Tahirih, the Persian heroine of the dispensation of The Bab, called for the emancipation of women in a time when women had no rights or freedoms.
She demanded the equality of women at the same time Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton held the first women’s convention in the United States with the goal of working for women’s rights.
Try to compare the ridicule and abuse heaped upon western women activists in a country where women had limited rights, with Tahirih’s efforts at a time and in a place where women had absolutely no rights. In Persia at the time women were basically chattel and nearly all were illiterate. In the midst of that environment, Tahirih, whose name means “The Pure One,” shone like a brilliant candle to light the way out of the darkness. Fearless and determined, she traveled extensively to teach the new religion and wherever she went she worked to uplift the plight of women.
An avid scholar of the Qur’an, the Holy Book of the Muslim faith into which she was born, Tahirih argued even the most abstruse points of theology with erudite Islamic scholars—and often confounded them. Also a prolific poet, Tahirih’s poems are still beloved today in Iran and around the world.
The female activists of the west suffered discrimination, taunts, bullying and violence in their quest, but Tahirih gave her life. Fascinated by her, the Shah offered to make her his wife if she would just give up her crusade to spread the Bab’s new teachings. She dared turn him down. Eventually the clergy, incensed by her activities, ordered her execution. Strangled with her own scarf, her body was tossed into a well and covered with stones. Her last words: “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”
It’s ironic (or is it?) that California author and playwright Terre Ouwehand, never having heard of Tahirih, wrote a series of monologues of extraordinary women, tied their performances together with a Greek-style chorus, and titled it Voices from the Well. It was published as a book with the same title.
… bubbles rose
from deep within
the water’s well
… they rise, they rise
up from the source,
deep in granite
tapping white blind,
the sound of beating breath
flowing like blood
in the veins of the world…
the voices surge and swell
and rise to tell
the stories in the well … – Terre Ouwehand, Voices from the Well, pp. 8-9.
Once she did learn of Tahirih, Ms. Ouwehand wrote a piece about her and told me that while writing it she was experiencing difficulties in her life and that Tahirih gave her the spiritual strength to work through them. She also said if she ever revives the production, not only will the Tahirih monologue be included, but she will possibly rework the chorus to indicate the source of that voice from the well.
By sacrificing her own voice, Tahirih gave a voice to women everywhere, and due to their courage and determination, men are also finding a new voice. As each comes to accept the accomplishments of the women around them, and their successes, as normal, and loses their fear and trepidation of equality, they begin to raise their voices in support of these long-needed changes. They also find it less difficult to express honestly their own concerns without worry they may be deemed unmanly:
God’s Bounty is for all and gives power for all progress. When men own the equality of women there will be no need for them to struggle for their rights! One of the principles then of Baha’u’llah is the equality of sex. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 163.
Now it is up to us, each and every one of us, each woman, each man, to use that voice and not remain silent in the face of injustice, intolerance, hatred, or bigotry. We must each become the voice of kindness, gentleness, mercy, generosity, unity and oneness—and beyond our physical voices, let us manifest our words in our deeds.
Let truthfulness and courtesy be your adorning. Suffer not yourselves to be deprived of the robe of forbearance and justice, that the sweet savors of holiness may be wafted from your hearts upon all created things …. Beware … lest ye walk in the ways of them whose words differ from their deeds. Strive that ye may be enabled to manifest to the peoples of the earth the signs of God, and to mirror forth His commandments. Let your acts be a guide unto all mankind, for the professions of most men, be they high or low, differ from their conduct. It is through your deeds that ye can distinguish yourselves from others. Through them the brightness of your light can be shed upon the whole earth. Happy is the man that heedeth My counsel, and keepeth the precepts prescribed by Him Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 305.
When the going is tough, imagine sending a bucket down the well, where Tahirih fills it with the voice of courage, reason, justice and faith. Draw it up and drink deep of that revivifying elixir, then go forth and make a difference.