June 18, 2023 will mark 40 years since 10 Baha’i women were hanged in Shiraz. Their only ‘crime’ was their refusal to renounce their beliefs in a faith that promotes the principles of gender equality, unity, justice, and truthfulness. This collection highlights Baha’i Blog content relating to the ongoing persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
On March 8th, we celebrate “the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women” and acknowledge the urgency of “accelerating gender parity.” 1 As much as International Women’s Day is a celebration, it is also a monument to centuries of discrimination.
For as long as systemic discrimination has quashed individuals’ potential, some have refused to accept their assigned inferiority. Wherever sexism has caged women, resistance has arisen. Countless such efforts have gone unrecorded, lost to history, leaving humanity only scattered memories of women who spearheaded social transformation.
Most anglophone histories of women in the Baha’i Era’s first century focus on Americans and Europeans, whose social context afforded more opportunities for public service. Recent histories, however, have begun to reveal how Iranian women navigated the constraints of traditional gender roles to serve their faith community, as exemplified by Bahiyyih Khanum, who led the Baha’is in the interregnum between Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi.
These are only a few of the many women who over successive generations have assumed active roles in the global Baha’i community. If we were to trace a lineage of inspiration, a family tree charting the ancestry of Baha’i women’s leadership, we would find the primogenitor in the early 1800s, in northwestern Persia, in a family of influential Islamic theologians: Fatimih Baraghani—better known to us as Tahirih, Qurratu’l-Ayn, and Zarrin-Taj.
Tahirih was a poet, a theologian, a follower of the Bab, and a martyr for her beliefs. She knew both Baha’u’llah, who titled her “the Pure One,” and Abdu’l-Baha, who called her “a sign and token of surpassing beauty, a burning brand of the love of God, a lamp of His bestowal.” 3 Her dying words were, “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.” 4
Tahirih’s life story has been recounted by many admirers. Biographies abound—for recent examples, you can listen to this Baha’i Teachings talk or read this article. In 2016, I wrote an article about Tahirih’s influence on writers Isabella Grinevskaya, Laura Clifford Barney, Martha Root, and Bahiyyih Nakhjavani. 5 In the short time since, another biography has been published.
Women and men around the world are still talking about Tahirih and benefiting from her legacy. Today, Tahirih’s revolutionary voice, which has, since her 1852 strangling, emanated primarily from pages written in the United States and Europe, is slowly circling back to its original platform, Iran.
Although Tahirih has long been vilified in her homeland due to her refusal to submit to tradition, some Iranians outside the Baha’i minority there have recently reclaimed her as their nation’s first women’s rights activist. In 2006, Iranian activists initiated the One Million Signatures campaign for gender equality. “To provide the genealogy of our method,” campaigner Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani wrote, 6 “seeking face-to-face interactions in various public spaces…it is important to recall that this method is inspired by the words of the brave poetess and campaigner for women’s equal rights, Zarrin Taj…who wrote the following couplet more than 160 years ago.” Khorasani quotes Tahirih’s famous “Point by Point,” 7 describing searching for her divine beloved “door to door.”
Khorasani represents one node in the spiritual genealogy of Tahirih, which I’ve been tracing through texts referencing her. So far, my bibliography contains 84 such texts, but the actual number surely exceeds 100, since my count excludes online publications and texts invisible to me because of language barriers.
Below, I’ve listed 27 works taking Tahirih as primary subject or protagonist, arranged by genre. For a fuller list of works referencing her, please visit my website.I hope this bibliography, by illuminating Tahirih’s lineage, inspires you to perpetuate a unique inheritance: the spiritual legacy of Babi and Baha’i foremothers.
Eight women were appointed Hands of the Cause: Keith Ransom-Kehler (1933), Martha Root (1939), Amelia Collins (1951), Dorothy Baker (1951), Corinne True (1952), Clara Dunn (1952), Mary Maxwell (Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum) (1952), and Agnes Alexander (1957) [↩]
Layli invites you to read more of her essays on https://layli.net. She lives with her husband, Sergey, in Alabama, where she works at Auburn University. In moments when she’s not writing, she most enjoys taking strolls with Sergey, during which they admire the region's natural beauty, from its year-round verdure to its abundant bugs.
I have written Breaking Light Tahirih a feature length film which has been approved historically by the NATIONAL review committee. Been polishing bones of it and setting up a business. The review committee has suggested our group gather some Persian Women CULTURAL REVIEWERS. They created a category ARTISTIC work to this script. Do you have any women in your group who have interest in applying Looking for Persian women with a sense of their culture as regards Tahirih. We believe the audience for this work will be women seeking equality with men from across the world. Should know some of culture related to Tahirih 1823 to 1852.Praise God for your group efforts. I take the request by the review committee as spot on. History and culture are beneath our feet not behind us. Some Shaiykhi thought. The grandmother’s of Tahirih on mother’s side taught “Educate your Daughters” historically and in the script.
Thinking of Dawn Soto as alias author (April 4, 2021 at 11:40 PM)