Life of Tahirih - Empowering Women

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Tahirih Talk: Empowering Women Remembering the life of Tahirih, heroine, poet and feminist martyr who lived in 19th-Century Iran. She removed her veil in a male only conference, defying Shariah law and cultural customs, to announce that a new culture of equality had dawned. Her sacrifice, which ultimately meant she lost her life, became the blueprint for a new era of equality and justice. I prepared this presentation before the bicentenary of the Bab. I found it worked particularly well to engage women's groups. Although her life is sure to inspire anyone. I played background santur music (Spotify: Santur & Tombak - Kereshme Va Foroud) to set the scene on repeat whilst I read through the slides. I would pause the background music when the slide came to the poems and play the voice recordings embedded in the powerpoint. I hope this might be a useful tool for others to use to remember such an incredible heroine.

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The Life of Táhirih EMPOWERING WOMEN

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Born in 1817, Táhirih was an exemplar of women’s strength in Persia, at a time when most women were kept illiterate and hidden from the public sphere. It was against such a dismal and wretched backdrop that our heroine stood apart and stood out. The home of Tahirih in Qazvin “The appearance of such a woman as Táhirih in any country and in any age, is a rare phenomenon, but in such a country as Iran it is a prodigy…nay, almost a miracle.” – Professor Edward G. Browne, Cambridge University

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When Táhirih was young, she was permitted by her father, one of the greatest High Priests in the province, to secretly listen in on his classes. She had to listen from behind a curtain as women were not supposed to be educated. One day she heard her father make a mistake and she couldn’t stop herself from speaking out. Everyone then knew she was there. After that she was allowed to talk, so long as she stayed hidden.

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Gifted, exceptionally eloquent and highly accomplished in the literary arts, she showed rare intelligence and a penetrating mind from an early age. She outdistanced her brothers and passed all the examinations in theological studies. She was of such stainless purity, so reverenced that even to gaze at her shadow was deemed an improper act.

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She was famed for her startling beauty, almost every historical record makes allusions to it. Even the Imperial Majesty of Persia, Naser al-Din Shah upon casting his eye on her fair beauty, asked for her betrothal. Naser al-Din Shah

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She was a gifted and renowned poet. Her poetry illustrates an impressive knowledge of Persian and Arabic literature rarely seen in a woman in mid-nineteenth century Iran. Look up! Our dawning day draws its first breath! The world grows light! Our souls begin to glow! No ranting shaykh rules from his pulpit throne. No mosque hawks holiness it does not know. No sham, no pious fraud, no priest commands! The turban's knot cut to its root below! No more conjurations! No spells! No ghosts! Good riddance! We are done with folly's show! The search for truth shall drive out ignorance. Equality shall strike the despots low. Let warring ways be banished from the world. Let justice everywhere its carpet throw. May friendship ancient hatred reconcile. May love grow from the seed of love we sow! - Táhirih , (translated by Amin Banani)

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Through her theological studies, she realized that the coming of a new Messenger of God was imminent. Many theologians were out searching for Him. Women were not permitted to travel alone, so she could not search. 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. Táhirih’s handwriting

Slide8:

One day, some time later, a friend placed in her hands writings of the Báb . As her eyes looked down upon a page, she discovered the exact same words she had written down from her dream. Táhirih wrote immediately to the Báb , telling Him that she believed Him to be that promised Messenger foretold in all the holy Books. Upon receiving her letter the Báb accepted her as one of His earliest disciples. Thus Táhirih became the first woman to become a believer in the new Faith. She never got the chance to meet the Báb .

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One day she appeared before the men without a veil. In the Báb ’s absence, as He was imprisoned at the time, some of the early followers of the Báb held a conference in Badasht to discuss the new religion. Táhirih was the only woman there. She caused such an electrifying and instantaneous outcry, that many fled from before her face. In doing so, Táhirih broke away from the time honoured twelve-hundred-year-old tradition of Islam. She announced that this was a new age. Her actions showed that women would now be seen as equal to men.

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This single act was more than just to produce a shock-effect on men. In the words of Shoghi Effendi, the great-grandson of Bahá’u’lláh , this act was a “sudden, startling, complete emancipation from the dark and embattled forces of fanaticism, of priestcraft, of religious orthodoxy and superstition.” It signified a turning point in the world’s religious history.

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Táhirih was placed under house arrest. However she continued to tell people about the Báb , even after the Báb’s martyrdom, sharing His teachings, particularly those regarding the emancipation of women, until eventually the religious leaders decided that she too must be killed. The home Táhirih was placed under house arrest

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Whilst under house arrest at the Governor's home she had a vision that she would be put to death. That day she dressed herself in snow-white silk, perfumed herself and waited. That night guards approached the house demanding Táhirih come with them. They brought her into a garden, where the headsmen waited. The men wavered and refused to end her life. A drunken slave was found and instructed to strangle her.

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“You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.” Táhirih is historically recognized as “the first woman suffrage martyr.” This was the result of the Báb’s teachings for the new age. In 1852, at the age of 35, Táhirih was strangled with her own scarf, her body was tossed into a well and covered with dirt and stones. Before her death she declared: Garden where Táhirih was martyred

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One of the Báb’s early followers was Bahá’u’lláh . Bahá’u’lláh declared that He was the one foretold by the Báb , whom the Bábi’s were awaiting. Bahá’u’lláh founded the Bahá’i Faith and suffered imprisonment, torture and exile for His claims. Táhirih was given the title of the ‘The Pure One’ by Bahá’u’lláh . By bestowing her such a title, Bahá’u’lláh demonstrated in no uncertain terms that a woman’s purity and chastity are not conditioned by a veil. Her purity embodied all aspects of her life.

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Purity in the Pursuit of Truth Táhirih was unwavering and single-minded in her quest for truth. She was relentless and purely undistracted in her independent investigation of the truth. “The finest trait in Táhirih , or at least the one that helped the world most, was her fidelity in searching for the truth! She began as a little girl and continued until the day of her passing from this world.” - Martha Root

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Purity of Courage Táhirih was stoned, imprisoned, she was divorced, her children were taken away from her, her husband Mulla Muhammad attempted to poison her and she was physically attacked and abused by her own family, but never once did she falter. Shoghi Effendi called her an “unsubduable spirit.”

Slide17:

Purity from Man-made Tradition She was openly defiant of the customs of her land which relegated women to a rank little higher than animals and denied them even the possession of a soul. ` Abdu'l-Bahá ', Bahá’u’lláh ’s son, recalls being a young boy seated upon Táhirih ’s lap, and hearing her interrupt her friend Vahid when he was reciting Islamic traditions, from behind the curtain she declared: “Cease idly repeating the traditions of the past, for the day of service, of steadfast action, is come. Let deeds, not words, be our adorning!” ` Abdu'l-Bahá '

Slide18:

Purity from Temptation Táhirih mingled with princesses and the nobles of high society in Persia. As a measure of their wealth, her father once presented a village to Táhirih as a gift which she named “The Abode of Happiness”. Táhirih chose to walk away from the ease of life offered to her and chose to labour for social, cultural and religious reforms in her land.

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We will end with one of Táhirih’s poems put to music, where she depicts the Sufi theme of separation and her longing to meet the Báb , which was denied to her in this lifetime. I would explain all my grief Dot by dot, point by point If heart to heart we talk And face to face we meet. To catch a glimpse of thee I am wandering like a breeze From house to house, door to door Place to place, street to street. In separation from thee The blood of my heart gushes out of my eyes In torrent after torrent, river after river Wave after wave, stream after stream. This afflicted heart of mine Has woven your love To the stuff of life Strand by strand, thread to thread. —  Táhirih , (translated by Farzaneh Milani)

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The Life of Táhirih EMPOWERING WOMEN

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