Qurrat al-ʿAyn Ṭāhirah

views updated


QURRAT AL-ʿAYN HIRAH (c. 18181852), was a Bābī preacher and poet, and their first woman martyr. Both Qurrat al-ʿAyn ("solace of the eyes") and āhirah ("the pure") were given as honorifics, and her original name has fallen into oblivion.

The daughter of a prominent Shīʿī mullah in Qazvin, she was married to her first cousin, the son of another important mullah. She was a highly intelligent woman and early studied the works of Shaykh Amad Asāʾī, who spoke of the imminent coming of the Bāb. After corresponding with Asāʾī's disciple, Sayyid Kāim-i Rashtī, she took the decisive step of leaving her husband and children in order to join his circle in Karbala; but he died shortly before she performed the pilgrimage there in 1843. During her three years' stay in Karbala, āhirah preached the new doctrine with fervor and success and was accepted by the Bāb (whom she never met) as one of his eighteen disciples known as urūf-i ayy ("the letters of the living," i. e., the letters that make up the word ayy ). It was from the Bāb's description of her as Janab-i āhirah ("her excellency, the pure") that she became known as āhirah or, among Bahāʾīs, āhirih.

Her preaching made the authorities suspicious, and in 1847 she was put under surveillance in Baghdad. After the shah's Jewish physician became a convert to Babism during a visit there, āhirah and her followers were expelled from Iraq. Upon her return to Qazin, she was divorced from her husband, who opposed the new teachings of the Bāb. The assassination of her uncle (her former father-in-law), also an adversary of the Bābīs, resulted in the first persecution of the adherents of the new faith, and she went to Tehran and stayed as a guest of Bahāʾ Allāh, whom she hailed as the awaited leader of the community. During a Bābī conference in Badasht in 1848, the beautiful young woman is said to have preached without a veil, an action that is taken as the first attempt to win freedom for Persian women. When Nāir al-Dīn Shāh ascended the throne later that year, āhirah was placed under arrest. After a Bābī attempt to assasinate the shah, she was executed, probably by strangulation, in August 1852.

āhirah is considered the first Iranian woman to preach equality of the sexes and religious freedom; E. G. Browne called her appearance in Iran "a prodigynay, almost a miracle." Her Persian poems are of great beauty; one of them is included in Muhammad Iqbal's Javīd-nāmah (1932), where the Bābī heroine appears as one of the "martyrs of love."


The only biography of Qurrat al-ʿAyn is Martha L. Root's brief Tahirih the Pure, Iran's Greatest Woman (1938; reprint, Los Angeles, 1980). See also Edward G. Browne's sympathetic accounts in his Materials for the Study of the Babi Religion (Cambridge, 1918) and his A Traveller's Narrative Written to Illustrate the Episode of the Bāb, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1891), which is the translation of a memoir by Abbas Effendi, Bahāʾ Allāh's son.

Annemarie Schimmel (1987)