Lifting the Veil: New Research on the Life and Work of Qurratu’l-‘Ayn Tahirih

The scholar, poet, preacher, teacher, prisoner, mother and martyr known as Qurratu’l-‘Ayn Tahirih (c. 1818-1852) is widely considered one of the most remarkable women in Iranian history. Yet more than a century and a half after her death, more questions than answers remain about this prodigy of the Qajar era. Seated at the intersection of literature, history, and religious studies, this panel will feature four papers that seek to advance scholarly understanding and beckon to new horizons on the life and work of the Babi heroine. The first presentation will be historical in nature and examine the impact Tahirih exerted on women in her hometown of Qazvin. The second paper will cast new light on Tahirih’s poesy by considering her use of a classical convention of Persian poetry. The third paper will introduce some of the most prominent themes encountered in her prodigious prose output. The final paper will explore perceptions of Tahirih in the works of European Orientalists and scholars and reformers from the Muslim world.

Personal Information (Panel Organizer)

Sasha Dehghani
Bahai World Centre

Chair

Negar Mottahedeh
Duke University

Discussant

Negar Mottahedeh
Duke University

Schedule

Room 27
Wed, 2016-08-03 14:15 - 15:45

Presentations

by Moojan Momen / None

Nineteenth Century Qazvin was a maelstrom of religious controversy and conflict. Usulis, Akhbaris, Shaykhis, Babis, and Baha'is all interacted in conflict with each other and sometimes even in violence. The central figure for much of this conflict was Qurrat al-`Ayn Tahirih, the daughter of an Usuli scholar, who became a Shaykhi and then a Babi. This paper will look at the circle of women around her and how she interacted with them. Although she herself was killed in 1852, the impact that she had on the women of the city had a lasting direct effect to the end of the nineteenth century and an indirect one up the present time.

by Sahba Shayani / University of Oxford

Throughout both modern and contemporary periods of Persian poetry, the figure of Ṭāhere Qorrat al-'Ayn (1814/17 – 1852) as a poet has been largely ignored, while some focus has been placed upon her historical role as a revolutionary woman and a key figure in the Bābi religion. Although a large part of this active disregard for her work has undoubtedly stemmed from politico-religious intolerance, it has also partially resulted from a lack of detailed information and primary sources regarding her poetry. This paper attempts to gain somewhat of a better understanding of Ṭāhere the poet by analyzing three of the works attributed to her—“Ey āšeqān, ey āšeqān šod āšekārā vajh-e ḥaqq,” “Jaḏabāt-e šowqak al-jamt be salāsel al-ǧam o’l-balā,” and “Agar be bād daham zolf-e 'anbar-āsā rā”—all of which are evident “literary imitations,” alongside the original pieces composed by Rumi, Jāmi, and Gowhar Beygom Āḍarbāyjāni, respectively. By analyzing how Ṭāhere’s works both resemble and differ from the previous poems, we can gain access to the subtleties and nuances which may help better inform us about the poetic persona of this historical figure.

by Sasha Dehghani / Bahai World Centre

Within the first decade of the Babi-Bahai Faiths, the birth of the new religion was proclaimed in several notable instances by a female figure. One of these is found in the Bab’s exegesis of the Surah of Joseph in 1844, another in the apocalyptic gesture of Tahirih’s public removal of her veil in the hamlet of Badasht in 1848, and yet another in Baha’u’llah’s vision in the prison of Tihran in 1852, as recorded in his Surah al-Haykal. Whereas in the first and last instance the female figure is a symbol representing a mystico-prophetic experience, the second instance features a woman of flesh and blood. This historical proclamation by a female apostle, unknown in the annals of previous monotheistic dispensations, did not escape the attention of observers. Leading European orientalists, such as E.G. Browne, Carl Friedrich Andreas and Theodor Nöldeke, analyzed Tahirih’s life and texts, while European artists and novelists, such as Marie von Najmajer, Isabella Grinevskaya and Sarah Bernhardt, paid tribute to the life of the Persian poet and martyr in fictional form. In the Islamic world, however, reaction was not always so sympathetic. Whereas an outstanding Muslim reformer such as Muhammad Iqbal allocated Tahirih a place of honor in his Javidnamih--his Persianized version of Dante’s Divina Commedia--the Qajar chronicler Muhammad Taqi ‘Sipihr’ chose to present Tahirih as the incarnation of immorality and seduction. Nevertheless, whether positive or negative, the range of reactions to Tahirih's life can be read as attestation of the decisive role she played in the genesis of a new religion.

by Omid Ghaemmaghami / State University of New York

While many of Tahirih’s poems have been translated and studied by scholars, her surviving prose works in Arabic and Persian whose size outweighs the number of her extant poems have not received much attention. This paper will attempt to partially fill a veritable lacuna by offering a categorization of the prodigious prose oeuvre of Tahirih. Specific attention will be given to Tahirih's use of the Qur’an and hadith literature, her conception of key eschatological portents, her frequent references to the writings of the Bab, Shaykh Ahmadu’l-Ahsa’i and Siyyid Kazim-i-Rashti, and the role of love and encouragement in her worldview as represented in these works.