she was very young, perhaps only 13.
The couple had two sons and a daughter. From her earliest days Táhirih was a brilliant student,
excelling in literary subjects. Her father once lamented, "Would that she had been a boy, for he would
have shed illumination on my household, and would have succeeded me!"
In the years preceding the Báb's declaration of His mission, two learned men, Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsá'í and
his pupil Siyyid Kázim-i-Rashtí had attracted a following on account of their teaching that the time
for the appearance of the promised Qá'ím ("He Who Arises") had come.
Táhirih's father and uncle vehemently opposed this movement, but when she came upon some of the late
Shaykh Ahmad's writings in the library of one of her cousins, she became deeply interested and borrowed
them. Soon she was corresponding with Siyyid Kázim and had become convinced of the truth of his
teachings, which were based solidly upon the Qur'án and the Hadith (Traditions).
Her father and uncle argued strenuously against these teachings, but Táhirih defended them so well that
eventually her father, flustered, began to ridicule the Traditions themselves! After this, Táhirih
realized the futility of attempting to teach her father, and would no longer discuss religion with him.
In 1843, when she was between 23 and 26 years old and was already known as one of the most learned
women of her times, she traveled to Karbilá with her sister to meet Siyyid Kázim. But upon their
arrival they found that Siyyid Kázim had passed away a mere ten days before.
Despite this unfortunate event, his family invited her to stay with them and gave her access to his
writings, some of which had never been published. She then stayed in Karbilá, instructing the students
of Siyyid Kázim who had remained behind when he sent the others forth to seek the Qá'im. Since women
were prohibited from appearing publicly without a veil, she was obliged to sit behind a curtain while
One night Táhirih had a curious dream. She saw a young Siyyid (descendant of Muhammad) standing in the
air, reciting prayers. As she listened, she memorized his words. When she awoke, she could still
remember them and wrote them down.
On the night of May 22, 1844, the Báb declared His mission to Mullá Husayn in Shiráz, and in the course
of that night revealed the first part of His commentary on the Súrih of Joseph (a chapter of the
Qur'án). When the text of this reached Táhirih, she found that it contained the words she had remembered
and recorded from her dream! She immediately embraced the new religion and began to tell others about
Her activities soon drew the ire of the ulamá, who complained to the Governor. The Governor ordered
Táhirih arrested. First the wrong woman, a friend of Táhirih's, was arrested. When she learned of this,
Táhirih wrote a letter of protest to the Governor. The friend was released, but Táhirih's house was
put under surveillance for three months. The Governor attempted to secure orders from his superiors as
to what should be done next, but received no response.
Finally, Táhirih sent word to the Governor that she was going to go to Baghdád, and permission was given
. As her traveling party left the city, the townsfolk stoned them.