Today we meet the fourth of our ten heroines, a woman named Tahirih, whose faith sustained her under the most horrific circumstances.
A pediatric nurse by profession, Tahirih Siyavushi, age 30, was fired from her position, the sole reason being that she was a Baha’i. She had endeavored to serve the children of humanity as a nurse, faithfully following the Baha’i teachings:
I hope that in this nether world thou shalt attain unto heavenly light, thou wilt free the souls from the gloom of nature, which is the animal kingdom, and cause them to reach lofty stations in the human kingdom. Today all people are immersed in the world of nature. That is why thou dost see jealousy, greed, the struggle for survival, deception, hypocrisy, tyranny, oppression, disputes, strife, bloodshed, looting and pillaging, which all emanate from the world of nature. Few are those who have been freed from this darkness, who have ascended from the world of nature to the world of man, who have followed the divine Teachings, have served the world of humanity, are resplendent, merciful, illumined and like unto a rose garden. Strive thine utmost to become godlike, characterized with His attributes, illumined and merciful, that thou mayest be freed from every bond and become attached at heart to the Kingdom of the incomparable Lord. This is Baha’i bounty, and this is heavenly light. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 206.
Arrested for her Baha’i beliefs, Tahirih went to prison. During her incarceration, Tahirih spent some of her prison time:
… held in solitary confinement where the cells have no bathrooms or toilets—facilities the prisoners may use only three times in twenty-four hours, at the discretion of the prison guards – Persecution of the Baha’i Community of Iran, 1983-1986, compiled on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, in Baha’i World, Volume 19, p. 185.
When that didn’t break her, the guards threatened to torture her husband, Jamshid, also a Baha’i prisoner. Still she could not be persuaded to set aside her faith.
Prison authorities had her nurse other inmates, including her husband who had been severely tortured and ended up being executed two days before she and her nine companions kept their own date with the noose.
On learning she was to be hanged, Tahirih assured her family that she in fact felt a sense of relief. She said she was truly happy. When she and her father had their last meeting, Tahirih said to him: “Look at how beautiful I am. Look at me well,” and she laughed.
…a Baha’i who had been imprisoned with her but who was later freed, brought to the [Baha’i] World Centre a pair of grey heavy cotton ankle-length socks which had belonged to Tahirih, and which she insisted her fellow prisoner wear when the latter was taken away to be whipped on the soles of her feet, in order to provide a greater degree of protection, as she had only thin stockings. When the prisoner spoke of her intention, if released, of presenting the socks to the Universal House of Justice, Tahirih wished her the fulfillment of her heart’s desire. “If you are released, it will be with honour,” she said. Then she counselled: “Leave Iran and tell the world what we suffered, what the enemies did to us. And tell the Baha’is, too, so they will utterly detach themselves from material things, will not be content with the glitter and illusions of this contingent world, and will devote their lives to service to the Cause. – Ibid., pp. 185-186.
Tahirih believed deeply that this world is not the only world—that we all have beautiful, immortal souls destined to traverse all the worlds of God. She knew that her beauty came from within, and so would last forever. She did not fear her death, because she knew that the death of the body only frees the soul.