Bridge from the West to the East

E.G. Browne was one of the most important European scholars of Persian. He sought to bridge the Western and Persian worlds. The outbreak of the Russo-Turkish war aroused a lifelong interest in the near East because he sympathized with the underdog Turks.

(click HERE to learn more about the Russo-Turkish war)

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Browne had a humanistic outlook and may have become attracted to the teachings of the Bab and Baha’u’llah. He read about Babism in Gobineau’s book and came to admire the Bab.

He undertook a year-long trip through Persia in 1887-8, in great part to research Babi/Baha’i origins by meeting believers and finding original manuscripts.

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One of the results of this trip was the travel book, A Year Amongst the Persians, in which Browne described Persian society with both great learning and sympathy. He described the Baha’i gatherings:

  “The memory of those assemblies can never fade from my mind; the recollection of those faces and those tones no time can efface. I have gazed with awe on the workings of a mighty Spirit, and I marvel whereunto it tends.”

Though it did not receive much attention during Browne’s life, A Year Among the Persians came be seen as a classic of English travel literature.

(To read A Year Amongst the Persians, click HERE)

Another important piece of work from this trip was Browne’s translation of a history of the Babi and Baha’i Faiths, A Traveller’s Narrative, written by the son of the prophet founder of the Baha’i Faith, ‘Abdu’l-Baha. In it, he praised and made this definitive assessment of Tahirih:
     “...the appearance of such a woman as Qurratu'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….Had the Bábí religion no other claim to greatness, this were sufficient--that it produced a heroine like Qurratu'l-'Ayn."

To read A Traveller’s Narrative, click HERE

Browne wrote several articles about the new religion for the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain. In one he describes the difficulty of finding information and documents related to Tahirih:

    “Anxious as I was to obtain some of her poems, I only met with a very limited amount of success.…it must be borne in mind that the odium which attaches to the name of Babi amongst Persian Muhamadans would render impossible the recitation by them of verses confessedly composed by her.…that many poems written by Kurratu’l-‘Ayn were amongst the    favorite songs of the people, who were for the most part unaware of their  authorship. Open allusions to the Bab had, of course, been cut out or altered, so that no one could tell the source from whence they came.”

To learn more about the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain, click HERE.

First account of the Bab in North America

The first account of the religion of the Bab appeared in North America in 1866. Wendell Phillips Garrison, son of the most famous abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, wrote the article “A New Religion,” in The Nation.

The Bab was described as “addicted to religious thought and novel ideas,” as having “great physical beauty, great simplicity of manners, and sweetness of character,” and that he “resolved upon the destruction of Islam.” Most of the details related to the Bab were not accurate.

Tahirih was described as one of, “the most striking apparitions to shed lustre on Babism.” She had “extraordinary beauty,” “eloquence,” and “purity of manners,” and she “preach­­­­­­ed the abolition of veiling and polygamy.”

Garrison commented on the “oriental” nature of the Bab’s teachings as being progressive by Persian standards of the time, reflecting the “orientalist” bias of Europeans:

“The re-birth in this system of the mystical fancies and many of the puerile superstitions of Oriental superstitions of Oriental antiquity, in combination with some of the most modern and most advanced ideas of the Western mind, is a very curious spectacle.”

He wonders whether Babis will join the growing nationalist movement and call for an armed uprising or become obsolete. There is no mention of the role of the Bab’s role as forerunner of Baha’u’llah.

Click below for an excellent documentary on the abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison.

Suffragettes from Turkey

Prof. Thomas Kelly Cheyne, a Biblical scholar and Oxford Professor, wrote an account of the Bab’s life in 1914 that included the story of Tahirih in “The Reconciliation of races and religions.”

Possibly as a result of his study, he became a Baha’i. He wrote in his chapter on Tahirih that she had an exalted position:

“Indeed, the only difference in human beings is that some realize more, and some less, or even not at all, the fact of the divine spark in their composition. Ḳurratu'l 'Ayn certainly did realize her divinity.”

According to a biographer, Cheyne:

“…was in intimate relations with the founder of the Bahaist Movement and with his son. He held that peace among nations could be secured only through religious union. Each of the great religions of the present day, he thought, might learn from the others, and a common faith would make all men brothers.”

In his chapter he recounted an interesting episode about suffragettes from Turkey who were banished to Akka:

“The poetess (i.e. Tahirih) was a true Bahaite. More than this; the harvest sown in Islamic lands by Ḳurratu'l 'Ayn is now beginning to appear. … forty Turkish suffragettes are being deported from Constantinople to Akka (so long the prison of Baha-'ullah): '"During the last few years suffrage ideas have been spreading quietly behind in the harems. … the men of Constantinople have thought it necessary to resort to drastic measures. Suffrage clubs have been organized, … Then one day the members of these clubs—four hundred of them—cast away their veils.These four hundred liberty-loving women were divided into several groups. One group composed of forty have been exiled to Akka, and will arrive in a few days. (italics added here)…"”

In 1913, there was a great rise in activism for the advancement of women in Turkey. During the late Ottoman period/early 1900s, there was a proliferation of associations to defend the rights of women, to open hospitals and schools, to assert the rights of women without disregarding traditional values, to participate in working life and begin businesses for women, to found a university for women, to advocate for women’s suffrage, and to publish women’s periodicals which called for a Constitutional form of government. At the core of these associations were two ideas: the importance of educating women and the assertion and defense of the rights of women within the family and in public life.

Read Cheyne's The Reconciliation of Races and Religions HERE

The Women's movement in Turkey

 

           

Marie von Najmájer, Austrian writer and activist

After the publication of Gobineau’s book Religions and Philosophies of Central Asia which introduced the Bab to many in the West, other works on the Bab appeared which included Tahirih:

·       Marie von Najmájer, an Austrian writer and activist for the advancement of women, wrote the first literary work or poem to use Tahirih as a character,[i]Gurret-ül-Eyn. (A picture from the Persian modern times in 6 Songs),” published in 1874. Many decades later, Marianna Hainisch, mother of a President of Austria, heard of Tahirih from Martha Root, and professed: “I shall try to do for the women of Austria what Tahirih gave her life to do for the women of Persia.”

[i] Momen, The Bábí and Bahá’í Religions, 47.

Marie von Najmájer (3 February 1844 in Buda, Hungary – 25 July 1904 in Bad Aussee (Styria), Austria) - was an Austrian novelist and poet. Daughter of a Hungarian royal hofrat Franz von Najmájer. In 1852 she moved to Vienna with her mother. She was an activist of the Association for Women's Education in Vienna (Verein für erweiterte Frauenbildung in Wien).

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European intellectuals

The book which introduced the Bab to a generation of European intellectuals was Religions and philosophies of Central Asia, by Joseph Arthur, Compte de Gobineau (1816-1882), published in 1865. Gobineau was a French writer and diplomat posted in Persia during the time of the Bab who developed a great interest in the country’s history. This work contained the first extensive account of the Babi religion and early history of the faith. He had come into possession of the only manuscript of a history of the Babi Faith which had been written by Haji Mirza Jani.

Gobineau wrote this description of Tahirih:

“…she was not content with passive belief; she spoke publically about the teachings of her master; she stood up not only against polygamy but also against the use of the veil, and showed her face in public places to the great shock and scandal of her family and all sincere Muslims, but also to the applause of the numerous people who shared her enthusiasm and whose public preaching greatly added to the circle of believers.”[i]

“…she consecrated herself fully to her Apostleship of the Bab to which he had given all the rights and entrusted her with many responsibilities. Her knowledge of theology became immense…I never heard any Muslim put in doubt the virtue of such a unique person.”[ii]

Gobineau’s other legacy is as a leading contributor to the 19th century European quest to base ideas of racial superiority and inferiority on science which today have been completely rejected as pseudo-scientific but were widely accepted in that period.

The young Gobineau watched his family collapse in disgrace with his parents separating and his mother arrested for fraud. As a young man, Gobineau chafed against his circumstances. Despite being an aristocratic but struggled to earn a living as a writer and political activist. He loathed the ideas of equality spawned by the French Revolution—commoners were an inferior type of people--but also saw the French aristocracy as largely corrupt and useless.

He developed racial theories that were an extension of his romantic conservative view of history, of a past bygone age when good aristocrats ruled society. While in his lifetime he was known as a travel writer and a diplomat, he was later remembered for his ideas on the superiority of Aryan races over non-Aryan races.

Click below 1) for a video on the history of the Bab and a little about the world in which he lived and 2)  a video on the roots of German fascist ideology including the ideas of Gobineau:

Tahirih in the West: Earliest mentions (2)

Lady Mary Sheil was the first woman to publish a mention of Tahirih.  It appeared in her Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia, published in 1856, and thought to be the first such work about Persia written by woman. Read it here.

http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/sheil/persia/persia.html  

She includes accounts of the Bab and the Babi Faith and describes Tahirih and her death:

“There was still another victim. This was a young woman, the daughter of a moolla in Mazenderan, who, as well as her father, had adopted the tenets of the Bab. The Babees venerated her as a prophetess; and she was styled Khooret-ool-eyn, which Arabic words are said to mean, Pupil of the eye. After the Babee insurrection had been subdued in the above province, she was brought to Tehran and imprisoned, but was well treated. When these executions took place she was strangled. This was a cruel and useless deed.”[i]

The first book about the history of the Bab and his followers in a Western language was The Báb and the Bábis: Religious and Political Unrest in Persia in 1848-1852, written in Russian by Aleksandr Kazem-Bek, and published in 1865. Kazem-Bek was a philologist who straddled the Russian and Persian worlds; he was born in Persia, died in St. Petersburg and was of Azerbaijani origin. He wrote his first book—-on the subject of Arabic grammar—at age 17 and later converted to Christianity. (Momen)

[i] Lady Mary Sheil, Glimpses of life and manners in Persia, quoted in Farzaneh Milani, Veils and Words, The emerging voices of Iranian women writers (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1992), 97.

Tahirih in the West: Earliest mentions

The persistent, widespread, and long-term efforts to prevent the spread of the Babi Faith in Persia and later, the suppression of the Baha’i Faith and destruction of its institutions, failed completely. The Baha’i Faith today is a major independent and growing world religion with a unique international administration.

So spread the memory of the great mystic and poet, Tahirih, one of the early Apostles of the Bab, whose life of faith formed a moving narrative in the story of Baha’i origins.

Her name travelled westward almost immediately after her execution.

The first known mention of her execution was made by Sir Justin Sheil, who served as the representative of Queen Victoria to the royal court in Persia, in this dispatch dated August 22nd, 1852:

“Among those who have suffered death was a young woman, the daughter of a Teacher of the Law in Mazanderan of great celebrity who has been three years in confinement in Tehran. She was venerated as a prophetess by the Babees, and her designation among them was ‘Koorat ool ain’ – ‘Pupil of the eye.’ She has been strangled by the Shah’s order. The Sedr Azim has opposed some of these acts, but the Shah’s anger and vindictiveness have not allowed him to pay attention to advice.”[i]

Queen Victoria had been the recipient of a Tablet from Baha’u’llah in which she was praised for ending the slave trade and for trusting the reins of leadership in the hands of the people

“We have also heard that thou hast entrusted the reins of counsel into the hands of the representatives of the people. Thou, indeed, hast done well, for thereby the foundations of the edifice of thine affairs will be strengthened, and the hearts of all that are beneath thy shadow, whether high or low, will be tranquillized.” (173)

The next day, Prince Dolgorukov, the Russian ambassador to Persia sent this dispatch:

“…For a long time there has been imprisoned in Tihran under the surveillance of Mahmud Khan, Chief of Police, a Babi woman (Tahirih). In spite of this she apparently found means daily to gather around herself many members of her sect. She was strangled in a garden in the presence of Ajudan-Bashi….”[ii]

Queen Victoria’s long reign dominated the history of the 19th century British Empire, so much so that this period is called the “Victorian Age”. Click below to see original photos and footage of Queen Victoria.

[i] Moojan Momen, The Babi and Baha’i Religions, 1844-1944, Some Contemporary Western Accounts (Oxford, UK: George Ronald, 1981), 135.

[ii] Ibid., 143.

Visiting Tahirih's home

In January 1930, Martha Root, an American Baha’i who travelled the world to spread the Faith, stepped into the room of the home in Qazvin, Iran, in which Tahirih had been born and knelt and kissed the floor.

She was the first Western Baha’i ever to visit this place where the great mystic had lived.

The descendants of Tahirih were shocked to see this woman from the west paying deep homage to their long-deceased relative. The owner of the hotel where Martha Root was staying had reprimanded one of them saying that they should have done more to memorialize her when an American had come from so far to pay homage to her.

Tahirih’s family’s home still retained its appearance as a beautiful old palace. Martha Root was shown the women’s quarters in which Tahirih was born and the library on the second floor where she had read so many books.

Having had an audience with Queen Marie of Romania and travelling for the Faith throughout Europe, she continued onwards on her travels despite poor health to China and India and passing away in Hawaii. Shoghi Effendi, the appointed Head of the Baha’i Faith (1921-1953), referred to her as the foremost Baha’i teacher of the first Baha’i century (1844-1944).

With the spread of the Baha’i Faith, awareness and appreciation of the life, work, and sacrifice pf Tahirih spread beyond Iran to the rest of the world. The attempt in that country to wipe away her traces Tahirih by destroying her personal records after her execution had failed.

To hear Martha Root read a prayer click here

To see footage of Queen Marie of Romania click here

Emerging

The women’s rights movement emerged within other reform movements such as abolitionism. Its push to gain the right to vote was highly unpopular in the country and brought much hostility—including from many women.

Spiritualism created a huge audience for the advancement of women’s rights as the women’s rights agenda ideas travelled throughout the spiritualist network of lectures, newspapers, books, and organizations for several decades.

The women’s rights movement did not have a formal organization. The first National Women’s Rights Convention was held in Worcester, Massachusetts, in October 1850. Paula Wright Davis, the wealthy widow of a merchant organized it.

Around one-thousand people—most of them men—came to hear the wide variety of reformers she had invited including Harriot Hunt, the first woman accepted to Harvard Medical School—she could not attend because the male students objected, and Wendell Phillips, an abolitionist who also worked for Indian causes.

Davis hoped that the discussions would be civil, but things got loud as the participant argued passionately about the issues: access to higher education, greater employment opportunities for women, reorganizing duties in the home, and opening trades and profession to women.

This was the first large public appearance for the gifted orator Lucy Stone. Life could be very hard for a women’s rights activities. Before getting there, she had been nursing her brother who soon died of cholera in front of her, then she left with her very pregnant sister-in-law who gave birth prematurely to a still born child, and while nursing her back to health, she contracted typhoid fever, causing her to drift in and out of consciousness for days. She survived and made it to the Convention, the success of which greatly lifted her spirits.

Click first for an excellent summary of the woman’s suffrage movement in the US

 

Overview of the Baha’i teachings on the equality of men and women

Faith and Healing

Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910) was the only woman to found a major Christian denomination.

One of six children, Mary loved her mother deeply, coming to believe that God had both male and female characteristics like those she experienced from her mother. Her stern father insisted that his daughters receive an education.

In the 1840s, she became a journalist, a difficult professional path for women, but her poems were soon being published. She married George Glover but after they moved to South Carolina, he died suddenly leaving her alone and with little money and a child.

Seven years of poverty followed. Her beloved mother died, and her father remarried soon, shocking Mary. She was sickly and could not take care of her boy and placed him with the family nurse who, unbeknownst to her.

She desperately needed a husband and married Daniel Patterson, a dentist, whom she met while trying to treat her severe dental problems. But he was a poor provider and a philanderer and soon the couple was in poverty. Mary began to exhibit hysteria and experience back and stomach pain.

The impoverished couple moved from town to town. Her husband did not allow her son to live with them and he was relocated to Minnesota. Mary began to turn away from the world.

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After reading homeopathic materials, she began to consider ‘mental’ solutions to her illnesses and came to associate with Dr. Phineas P. Quimby who explored alternative ‘sciences’ of healing such as mesmerism, a form of hypnotism with clairvoyance. The good health she experienced with Quimby did not last and she began to develop ideas of her own. To Mary, God was at the center. He was the healer and the healing principle was Divine.

She came to rely on a God beyond human comprehension. In early 1864, she gave a well-received public talk regarding the metaphysical dimensions of healing and began to think that there must be a ‘science’ of Christianity.

Her life changed in 1866 when she slipped on ice, badly injuring herself. Helpless in bed that Sunday afternoon, she asked that a Bible be brought to her. While reading it, she felt flooded by the presence of Jesus Christ. When the doctor came the next day, she was up and about.

This was the beginning of her Christian Science.

Though forty-five and poor, she wrote extensively on her new analysis of the Bible. A group of students gathered around her to learn her ideas on healing and she built a practice around these ideas.

Her foundational text on her Christian Science, Science and Health, was published in 1875. Through many revisions this text was an audacious effort by a woman to set forth serous theological ideas despite her lack of any classical education.

She believed that the natural state of human beings was wellness and that sickness could be eliminated by following the laws and examples of Jesus. The soul was more powerful than the body. Her teachings shocked many Christians.

The Christian Science movement grew, and in 1879, the Church of Christ, Scientist, was founded, and a mother church built in Boston with Mary as its pastor. She became now the object of numerous public attacks. She was ridiculed by prominent Americans such as Mark Twain, who described Eddy as a, “sordid and ignorant old purloiner of that gospel.”

Mary Baker Eddy’s life was an extraordinarily rocky ride from a sickly farm girl to being the only female founder of a major Christian denomination, as well as a deep theological thinker, charismatic teacher, administrator and leader.

See below for a biography of Mary Baker Eddy and a musical version of the Baha'i 'Healing Prayer'
 

 

Health and Spirituality

Ellen G. White (1827–1915) may well be the most translated female writer in history. She wrote some five-thousand articles and forty books translated into more than 140 languages. Her thoughts and writings shaped an entire Christian denomination: the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Born into a Methodist family of eight, she suffered a severe head injury as a child when a rock was thrown at her. Her family became Millerites, believing that the Second Coming would be soon at hand.

She began having visions of the City of God and travelled to the scattered Adventist groups to preach. Some Adventists came to believe that she was an instrument for God’s teaching.

He husband, James, a preacher, began publishing a semi-monthly paper that gave an outlet for her writings. Her first book, A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White, came out in 1851.

The Adventist community spread her teachings which were remarkably forward-looking and modern. She advocated for the importance of healthy eating and a balanced diet in a time in which meat and potatoes was considered the best meal. She spoke out against living a frenetic life and using stimulants whereas “sleep and repose” were “nature's great restorers.”[i] She eschewed the use of tobacco.

White believed that in schools, children should be educated to control their passions by being engaged as thoughtful beings rather than being trained by rote. They shouldn’t be taught in an oppressive way because this prevented them from developing inner-directed self-discipline.

Click below for the following:

1)     A talk on Baha’u’llah’s “Tablet of Medicine”

The life of Ellen White from an Adventist perspective

A talk from the U. of California on Spirituality and Health from a secular point of view

Low Expectations

Olympia Brown was strongly encouraged by her mother to pursue her education, so she enrolled in Mount Holyoke, founded by Mary Lyon, an active proponent of women’s education in the 19th century. Holyoke was one of the original efforts to create institutions of higher learning for women.

Even at Holyoke, Brown found low expectations for female students, so she transferred to Antioch College. Antioch was one of the first colleges to admit black American students.

Its president was the hugely influential American educator Horace Mann. Mann proposed a broad range of progressive—often unpopular—ideas such as:

·       Public education should be paid for by public taxation

·      Public schools should be open to children of all backgrounds

·       Teachers should be trained

·       A common curriculum to inculcate a sense of common citizenship and to educate the public rather than leave it ignorant

Brown received such an excellent education there, that her entire family moved to Antioch to enable all her siblings to attend the school.  

Olympia wanted to become a minister and chose St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. Even though its president “did not think women were called to the ministry”, she was accepted and became its first female graduate.

She achieved the distinction in 1863 of becoming the first woman ordained by a whole denomination, the Unitarian Universalists—the one in which she had been raised. She preached for forty-eight years.

By 1880, there were one-hundred and sixty-five ordained female ministers with parishes.

Click the first video to learn more about Horace Mann’s efforts to advance the common school

Olympia Brown (1835-1926) dedicated her life to opening doors for women. Among only a handful of women to graduate from college, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Antioch in 1860 and three years later became the first woman graduate of a regularly established theological school at St. Lawrence University.

First Female Minister

On a Sunday morning in Western New York State in 1833, a minister was astonished to see a nine-year old girl come up to request to be accepted into the church. Antoinette Brown (1825–1921) remembers being as “deeply and truly religious at that time…as I have ever been at any age.”

Her family had settled in the ‘Burned-Over District’ where the Millerites, the Latter-Day Saints, the Shakers and passionate revivals were thriving.

Antoinette’s father wanted her to get an education, so she attended the Monroe Academy where she was taught a more rigorous curriculum than most girls received. At fifteen, she was hired to be a teacher.

She really wanted, though, to become a minister. She needed a school that taught more than home-making skills and found one in Oberlin College.

The college was aflame with the abolitionist cause. There were several African-American students and ten percent of the town’s population was African-American Though female students could take academic courses, they were not allowed to speak in public settings. The Ladies Board discouraged Brown in her study of theology because she could never be wise enough to compare to the “great men of the past.”[i]

Brown continued with her theological studies but when she graduated at age twenty-five, her name was not included on the list of graduates because a woman was not supposed to study theology in any official capacity.

At the National Women’s Rights Convention, her public-speaking talents were validated, and she decided to try to make her living as a public speaker. In those times, lectures were a source of evening activity for people as there were no radios, televisions, or movies. Soon, Brown was lecturing throughout New England, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

On a speaking trip through central New York State, the village of South Butler offered her a position as pastor in its church. Brown agreed to take the position. She had become the first woman to be ordained a minister in the history of the United States.

Click the first video to learn a little about Oberlin College and its ties to African-American history

Click the second video to hear a reenactment of a talk by Antoinette Brown

Click the third video to learn more about the Faiths of the Burned-Over District

The Pentacle

In June of 1850, the Bab sent a special locked coffer to Baha’u’llah, containing letters, seals, pens, and rings. On a scroll of delicate blue paper, He wrote five hundred verses containing three-hundred and sixty derivations of the word ‘Baha’ in the form of a pentacle.

He may well have known that his earthly ministry was coming to an end. The authorities had signed His death warrant and killed many of His Apostles.

But thousands more had responded to His Divine Call:

“I am the Mystic Fane, which the Hand of Omnipotence hath reared. I am the Lamp which the Finger of God hath lit within its niche and caused to shine with deathless splendor.”

On July 9th, 1850, in a public square in the northeastern city of Tabriz, the Bab, the former young merchant who had caused a spiritual revolution by proclaiming to be the revealer of a new holy book and the forerunner of another manifestation of God, was shot to death by firing squad along with a young believer who had begged to ascend with him.

He spoke to the crowd as the firing squad raised their rifles:
 

“O wayward generation! Had you believed in Me every one of you would have followed the example  of this youth, who stood in rank above most of you, and would have willingly sacrificed himself in My path. The day will come when you will have recognized Me; that day I shall have ceased to be with you.”


The Bab had made his claims known gradually; only with time did Babis come to realize their breadth.
This poem may give us an idea of Tahirih’s emotions during this painful period with this theme of separation:

“I am lost in the heartland of your love,
and yet you do not even seem to care
 
Look down in pity at this foreigner,
you truest ruler of the kingdoms here,
 
and tell me, love, how have I sinned, and where?
And why, my idol, does your love prepare
 
with each breath banish me, strip me bare
like some murderer exiled to nowhere?
 
I have waited for you day after day.
I’m weary now. I’m wasted, worn away
 
to bone, a flute that sighs away my care—
sorrows sung to the wind, and lost in air.
 
Is there a mind that knows your perfection?
A passion to utter your perfection?
 
A path that leads me to your perfection?
Beyond you, nothing, and no direction
 
And when the wandering wind reaches you,
it carries our tormented words to you
 
Look at these tear-filled eyes, this pallid face—
Can you refuse them? Whom would it disgrace?
 
Will you not come at daybreak to my bed,
with kindness ravish me, and end my dread?
 
Lift me, love, on the wings of my desire
Lift me to you, to safety in your fire
 
Only take me up, away from this place
Set me down in the place that is no place
 
Yet keep me close to you, far from strife,
since in this empty world, I have no life”
(translation: Banani/Kessler)

A Brilliant Sun

Tahirih was captured and brought back from Northern Iran to house arrest in Tihran where the aristocratic women in the royal circles of the capital soon met her for the first time and learned of the exciting claims of the Bab and the new day.

Shams-i-Jahan, grand-daughter of a former king and a prominent poet, was among those who sought her out. She arrived one morning at the home of the Mayor where Tahirih was being kept in a second-floor room. As she got close, she said a prayer beseeching God that if Tahirih’s teachings were true, she would be allowed to see her. A window on the second floor opened in which Tahirih appeared “like a brilliant sun.” and called down to her.

The princess asked her about her imprisonment, and Tahirih answered that it was because she proclaimed the truth. The ‘truth’ spoken of had to do with the teachings of the young Siyyid from Shiraz as the princess learned. Their exchange was cut off by the men guarding Tahirih, and the princess went home longing to resume their conversation on these spiritual questions.  

At a wedding feast held at the Mayor’s house, aristocratic women dressed in all their finery sent a message to the mayor asking that he allow Tahirih to come and speak to them. Shams-i-Jahan remembered Tahirih spoke with such power that the women forgot the wedding. She moved them to tears with expressions of her trials and tribulations and then comforted them with humorous stories. She finished by walking among them chanting her poems. After this night, even the maids and helpers in the home became deeply attached to Tahirih.

Click below for an article on the women’s movement in Iran which begins with a summary of Tahirih’s life from a secular point of view and then a short video overview of the Persian literary tradition:

http://www.mahnazafkhami.net/2002/womens-movements-in-iran/

I am the Word

Tahirih believed that the Bab was the new Messenger from God sent with a new Revelation and that these days were an ‘in-between’ time: the Shari’a and the law of prayer were now replaced by the new Law of the Bab. 

But other Babis had not understood it this way.

So it was that one day, Quddus, one of the most respected of the Bab's Disciples, and several others were meeting in the tent of Mirza Husayn Ali. Suddenly Tahirih entered their gathering showing her face without the covering of a veil and proclaimed that that “the Trumpet is sounding! The great Trump is blown! The universal Advent is now proclaimed!” These were words from the Qur’an and the Book of Isaiah. 

She, Tahirih, a woman, was that trumpet blast. 

The Babis were shocked by this display. They regarded Tahirih as the holy Fatimih, Muhammad’s daughter, and to look upon her face was blasphemous. They also may have remembered the Islamic tradition in which Fatimih appears unveiled on the Day of Judgement. Could this be the Day of Judgement for them?

Quddus sat with a furious expression on his face. One Babi even cut his own throat as a gesture of atonement. 

They looked to Mirza Husayn Ali for guidance. He told them to read the Surih of the Inevitable from the Qur’an:
“When the Day that must come shall have come suddenly…Day that shall abase! Day that shall exalt….” 

Tahirih appeared radiant and peaceful even in the face and concluded by looking at Mirza Husayn Ali and Quddus and saying: 

“‘Verily, amid gardens and rivers shall the pious dwell in the seat of truth, in the presence of the potent King.”

She was the word of this revelation:

“I am the word that the Qa’im will utter, the word that shall put to flight the chiefs and nobles of the earth.” 

This was the day to celebrate:

“This day is the day of festivity and universal rejoicing, the day on which the fetters of the past are burst asunder. Let those who have shared in this great achievement arise and embrace each other.”

Tahirih’s actions divided the Babis. Some now doubted the truth of the Bab, and a few even left the Faith...

Click below for a discussion on the Baha'i Faith as a new religion from the perspective of Shi'a Islam:

Who was the Bab?

What were the true meaning of the claims of the Bab?

This is the question that His followers were debating when they decided to gather at the village of Badasht in 1848.

Was he announcing a new Revelation or was he the promised reformer of Islam? If this was a new Revelation, what were its teachings and who were its leaders? 

There had been extensive correspondence between the Bab and Mirza Husayn Ali (Baha’u’llah) regarding preparations for this gathering. 

The Bab had revealed His holy book, the Bayan (the ‘Exposition’), that previous winter of 1847-48 from His prison cell in the fortress of Mahku but it took time for it to disseminate.

Tahirih arrived with her personal escort after having traveled across the main east-west highway near the foothills of the Alborz Mountains. 
 
To avoid suspicion, Mirza Husayn Ali followed a few days later. He rode with several other Babis and the supplies needed for the gathering. 

Mirza Husayn Ali rented three gardens in Badasht, a rural village that had been a resort for the nobility. There were several small gardens with a large open area in the middle where the Babis could gather to meet. 

One was for himself, another for Quddus, and a third for Tahirih; other believers pitched their tents near them. Each garden had a large tent with mats and carpets. There was a stream which ran through the great open field. 

Eighty-one Babis eventually gathered at Badasht in the beginning of the summer of 1848. Quddus, the 18th Letter of the Living of the Bab and among his most respecetd, arrived after hearing about the location of the gathering from Babis whom he had met on the road. 

In the intense discussions that were about to take place.
Quddus was seen as the exponent of the more conservative view that the Bab was the renewal of Islam, while Tahirih expressed a more iconoclastic view—that He was the bringer of a new Revelation.


Click the video below for an overview of Baha’i origins; the Conference of Badasht is at 6:42.

The End Time

In early 1848, most of the followers of the Bab believed He was the Mahdi (meaning the “Guided One”).

This traditional Islamic was that a messianic figure, the Mahdi, would emerge at the end of time to signal the day of judgement. The appearance of the Mahdi is not found in the Qur’an, and the beliefs about him changed over the centuries.

‘Mahdi’ seems to have originally meant a liberator who would bring the Arab tribes of Southern Arabia back to their ancient glory, like the idea of a ‘Messiah’ for Jews, a king who would liberate the Holy Land. This idea then merged with beliefs about righteousness against corrupt rulers, the resurrection of the dead, the day of judgement, and, in Shi’a Islam, the occultation (a ‘disappearance’ from which he would one day return) of the last Imam as well. In the Sunni tradition, the ‘Mahdi’ seems to have been thought of more as a ruler in this world.

Over the centuries, there were many claimants to being the ‘Mahdi’—from rebels, to founders of dynasties and Sufi mystics, who emerged in Persia, Central Asia, and the Sudan, among other places. 

The Bab, though, was claiming to be much more—that he was the bringer of new Divine Revelation and the forerunner of a second Manifestation of God, referred to as “the One Whom God will make manifest.”

One of the prophecies regarding the Mahdi was that he would appear in the Eastern province of Khurasan with a black flag as its standard. The Bab instructed Mulla Husayn to initiate this episode by raising the black standard in the province of Khurasan and journeying westward. The Bab moreover issued a general call to his disciples to rally to the black standard.

In that same province, other Babi leaders gathered in the village of Badasht to ascertain the true nature of the Bab’s claims.

Click below for an overview of the Life of the Bab and a documentary on a political claimant to be the Mahdi from the Sudan:

 

The Bab and Jesus

In April, 1848, the authorities moved the Bab moved to an even more remote prison fortress in northwestern Iran, Chihriq, which He called the “Grievous Mountain”. Soon the officer in charge, the local people, and the important clerics in the region were moved by the Bab’s holiness. 

A seeker travelled all the way from India after having seen Him in a dream.

The authorities decided that the Bab had to be put on trial. All along the road, the Bab’s presence generated excitement as stories of his miraculous deeds were spread among the people. The most prominent clerics in the area and the future King gathered to question the Bab.

The Bab entered and sat in the seat of honor. When questioned about His claim, he answered:
“I am, I am, I am, the Promised One! I am the One whose name you have for a thousand years invoked, at whose mention you have risen, whose advent you have longed to witness, and the hour of whose Revelation you have prayed God to hasten.”

The astonished clerics responded with a series of very specific questions on obscure issues not related to the Bab’s claims. A cleric asked that he describe the trial in Qur’anic language, and just as the Bab began to do so, he was cut off by his questioner who mocked him His highly unconventional Arabic.

At that point the Bab uttered the Qur’anic verse, “Far be the glory of thy Lord, the Lord of all greatness, from what they impute to Him, and peace be upon His Apostles!” He then got up and walked out of the trial which descended into chaos.

Both the Bab and Jesus were put on trial. Both proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Both possessed extraordinary wisdom as youth. Both had brief and turbulent ministries. Both were transfigured. Both were executed. Both gave a mission to their apostles.

Jesus’s commission to His Apostles:
“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

The Bab’s address to the Letters of the Living:
“O My beloved friends! You are the bearers of the name of God in this Day. You have been chosen as the repositories of His mystery.… Ponder the words of Jesus addressed to His disciples, as He sent them forth to propagate the Cause of God. In words such as these, He bade them arise and fulfil their mission: ‘Ye are even as the fire which in the darkness of the night has been kindled upon the mountain-top. Let your light shine before the eyes of men. …..’ O My Letters! Verily I say, immensely exalted is this Day above the days of the Apostles of old….. You are the first Letters that have been generated from the Primal Point, the first Springs that have welled out from the Source of this Revelation. Beseech the Lord your God to grant that no earthly entanglements, no worldly affections, no ephemeral pursuits, may tarnish the purity, or embitter the sweetness, of that grace which flows through you. I am preparing you for the advent of a mighty Day. Exert your utmost endeavour that, in the world to come, I, who am now instructing you, may, before the mercy-seat of God, rejoice in your deeds and glory in your achievements. The secret of the Day that is to come is now concealed. It can neither be divulged nor estimated. The newly born babe of that Day excels the wisest and most venerable men of this time, and the lowliest and most unlearned of that period shall surpass in understanding the most erudite and accomplished divines of this age. Scatter throughout the length and breadth of this land, and, with steadfast feet and sanctified hearts, prepare the way for His coming. Heed not your weaknesses and frailty; fix your gaze upon the invincible power of the Lord, your God, the Almighty....’

Click below for photographs of Chihriq and a video on the life of the historical Jesus (the Jerusalem period begins @ 39:30)

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In prison

In the year before Seneca Falls, the Bab’s influence in Iran had spread so much that the authorities had him moved him to the far northwest near the border with Russia and shut him up in a mountain prison. A lone path connected its front gate to the town of Mahku at the foot of the mountain.

On the way to their fields in the morning, the local Kurdish farmers often stopped to look up at the mountain prison hoping to receive a blessing from the holy man within. The very presence of the Bab affected the warden and the guards. After seeing the Bab in a vision walking outside the castle, the warden relaxed all the rules pertaining to the prisoner and allowed the growing stream of visitors to come in and meet him.

The Bab saw his imprisonment in the path of God as the essence of freedom--and himself as the incarnation of God’s will:

“This solitary room (wherein I am) which has not even a door, is today the greatest of the gardens of Paradise, for the Tree of Truth is planted herein. All the atoms of which it is composed cry out, ‘In truth, there is no other God but God, and there is no other God beside me, the Lord of the Universe.”

During the bitterly cold winter of 1847-8, the Bab revealed in his dark stone cell his Holy book, the Bayan (the ‘Exposition’).

The opening of the Bayan, echoing the timeless opening invocation of the Qur’an, consists of nineteen letters, symbolizing the First and Primal First Unity:

“In the Name of God, the Most Exalted, the Most Holy…”

Click below for photos of Mahku at the time and today and then for an uplifting video on the Shrine of the Bab that begins with an appreciation of His time in Mahku:

 

Mahku old.jpg
Mahku new.jpg