Tahirih: Babi and Women's Right's Martyr

How a 19th century Persian Poetess affected the Women's Suffrage Movement


Mid-nineteenth century Persia saw the birth and quick stem of the new and controversial Faith. Its followers were called Babis and eventually, Baha'is. Up until that time in the world's history, women were seen as less than second class citizens. They could not own land, could not vote or excersise most any of the rights that men of the time (and we now)would take for granted. Now, after centuries of silence, women have found their voices and are themselves becoming vehicles for the changes and advancements of the world. It is quite a wonder to discover that the first Women's Rights Martyr was not even a westerner. She was from Persia (now Iran), a country still known for its oppression of women. Her name was Tahirih (The Pure One) or Quarratu'l-Ayn. She was one of the first followers of the Bab and her crime was simply showing her beautiful face. 

A woman appearing unveiled, especially in context of the time and country in which she lived, was perceived as a sign of promiscuity and a grave transgression against the clegry and even God Himself. 

The moment Tahirih unveiled herself in Badasht, became the first act of public unveiling in Iranian history and the first agressive movement against the oppression of women everywhere.

She was captured in 1852, along with other Babis, imprisioned and eventually executed that year. Dressed in white silk, she had prepared for her death with fasting and prayers. She was strangled with a silk handkerchief and then thrown into a well, later filled with stones and dirt.

With her voice proclaiming a new day in which women and men would be equal she once said: "You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women."

A sample of Tahirih's famous poetry, translated from Persian to English. 

From "Tahirih the Pure" by Martha Root

The thralls of yearning love constrain in the bonds of pain and calamity
These broken-hearted lovers of thine to yield their lives in their in their zeal for thee.
Though with sword in hand my Darling stand with intent to slay, though sinless I be,
If it pleases him this tyrant's whim, I am well content with his tyranny.
As in sleep I lay at the break of day that cruel Charmer came to me,
And in the grace of his form and face the dawn of the Morn I seemed to see;
The musk of Cathay might perfume gain from the scent those fragrant tresses rain,
While his eyes demolish a faith in vain attacked by the pagans of Tartary.
With you who condemn both love an wine for the hermit's cell and the zealot's shrine,
What can I do? for our Faith divine you hold a thing of infamy?
The tangled curls of thy darling's hair, and thy saddle and steed are thy only care. 
In thy heart the Absolute hath no share, nor the thought of the poor man's poverty.
Sikandar's pomp and display be thine, the Kalantar's habit and way be mine,
That, if it please thee, I resign, while this, though bad, is enough for me,
The country of 'I' and 'we' forsake; thy home in Annihilation make,
Since fearing not this step to take, thou shalt gain the highest felicity.