Qurrat al-'Ayn Tahirih,
Iranian female poet, firebrand
and Babi religious leader, 1817-1852
... suddenly the figure of [Qurrat al-'Ayn] appeared adorned and unveiled... rose from her seat
and, undeterred by the tumult that she had raised in the hearts of her companions
began to address the remnant of the assembly. Without the least premeditation,
and in language that bore striking resemblance to that of the Qu'ran,
she delivered her appeal with matchless eloquence and profound fervor. ... she declared,
"I am the Word which the Qa'im is to utter, the Word
which shall put to flight the chiefs and nobles of the earth."
--- from Shaykh Abu Turab's description of the Badasht Conference, at the dawn of the Baha'i movement in Iran, 1848
Qurrat al-'Ayn (born Fatimih Bigum Baraghani) was the daughter of a prominent mullah of Qazvin. She clashed with her father over religious issues --she became a strong opponent of the clergy --and separated from her husband, to whom she was forced to yield custody of the children. By 1844 she was a major force within the Babi movement (which eventually became the Baha'i religion). Her fiery oratory moved people wherever she went.
Her flouting of Shi'a orthodoxy led the clergy to denounce her, resulting in a mob descending on the house where she was staying. The governor had her arrested, then sent her to Baghdad. A group of important Babi women as well as some of the men followed her there. She gave public speeches, curtained off from the male audience. Again the authorities imprisoned her, this time in the house of the Mufti of Baghdad.
Qurrat's father, incensed at her activities, managed to arrange with the governor to deport her. Along the way she caused a sensation in many of the towns she passed through; women of noble houses invited her to speak and teach. Over a thousand people were moved to pledge their support to her in Krand, but her group was expelled from Kermanshah. Her relatives tried to force her to return to her husband's house. Her father-in-law Mullah Taqi called her a Zindiq (heretic) and said that "the words of the Zindiq will be the words of a woman's religion."
Violence broke out against the Babis on their return to Qazvin. Retaliation against one of the instigators, Qurrat's uncle and father-in-law, led to arrests, torture and executions of more Babis. Baha'u'llah helped Qurrat to escape to his house in Tehran. Then came the 1848 meeting of Babis in Badasht and her famous unveiling. Qurrat declared a break with Islam and managed to win over the leader Quddus.
Riots and battles broke out over the next two years. Qurrat al-'Ayn went into hiding, but was arrested for conspiring to assassinate her uncle. She was confined in the house of the mayor of Tehran for two years, during which time the lady of the house hosted gatherings of women who came to hear her speak. After the execution of the Bab and later massacres of Babis, Qurrat al-'Ayn was sentenced to death. She calmly prepared herself with fasting and prayers. As a female insurgent, her excution was not held in public. Her captors simply strangled her with a silk scarf, threw her into a garden well, and filled it with stones and soil.
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