E. G. Browne's
"A Traveller's Narrative:" Note Q
The appearance of such a woman as Kurratu'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 marvellous beauty, her rare intellectual gifts, her fervid eloquence, her fearless devotion, and her glorious martyrdom, she stands forth incomparable and immortal amidst her countrywomen. Had the Bábí religion no other claim to greatness, this were sufficient - that it produced a heroine like Kurratu'l-'Ayn.
In this note I do not propose to repeat facts with which everyone who has studied the subject is acquainted, neither shall I attempt to re-tell a tale which has been already set forth by Gobineau in language far more eloquent than I can command. My purpose is merely to add such new particulars as I have been able to glean from the Tárikh-i-Jadíd and from oral tradition. Before proceeding to do this, I wish once more to call attention to the graceful poem by Marie von Najmájer whereof Kurratu'l-'Ayn is the heroine (see supra p. 207).
The following table, taken in conjunction with the remarks on pp. 197-198, supra, will sufficiently serve to indicate Kurratu'l-'Ayn's family relationships:-
Muhammad el-Burghani el-Kazvini.
| | |
Haji Mulla Muham- Haji Mulla Muham- Haji Mulla 'Ali,
mad Taki, called by mad Salih. who embraced
the Shi'ites Shahid-i | the Babi doc
-Thalith ('The Third | trines.
Mulla Muhmmad. = Kurratu'l-'Ayn.
The following particulars are derived from the Táríkh-i-Jadíd. During the life of Hájí Seyyid Kázim of Resht Kurratu'l-'Ayn visited Kerbelá, where she became acquainted not only with Seyyid Kázim himself, but with many of his chief followers, including Mullá Huseyn of Bushraweyh. When, on the death of Seyyid Kázim, Mullá Huseyn set out for Shíráz, Kurratu'l-'Ayn wrote a letter to him begging that should he succeed in finding the spiritual guide whom they were expecting (see pp. 239-240 supra) he would at once inform her. This letter Mullá Huseyn on his conversion placed in the hands of the Báb, who, recognizing the rare qualities and attainments of which it gave evidence, included its writer amongst the eighteen "Letters of the Living" (~~~) who composed the "First Unity" of the Bábí hierarchy.
Kurratu'l-'Ayn continued for some time at Kerbelá, where, seated behind a curtain, she used to lecture and preach to the disciples of the late Seyyid Kázim. The governor, becoming aware of this, wished to arrest her, but she hastily quitted Kerbelá without a passport and went to Baghdad, where she proceeded directly to the house of the chief Muftí, before whom she defended her creed and her conduct with great ability. The question whether she should be allowed to continue her teaching was submitted first to the Páshá of Baghdad and then to the central government, the result being that she was ordered to leave
Turkish territory. During her journey from Baghdad to Kirmánsháh and Hamadán she continued to preach, and made several converts to the Bábí faith, amongst these being Sheykh Sálih. the Arab, Sheykh Táhir, Mullá Ibrahím of Mahallát, and Sheykh Sultán the Arab. Certain of the Bábís, however, were at first disposed to regard her efforts with disapproval, and some of these even wrote to the Báb asking whether it was seemly for a woman to preach publicly to men. In reply the Báb not only sanctioned her preaching and applauded her zeal, but bestowed on her the title of Jenáb-i-Táhira ("Her Excellency the Pure"), whereupon those who had been disposed to censure her expressed contrition and penitence, and her high position in the Bábí church became uncontested.
From Hamadán Kurratu'l-'Ayn intended to go to Teherán, hoping, it is said, to be able to convert Muhammad Sháh himself; but her father Hájí Mullá Muhammad Sálih, being apprized of this plan, sent servants to intercept her and bring her home to Kazvín. Perhaps it was on her return thither that she was married to her cousin Mullá Muhammad the son of Hájí Mullá Muhammad Takí, but of the date when this marriage was contracted I can find no indication. At all events the marriage must have been a most unhappy one, for Mullá Muhammad seems fully to have shared his father's hatred of the Sheykhís and Bábís, and finally Kurratu'l-'Ayn refused to live with him any longer.
The position of Kurratu'l-'Ayn, sufficiently irksome and even precarious already, was rendered perilous in the highest degree by the death of her uncle at the hands of certain Bábís (see p. 198 supra). Some have hinted that Kurratu'l-'Ayn was privy to this assassination, but of this there is absolutely no proof, and we may be sure that, had there been any evidence of her complicity, the Musulmáns would not have failed to make use of it to rid themselves of one who was well known to be amongst the most zealous supporters of the Báb. As it was, she was brought before the governor of Kazvín, charged by her husband with complicity in the murder of his father, and acquitted. Several of the Bábís were arrested and tortured, until finally one - Mírzá Sálih. of Shíráz, according to the
Táríkh-i-Jadíd, Sálih. Táhir according to Subh-i-Ezel - confessed that he, alone and unabetted, had compassed the death of the murdered mujtahid, in proof of which he described in detail how the murder had been committed, and where the blood-stained knife with which the deed was done might be found. This Sálih. was sent to Teherán with several others suspected of complicity, but he succeeded in making his escape, fettered as he was, to Mázandarán, where he was subsequently killed at Sheykh Tabarsí. As to the others arrested, Táríkh-i-Jadíd and Subh-i-Ezel are not completely in accord. Both agree, however, that Sheykh Sálih. the Arab and Mullá Ibrahím of Mahallát (who, as we have already seen were amongst the first proselytes gained by Kurratu'l-'Ayn) were of their number. The first of these was killed at Teherán; the second was taken back to Kazvín, where, in company with another (Sheykh Táhir according to the Táríkh-i-Jadíd, Hájí Muhammad 'Alí according to Subh-i-Ezel), he was cruelly done to death by the populace. These were the first Bábís who were put to death in Persia. The Táríkh-i-Jadíd adds the name of another - an old man called Hájí Asadu'lláh - who died of cold and fatigue during his conveyance to Teherán.
Although Kurratu'l-'Ayn had been acquitted of all share in her uncle's death, it was clearly impossible for her to remain in Kazvín any longer, even had she desired to do so, which scarcely seems probable. She accordingly set out by way of Teherán for Khurásán, and was present at the celebrated meeting of the Bábí chiefs at Badasht (see Gobineau, pp. 180-184). From Badasht she turned back with Mullá Muhammad 'Alí of Bárfurúsh and his party towards Mázandarán. At this point the narrative of the Táríkh-i-Jadíd breaks off, neither is it, in spite of the author's promise, again renewed; while all other written histories are equally silent as to what befel Kurratu'l-'Ayn from the time that she separated from Mullá Muhammad 'Alí and his followers to the time when she was brought captive to Teherán and placed in the custody of Mahmúd Khán the Kalántar. From Subh-i-Ezel, however, I learned the following particulars. After separating from the Bábís who went to form the garrison of Sheykh Tabarsí, Kurratu'l-
'Ayn went to Núr, where she remained unmolested till the final suppression of the Mázandarán insurrection. She was then delivered up to the government authorities by the people of Núr and sent to Teherán. On her arrival there she was brought before Násiru'd-Din Sháh, who, on seeing her, said:-
[one line of Persian/Arabic text]
"I like her looks: leave her, and let her be."
She was accordingly placed under the custody of Mahmúd Khán the Kalántar, and in his house she remained till her execution in August A.D. 1852. Her imprisonment was not very rigorous, and she was occasionally seen by different Bábís under various pretexts. Her life, indeed, was in no jeopardy till the disastrous attempt on the Sháh's life by certain Bábís (see Note T infra and pp. 49-50 supra) made the mere profession of the Bábí faith a crime deserving not death only, but the most horrible tortures, and gave rise to that reign of terror which has been so vividly described by Gobineau (pp. 301-303), Lady Sheil (pp. 273-282), Polak (pp. 352-353), and Ussher (pp. 627-629). Even then Kurratu'l-'Ayn might, by abjuring her faith, have escaped death, and exchanged glorious martyrdom and immortal fame for a few brief years of life; but this her noble spirit scorned to do. That she met the cruel fate reserved for her with "superhuman fortitude" is a fact to which Dr Polak, who actually witnessed her execution, testifies in the following words:- "Ich war Zeuge von der Hinrichtung der Kurret el ayn, die vom Kriegsminister und seinen Adjutanten vollzogen wurde; die schšne Frau erduldete den langsamen Tod mit übermenschlicher StŠrke." In what manner death was inflicted I have not been able to learn. Gobineau says that she was burned, but that the executioner first strangled her; Subh-i-Ezel says that the accounts of her death are various, one being that she was strangled with the bowstring in the Bágh-i-Íl-Khání; some with whom I conversed in Persia stated that she was killed in the Bágh-i-Lálé-zár; others that she was cast into a dry well in the garden of the palace called Nigáristán,
which well was then filled up with stones. However this may be, we have it on Polak's authority that her death was painful and lingering, and that she met it as a heroine should do.
I was anxious to discover from Subh-i-Ezel whether it was true, as has often been alleged, that Kurratu'l-'Ayn discarded the veil. His reply, so far as I can remember, was as follows:- "It is not true that she laid aside the veil. Sometimes, when carried away by her eloquence, she would allow it to slip down off her face, but she would always replace it after a few moments."
Kurratu'l-'Ayn's fame as a poetess is great, but during my sojourn in Persia I only succeeded in obtaining three of the poems attributed to her, viz. two short but very beautiful ghazals and a long masnaví. Of one of these ghazals I published the Persian text with a translation into English verse in my second paper on the Bábís in the J. R. A. S. for 1889 (pp. 936-937 and 991). I now give the second, which, though its authorship is more disputed, certainly savours strongly of Bábí doctrines and modes of expression.
[half a page of Persian/Arabic text]
[half a page of Persian/Arabic text]
1 i.e. "Why do you hesitate to lay claim to a divine nature? Were you to do so, all of us would admit your claim." See Kur'án vii. 171, and B. ii., pp. 917-918 and note.
"The effulgence of thy face flashed forth and the rays of thy visage arose on high;
Why lags the word 'Am I not your Lord?' 'Yea, that thou art' let us make reply1
'Am I not's' appeal from thy drum to greet what 'Yeas' do the drums of devotion beat;
At the gate of my heart I behold the feet and the tents of the host of calamity2.
2 The following lines from a poem attributed to Nabíl express a similar idea:-
[two lines of Persian/Arabic text]
"If one should choose my path to go I will cry to him that he well may know
That none shall escape from grief and woe who is once afflicted with love for me."
That fair moon's love for me, I trow, is enough, for he laughed at the hail of woe,
1 i.e. Imám Huseyn, with whom the Báb repeatedly declares himself to be identical in essence.
And exulting cried as he sank below, 'The Martyr of Kerbelá am I.'1
When he heard my death-wail drear, for me he prepared, and arranged my gear for me,
He advanced to lament at my bier for me, and o'er me wept right bitterly.
What harm if thou with the fire of amaze should'st set my Sinai-heart ablaze.
Which thou first mad'st fast in a hundred ways but to shake and shatter so ruthlessly?2
To convene the guests to his feast of love all night from the angel-host above
Peals forth this summons ineffable 'Hail, sorrow-stricken community!'
Can a scale of the fish of amaze like thee aspire to sing of Being's Sea?
Sit still like Táhira, hearkening to what the monster of 'No' doth cry3."
2 i.e. "You first strengthened my heart with knowledge, and inspired it with zeal and enthusiasm; then you crushed and subdued it with love. Were it not well if you would now kindle on it, as on Mount Sinai, that fire whence comes the cry ~~~ 'Verily I am God'?" Cf. Kur'án xxviii. 30, and vii. 139.
3 i.e. "How can you, who are but as a scale on some little fish which swims wonderingly in the vast expanses of the sea, speak fittingly of the Ocean of Being? Sit still then, as I, Kurratu'l-'Ayn (Jenáb-i-Táhira), do, and listen to the roar of the monster, whale, crocodile, or Leviathan which continually cries ~~~ 'There is no God but me'." Some versions of this poem have ~~~ "Sit still like a parrot" &c. at the beginning of the second hemistich of this couplet.