Release the Sun
A WONDER AMONG WOMEN
One of the most courageous of all the followers of the Bab was a woman. She was among His chosen disciples. She was known as Tahirih, which means "The Pure One." The members of her family ranked high among the religious leaders of Persia. Her father was one of the most famous of all. From her earliest childhood, she was regarded by her fellow-townsmen as a prodigy. Her knowledge and gifts were so outstanding that her father often was heard to lament, "Would that she had been born a boy, for he would have shed illumination upon my household, and would have succeeded me."[F1] She was renowned for both her intelligence and her beauty. Her brother, `Abdu'l-Vahhab said, "None of us, her brothers or her cousins dared to speak in her presence, her learning so intimidated us; and if we ventured to express some hypothesis upon a disputed point of doctrine, she demonstrated in such a clear, precise and conclusive manner that we were going astray, that we instantly withdrew confused."[F2] A. L. M. Nicolas' historical account tells us that "her reputation became universal throughout Persia, and the most haughty `Ulamas [scholars] consented to adopt some of her hypotheses and opinions." One day while visiting in the home of her cousin, she discovered some books in his library which interested her very much. They were written by Shaykh Ahmad and his successor, Siyyid Kazim.
Her cousin warned her that her father would be very displeased if he found her reading them. "He is opposed to these modern thinkers," he told her. However, she persuaded him, and took the books home to study. Her father raised violent objections, had heated discussions with her, and criticized and denounced the writings of Shaykh Ahmad. She eagerly read all of their books that she could find. Shaykh Ahmad was dead, but Siyyid Kazim was still living in Karbila, so Tahirih began corresponding with him. His letters excited in her an ever keener interest in the coming of a promised Messenger. She had a great longing to go to Karbila to study under Siyyid Kazim. She knew that her father would never grant his permission. However, with the help of her uncle, she secured permission to visit the shrines at Karbila and Najaf. Her family willingly granted permission for this, believing that a pilgrimage might bring her back to her senses and to more orthodox ways. They did not suspect that her true purpose in going was to meet Siyyid Kazim. She made the journey in 1843. She looked forward to studying under Siyyid Kazim. During those days she thought only of his promise: the approaching appearance of a new spiritual Teacher in the world. Tahirih told her uncle that she wished to be the first woman to serve Him when He appeared. "Oh, when will the day come," she said, "when new laws will be revealed on earth! I shall be the first to follow those new Teachings and to give my life for my sisters!"[F3] Tahirih's grief was very deep when she reached Karbila and found that Siyyid Kazim had died just ten days before her arrival. Her sorrow softened when she was permitted to stay in his home, and was given access to all his writings, some of which had never been published. She studied them eagerly. In each one of them she discovered that same thrilling promise of a great Figure soon to appear on earth. While she was in Karbila, Tahirih met Mulla Husayn who was just starting out on his search for the Promised One. Her hopes were set ablaze. She, like Mulla Husayn, spent her time in prayer and meditation. One night in a dream, a young man appeared before her. He raised his hands toward heaven and in a beautiful voice recited
many wonderful verses, one of which she wrote down. She awakened with a feeling of joy which flooded her being. One day, some time later, a friend placed in her hands certain writings of the Bab. As her eyes looked down upon a page, she discovered the exact same words she had written down from her dream. To her intense delight she realized that the Message of the Author was true. Tahirih wrote immediately to the Bab, telling Him that she believed Him to be that promised Messenger foretold in all the holy Books, and so long and eagerly awaited. To the one who delivered the letter for her, she added: "Say to Him, from me, `The effulgence of Thy face hath flashed forth, and the rays of Thy visage arose on high. Then speak the word, "Am I not your Lord?" and "Thou art, Thou art!" we will all reply.'"[F4] Her acceptance of the Bab brought immediate and violent protests from her father, her uncle, her husband, and her brothers. Because of the illustrious name of her family, they all tried to quiet her and to curb her teaching. Tahirih was aflame with the message of the Bab. She won many to His Faith in Karbila. The following description has been recorded of her early days of teaching in that city: "All who met her were ensnared by her bewitching eloquence and felt the fascination of her words. None could resist her charm; few could escape the contagion of her belief. All testified to the extraordinary traits of her character, marveled at her amazing personality, and were convinced of the sincerity of her convictions."[F5] Tahirih was not content with a passive sympathy for the Faith of the Bab. She openly confessed her belief in Him. She tried to awaken those around her to the coming of a great new day in the affairs of all mankind. Many people began to share her enthusiasm and flocked to listen to her. When the learned religious leaders of Karbila learned that she was an ardent follower of the Bab and was teaching His Faith in the very center of their religious life, they complained bitterly to the government. They were especially angered when Tahirih wanted to celebrate the birthday of the Bab which fell within the month of the commemoration of the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn. She discarded her mourning garb and attired herself in clothes which showed her happiness.[F6]
Officials were dispatched at once to arrest her, but they seized a friend of hers by mistake. Tahirih wrote immediately to the governor and told him that she was the one for whom they were looking and to release her friend. The governor put Tahirih's residence under guard so that no one could go in or out for three months.[F7] Her family heard of these happenings and tried to persuade her to return to Qazvin. Failing in this, they urged her to be more calm and reserved and not let her conduct reflect on the good name of the family. Word came to her that the disciples of the Bab were gathering for a great conference in Khurasan, Persia, so Tahirih started on her way immediately. Before her departure from Karbila she unburdened her heart by writing a letter to each of the priests of that city, condemning their bigotry. These leaders gave to women a rank little higher than that of animals and even denied them the possession of a soul. Tahirih ably defended her Faith in this letter and exposed their unjust and backward views.[F8] She stopped at Baghdad enroute eastward. She was accompanied from Karbila by the mother and sister of Mulla Husayn in whom she had kindled a great love for the Faith. The very day that Tahirih arrived in Baghdad she began teaching the Cause. She spoke with such power and eloquence that those who had seen and heard her before she became a follower of the Bab were amazed. They said: "This is not the same woman we knew before." Her lectures began to attract very large audiences from among the peoples of all religions. One of the most outstanding of her characteristics was her ability to arouse a keen desire in her listeners to investigate the truth of the Bab's mission for themselves. Within a short time her extraordinary attraction had won many supporters. A large number had followed her from Karbila to Baghdad in order to attend her classes. The priests of Baghdad became aroused as her words began to woo away their own followers. She was emptying their classes. Many rose up against her, so she challenged them publicly. Through the governor she invited them all to meet her in a great public discussion upon the truth or falsehood of the Bab's Faith. They
refused, made excuses, and instead complained to the government about the revolution she was stirring up. The following story is told of a Jewish physician, Hakim masih, who in the company of the king, passed through Baghdad on his way to Karbila. One day he came upon a large group of people, mostly priests, listening to a lecture by a woman who was sitting veiled from their sight behind a curtain. He went in to listen. As soon as she finished, they began arguing with her. Her speech was so logical and convincing that the doctor was very much attracted. The priests were unable to answer her proofs. He was very astonished and soon he became convinced that this woman was right. He thought that this magic speaker must be the Promised One of Whom everyone was speaking. He attended her lectures and learned of the Message of the Bab, and believed in Him. Thus, a Jew who had passed by the wonderful message of both Christ and Muhammad was won over to the Faith of the Bab by the eloquence and logic of Tahirih. Now he believed in both Christ and Muhammad, and all the messengers of God.[F9] One day a delegation of the ablest religious leaders of Baghdad came to see Tahirih. Her popularity had grown so astonishingly that they became alarmed at the effect she might have upon their people and united against her. This delegation had representatives from the two leading sects of Islam, and from the Jewish and Christian communities as well. Their mission was to silence her. "We have come," they informed her, "to convince you of the folly of your actions, and to turn you from your purpose." Prior to this meeting, these religious leaders had thought of Tahirih as a gifted woman whose enthusiasm for something new had overleaped the bounds of moderation. Her popularity, they felt sure, was based on novelty, but once she came face to face with a group of such eminent religious leaders, she would be subdued and once more resume her humble place as a woman. They were unprepared for her reckless indifference to their combined wisdom and her cool appraisal of their motives. Following that meeting they looked upon her as a dangerous and powerful adversary. Tahirih was able to silence every protest. She astounded them with the force of her argument and the depth of her knowledge. She was not lowly and submissive before them as they expected. Instead, she was aflame with the love of God and she burned away their flimsy reasoning with the fire of her words. "She is not a mere woman," they
said. They were embarrassed at their inability to subdue her. Disillusioned at their complete failure, they withdrew. Such victories increased her fame and their anger.[F10] So great was the influence which Tahirih exerted upon the people, so intense became the excitement caused by her teaching, that she was seized by the authorities and placed in the house of the chief-lawyer, by order of the governor of Baghdad. She was kept there under virtual arrest until the governor could receive instructions about her from the central Turkish government in Constantinople.[F11] During her imprisonment there, Tahirih defended her Faith and her own character before the chief-lawyer with great ability. Before she left his home, he told her sincerely, "I share your belief, but I am apprehensive of the swords of the ruling family of Turkey." With so many powerful local leaders pitted against her, the government felt the question had to be settled quickly as to whether or not she should be permitted to continue her teaching. Her case was submitted first to the governor of Baghdad, and finally to the authorities in Constantinople. That same lawyer later wrote a book in Arabic in which he spoke of Tahirih's stay in his home. He said that every morning in the early hours of dawn she would arise to pray and meditate. She fasted frequently. He stated that he had never seen a woman more virtuous, more devoted, nor had he seen any man more learned or more courageous than she.[F13] One evening the chief-lawyer's father came to call upon his son. He did not even greet Tahirih. Instead, in her presence, he began to rebuke his son for his kindness to her and cursed her as an enemy of religion. The father said with grim satisfaction that a message had just arrived from Constantinople. The Sultan of Turkey had given Tahirih her life and her freedom, but she was commanded to leave Turkish territory immediately. "Make preparations to leave Iraq tomorrow," the father told her bluntly, the only words he spoke to her, then he departed. The chief-lawyer was ashamed of his father's behavior. He apologized to Tahirih. After she had left his home, he confided to his friends: "I see in her such knowledge, education, politeness and good character that I have not seen in any great man of this century." Tahirih crossed the Turkish-Persian border and entered the city of Kirman Shah. Here, unlike Baghdad, she was given an enthusiastic
welcome. The priests, the government officials and people all came out to welcome so famous a figure. They were impressed by her eloquence and fearlessness. She translated one of the writings of the Bab and had it read publicly in Kirman Shah. The governor and his family acknowledged the truth of the Cause of the Bab during her presence. They showed their great admiration and love for Tahirih. In the village of Karand, Tahirih remained and taught for three days. Openly she proclaimed the teachings of the Bab, and was successful in awakening an interest among all classes of people. Twelve hundred persons are reported to have accepted the Faith.[F14] In the small village of Salnih she stayed for two days. Her reception there outshone even that of Karand. Upon her departure the inhabitants of the village begged her to be allowed to gather together the members of their community and come with her. They were prepared to leave everything behind and join her in the spread and promotion of the Faith of the Bab. Tahirih, however, advised them to remain where they were and to teach among their own people.[F15] Tahirih went next to Hamadan. There the city was divided in its attitude toward her. Some tried to arouse the people against her, while others loudly praised her. One of the leading priests of Hamadan deeply resented her fame and wished to kill her. He would have openly urged the people to attack her except for his fear of reprisal from her friends. Tahirih knew of the priest's desire, and she wrote him a long letter explaining carefully the teachings of the Bab. She sent it to him by a faithful friend, Mulla Ibrahim. He arrived with this letter just at an hour when several of these unfriendly priests were meeting to decide what steps they could take against Tahirih to silence her. They considered the letter impudent. It enraged them. They all fell upon Mulla Ibrahim and beat him until he was unconscious. When he was carried back to Tahirih, still unconscious, she did not weep at the sight of him as those about her had expected her to do. She admonished them all by saying: "Get up, Mulla Ibrahim! Praise be God you have suffered in the path of your Beloved. Now rise up, and continue to work for Him!" When Mulla Ibrahim opened his eyes, Tahirih smiled at him. "O Mulla Ibrahim," she said. "For one small beating you became unconscious. This is the time we are ready to give our lives. Did
not the disciples of Christ do it, and the disciples of Muhammad?" And Mulla Ibrahim actually arose from his faint and departed from her presence, and began to teach.[F16] From Hamadan Tahirih planned to go to Tihran to try and meet his Majesty, Muhammad Shah, so that she could tell the king about these new teachings. However, one of the priests who had refused to meet her in open debate in Kirman Shah had secretly written to her father in Qazvin. He told him that his daughter was disgracing the reputation of all the clergy, let alone her family. Her father at once sent his son with a strong party of relatives to Hamadan to intercept Tahirih, and to urge her to return home. Some time before they arrived from Qazvin, Tahirih said to her companions, "They are coming for us from Qazvin. We shall go out to meet them before they arrive here." She gave up her visit to Tihran, and returned to her home with her escort. That first night when Tahirih arrived in Qazvin, there was a family council. Her father and her uncle strongly reproached her for her behavior. "What can I do with you," her father complained, "when you choose to follow this Shirazi lad?" Her uncle Taqi cursed the Bab and His Faith. In his violent anger he struck Tahirih several blows. With her quick intuition of the avenging hand of God, Tahirih uttered fatal words of foresight. "O uncle," she cried out, "I see your mouth fill with blood!" These words so infuriated him that he threatened to have her branded with hot irons. The council broke up in anger. Next day her family tried to persuade her to return to her husband, hoping this would keep her under restraint. "We have been separated for three years," she said. "He has rejected the religion of God. He is ashamed of me. There can never be anything in common between us." Her husband, who considered himself to be one of the great religious leaders of Persia, sent a stern message to Tahirih to transfer her residence at once to his house. She replied: "Neither in this world or in the next can I ever be associated with him. I have cast him out of my life forever." Her husband in a burst of fury pronounced her a heretic and strove to undermine her position and sully her fame; in anger he divorced her three weeks later.[F17]
Her father and her brothers still hoped that by having Tahirih home they could diminish her influence and slowly win her back to the old ways. However, the opposite proved true. Her fearlessness, her organizing ability, her skill, and her unquenchable enthusiasm won many new victories for the Bab. Her uncle, Taqi, was murdered one Friday in the Mosque. He was stabbed in the throat. Although the evidence clearly showed that the murderer was not a follower of the Bab, still Tahirih was accused of the slaying. Her family called those prophetic words spoken on the night of her return: "O uncle! I see your mouth fill with blood!" The entire city was aroused. The mobs were encouraged to seek revenge by arresting, robbing and killing, and plundering the houses of anyone suspected of being a follower of the Bab. Tahirih herself was placed in strict confinement. Out of respect for her father, an eminent Islamic jurist, the authorities permitted him to save her life and imprison Tahirih in the cellar of his home. But the women who were assigned to watch her were told never to let her out of their sight. She must not escape. A member of Tahirih's family, one day years later while showing visitors the prison cellar in which she had been confined, said: "Tahirih's father truly loved his gifted daughter even though he clashed violently with her in religious beliefs. He imprisoned her in his home trying to protect her from the savagery of those who were ready to brand her with irons because she belonged to the despised [Faith of the Bab], but even her father could not save her. They came and carried her away to the city prison."[F18] In a spirit of revenge, although well aware of her innocence, Tahirih's husband persuaded the governor to put her on trial for the murder of her uncle, Taqi. Her father refused to let her leave his house, but she was taken from him by force and brought to the government house. They also arrested her servant Kufiyih whom they hoped to influence to testify against her. Hour after hour they questioned them, trying to get them to confess to the murder. To each question, Tahirih replied calmly: "We know nothing of this deed. It was done without our knowledge." Her husband, seething with hatred, fearful she would go free, kept pleading with the governor to inflict some harsh punishment upon Tahirih. "Something severe," he said, "something very severe."
Acting on this hint, the governor gave the executioner orders to bring in the irons for branding. In order to terrorize Tahirih and perhaps secure a false confession by torture, they placed the hands of Kufiyih under a sliding door, intending to brand her hands from the other side. Tahirih knew that she was helpless. Her only refuge was Almighty God. She uncovered her face and turned toward the prison of the Bab at Mahku and began to pray. The hot irons were brought forward and the hands of Kufiyih were prepared for the burning. At that terrifying moment, a town crier's voice could be heard shouting in the street outside: "The murderer is found! The murderer is found!"[F19] The murderer had confessed. He came by himself to government house, rather than let innocent people suffer. Tahirih and Kufiyih were freed. Tahirih was returned to her father's house, still a prisoner. Her husband made another unsuccessful attempt on her life by trying to poison her, but in spite of all this opposition Tahirih continued to teach many people. She profoundly affected the city of Qazvin. Although it prided itself that no fewer than a hundred of the highest religious leaders of Islam dwelt within its gates, though she was a prisoner for much of her stay, Tahirih's triumphs were greater in Qazvin than any she had yet won.[F20] The Journal Asiatique in a study of this period frankly asks the question: "How,...in a city like Qazvin, where the clergy possessed so great an influence,...how could it be there...a woman could have organized so strong a group of heretics?" This study concludes: "There lies a question which puzzles even the Persian historian, Sipihr, for such an occurrence was without precedent."[F21] The Prime Minister, Mirza Taqi Khan, took no action against those who without reason had plundered and killed the followers of the Bab in Qazvin. He closed his eyes to the mistake, secretly pleased. This encouraged the clergy and people of Qazvin to turn once more against Tahirih. They were determined that she should be slain, quietly if necessary, but as quickly as possible. She must never leave Qazvin alive. When word of this new plot reached her, she was unafraid. She wrote a bold letter to her former husband, now the chief priest of Qazvin. She dared him to take her life, saying: "If my Cause is the Cause of Truth, the Lord will deliver me from the yoke of
your tyranny before nine days have passed. Should He fail to rescue me, you are free to do with me as you wish."[F22] From that moment on, Tahirih was watched more closely than ever, but in spite of all their efforts, on the ninth day she escaped quietly in the night. Her sudden and mysterious removal filled her foes with fear and her friends with concern. The authorities immediately entered every house in Qazvin and searched all night for her. They were both angered and baffled by her disappearance, and the fulfillment of the prediction she had uttered. Meanwhile Tahirih was in the capital, Tihran. She spent many happy days there, teaching and meeting the followers of the Bab from other parts of Persia. These carefree days ended when word came that the Bab's followers were gathering at the village of Badasht in Khurasan. Tahirih left at once to join the group. Her enemies were still on watch for her everywhere along the road, but she escaped from Tihran in disguise and journeyed to Badasht. It was early in the summer, 1848. Eighty-one of the leading followers of the Bab gathered at that village to meet in consultation. Quddus was among those present, since this was before the days of the fort of Tabarsi. The purpose of the gathering was two-fold. First, to decide on the steps to be taken so that the Faith of the Bab would no longer be looked upon as a sect of Islam, but rather as a new, independent Faith with its own Prophet and Writings. Second, to consider the means of freeing the Bab from His cruel imprisonment in Chihriq. The gathering succeeded in the first goal, but failed in the second. The followers of the Bab were eager to make a complete break from the outmoded religious laws, priesthood, traditions and ritual of the past. Tahirih, herself, was an instrument of that separation. She became its outward symbol, when one day she appeared without her veil. She had cast aside this emblem of women's inferior station. The effect was electric. Even her fellow-believers were shocked. They stood aghast at this unexpected and unprecedented sight. Happiness and triumph shone from her face. Dignified and content that a new day had dawned, Tahirih arose from her seat. She was completely indifferent to the tumult which her unveiled appearance had caused. It was indecent for men to look upon her uncovered face. Tahirih, however, was universal in her vision. She knew that the
Bab's Teaching had wiped out all the limiting traditions of the past. The injustice and slavery practiced against both men and women were soon to be ended. She stood before them radiant with an inward and an outward beauty. "I am the blast of the trumpet!" she cried out. "I am the call of the bugle!" Gone are the days of dread and subjection for any of the creatures of God, her words called out. Exultant with joy, she then delivered a fervent and eloquent appeal to that assembly. Some that day recalled the words of the prophecy which foretold that in the day of the Promised One, Fatimih, herself, would appear unveiled before them. Others may have remembered the sound of the "bugle" and the "stunning trumpet blast" promised in their own holy Book for the "last days."[F23] Tahirih finished her appeal by inviting all who were present to celebrate this great occasion befittingly. "This is the day of festivity and of universal rejoicing," she said. "The day on which the fetters of the past are burst asunder. Let those who have shared this great achievement arise and embrace each other."[F24] The conference ended after several days, and the followers of the Bab scattered in all directions to announce the new day. Each carried with him to his own area the exciting news of these momentous happenings at Badasht. Tahirih was on her way back to Tihran when she was intercepted by a party of searchers. Her captors sent her under escort to the capital where she was brought into the presence of the king. He commented upon seeing her, "I like her looks. Leave her, and let her be." She was then taken as a prisoner to the home of the mayor of Tihran, Muhammad Khan. The king sent a letter to Tahirih at the mayor's house. He urged her to deny the Bab and again become a true Muslim. He promised her that if she would do this, he would give her an exalted position as the guardian of the ladies of his household, he would even make her his bride. She replied on the back of his letter in verse, saying that the kingdom and crown were for him, but wandering and calamity were for her. The king, reading the reply, was deeply moved. He spoke of her spirit and courage. He said, "So far, history has not shown such a woman to us."[F25] Tahirih was given considerable freedom during her imprisonment
in the mayor's house, and she was able to continue her teaching. She was still alive with the fire and fervor of Badasht. It was during this period in Tihran that Tahirih reached the height of her popularity and fame. She openly denounced polygamy, the veil, and all the restraints which had so unjustly shackled her sex for so many centuries in the East. She aroused the women by pointing out to them the abject roles they had been given by their past beliefs, and she won them over by showing them the freedom, respect and dignity which the Faith of the Bab would bestow upon them. Sir Francis Younghusband who wrote of Tahirih's life, says: "So strong in her faith did she become that although she was both rich and noble, she gave up wealth, child, name and position for her Master's service and set herself to proclaim and establish his doctrine." He adds in yet another place: "The beauty of her speech was such as to draw guests away from a marriage feast rather than listen to music provided by the host."[F26] Comte de Gobineau writes of her: "Many who have known her and heard her at different times have stated that, for a person so learned and so well read, the outstanding characteristic of her discourse was an amazing simplicity, and still, when she spoke, her audience was deeply stirred and filled with admiration, often in tears."[F27] Tahirih stirred up the entire capital city to such an extent that finally the authorities took action against her. The government sent a special delegation to question her about her Faith. They held seven conferences with her in which she offered proofs showing that the Bab was the expected Messenger of God. She quoted from their own holy Book to convince them. During the last of these conferences, Tahirih became exasperated with their obstinate refusal to accept anything but the most literal interpretation of sacred scripture, and especially of certain prophecies. "How long will you cling to these follies and lies? When will you lift your eyes toward the Sun of Truth?" she exclaimed. Her accusers were shocked by her attitude. They returned to their homes, wrote out a denunciation of Tahirih, saying that she refused to give up her faith, and upon the recommendation of this delegation, Tahirih was sentenced to death.[F28] Tahirih was now placed in strict confinement in a single room in the house of the Mayor of Tihran, Muhammad Khan. The wife of
the mayor, while not a follower of the Bab, became very attached to her. Before Tahirih was taken away to be slain, this woman became a devoted friend. She has left the following account: "One night I went to her room and found her dressed in a gown of snow-white silk. I expressed my surprise. "She said: `I am preparing to meet my Beloved, and I wish to free you from the cares and anxieties of my imprisonment.' "I was much startled at first and began to weep at the thought of separation from her. "She comforted me, saying: `Weep not. The hour when I shall be condemned to suffer martyrdom is fast approaching. It is my wish that my body shall be thrown into a pit, and the pit be filled with earth and stones. "`My last request is that you permit no one to enter my chamber. Until the time I shall be summoned to leave this house, let no one be allowed to disturb my devotions. I intend to fast, a fast I shall not break until I am brought face to face with my Beloved.' "With these words, she bade me lock the door of her chamber and not to open it until the hour of departure should strike. "I locked her door, and retired to my room in a state of uncontrollable sorrow. I lay sleepless and disconsolate upon my bed. The thought of her approaching martyrdom was more than I could bear. Unable to contain myself, several times I arose and stole quietly to the threshold of her room. I was enchanted by the melody of her voice as she intoned the praise of her Beloved."[F29] Tahirih prayed throughout the night that she might be worthy of meeting Almighty God in Whose service she longed to give her life. The hour of her death is recalled by the mayor's wife in the following words: "Four hours after sunset, I heard a knocking at the door. I hastened to my son and told him of the last wishes of Tahirih. He pledged his word that he would fulfill every instruction. My son opened the door. He told me that the attendants of Aziz Khan-i-Sardar, who was to execute her, were standing at the gate, demanding that Tahirih be delivered into their hands. "I was struck with terror at the news, and as I tottered to her door and with trembling hands, unlocked it, I found her veiled and ready to leave her apartment. As soon as she saw me, she came and kissed me. She placed in my hands the key to her chest, in which
she had left me a few trivial things as a remembrance of her stay in my house. "`Whenever you open this chest,' she said, `and behold the things it contains, I hope you will remember me and rejoice in my gladness.' "With these words she bade me her last farewell. What pangs of anguish I felt at that moment as I beheld her beauteous form fade away in the distance. She mounted the steed which Aziz Khan-i-Sadar had sent for her, and with my son and a number of attendants on each side, rode away." They led Tahirih to a garden outside of the gates of Tihran. Aziz Khan-i-Sadar and his lieutenants were in the midst of a drunken brawl when they arrived. Flushed with wine and roaring with laughter, they were unaware of Tahirih's approach. Tahirih dismounted and turned to the mayor's son who had accompanied her as a friend. She asked him to act as an intermediary with Aziz Khan-i-Sadar. "They will wish to strangle me," she said. "I set aside, long ago, a silken handkerchief which I hoped would be used for this purpose. I deliver it into your hands. I am disinclined to address my slayers in the midst of their revelry." The mayor's son approached Aziz Khan-i-Sadar. As the boy came up to him, he waved him aside. "Do not interrupt the gaiety of our festival!" he cried. Then he laughed uproariously and turned back to his party. "Let that miserable wretch be strangled," he mouthed to his attendants, "and throw her body into a pit." The boy gave the attendants the kerchief. This young man has, himself, given an eye-witness account of that fateful moment. "They consented to grant her request," he reported. "That same kerchief was wound around her neck and was made the instrument of her martyrdom. I hastened immediately afterwards to the gardener and asked him whether he could suggest a place where I could conceal the body. He directed me to a well that had been dug recently and left unfinished. With the help of a few others, I lowered Tahirih into her grave and filled the well up with earth and stones in the manner she herself had requested. Those who saw her in these last moments were profoundly affected." Dr. Jacob Polak, Austrian physician to the king, in a book written
in 1856, states that he was an eye-witness of Tahirih's last hours. She endured her death with "super-human fortitude," he said.[F30] The son returned to tell his mother what had happened. "I wept hot tears," she recalled later, "as my son unfolded to me that tragic tale." As she stood before the chest Tahirih had given her, she wondered what it was that could have induced so great a woman to forsake all the riches and honors with which she had been surrounded, and to identify herself with the Cause of an obscure youth from Shiraz. What could have been the secret of that power that tore her away from home and kindred, that sustained her to her grave. Could the hand of the Almighty have guided her? Thus ended the life of Tahirih. She was one of the greatest of the disciples of the Bab. She was the first woman-suffrage martyr as well. As the hour of her death approached, she turned to the one in whose custody she had been placed, and declared boldly: "You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of woman!"[F31] Her career was dazzling, brief, tragic, and eventful. The fame of Tahirih spread with the same remarkable swiftness as that of the Bab, Who was the direct source of all her inspiration. Lord Curzon in his book on Persia states bluntly: "Of no small account, then, must be the tenets of a creed that can awaken in its followers so rare and beautiful a spirit of self-sacrifice."[F32] Sarah Bernhart the famous actress, requested the playwright Catulle Mendes to write a dramatized version of Tahirih's life. The playwright himself called her the "Persian Joan of Arc."[F33] A noted commentator on the life of the Bab and His disciples has paid Tahirih the tribute of calling her "a miracle of science and a miracle of beauty." "The heroism of the lovely but ill-fated poetess," testifies Lord Curzon, "is one of the most affecting episodes in modern history." The British orientalist, Professor E. G. Browne, said that if the Faith of the Bab had no other claim to greatness than that it had produced a heroine like Tahirih, it would be sufficient. "The appearance of such a woman, ..." he wrote, "is, in any country and any age, a rare phenomenon, but in a country such as Persia it is a prodigy--nay, almost a miracle." The French diplomat, Comte de Gobineu, writes, "She was held with every justification to be a prodigy." "This noble woman, ..." writes Dr. T. K. Cheyne, a renowned
English clergyman, "has the credit of opening the catalogue of social reforms in Persia." "No memory," writes Sir Valentine Chirol, "is more deeply venerated or kindles greater enthusiasm than hers, and the influence she wielded in her time still inures to her sex." The famous Turkish poet, Sulayman Nazim Bey, exclaims: "O Tahirih! You are worth a thousand Nasiri'd-Din Shahs!" Mariana Hamisch, the mother of one of Austria's presidents says: "The greatest ideal of womanhood has been Tahirih." One of the most penetrating comments of those historians who followed her life was this: "Looking back on the short career [of Tahirih] one is chiefly struck by her fiery enthusiasm and by her absolute unworldliness. This world was, in fact, to her...a mere handful of dust."[F34] Tahirih was faithful to the Cause of the Bab from the first moment of her acceptance until the last hour of her death. Not for an instant did she swerve from that confident belief expressed in her message sent to Him in those beginning days in Shiraz: "Then speak the word, `Am I not your Lord?' and `...Thou art!' we will reply." Tahirih lived and died by the words she had spoken so boldly to another great disciple of the Bab one evening in Tihran, so long ago. She had been listening with some of the other believers to a brilliant and eloquent discourse upon the Faith of the Bab, given by Vahid, himself. He spoke of the signs and proofs of the coming of the Bab. Tahirih listened patiently for some time, then suddenly she interrupted his words. "Let deeds, not words, testify to your faith," she cried out, "if thou art a man of true learning. Cease idly repeating the traditions of the past, for the day of service, of steadfast action, is come. Now is the time to promote the Word of God, and to sacrifice ourselves in His path. Let deeds, not words, be our adorning."[F35] Tahirih had now justified these words by her death in a garden in the shadow of Persia's greatest city. The same inevitable retribution which had remorselessly struck down the enemies of the Faith in Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz, and Tabarsi, again made itself felt against the persecutors of Tahirih. The king, who knew that she was innocent and might have saved her, was to feel the most punishing blow of all at a later date. Her uncle, Taqi, who had so brutally struck her, was slain by an
assassin. The mayor of Tihran, Muhammad Khan, who kept her imprisoned for nearly three years, and who aided the Prime Minister in her execution, suffered a death similar to that which he had permitted to befall Tahirih. The king ordered his slaying. He called upon the executioner to prepare some ropes and then commanded that these ropes be twisted about the neck of Muhammad Khan until he was strangled. The king ordered the mayor's body to be hung on the gallows as a warning.[F36] Tahirih was at the height of her beauty and power when she was slain in August 1852. She was thirty-six. Siyyid Kazim had called her Qurratu'l-`Ayn--"Consolation of the Eyes." Others had called her Zarrin-T j "Crowned of Gold." But the name by which she lives forever in the hearts of her people is Tahirih--the Pure One.