Russia

Laura Barney, God’s Heroes, was the second play about the Bab in the West, this time, in the English-speaking world. (to see the original publication, click HERE)

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Laura Barney was the daughter of a prominent artist in Washington DC. She became a Baha’i in Paris where she studied and married the first French Baha’i, Hippolyte Dreyfus.

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She used her wealth to finance the travels of Baha’i teachers and compiled a long set of answers given by ‘Abdu’l-Baha to questions later published as Some Answered Questions, one of the most important sources for the explication of Baha’i teachings.

Laura Barney wrote God's Heroes in Paris, 1909, a city that was attracting many artists, poets, and writers because they wanted to experiment with creative expression and, as one artist put it, “If I was going to starve, I might as well starve where the food was good….” They were breaking the molds of the past, it also advocated lifestyles free of conventional morality.

Barney wrote this play because she was concerned that a known actress would bring Tahirih to the stage, in a way that would not reflect the dignity of a saintly figure like Tahirih. If she wrote the play first, others would not attempt to write about it themselves.

Click below for footage and photos from pre-WW1 Paris:

Click below to hear a lecture on the world of Laura Barney:

The Seven Proofs

On the other side of Europe in France, in 1905, the first full-length history of the Bab was published, Siyyid Ali Muhammad dit le Bab, by the French Consular official who served in Persia, A.L.M. Nicolas. Nicolas first came to know about the Bab because his father’s diplomatic service in Tihran overlapped with that of Gobineau. His father and Gobineau had gotten into a dispute over the nature of a manuscript acquired by the former. Nicolas found in his father’s papers a critique of Gobineau’s book on the religions of Central Asia, so he decided to research the subjects in the book, and, in this way, came into contact with the writings of the Bab. As he worked on understanding the Bab’s text, The Seven Proofs, he became so moved that he became a believer:

“My reflections on the strange book [The Seven Proofs by the Báb] that I had translated, filled me with a kind of intoxication and I became, little by little, profoundly and uniquely a Bábí. The more I immersed myself in these reflections, the more I admired the greatness of the genius of him who, born in Shíraz, had dreamt of uplifting the Muslim world….”

Nicolas wrote a thorough account based on Persian sources and observation of the history of the Bab and the Babi movement as well as translated three of the Bab’s major works. One appreciation by a later scholar stated:

“No European scholar has contributed so much to our knowledge of the life and teachings of the Bab as Nicolas. His study of the life of the Bab and his translations…remain of unsurpassed value.”

In his book, Nicolas 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 Mullas. 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.

Russia and the Baha'iFaith

Tahirih was the subject of a play, “The Bab,” put on in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in 1904. The playwright, Berta Friedberg, who went by the pen name Isabella Grinesvkaya, may have heard about the Bab from Ivan Turgenev, who was reported to have often spoke of the Bab.

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Leo Tolstoy read Grinesvkaya’s play and wrote to her expressing his admiration for the Baha’i teachings. Her work introduced the Bab and Baha’u’llah to Russians—she wrote a play on Baha’u’llah as well.

The five-act play (click here to read in Russian ) is a fanciful account of certain events from the life of the Bab as seen through the eyes of Tahirih. The Bab  proclaims himself to be the Bab, a ‘new man’, and speaks forcefully on the position of women in the Qur’an. At his execution, the Bab appears Christ-like. While not historical in any sense, Grinesvkaya’s play was celebrated in the press as a source of spiritual inspiration.

Grinesvkaya thought that the Baha’i Faith had disappeared until after her play appeared in 1903, when she received a letter from a Baha’i in Baku, Azerbaijan, requesting a copy of it. The subsequent correspondence showed her that there were active Baha’is in the world. She eventually became a Baha’i after moving to Constantinople which had a large Baha’i community.

For a history of the Baha’i Faith in Russia and Russian territories click here

Lord Curzon and Tahirih

Lord Curzon wrote an important book about Persia, Persia and the Persian Question (1892) in which he wrote an insightful summary of the Babi movement, including this 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.”

Lord Curzon was raised in typical British upper class fashion by disinterested parents, a tough governess whom he described as “a brutal and vindictive tyrant”, and a preparatory schoolmaster who used freely used corporal punishment. He attended Eton and Oxford where he was a gifted student.

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then travelled around the world. Based on these trips, he wrote several books including the popular Persia and the Persian Question.

He was made viceroy of India in 1898, the youngest ever. The position with all its pomp and circumstance, appealed to Curzon who liked public displays of importance.

He proved a capable and conscientious administrator. He made a thorough study of the condition of education in India, lowered taxes, and punished the misbehavior of Englishmen towards Indians. He travelled extensively along the frontiers with Tibet and funded the restoration of the Taj Mahal, taking a personal interest in India’s cultural heritage.

In India, Lord Curzon walked this beautiful high-altitude Himalayan trail known as the Kuari pass trek:

During his years there, a terrible famine broke out. Though Curzon organized famine relief including investments in irrigation, he also drew criticism for not doing enough because he though too much assistance would be counter-productive. For more information on the famine in India, 1899-1900, click HERE.

Eventually, he fell out of favor politically and spent much time buying and renovating castles using the considerable wealth his wife brought to the marriage. His last major political assignment was serving under Lloyd George as Foreign Secretary during the World War I years. 

Click below for footage of Lord Curzon at the end of his life:

EG Browne

E.G. Browne was one of the most important European scholars of Persian. He sought to bridge the Western and Persian worlds. The outbreak of the Russo-Turkish war aroused a lifelong interest in the near East because he sympathized with the underdog Turks.

Browne had a humanistic outlook and may have become attracted to the teachings of the Bab and Baha’u’llah. He read about Babism in Gobineau’s book and came to admire the Bab.

He undertook a year-long trip through Persia in 1887-8, in great part to research Babi/Baha’i origins by meeting believers and finding original manuscripts.

One of the results of this trip was the travel book, A Year Amongst the Persians, in which Browne described Persian society with both great learning and sympathy. He described the Baha’i gatherings:

“The memory of those assemblies can never fade from my mind; the recollection of those faces and those tones no time can efface. I have gazed with awe on the workings of a mighty Spirit, and I marvel whereunto it tends.”

Though it did not receive much attention during Browne’s life, A Year Among the Persians came be seen as a classic of English travel literature.

Another important piece of work from this trip was Browne’s translation of a history of the Babi and Baha’i Faiths, A Traveller’s Narrative, written by the son of the prophet founder of the Baha’i Faith, ‘Abdu’l-Baha. In it, he praised and made this definitive assessment of Tahirih:

“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….Had the Bábí religion no other claim to greatness, this were sufficient--that it produced a heroine like Qurratu'l-'Ayn."

Browne wrote several about the new religion for the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain. In one he describes the difficulty of finding information and documents related to Tahirih:

“Anxious as I was to obtain some of her poems, I only met with a very limited amount of success.…it must be borne in mind that the odium which attaches to the name of Babi amongst Persian Muhamadans would render impossible the recitation by them of verses confessedly composed by her.…that many poems written by Kurratu’l-‘Ayn were amongst the favorite songs of the people, who were for the most part unaware of their authorship. Open allusions to the Bab had, of course, been cut out or altered, so that no one could tell the source from whence they came.”

Tahirih in Urdu

In the 20th century, over one-hundred authors, most writing in Urdu, wrote books, articles, and short stories about Tahirih.

A renowned journalist wrote in a Karachi newspaper: “There would seldom be any poet of the Urdu language who would not have said a poem following the style of Tahirih.”

The Urdu Encyclopedia of Islam published in 1964, and another Urdu encyclopedia in 1984, noted about Tahirih: “To summarize, she was matchless in the art of poetry.”

For a brief history of Urdu click: 

Several of the mentions of Tahirih were due to her having been one of the subjects of the great thinker Muhammad Iqbal. Prof. Jagannath Azad, an expert on Iqbal, travelled to the United States and remembered:

“When I reached the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar (Baha’i Temple) of Chicago, I was charmed by the            atmosphere and freshness of its gardens. My friend Iftekhar Nasim chanted for me the poem of Qurratu’l-Ayn Tahirih “Gar bat u Uftadam Nazar…” and I lose myself in its melody and felt the same feeling that she cherished for the founder of the Baha’i Faith.”

For a brief history of the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette click here:

At the University of Punjab—the oldest university in a majority Muslim area of the Indian subcontinent[i]—two dissertations and a paper on Iqbal’s thought included Tahirih. An entire book published in Peshawar, Iqbal Aur Qurratu’l-Ayn, by another scholar, Dr. Syed Chiragh Hussain Shah, was devoted to the relationship between Iqbal and Tahirih.[ii]

University of Punjab photo

Tahirih was also the subject of short stories. Prof. Aziz Ahmad, a much-respected writer, wrote a short story about her, “Zarrin Taj,” which was published in a monthly literary magazine in Lahore. It was given a dramatic reading on Radio Pakistan in Rawalpindi, in 1963. Sheikh Manzoor Elahi, another well-respected short story writer produced a piece titled, “Qurratu’l-Ayn,” which appeared in print in Lahore in 1965.

[i] “University of the Punjab,” University of the Punjab, accessed November 1, 2013,

http://pu.edu.pk/page.

[ii] Afaqi, “Qurratu’l-‘Ayn Tahirih in Urdu literature,” 34.

Rabindranath Tagore

On her trips through India to teach about the Baha’i Faith, Martha Root noted that many people could recite the poetry of Tahirih. Among the people she may have met was the great poet Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Rabindranath Tagore.

Using information from her 1930 trip to Iran where she met Tahirih’s family, she began a short biography, Tahirih, The Pure. In early March, 1938, she finished this book at the home of the first Baha’i of Hindu background, N.R. Vakil.

Martha Root had 3,000 copies of it printed in Karachi and mailed many to prominent Indians. The book was translated into Persian, Czech, Urdu, and Japanese. In Urdu, it went through at least three editions.

Martha Root had hoped that Tahirih and the Baha’i teachings would become better known this way and wrote that she hoped friends would speak about Tahirih in all possible venues so that Tahirih would go on a, “…teaching tour around the world….”

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Muhammad Iqbal

In 1902, a Baha’i came to Lahore to spread the Baha’i teachings and met one of the most influential Indians of the early 20th century, Muhammad Iqbal. He was a much admired poet who wrote in both Urdu and Persian and a philosopher-activist who would become one of the founders of Pakistan.

In 1930, Iqbal met Martha Root who presented him with a collection of Tahirih’s poems in Urdu. He later spoke with reverence of Tahirih and that he was including her in his long poem about the spiritual journey.

In this poem Iqbal journeys through the skies where he meets three important holy figures, one of whom is Tahirih. In the first section of the “Song of Tahira,” their spiritual ardor appeals to his own inner longings:

“If ever confronting face to face my glance should alight on you

I will describe to you my sorrow for you in the minutest detail

That I may behold your cheek, like the zephyr I have visited

house by house, door by door, lane by lane, street by street.

Through separation from you my heart’s blood is flowing

From my eyes

river by river, sea by sea, fountain by fountain, stream by stream,

My sorrowful heart wove your love into the fabric of my soul

thread by thread, thrum by thrum, warp by warp, woof by woof.

Tahira repaired to her own heart, and saw none but you

page by page, fold by fold, veil by veil, curtain by curtain.”

To learn more about Tahirih, read The Calling, available at this web site.

To India

A steady stream of Babis and Baha’is brought the Faith to India. One of the Bab’s Letters of the Living, Shaykh Sa’id-i Hindi, reached Multan—in today’s Pakistan—as early as 1844. Multan was a center of Islamic mystical practice. 

 One of the converts to the new faith was Basir-i-Hindi, a blind man of the Multan area who had great spiritual and intellectual qualities.

 For a tour of the Islamic sites of Multan, Pakistan, click below

The Bab’s uncle Siyyid Ali’s cloth business had made many contacts in Bombay, India. It was probably in 1870 that a business by the name of “Haji Siyyid Mirza Mahmood Afnan & Co.,” was founded and, later, a printing press, the Nasiri Printing Press, to publish the Babi and Baha’i holy writings. The new teachings could now be spread from Bombay to the rest of India and Burma. It became the first major center of Baha’i activity in the Indian subcontinent.

For a street scene in Bombay filmed a few decades after the arrival of the Babis there, click below:

 

In 1889, Tahirih’s work was first mentioned in India in a compilation of Persian poetry edited by ‘Abdulghafur Nassakh, and published in Calcutta. The first academician to write about her was Prof. M Hidayat Hossein who was the secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society in Calcutta.

 For background on the importance of the Royal Asiatic Society

Rossetti and Tahirih

One of the more unusual mentions in the West of Tahirih was made by William Rossetti, brother of the famous 19th-century English poet, Christina Rossetti, in The Dublin University Magazine, March 1878.

He was lecturing on the poem, “The Revolt of Islam,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. The poem features a spiritual reformer aided by his influential female companion. Rossetti connected the poem with the Bab:

“…the very singular and striking resemblance which the invented story of the “Revolt of Islam,” written in 1817, bears to some historical events of much more recent date in Persia. I refer to the career of the sect named the Babys, founded by a young man, a native of Shiraz—Mirza-Ali-Muhamad, who in 1843, was a student in a theological school.”

Rossetti writes that Tahirih had an “almost magical influence over large masses of the population.” To Rossetti, Shelley’s characters seem to prefigure both the lives of the Bab and Tahirih and the great changes following the French Revolution.

William Rossetti was a member of the secret Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood that sought a mora naturalistic approach to painting and to challenge the established formal art conventions.

Click below for a sample of Christina Rossetti’s poem “Remember” set to music:

Reading of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandius”

Bridge from the West to the East

E.G. Browne was one of the most important European scholars of Persian. He sought to bridge the Western and Persian worlds. The outbreak of the Russo-Turkish war aroused a lifelong interest in the near East because he sympathized with the underdog Turks.

(click HERE to learn more about the Russo-Turkish war)

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Browne had a humanistic outlook and may have become attracted to the teachings of the Bab and Baha’u’llah. He read about Babism in Gobineau’s book and came to admire the Bab.

He undertook a year-long trip through Persia in 1887-8, in great part to research Babi/Baha’i origins by meeting believers and finding original manuscripts.

browne color.jpg

One of the results of this trip was the travel book, A Year Amongst the Persians, in which Browne described Persian society with both great learning and sympathy. He described the Baha’i gatherings:

  “The memory of those assemblies can never fade from my mind; the recollection of those faces and those tones no time can efface. I have gazed with awe on the workings of a mighty Spirit, and I marvel whereunto it tends.”

Though it did not receive much attention during Browne’s life, A Year Among the Persians came be seen as a classic of English travel literature.

(To read A Year Amongst the Persians, click HERE)

Another important piece of work from this trip was Browne’s translation of a history of the Babi and Baha’i Faiths, A Traveller’s Narrative, written by the son of the prophet founder of the Baha’i Faith, ‘Abdu’l-Baha. In it, he praised and made this definitive assessment of Tahirih:
     “...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….Had the Bábí religion no other claim to greatness, this were sufficient--that it produced a heroine like Qurratu'l-'Ayn."

To read A Traveller’s Narrative, click HERE

Browne wrote several articles about the new religion for the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain. In one he describes the difficulty of finding information and documents related to Tahirih:

    “Anxious as I was to obtain some of her poems, I only met with a very limited amount of success.…it must be borne in mind that the odium which attaches to the name of Babi amongst Persian Muhamadans would render impossible the recitation by them of verses confessedly composed by her.…that many poems written by Kurratu’l-‘Ayn were amongst the    favorite songs of the people, who were for the most part unaware of their  authorship. Open allusions to the Bab had, of course, been cut out or altered, so that no one could tell the source from whence they came.”

To learn more about the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain, click HERE.

First account of the Bab in North America

The first account of the religion of the Bab appeared in North America in 1866. Wendell Phillips Garrison, son of the most famous abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, wrote the article “A New Religion,” in The Nation.

The Bab was described as “addicted to religious thought and novel ideas,” as having “great physical beauty, great simplicity of manners, and sweetness of character,” and that he “resolved upon the destruction of Islam.” Most of the details related to the Bab were not accurate.

Tahirih was described as one of, “the most striking apparitions to shed lustre on Babism.” She had “extraordinary beauty,” “eloquence,” and “purity of manners,” and she “preach­­­­­­ed the abolition of veiling and polygamy.”

Garrison commented on the “oriental” nature of the Bab’s teachings as being progressive by Persian standards of the time, reflecting the “orientalist” bias of Europeans:

“The re-birth in this system of the mystical fancies and many of the puerile superstitions of Oriental superstitions of Oriental antiquity, in combination with some of the most modern and most advanced ideas of the Western mind, is a very curious spectacle.”

He wonders whether Babis will join the growing nationalist movement and call for an armed uprising or become obsolete. There is no mention of the role of the Bab’s role as forerunner of Baha’u’llah.

Click below for an excellent documentary on the abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison.

Suffragettes from Turkey

Prof. Thomas Kelly Cheyne, a Biblical scholar and Oxford Professor, wrote an account of the Bab’s life in 1914 that included the story of Tahirih in “The Reconciliation of races and religions.”

Possibly as a result of his study, he became a Baha’i. He wrote in his chapter on Tahirih that she had an exalted position:

“Indeed, the only difference in human beings is that some realize more, and some less, or even not at all, the fact of the divine spark in their composition. Ḳurratu'l 'Ayn certainly did realize her divinity.”

According to a biographer, Cheyne:

“…was in intimate relations with the founder of the Bahaist Movement and with his son. He held that peace among nations could be secured only through religious union. Each of the great religions of the present day, he thought, might learn from the others, and a common faith would make all men brothers.”

In his chapter he recounted an interesting episode about suffragettes from Turkey who were banished to Akka:

“The poetess (i.e. Tahirih) was a true Bahaite. More than this; the harvest sown in Islamic lands by Ḳurratu'l 'Ayn is now beginning to appear. … forty Turkish suffragettes are being deported from Constantinople to Akka (so long the prison of Baha-'ullah): '"During the last few years suffrage ideas have been spreading quietly behind in the harems. … the men of Constantinople have thought it necessary to resort to drastic measures. Suffrage clubs have been organized, … Then one day the members of these clubs—four hundred of them—cast away their veils.These four hundred liberty-loving women were divided into several groups. One group composed of forty have been exiled to Akka, and will arrive in a few days. (italics added here)…"”

In 1913, there was a great rise in activism for the advancement of women in Turkey. During the late Ottoman period/early 1900s, there was a proliferation of associations to defend the rights of women, to open hospitals and schools, to assert the rights of women without disregarding traditional values, to participate in working life and begin businesses for women, to found a university for women, to advocate for women’s suffrage, and to publish women’s periodicals which called for a Constitutional form of government. At the core of these associations were two ideas: the importance of educating women and the assertion and defense of the rights of women within the family and in public life.

Read Cheyne's The Reconciliation of Races and Religions HERE

The Women's movement in Turkey

 

           

Marie von Najmájer, Austrian writer and activist

After the publication of Gobineau’s book Religions and Philosophies of Central Asia which introduced the Bab to many in the West, other works on the Bab appeared which included Tahirih:

·       Marie von Najmájer, an Austrian writer and activist for the advancement of women, wrote the first literary work or poem to use Tahirih as a character,[i]Gurret-ül-Eyn. (A picture from the Persian modern times in 6 Songs),” published in 1874. Many decades later, Marianna Hainisch, mother of a President of Austria, heard of Tahirih from Martha Root, and professed: “I shall try to do for the women of Austria what Tahirih gave her life to do for the women of Persia.”

[i] Momen, The Bábí and Bahá’í Religions, 47.

Marie von Najmájer (3 February 1844 in Buda, Hungary – 25 July 1904 in Bad Aussee (Styria), Austria) - was an Austrian novelist and poet. Daughter of a Hungarian royal hofrat Franz von Najmájer. In 1852 she moved to Vienna with her mother. She was an activist of the Association for Women's Education in Vienna (Verein für erweiterte Frauenbildung in Wien).

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European intellectuals

The book which introduced the Bab to a generation of European intellectuals was Religions and philosophies of Central Asia, by Joseph Arthur, Compte de Gobineau (1816-1882), published in 1865. Gobineau was a French writer and diplomat posted in Persia during the time of the Bab who developed a great interest in the country’s history. This work contained the first extensive account of the Babi religion and early history of the faith. He had come into possession of the only manuscript of a history of the Babi Faith which had been written by Haji Mirza Jani.

Gobineau wrote this description of Tahirih:

“…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.”[i]

“…she consecrated herself fully to her Apostleship of the Bab 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.”[ii]

Gobineau’s other legacy is as a leading contributor to the 19th century European quest to base ideas of racial superiority and inferiority on science which today have been completely rejected as pseudo-scientific but were widely accepted in that period.

The young Gobineau watched his family collapse in disgrace with his parents separating and his mother arrested for fraud. As a young man, Gobineau chafed against his circumstances. Despite being an aristocratic but struggled to earn a living as a writer and political activist. He loathed the ideas of equality spawned by the French Revolution—commoners were an inferior type of people--but also saw the French aristocracy as largely corrupt and useless.

He developed racial theories that were an extension of his romantic conservative view of history, of a past bygone age when good aristocrats ruled society. While in his lifetime he was known as a travel writer and a diplomat, he was later remembered for his ideas on the superiority of Aryan races over non-Aryan races.

Click below 1) for a video on the history of the Bab and a little about the world in which he lived and 2)  a video on the roots of German fascist ideology including the ideas of Gobineau:

Tahirih in the West: Earliest mentions (2)

Lady Mary Sheil was the first woman to publish a mention of Tahirih.  It appeared in her Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia, published in 1856, and thought to be the first such work about Persia written by woman. Read it here.

http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/sheil/persia/persia.html  

She includes accounts of the Bab and the Babi Faith and describes Tahirih and her death:

“There was still another victim. This was a young woman, the daughter of a moolla in Mazenderan, who, as well as her father, had adopted the tenets of the Bab. The Babees venerated her as a prophetess; and she was styled Khooret-ool-eyn, which Arabic words are said to mean, Pupil of the eye. After the Babee insurrection had been subdued in the above province, she was brought to Tehran and imprisoned, but was well treated. When these executions took place she was strangled. This was a cruel and useless deed.”[i]

The first book about the history of the Bab and his followers in a Western language was The Báb and the Bábis: Religious and Political Unrest in Persia in 1848-1852, written in Russian by Aleksandr Kazem-Bek, and published in 1865. Kazem-Bek was a philologist who straddled the Russian and Persian worlds; he was born in Persia, died in St. Petersburg and was of Azerbaijani origin. He wrote his first book—-on the subject of Arabic grammar—at age 17 and later converted to Christianity. (Momen)

[i] Lady Mary Sheil, Glimpses of life and manners in Persia, quoted in Farzaneh Milani, Veils and Words, The emerging voices of Iranian women writers (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1992), 97.

Tahirih in the West: Earliest mentions

The persistent, widespread, and long-term efforts to prevent the spread of the Babi Faith in Persia and later, the suppression of the Baha’i Faith and destruction of its institutions, failed completely. The Baha’i Faith today is a major independent and growing world religion with a unique international administration.

So spread the memory of the great mystic and poet, Tahirih, one of the early Apostles of the Bab, whose life of faith formed a moving narrative in the story of Baha’i origins.

Her name travelled westward almost immediately after her execution.

The first known mention of her execution was made by Sir Justin Sheil, who served as the representative of Queen Victoria to the royal court in Persia, in this dispatch dated August 22nd, 1852:

“Among those who have suffered death was a young woman, the daughter of a Teacher of the Law in Mazanderan of great celebrity who has been three years in confinement in Tehran. She was venerated as a prophetess by the Babees, and her designation among them was ‘Koorat ool ain’ – ‘Pupil of the eye.’ She has been strangled by the Shah’s order. The Sedr Azim has opposed some of these acts, but the Shah’s anger and vindictiveness have not allowed him to pay attention to advice.”[i]

Queen Victoria had been the recipient of a Tablet from Baha’u’llah in which she was praised for ending the slave trade and for trusting the reins of leadership in the hands of the people

“We have also heard that thou hast entrusted the reins of counsel into the hands of the representatives of the people. Thou, indeed, hast done well, for thereby the foundations of the edifice of thine affairs will be strengthened, and the hearts of all that are beneath thy shadow, whether high or low, will be tranquillized.” (173)

The next day, Prince Dolgorukov, the Russian ambassador to Persia sent this dispatch:

“…For a long time there has been imprisoned in Tihran under the surveillance of Mahmud Khan, Chief of Police, a Babi woman (Tahirih). In spite of this she apparently found means daily to gather around herself many members of her sect. She was strangled in a garden in the presence of Ajudan-Bashi….”[ii]

Queen Victoria’s long reign dominated the history of the 19th century British Empire, so much so that this period is called the “Victorian Age”. Click below to see original photos and footage of Queen Victoria.

[i] Moojan Momen, The Babi and Baha’i Religions, 1844-1944, Some Contemporary Western Accounts (Oxford, UK: George Ronald, 1981), 135.

[ii] Ibid., 143.

Visiting Tahirih's home

In January 1930, Martha Root, an American Baha’i who travelled the world to spread the Faith, stepped into the room of the home in Qazvin, Iran, in which Tahirih had been born and knelt and kissed the floor.

She was the first Western Baha’i ever to visit this place where the great mystic had lived.

The descendants of Tahirih were shocked to see this woman from the west paying deep homage to their long-deceased relative. The owner of the hotel where Martha Root was staying had reprimanded one of them saying that they should have done more to memorialize her when an American had come from so far to pay homage to her.

Tahirih’s family’s home still retained its appearance as a beautiful old palace. Martha Root was shown the women’s quarters in which Tahirih was born and the library on the second floor where she had read so many books.

Having had an audience with Queen Marie of Romania and travelling for the Faith throughout Europe, she continued onwards on her travels despite poor health to China and India and passing away in Hawaii. Shoghi Effendi, the appointed Head of the Baha’i Faith (1921-1953), referred to her as the foremost Baha’i teacher of the first Baha’i century (1844-1944).

With the spread of the Baha’i Faith, awareness and appreciation of the life, work, and sacrifice pf Tahirih spread beyond Iran to the rest of the world. The attempt in that country to wipe away her traces Tahirih by destroying her personal records after her execution had failed.

To hear Martha Root read a prayer click here

To see footage of Queen Marie of Romania click here

Emerging

The women’s rights movement emerged within other reform movements such as abolitionism. Its push to gain the right to vote was highly unpopular in the country and brought much hostility—including from many women.

Spiritualism created a huge audience for the advancement of women’s rights as the women’s rights agenda ideas travelled throughout the spiritualist network of lectures, newspapers, books, and organizations for several decades.

The women’s rights movement did not have a formal organization. The first National Women’s Rights Convention was held in Worcester, Massachusetts, in October 1850. Paula Wright Davis, the wealthy widow of a merchant organized it.

Around one-thousand people—most of them men—came to hear the wide variety of reformers she had invited including Harriot Hunt, the first woman accepted to Harvard Medical School—she could not attend because the male students objected, and Wendell Phillips, an abolitionist who also worked for Indian causes.

Davis hoped that the discussions would be civil, but things got loud as the participant argued passionately about the issues: access to higher education, greater employment opportunities for women, reorganizing duties in the home, and opening trades and profession to women.

This was the first large public appearance for the gifted orator Lucy Stone. Life could be very hard for a women’s rights activities. Before getting there, she had been nursing her brother who soon died of cholera in front of her, then she left with her very pregnant sister-in-law who gave birth prematurely to a still born child, and while nursing her back to health, she contracted typhoid fever, causing her to drift in and out of consciousness for days. She survived and made it to the Convention, the success of which greatly lifted her spirits.

Click first for an excellent summary of the woman’s suffrage movement in the US

 

Overview of the Baha’i teachings on the equality of men and women

Faith and Healing

Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910) was the only woman to found a major Christian denomination.

One of six children, Mary loved her mother deeply, coming to believe that God had both male and female characteristics like those she experienced from her mother. Her stern father insisted that his daughters receive an education.

In the 1840s, she became a journalist, a difficult professional path for women, but her poems were soon being published. She married George Glover but after they moved to South Carolina, he died suddenly leaving her alone and with little money and a child.

Seven years of poverty followed. Her beloved mother died, and her father remarried soon, shocking Mary. She was sickly and could not take care of her boy and placed him with the family nurse who, unbeknownst to her.

She desperately needed a husband and married Daniel Patterson, a dentist, whom she met while trying to treat her severe dental problems. But he was a poor provider and a philanderer and soon the couple was in poverty. Mary began to exhibit hysteria and experience back and stomach pain.

The impoverished couple moved from town to town. Her husband did not allow her son to live with them and he was relocated to Minnesota. Mary began to turn away from the world.

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After reading homeopathic materials, she began to consider ‘mental’ solutions to her illnesses and came to associate with Dr. Phineas P. Quimby who explored alternative ‘sciences’ of healing such as mesmerism, a form of hypnotism with clairvoyance. The good health she experienced with Quimby did not last and she began to develop ideas of her own. To Mary, God was at the center. He was the healer and the healing principle was Divine.

She came to rely on a God beyond human comprehension. In early 1864, she gave a well-received public talk regarding the metaphysical dimensions of healing and began to think that there must be a ‘science’ of Christianity.

Her life changed in 1866 when she slipped on ice, badly injuring herself. Helpless in bed that Sunday afternoon, she asked that a Bible be brought to her. While reading it, she felt flooded by the presence of Jesus Christ. When the doctor came the next day, she was up and about.

This was the beginning of her Christian Science.

Though forty-five and poor, she wrote extensively on her new analysis of the Bible. A group of students gathered around her to learn her ideas on healing and she built a practice around these ideas.

Her foundational text on her Christian Science, Science and Health, was published in 1875. Through many revisions this text was an audacious effort by a woman to set forth serous theological ideas despite her lack of any classical education.

She believed that the natural state of human beings was wellness and that sickness could be eliminated by following the laws and examples of Jesus. The soul was more powerful than the body. Her teachings shocked many Christians.

The Christian Science movement grew, and in 1879, the Church of Christ, Scientist, was founded, and a mother church built in Boston with Mary as its pastor. She became now the object of numerous public attacks. She was ridiculed by prominent Americans such as Mark Twain, who described Eddy as a, “sordid and ignorant old purloiner of that gospel.”

Mary Baker Eddy’s life was an extraordinarily rocky ride from a sickly farm girl to being the only female founder of a major Christian denomination, as well as a deep theological thinker, charismatic teacher, administrator and leader.

See below for a biography of Mary Baker Eddy and a musical version of the Baha'i 'Healing Prayer'