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article imageTahirih: Iranian pioneer for human rights

By Carol Forsloff     Feb 22, 2011 in World
Iranians are dying in the struggle for democracy and equality for themselves, but many do not know it was a woman many decades ago who died while pleading for the human rights her countrymen are demanding today in the demonstrations taking place in Iran.
Tahirih played a role not only in her country’s history of struggles against tyranny, but in doing so she is recorded as someone who advanced the freedom of people everywhere. Her exemplary life and martyrdom for her beliefs brought Queen Marie of Romania, just after the turn of the 20th century, to give women the right to vote in Romania, years before American women could vote.
When Tahirih spoke for women’s rights, she did so at a time in the mid-19th century when she knew she would be killed for her beliefs. Tahirih was respected for both beauty and talent. Knowing what she did would garner public attention, Tahirih took off her veil in public, setting off a stream of defiance echoed by many of her countrymen today. For a woman to remove her veil in that way was literally a threat against the very foundation of religious tyranny in those days.
No one knows the exact date of Tahirih’s birth, because many of the important documents associated with her early life were destroyed following her death. What history records, however, is she was likely born between the years 1817 and 1820, into a religious family, as the daughter of a prominent Mullah.
Tahirih was said to be fluent in the writings of the Quran and referred often to them in her poetry. She was known throughout much of her area of the Middle East for her intelligence, good looks, devotion to God, and her eloquent writings and speech.
When a young man arose in 1844 and proclaimed himself the "Wayshower" for the Promised One to come, as the Seal of the Prophets in a line of them that included both Jesus and Muhammad, Tahirih was one of those who took up the cause. The "Wayshower" was known as the Bab, and Tahirih became one of the followers known as “Letters of the Living” who witnessed to others of the coming of a new Messiah to the Middle East.
In the capacity of teacher, Tahirih traveled many places in her country, proclaiming the rights of all people, including the rights of women.
After she removed her veil in a public gathering, Tahirih knew she would be killed, for the laws of Islam were then strict about women covering their faces. But because she was so beloved for her pious life and beautiful poetry, many people, including the Shah at the time, asked for religious leaders to leave Tahirih alone. But that was not what happened.
In 1852 a group of men approached Tahirih. Knowing they had come to kill her, Tahirih gave them one of her scarves with which they strangled her. She wrote her name that day in history books as a martyr for women’s rights and for religious freedom.
Before she died, Tahirih was quoted as saying, “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”
The name of Tahirih is now well known among members of the Baha’i Faith, a world religion, who consider her an important representative of their beliefs in human rights. A center is named after Tahirih where people devote themselves to research and charitable work involved in advocacy and equal rights for women.
As Iranians protest the tyranny of the regime under which they live and women appreciate their rights accorded under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is that Iranian woman, Tahirih, who gave her life those many years ago for the freedoms people in her country are demanding for themselves today.
More about Tahirih, Human Rights, Baha'is, Baha'u'llah, Women iranian
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