I am happy to speak to you this evening about one of the greatest young women in the world, one of the most spiritual, one of the greatest poets of Írán, and the first woman of her time in Central Asia to lay aside the veil and work for the equal education of the girl and the boy. She was the first suffrage martyr in Central Asia. The woman suffrage movement did not begin with Mrs. Pankhurst in the West, but with Ṭáhirih, also often called Qurratu’l-‘Ayn of Írán. She was born in Qazvín, Persia, in 1817.
Picture to your mind one of the most beautiful young women of Írán, a genius, a poet, the most learned scholar of the Qur’an and the traditions, for she was born in a Muhammadan country; think of her as the daughter of a jurist family of letters, daughter of the greatest high priest of her province and very rich, enjoying high rank, living in an artistic palace, and distinguished among her young friends for her boundless, immeasurable courage. Picture what it must mean for a young woman like this, still in her twenties, to arise for the equality of men and women, in a country where, at that time, the girl was not allowed to learn to read and write!
The Journal Asiatic of 1866 presents a most graphic view of Ṭáhirih, the English translation of which is this: “How a woman, a creature so weak in Írán, and above all in a city like Qazvín where the clergy possess such a powerful influence, where the ‘Ulamás, the priests, because of their number and importance and power hold the attention of the government officials and of the people, how can it be that in such a country and district and under such unfavourable conditions a woman could have organized such a powerful party of heretics? It is unparalleled in past history.”
As I said, in her day girls were not permitted to learn to read and write, but Ṭáhirih had such a brilliant mind, and as a child was so eager for knowledge that her father, one of the most learned mullás of Írán, taught her himself and later had a teacher for her. This was most unusual, for in her day girls had no educational opportunities. She outdistanced her brothers in her progress and passed high in all examinations. Because she was a woman they would not give her a degree. Her father often said what a pity she had not been born a son, for then she could have followed in his career as a great mullá of the Empire.
Ṭáhirih was married when she was thirteen years old to her cousin, the son of the Imám-Juma, a great mullá who leads the prayers at the mosque on Fridays. She had three children, two sons and one daughter. She became a very great poet and was deeply spiritual, she was always studying religion, always seeking for truth. She became profoundly interested in the teachings of Shaykh Aḥsá’í and Siyyid Káẓím Rashti, who were liberalists and said great spiritual reforms would come. Her father was very angry with her because she read their books and her father-in-law was too. But she continued to study their books and she heard about the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, and their teachings for universal peace and the equal education of the girl and the boy. She believed in these principles whole-heartedly and declared herself a believer.
This great young woman of Qazvín laid aside the veil which Muhammadan women wear; she didn’t put it aside altogether, but she many times let it slip from her face when she lectured. But she declared that women should not wear the veil, should not be isolated, but should have equal rights and opportunities. She quoted her great teacher, Bahá’u’lláh, that man and woman are as the two wings of the bird of humanity, and this bird of humanity cannot attain its highest, most perfect flight until the two wings are equally poised, equally balanced. She was too far ahead of her time, and like other pioneers of great progressive movements, she was imprisoned. Instead of putting her into jail, they made her a prisoner in the home of the Kalantar, that means the Mayor of Ṭihrán. Here several poets and some of the greatest women of the capital came to call, and every one was charmed by her presence. The Sháh-in-Sháh of Persia sent for her to be brought to his palace, and when he saw her he said: “I like her looks, leave her and let her be.”
Náṣiri’d-Dín-Sháh, the ruler, sent her a letter asking her to give up her very advanced ideas and telling her if she did, he would make her his bride, the greatest lady in the land. On the back of his letter she wrote her reply in verse declining his magnificently royal offer. Her words were:
“Kingdom, wealth and ruling be for thee,
Wandering, becoming a poor dervish and calamity be for me.
If that station is good, let it be for thee.
And if this station is bad, I long for it, let it be for me!”
She was a prisoner in the Mayor’s home for more than three years and during all this time the women of Írán came to love her more and more, and all people were enchanted with her poetry, and many came to believe as she did, that this is the dawn of a great new universal epoch when we must work for the oneness of mankind, for the independent investigation of truth, for the unity of religions and for the education of the girl equally with that of the boy. The orthodox clergy were afraid of these new progressive ideals and as they were the power behind the government, it was decided to put Ṭáhirih to death. They had to do it secretly because they knew how many hundreds of the most important people in Ṭihrán loved her.
They decided upon September 15, 1852, for her death. With her prophetic soul she must have divined it for she wrote in one of her poems: “At the gates of my heart I behold the feet and the tents of hosts of calamity.” That morning she took an elaborate bath, used rosewater, dressed herself in her best white dress. She said good-bye to everyone in the house, telling them that in the evening she was leaving to go on a long journey. After that she said she would like to be alone, and she spent the day, as they said, talking softly to herself, but we know she was praying. They came for her at night and she said to them, “I am ready!” The Mayor had them throw his own cloak about her so that no one would recognize her, and they put her upon his own horse. In a roundabout way through smaller streets they took her to a garden and had her wait in a servant’s room on the ground floor. The official called a servant and ordered him to go and kill the woman downstairs. He went but when Ṭáhirih spoke to him he was so touched by her sweetness and holiness, that he refused to strangle her, and carried the handkerchief again upstairs. The official dismissed him, called a very evil servant, gave him liquor to drink, then handed him a bag of gold as a present, put the handkerchief into his hands and said, “Go down and kill that woman below and do not let her speak to you.” The servant rushed in, brutally strangled her with the handkerchief, kicked her and while she was still living threw her into a dry well and filled it up with stones.
But they could not bury her there! Her influence had gone around the whole world. Ṭáhirih, Qurratu’l-‘Ayn, has become immortal in the minds of millions of men and women, and her spirit of love and heroism will be transmitted to millions yet unborn.
I should like to explain to you what her names mean. One of her teachers, Káẓím Rashti gave her the name of Qurratu’l-‘Ayn, which means “Consolation of the Eyes,” because she was so young, so beautiful, so spiritual. Bahá’u’lláh gave her the name Ṭáhirih, which means “The Pure One.” While still in the twenties she began to preach the equal rights of men and women, she was martyred at the age of thirty-six years, and yet today, eighty-seven years after her cruel martyrdom, the women of Írán and of many other countries of the Islámic world no longer are allowed to wear the veil, and girls are receiving education. She did not die in vain. Ṭáhirih’s courageous deathless personality forever will stand out against the background of eternity, for she gave her life for her sister women. The sweet perfume of her heroic selflessness is diffused in the whole five continents. People of all religions and of none, all races, all classes, all humanity, cherish the memory of Ṭáhirih and weep tears of love and longing when her great poems are chanted.
When I was in Vienna, Austria, a few years ago, I had an interview with the mother of the President of Austria, Mrs. Marinna Hainisch, the woman who has done most for woman’s education in Austria, that nation of great culture. Mrs. Hainisch established the first high schools for girls in her land. She told me that the inspiration of all her lifework had been Ṭáhirih of Írán. Mrs. Hainisch said: “I was a young girl, only seventeen years old when I heard of the martyrdom of Ṭáhirih, and I said, ‘I shall try to do for the girls of Austria what Ṭáhirih tried to do and gave her life to do, for the girls of Írán.’” She told me: “I was married, and my husband too, was only seventeen; everybody was against education for girls, but my young husband said: ‘If you wish to work for the education of girls, you can.’” I mentioned this interview over in Aligrah, India, a short time ago when I spoke to the university students at the home of Professor Ḥabíb, and at the close of my talk another guest of honor arose, a woman professor of Calcutta University, and asked if she could speak a few words. She said, “I am Viennese, I was born in Vienna and I wish to say that Mrs. Marinna Hainisch established the first college for the higher education of girls in Austria and I was graduated from the college.” This is a proof of the influence of Ṭáhirih. Mrs. Hainisch had said to me, “It is so easy for you, Miss Root, to go all around the world and be given the opportunity to speak on the equal education of the girl and the boy. It was so hard for me to interest people in this new idea in my day, but I remembered Ṭáhirih and I tried. Poor Ṭáhirih had to die for these very ideals which today the world accepts!”
When I was in Cawnpore, India, and spoke in a girls’ college on Ṭáhirih’s life the founder and the donor of that great college arose and said: “It is my hope that every girl in this school will become a Ṭáhirih of India.”
Sir Rai Bahadur Sapru of Allahabad, one of India’s greatest lawyers, said to me: “I love Ṭáhirih’s poems so much that I have named my favorite little granddaughter Ṭáhirih. I have tried for years to get her poems, and now today you give them to me.” When I was in the Pemberton Club in London one evening, a well known publisher said to me: “I shall get Ṭáhirih’s poems collected and publish them at a great price.” But he could never get them. I should like to tell you, dear listeners on the air, that the day after the martyrdom of Ṭáhirih, the authorities burned her clothing, her books, her poems, her birth certificate; they tried to wipe out every trace of her life; but other people had some of her poems, and a friend of mine worked for years to gather them together, copied them in longhand and gave them to me as a present when I was in Írán in 1930. Another friend in India, Mr. Isfandiar K. B. Bakhtiari of Karachi, has twice published one thousand copies of these poems for people in India. In my book Ṭáhirih the Pure, Írán’s Greatest Woman, published July, 1938, I included her poems and published three thousand copies. Two of these poems are translated into English, but the original poems are all in the Persian language. They would be very beautiful sung in the Persian language over your radio.
Professor Edward G. Browne of Cambridge University, in his book A Traveller’s Narrative, wrote: “The appearance of such a woman as Ṭáhirih, Qurratu’l-‘Ayn, is in any country and in any age a rare phenomenon, but in such a country as Persia it is a prodigy, nay, almost a miracle. Alike in virtue of her marvelous beauty, her rare intellectual gifts, her fervid eloquence, her fearless devotion and her glorious martyrdom, she stands forth incomparable amidst her countrywomen. Had the Bábí religion no other claim to greatness, this were sufficient, that it produced a heroine like Qurratu’l-‘Ayn.”
And now dear listeners, that we have heard of Ṭáhirih, Qurratu’l-‘Ayn, this first woman suffrage martyr, this first woman in Central Asia to work for the education of girls, what will our own endeavors show forth in this twentieth century?
Today you have equal education for girls and boys in Australia, and you have suffrage for women; but you in Australia and we in the United States and in all other parts of the globe are born into this world to work for universal peace, disarmament, a world court and a strong international police force to ensure arbitration. We are born into this world to work for universal education, a universal auxiliary language, for unity in religion and for the oneness of mankind. Our lives, our world, need strong spiritual foundations, and one of the finest traits of Ṭáhirih, and one that helped the world most, was her fidelity in searching for truth! She began as a little girl and continued until the very day of her passing from this world.
O Ṭáhirih, you have not passed out, you have only passed on! Your spiritual, courageous life will forever inspire, ennoble and refine humanity; your songs of the spirit will be treasured in innumerable hearts. You are to this day our living, thrilling teacher!
How great the blessedness that awaiteth the king who will arise to aid My Cause in My Kingdom, who will detach himself from all else but Me! Such a king is numbered with the companions of the Crimson Ark—the Ark which God hath prepared for the people of Bahá. All must glorify his name, must reverence his station, and aid him to unlock the cities with the keys of My Name, the omnipotent Protector of all that inhabit the visible and invisible kingdoms. Such a king is the very eye of mankind, the luminous ornament on the brow of creation, the fountain-head of blessings unto the whole world. Offer up, O people of Bahá, your substance, nay your very lives, for his assistance.1Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá”u’lláh, www.bahai.org/r/204457703
The first Queen of the world to study and to promote Bahá’u’lláh’s great Teachings has been Her Majesty Queen Marie of Rumania, one of the queens of this twentieth century who stands highest in intellect, in vision, in clear understanding of the new universal epoch now opening. Her Majesty received the book “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era” by Dr. J. E. Esslemont and a note from the writer of this article who first visited Bucharest, Rumania, in January, 1926. The Rumanian Queen, grand-daughter of the renowned Queen Victoria of the British Empire and of Czar Alexander II of Russia, both of whom received Tablets from Bahá’u’lláh in their day, read this volume until three o’clock in the morning and two days later, on January 30, 1926, received me in audience in Controceni Palace, in Bucharest. Her first words after the greeting were, “I believe these Teachings are the solution for the world’s problems today!” The account of that historic morning appeared in “The Bahá’í Magazine” in Washington, in June, 1926, but very illuminating letters written by Her Majesty that same year show how deep was her confirmation. Here is one written to her loved friend Loie Fuller, an American then residing in Paris, which after these ten years can be published for the first time:
Lately great hope has come to me from one, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, a personal follower of Christ. Reading, I have found in His and His Father Bahá’u’lláh’s Message of Faith all my yearnings for real religion satisfied. If you ever hear of Bahá’ís or of the Bahá’í Movement which is known in America you will know what that is! What I mean, these books have strengthened me beyond belief and I am now ready to die any day full of hope; but I pray God not to take me away yet, for I still have a lot of work to do.
Other letters record that first of all she was teaching her young daughter Ileana about these beautiful truths. For ten years Her Majesty and her daughter, H.R.H. Princess Ileana (now Archduchess Anton), have read with interest each new book about the Bahá’í Movement as soon as it came from the press.
As we know she wrote three marvelous articles about these Bahá’í peace Teachings in 1926, and as they were syndicated each article appeared in nearly two hundred newspapers in the United States and Canada. Many millions of people were thrilled to read that a Queen had arisen to promote Bahá’u’lláh’s plan for universal peace. Quickly these articles were translated and published in Europe, China, Japan, Australasia and in the Islands of the seas.
Received in audience by Her Majesty in Pelisor Palace, Sinaia, in 1927, after the passing of His Majesty King Ferdinand, her husband, she graciously gave me an interview, speaking of the Bahá’í Teachings about immortality. She had on her table and on the divan a number of Bahá’í books, for she had just been reading in each of them the Teachings about Life after death. She asked the writer to give her greeting to Shoghi Effendi, to the friends in Írán and to the many American Bahá’ís who she said had been so remarkably kind to her during her trip through the United States the year before. Also, she graciously gave the writer an appreciation of these Bahá’í Teachings in her own hand-writing, for Volume IV. of the “Bahá’í World.”
Meeting the Queen again on January 19, 1928, in the Royal Palace in Belgrade, where she and H.R.H. Princess Ileana were guests of the Queen of Jugoslavia—and they had brought some of their Bahá’í books with them—the words I shall remember longest of all that Her dear Majesty said were these: “The ultimate dream which we shall realize is that the Bahá’í channel of thought has such strength, it will serve little by little to become a light to all those searching for the real expression of Truth.”
Another happy audience was in Her Majesty’s lovely summer palace “Tehna-Yuva,” at Balciĉ, on the Black Sea, in October, 1929. Again in the home of Archduchess Anton at Mödling near Vienna she and her mother received me on August 8, 1932, and in February, 1933, and Her Majesty made this great statement which was used as the frontispiece to “Bahá’í World,” Volume IV.:
Then in the audience in Controceni Palace on February 16, 1934, when Her Majesty was told that the Rumanian translation of “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era” had just been published in Bucharest, she said she was so happy that her people were to have the blessing of reading this precious Teaching.
How beautiful she looked that afternoon—as always—for her loving eyes mirror her mighty spirit; a most unusual Queen is she, a consummate artist, a lover of beauty and wherever she is there is glory. Perhaps too, a Queen is a symbol, people like to have their Queen beautiful and certainly Queen Marie of Rumania is one of the most lovely in this world today. Her clothes, designed by herself, are always a “tout ensemble” creation so harmonious in colors they seem to dress her soul. She received me in her private library where a cheerful fire glowed in the quaint, built-in fireplace; tea was served on a low table, the gold service set being wrought in flowers. There were flowers everywhere, and when she invited me into her bedroom where she went to get the photograph which I like so much, as I saw the noble, majestic proportions of this great chamber with its arched ceiling in Gothic design, I exclaimed in joy, “Your room is truly a temple, a Mashriqu’l-Adhkár!” There were low mounds of hyacinths, flowers which Bahá’u’lláh loved and mentioned often in His Writings; there was a bowl of yellow tulips upon a silken tapestry in yellow gold, a tall deep urn of fragrant white lilacs, and an immense bowl of red roses. Controceni Palace is the most beautiful palace I have seen in any country in the blending of its colors and III its artistic arrangements.
Her Majesty is a writer as well as an artist, and Her Memoirs entitled “The Story of My Life” were just then being published in “The Saturday Evening Post.” She told me she writes two hours every morning unless her time is invaded by queenly duties, charity duties, family duties. She was pleased with the sincere letters that were pouring in from all continents giving appreciations of her story. She told me the American people are so open-hearted and that from the United States children, professors, farmers’ wives and the smart people had written to her, the tone in all their letters revealing Her Majesty’s entire sincerity and the deep humanity of her character. One teacher wrote Her Majesty that in her childhood each one lived through his own childhood: another said, “All who read your story have their own lives stirred!” The Queen remarked, “And this is a very satisfactory criticism for an author.”
A most pleasing letter had just arrived from Japan from a girl there who thanked God Who had allowed her to live in a period in which such a wonderful book had been written! “This,” said the Queen, “is one of the nicest appreciations I have ever heard.”
Then the conversation turned again to the Bahá’í Teachings and she gave a greeting to be sent to Shoghi Effendi in Haifa. Later she mentioned an incident in Hamburg when she was en route to Iceland in the summer of 1933. As she passed through the street, a charming girl tossed a little note to her into the motor car. It was: “I am so happy to see you in Hamburg, because you are a Bahá’í.” Her Majesty remarked that they recognized a Bahá’í and this shows a spirit of unity in the Bahá’í Movement.
Her Majesty said to me, “In my heart I am entirely Bahá’í,” and she sent me this wonderful appreciation: “The Bahá’í Teaching brings peace to the soul and hope to the heart. To those in search of assurance the Words of the Father are as a fountain in the desert after long wandering.”
And now today, February 4, 1936, I have just had another audience with Her Majesty in Controceni Palace, in Bucharest. As I was starting to walk up the wide ivory toned stairs carpeted with blue Iranian rugs to the third floor suites, at that very moment over a radio came the rich strains of the Wedding March from “Lohengrin,” played by an orchestra. It seemed a symbol: the union of spiritual forces of the East and Europe! Again Queen Marie of Rumania received me cordially in her softly lighted library, for the hour was six o’clock. She was gowned in black velvet and wore her great strands of marvelous pearls. The fire in the grate beamed a welcome with its yellow-glowing fragrant pine boughs and large bowls of yellow tulips adorned the apartment.
What a memorable visit it was! She told me she has a friend in ‘Akka, Palestine, who knows Shoghi Effendi and this friend recently has sent her pictures of ‘Akka and Haifa; the two were playfellows when they were children and met in Malta. She also told me that when she was in London she had met a Bahá’í, Lady Blomfield, who had shown her the original Message that Bahá ‘u’llah had sent to her Grandmother Queen Victoria in London. She asked the writer about the progress of the Bahá’í Movement especially in the Balkan countries.
“Since we met two years ago,” said Her Majesty, “so many sad events have happened! I look on with a great deal of sorrow at the way the different peoples seem to misunderstand one another; especially now that I have become very lonely in my home, I have all the more time to think over these problems, and I’m sometimes very sad that I can do so little. However, I know that the right spirit and the right thoughts go a long way towards that unity of hearts which I haven’t given up the hope to see before I pass on.”
She spoke, too, of several Bahá’í books, the depths of “Íqán” and especially of “Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh” which she said was a wonderful book! To quote her own words: “Even doubters would find a powerful strength in it, if they would read it alone and would give their souls time to expand.”
Her Majesty kindly promised to write for “Bahá’í World,” Volume VI, a special appreciation and to send it after four days.
I asked her if I could perhaps speak of the broach which historically is precious to Bahá’ís, and she replied, “Yes, you may.” Once, and it was in 1928, Her dear Majesty had given the writer a gift, a lovely and rare brooch which had been a gift to the Queen from Her Royal Relatives in Russia some years ago. It was two little wings of wrought gold and silver, set with tiny diamond chips and joined together with one large pearl. “Always you are giving gifts to others, and I am going to give you a gift from me,” said the Queen smiling, and she herself clasped it onto my dress. The wings and the pearl made it seem “Lightbearing,” Bahá’í! It was sent the same week to Chicago as a gift to the Bahá’í Temple, the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, and at the National Bahá’í Convention which was in session that spring, a demur was made-should a gift from the Queen be sold? Should it not be kept as a souvenir of the first Queen who arose to promote the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh? -However, it was sold immediately and the money given to the Temple, for all Bahá’ís were giving to the utmost to forward this mighty structure, the first of its kind in the United States. Mr. Willard Hatch, a Bahá’í of Los Angeles, California, who bought the exquisite brooch, took it to Haifa, Palestine, in 1931 and placed it in the archives on Mt. Carmel where down the ages it will rest with the Bahá’í treasures.
Inadequate as is anyone article to portray Her Majesty Queen Marie of Rumania’! splendid spiritual attitude, still these few glimpses do show that she stands strong for the highest Truth, and as an historical record they will present a little of what the first Queen did for the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh.