Martyrdom of Tahirih
Part 4 of a 4 part summary
This is a story of the martyrdom of Táhirih.
The summer of 1848 marked the beginning of the most turbulent phase of the Bábi Faith. The Báb Who was the Prophet/Founder of the new religion, was already confined in prison, and His followers were now targets of persecution, brutality, imprisonment and martyrdom. Among the Báb’s most devoted followers was a young woman known as Táhirih, the only woman appointed as a Letter of the Living (title the Báb gave to His 18 apostles). The Islamic clergy accused her of “heresy” for appearing in public with her face unveiled, as well as for her bold efforts to spread the teachings of the Báb.
Táhirih was in the village of Bárfurúsh with several other Bábís when nearby villagers came and attacked them. She was captured and brought to the city of Tihrán, where she was taken to meet Nasser-al-Din, the King of Persia. It is reported that the king was so impressed with her intelligence and beauty that he offered her a high position in his harem (living quarters for the king’s wives) if she recanted the Bábi Faith. She refused, and was put under house arrest in the home of the mayor, Mahmud Khan, where she remained a prisoner for five years. During that time she became close friends with his wife and earned the respect of the mayor. She also earned the respect and admiration of many women in Tihrán, who regularly visited her at the mayor’s home to hear her speak about the Báb’s teachings, which she often expressed through her beautiful poetry. The women were especially excited to hear her views about the equality of women and men. They were enchanted and inspired by the depth of her knowledge, eloquence and achievements, as well as by her kindness, humility and loving nature.
In the summer of 1852, the government issued an order for her execution, but Táhirih, still a young woman in her early thirties, was aflame with the love of God and showed no fear. The mayor’s wife later spoke about what took place on the night before Táhirih was to be martyred. She said that she received a request from Táhirih on that night to visit her room. When she entered the room she saw Táhirih looking very beautiful, dressed in a gown of snow-white silk, and her room was fragrant with perfume. Táhirih said to her, “I am preparing to meet my Beloved and wish to free you from the cares and anxieties of my imprisonment.” The woman began to weep at the thought of separation from her, and Táhirih said, “Weep not…I wish to share with you my last wishes, for the hour when I shall be arrested is fast approaching. I would request you to allow your son to accompany me to the scene of my death…. It is also my wish that my body be thrown into a pit, and that that pit be filled with earth and stones.” Táhirih’s last request was to not allow anyone to enter her room until the guards came for her. It was her wish to spend her last hours to direct her soul to God through prayer, meditation and fasting.
The following day, on August 18, four hours after sunset, a group of men, sent by the Prime Minister, the same man who issued her death sentence, came to remove Táhirih from the mayor’s house. She kissed the mayor’s wife and bid her farewell, and left with the men, accompanied by the mayor’s son. The men took her to a garden outside of Tihrán where the Prime Minister and assassins awaited her. The men were drunk and laughing, however, because the mayor’s son was there they did not harm her until the moment of execution. Tahirih said to the son, “They apparently wish to strangle me…I set aside, long ago, a silken kerchief which I hoped would be used for this purpose.” She then asked the son to give her executioner her scarf to use it as a means to take her life. It had already been the decision of the Prime Minister to kill Tahirih by strangulation, and the young man had no difficulty persuading the executioners to grant Táhirih’s request. Her final words were directed to the Prime Minister, to whom she boldly declared:
“You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.” - Tahirih
Táhirih was strangled with her silk kerchief, and then her assassins lifted up her body and flung it into a well in the garden, and covered it with earth and stones. But moments before her martyrdom she had no fear. In fact, the Bahá’í Writings tell us, “But Táhirih rejoiced; she set her eyes on the supernal Kingdom and offered up her life.”
Not only will she be remembered in history as a courageous emancipator of women, but, as testified in the Bahá’í Writings, she will be forever glorified as: “A woman chaste and holy, a sign and token of surpassing beauty, a burning brand of the love of God, a lamp of His bestowal, was… Táhirih.”