In the Bahá’í Faith, saints are those who have achieved the highest degree of mastery over their ego.
By this definition, any of us can become saints. All we have to do is:
obey the laws of God
seek to live the life laid down in the Bahá’í Teachings
pray and struggle
The ego is the animal in us, the heritage of the flesh which is full of selfish desires. By obeying the laws of God, seeking to live the life laid down in our teachings, and prayer and struggle, we can subdue our egos. We call people ‘Saints’ who have achieved the highest degree of mastery over their ego. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)
In order to achieve this mastery, though, saints (and all of us) have to go through tribulations and suffering in order to purify our hearts and souls for receiving the light of God:
All the Saints that shine in the history of society had to pass through tribulations. Their form was various but their effect has always been the same, namely, the purification of our heart and soul for receiving the light of God. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 203-204)
Suffering because of a broken heart also seems to be part of the equation:
We as Bahá’ís cannot but believe that suffering is often an essential part of our service. The Prophets suffered bitterly, so did all the Saints and Martyrs, and often ‘fed on the fragments of those broken hearts’, as Bahá’u’lláh says in one of His beautiful prayers. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 579)
It’s not enough to go through suffering, though – saints also have to feel joyous and happy in the midst of our severest tests and trials!
Physical pain is a necessary accompaniment of all human existence, and as such is unavoidable. As long as there will be life on earth, there will be also suffering, in various forms and degrees. But suffering, although an inescapable reality, can nevertheless be utilized as a means for the attainment of happiness. This is the interpretation given to it by all the prophets and saints who, in the midst of severe tests and trials, felt happy and joyous and experienced what is best and holiest in life. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 280)
How to Become a Saint
Here’s how to become a saint – the guidance is embedded in this one quote!:
Saints are men who have freed themselves from the world of matter and who have overcome sin. They live in the world but are not of it, their thoughts being continually in the world of the spirit. Their lives are spent in holiness, and their deeds show forth love, justice and godliness. They are illumined from on high; they are as bright and shining lamps in the dark places of the earth. These are the saints of God. The apostles, who were the disciples of Jesus Christ, were just as other men are; they, like their fellows, were attracted by the things of the world, and each thought only of his own advantage. They knew little of justice, nor were the Divine perfections found in their midst. But when they followed Christ and believed in Him, their ignorance gave place to understanding, cruelty was changed to justice, falsehood to truth, darkness into light. They had been worldly, they became spiritual and divine. They had been children of darkness, they became sons of God, they became saints! Strive therefore to follow in their steps, leaving all worldly things behind, and striving to attain to the Spiritual Kingdom. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 60-61)
You can use this checklist as you work towards your goal!
Have you freed yourself from the world of matter?
Have you overcome sin?
Do you live in the world but are not of it?
Are your thoughts continually in the world of the spirit?
Is your life spent in holiness?
Do your deeds show forth love, justice and godliness?
Are you illumined from on high?
Are you a bright and shining lamp in the dark places of the earth?
You may think you are far from achieving these things, but every single effort you make is magnified by God.
An act, however infinitesimal, is, when viewed in the mirror of the knowledge of God, mightier than a mountain. Every drop proffered in His path is as the sea in that mirror. (Bahá’u’lláh, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 4)
You don’t have to be ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to attain this station! And you don’t have to be perfect at any of them either . . . you just have to strive!
Great mysteries happen when we become Bahá’í! As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us in the quote above, the disciples of Jesus Christ, were just as other men (just as we are the disciples of Bahá’u’lláh):
They were attracted by the things of the world
Each thought only of his own advantage
They knew little of justice
They had none of the Divine perfections
But when they followed Christ (when we follow Bahá’u’lláh) and believed in Him:
Their ignorance gave place to understanding
Cruelty was changed to justice
Falsehood was changed to truth
Darkness was changed into light
They had been worldly and became spiritual and divine
They had been children of darkness, they became sons of god
They became saints! And we can too!
God wants us to become saints. He tells us that it’s a praiseworthy course of action; and well worth striving for!
There are two kinds of Bahá’ís, one might say: those whose religion is Bahá’í and those who live for the Faith. Needless to say if one can belong to the latter category, if one can be in the vanguard of heroes, martyrs and saints, it is more praiseworthy in the sight of God. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 78)
Many of us have learned to hate ourselves and minimize our worth. We need to know the truth about how God sees us. To that end I’ve written a Love Letter from God, to remind us. You might like reading or listening to it!
Let’s all make up our minds to become saints! All it takes is to follow the Counsels of the Baha’i Writings:
Therefore I say unto you that ye should strive to follow the counsels of these Blessed Books, and so order your lives that ye may, following the examples set before you, become yourselves the saints of the Most High! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 200)
As well as dedication and will-power!
He urges you to make up your minds to do great, great deeds for the Faith; the condition of the world is steadily growing worse, and your generation must provide the saints, heroes, martyrs and administrators of future years. With dedication and will power you can rise to great heights. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 629)
How has this been helpful? Post your comments below!
Over the years, my experience has been that Baha’is from Iran have a much deeper and more intense response to stories of the martyrs than do people, even Baha’is, from the West. There is a deep grief combined with an undying admiration; there is nothing negative or guarded in the response. However, these are not stories we Baha’is of the West are inclined to tell to our friends and acquaintances outside the Faith. We have long been aware that martyrdom is not a popular concept Indeed, people here are more likely to speak of a martyr-complex, with an obviously negative relationship to such a “sick” attitude, than they ever do of martyrs, even Christian martyrs. . As a result, the stories are, generally speaking, neither learned nor shared, not even with our children.
In the news these days, we frequently hear of suicide bombers, mostly young people, both male and female, and sometimes even older women, who have been trained to believe that they are performing a service for God and will be rewarded as martyrs in paradise, and will certainly be considered martyrs by their friends and admirers. And earlier, we learned that young men who had been recruited into the army to fight on behalf of Iran against one of her enemies were, when killed, reported as martyrs for their cause.
The subject of martyrs and martyrdom, as a result, is a highly charged one and not one likely to inspire admiration. How, then, are we to share the knowledge of our history with its more than 20,000 martyrs? How do we cross this enormous gap between the promotion of martyrdom for warfare, the politically motivated murders by suicide bombers, and the reality of the astonishing history of the willingness of thousands of innocent people to die rather than to deny their Faith? In my experience, it is not easy.
Perhaps we could begin by explaining that Baha’u’llah didn’t encourage believers to seek to die for the Faith. Indeed, He taught the believers to avoid danger and He, Himself, protected believers from attacks by enemies of the Faith. As an example, consider the story of Tahirih, (The Dawn-Breakers, pp 284-5). However, we were guided never to deny our Faith. Apparently, in Shiah Muslim culture, it was acceptable to deny your faith in order to save your life. And very frequently, the Baha’is have been offered freedom if they would deny their Faith.
Perhaps it would also help if we shared the fact that there are different kinds of martyrdom. Is it possible that three kinds were described in the Arabic Hidden Words:
O SON OF MAN! Write all that We have revealed unto thee with the ink of light upon the tablet of thy spirit. Should this not be in thy power, then make thine ink of the essence of thy heart. If this thou canst not do, then write with that crimson ink that hath been shed in My path. Sweeter indeed is this to Me than all else, that its light may endure for ever. (Baha’u’llah: Arabic Hidden Words, Page: 71)
It seems possible, to me, that the last sentence is often thought to refer only to the willingness to die for our Faith, but surely it refers to the each and every one of the prior statements. Before we go further, let us reflect on the following words of ‘Abdu’l-Baha:
“O army of God! The Exalted One, the Bab, gave up His life. The Blessed Perfection gave up a hundred lives at every breath. He bore calamities. He suffered anguish. He was imprisoned. He was chained. He was made homeless and was banished to distant lands. Finally, then, He lived out His days in the Most Great Prison. Likewise, a great multitude of the lovers of God who followed this path have tasted the honey of martyrdom and they gave up everything – life, possessions, kindred – all they had. How many homes were reduced to rubble; how many dwellings were broken into and pillaged; how many a noble building went to the ground; how many a palace was battered into a tomb. And all this came about that humankind might be illumined, that ignorance might yield to knowledge, that men of earth might become men of heaven, that discord and dissension might be torn out by the roots, and the Kingdom of Peace become established over all the world. Strive ye now that this bounty become manifest, and this best-beloved of all hopes be realized in splendour throughout the community of man.” (Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Baha, Page: 73)
Should this not be the focus of our thoughts, that all this suffering, whether through death or throughout life or both, “came about that humankind might be illumined”?
Different Kinds of Martyrdom
Over the years, from reading the prayers of Baha’u’llah, I came to a different and deeper understanding of the words of Jesus. I had never understood His cry from the cross “..why hast thou forsaken me?”1; I was aware that many thought it was His “human side”, reluctant to die, but that never seemed real to me or consistent with the rest of His life. However, when I read Baha’u’llah’s words: “How long wilt Thou forsake me. Lift me up to Thee, I pray Thee.”2 I came to understand that, by being “forsaken” both Jesus and Baha’u’llah meant that they were still alive and had not been taken to the next world. They were both asking: “Lift me up to Thee…”
We must know that, relatively speaking, it is not hard to die; look at the number of people who choose suicide over continuing with a painful life? Earlier, while on the Mount of Olives, Jesus asked: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.” (St. Luke, Ch. 22, v. 42). Jesus had only three years in which to give His Revelation. I understood Him to be asking if His life could be extended. Others may have understood Him differently. Baha’u’llah describes His wish to be “lifted up” as the wish of a human creature, and yet He affirms: “I quaff continually in the path of God the cup of His decree, and wish not that the ruling of His will should cease to operate, or that the woes I suffer for the sake of my Lord, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious, should be ended”3 , nor were they for He lived to be 75 years of age and, as ‘Abdul-Baha affirmed: “The Blessed Perfection gave up a hundred lives at every breath.” In enduring the suffering throughout His long life, He was enabled to reveal volumes of guidance so that the prayer of Jesus would be fulfilled: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
In this way, through reading the words of Baha’u’llah, I felt I came to a clearer understanding of what Jesus experienced and what His words meant. Each most wanted to do the will of God, whether that was to stay and give the Revelation, or to die and be lifted “up to Thee”. Who could question that They were both martyrs to Their Faith?
Three stories of martyrdom – one in the days of the Bab,
another after the Declaration of Baha’u’llah,
and a third early in the 20th Century
The first story indicates that Haji Nasir could not call himself a Babi unless he was prepared to die if the enemy rose up against him.4 He underwent a spiritual self-examination and decided he could call himself a Babi. The enemy did arise against him several times. He left his native city and later returned to it; he was imprisoned and released and later imprisoned again, and again, eventually dying of old age, unable to endure the rigours of prison life. This is not a person seeking death, but only steadfast in his determination to teach the Cause of God.
Here is his story:
Haji Nasir was a well-known merchant and held in high esteem by his fellow citizens until he embraced the Bábí Faith. From that time onwards, he suffered persecutions and was bitterly opposed by the people. He recognized the divine origin of the Message of the Báb through Mulla Jalil-i-Urumi, one of the Letters of the Living. It is reported that when Haji Nasir had acknowledged the authenticity of the claims of the Báb, Mulla Jalil warned him that a mere acknowledgement was not sufficient in this day, that he could not call himself a Bábí unless he were prepared to lay down his life willingly in the path of God, should the enemy rise up against him. He bade him go home and search his heart to see whether he had sufficient faith to remain steadfast in the face of tortures and martyrdom. If he did, he was a Bábí, and otherwise not. Haji Nasir responded to the words of Mulla Jalil by spending the whole night in prayer and meditation. At the hour of dawn, he felt possessed of such faith and detachment as to be ready to sacrifice his life in the path of his Beloved. Overnight, he became endowed with a new zeal and radiance which sustained him throughout his eventful life.
Soon the persecutions started; the first onslaught began when Haji Nasir became the target of attacks by a blood-thirsty mob in Qazvin. They plundered all his possessions and he was temporarily forced to leave his native city. When the situation calmed down he returned home. From there, in obedience to the call of the Báb, he proceeded to Khurasan. He was privileged to attend the conference of Badasht where, some historians have stated, he acted as a guard at the entrance of the garden which was reserved for Bahá’u’lláh’s residence. From Badasht he proceeded to Mazindaran and was one of the defenders of the fortress of Shaykh Tabarsi. As history records, hundreds of his fellow disciples were massacred in that upheaval, but the hand of divine power spared Haji Nasir’s life and enabled him to render further services to the Cause of God.
He returned to Qazvin and engaged in his work once again, but soon another upheaval engulfed the believers. The attempt on the life of Násiri’d-Dín Sháh in 1852 unleashed a wave of persecution against the Bábís. Haji Nasir was arrested in Qazvin and put in prison. But after some time he was released. Another imprisonment he suffered was in Tihran, where he was chained and fettered. When released from his ordeal, he found that all his possessions were gone. It was through the help and co-operation of Shaykh Kazim-i-Samandar that, in spite of much harassment by the enemy, Haji Nasir continued to earn a living, but he had to move his residence to the city of Rasht.
The crowning glory of his life was to attain the presence of Bahá’u’lláh in ‘Akká. On this pilgrimage he was accompanied by the above-named Shaykh Kazim. Bahá’u’lláh showered His bounties upon him and assured him of His loving-kindness. He spent the latter part of his life in the city of Rasht and was engaged in teaching the Cause of God by day and night. The enemies once again cast him into prison. This time, because of old age, he could not endure the rigours of prison life and his soul, after so many years of toil and suffering, took its flight to the abode of the Beloved. He died a martyr’s death in the prison of Rasht in the year 1300 A.H. (1888). (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 245-6)
The second story, in a later period, makes it clear that there are different kinds of martyrdom:
“…Ibn – i -Asdaq often accompanied his father on his teaching tours throughout Persia. Thus he became imbued with the spirit of service to the Cause of Baha’u’llah and eventually developed a passionate love for Him, a love that knew no bounds. He was about thirty years of age when he sent a letter to the presence of Bahá’u’lláh and, among other things, begged Him to confer upon him a station wherein he might become completely detached from such realms as ‘life and death’, ‘body and soul’, ‘existence and nothingness’, ‘reputation and honour’.
“The gist of everything Ibn -i -Asdaq requested in this letter was the attainment of the station of ‘utter self-sacrifice’; a plea for martyrdom, a state in which the individual in his love for his Beloved will offer up everything he possesses. …
“In response Bahá’u’lláh revealed a Tablet to Ibn -i -Asdaq. This was in January 1880. In this Tablet… He states that service to the Cause is the greatest of all deeds, and that those who are the symbols of certitude ought to be engaged in teaching with the utmost wisdom. He further explains that martyrdom is not confined to the shedding of blood, as it is possible to live and yet be counted as a martyr in the sight of God. In this Tablet Baha’u’llah showers upon him His blessings, for he had offered up his all to his Lord.” (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah, vol. 3, pp. 2667)
The third story is that of the life of May Maxwell, the mother of Ruhiyyih Khanum, who died, only a few weeks after pioneering to South America, and was declared a martyr by Shoghi Effendi. (Her story can be read in the Baha’i World, Vol. VIII, pp. 631-642.) There is no question that May Maxwell devoted her entire life, subsequent to learning of the Faith, to teaching and serving it. ‘Abdu’l-Baha said of her: “May Maxwell is really a Baha’i…She breathed no breath and uttered no word save in service to the Cause of God.” (p. 638)
The words of the Guardian make very clear for us why she was named a martyr:
And now as this year, so memorable in the annals of the Faith, was drawing to a close, there befell the American Baha’i community, through the dramatic and sudden death of May Maxwell, yet another loss, which viewed in retrospect will come to be regarded as a potent blessing conferred upon the campaign now being so diligently conducted by its members. 5 Laden with the fruits garnered through well-nigh half a century of toilsome service to the Cause she so greatly loved, heedless of the warnings of age and ill-health, and afire with the longing to worthily demonstrate her gratitude in her overwhelming awareness of the bounties of her Lord and Master, she set her face towards the southern outpost of the Faith in the New World, and laid down her life in such a spirit of consecration and self-sacrifice as has truly merited the crown of martyrdom. (Shoghi Effendi: Messages to America, Pages: 39-40)
From these words we can easily see that the sudden death and the entire life of May Maxwell, so gloriously dedicated to the service of the Faith, was a blessing not only for her but for all her co- workers labouring for the spread of the Faith.
Let us return now to the challenge: how do we share stories of the utterly amazing, unique, and inspiring history of our Faith? For clearly, 20,000 martyrs were not believers who simply dedicated their lives to teaching the Faith. They were believers who, refusing to deny their Faith and to cease from teaching, were killed. They were no threat to anyone unless you consider, as a threat, belief in teachings revealed by the Bab and Baha’u’llah that all the Manifestations of God were created by the one and only God Who has created all humanity, loves all humanity, and revealed His will to all of us progressively throughout the ages, and that, in this day and age, it is His will that we recognize our oneness and the oneness of religion, and live together in unity and peace.
In the strongest possible language, Baha’u’llah describes and explains the sufferings of our time. For the sake of brevity, I have reduced 2 ½ pages to the following:
“As to the words – “Immediately after the oppression of those days” – they refer to the time when men shall become oppressed and afflicted, the time when the lingering traces of the Sun of Truth and the fruit of the Tree of knowledge and wisdom will have vanished from the midst of men… Such a condition as this is witnessed in this day when the reins of every community have fallen into the grasp of foolish leaders… Their hearts seem not to be inclined to knowledge and the door thereof, neither think they of its manifestations, inasmuch as in idle fancy they have found the door that leadeth unto earthly riches, whereas in the manifestation of the Revealer of knowledge they find naught but the call to self-sacrifice. They therefore naturally hold fast unto the former, and flee from the latter…. In leadership they have recognized the ultimate object of their endeavour, and account pride and haughtiness as the highest attainments of their heart’s desire. They have placed their sordid machinations above the divine decree, have renounced resignation unto the will of God, busied themselves with selfish calculation, and walked in the way of the hypocrite. With all their power and strength they strive to secure themselves in their petty pursuits, fearful lest the least discredit undermine their authority or blemish the display of their magnificence. Were the eye to be anointed and illumined with the collyrium of the knowledge of God, it would surely discover that a number of voracious beasts have gathered and preyed upon the carrion of the souls of men.” (Baha’u’llah: The Kitab-i-Iqan, Pages: 29-31)
Is it possible to make it any clearer that it is not the will of God that people die for their Faith but the will of “leaders” who “in idle fancy .. have found the door that leadeth unto earthly riches, whereas in the manifestation of the Revealer of knowledge they find naught but the call to self-sacrifice”.?
How and When did the Trouble Begin?
The Bab sent Mulla Husayn to Teheran to find and present the Faith, among others, to Baha’u’llah. When the Bab received word that Baha’u’llah had been found, had recognized Him and was teaching His Faith, He was confident that, if He Himself were killed, His Faith would survive under Baha’u’llah’s leadership.
“The references in Mulla Husayn’s letter to Bahá’u’lláh’s immediate response to the Divine Message, to the vigorous campaign which He had boldly initiated in Nur, and to the marvellous success which had attended His efforts, cheered and gladdened the Báb, and reinforced His confidence in the ultimate victory of His Cause. He felt assured that if now He were to fall suddenly a victim to the tyranny of His foes and depart from this world, the Cause which He had revealed would live; would, under the direction of Bahá’u’lláh, continue to develop and flourish, and would yield eventually its choicest fruit. The master-hand of Bahá’u’lláh would steer its course, and the pervading influence of His love would establish it in the hearts of men. Such a conviction fortified His spirit and filled Him with hope. From that moment His fears of the imminence of peril or danger entirely forsook Him. Phoenix-like He welcomed with joy the fire of adversity, and gloried in the glow and heat of its flame. (Shoghi Effendi, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 128)
When Mulla Husayn’s letter was received, therefore, the Bab immediately began his travels, including His pilgrimage, and the declaration of His mission.
Shoghi Effendi describes the immediate repercussions of this declaration:
“The Bab’s return to His native land (Safar 1261) (February- March, 1845) was the signal for a commotion that rocked the entire country. The fire which the declaration of His mission had lit was being fanned into flame through the dispersal and activities of His appointed disciples. Already within the space of less than two years it had kindled the passions of friend and foe alike. The outbreak of the conflagration did not even await the return to His native city of the One Who had generated it. The implications of a Revelation,… a Faith Whose religious doctrines, Whose ethical standards, social principles and religious laws challenged the whole structure of the society in which it was born, soon ranged, with startling unanimity, the mass of the people behind their priests, and behind their chief magistrate, with his ministers and his government, and welded them into an opposition sworn to destroy, root and branch, the movement initiated by One Whom they regarded as an impious and presumptuous pretender.” (Shoghi Effendi: God Passes By, Page: 10)
In the Epilogue to the Dawn-Breakers, Shoghi Effendi describes, with heart-rending brevity, the results of this opposition, and the footnote which follows indicates that this is a fulfillment of prophecy :
“The flower of the Báb’s followers had been mown down in a ruthless carnage, leaving behind it a vast company of enslaved women and children, who groaned beneath the yoke of an unrelenting foe. Their leaders, who, alike by their knowledge and example, had fed and sustained the flame that glowed in those valiant hearts, had also perished, their work seemingly abandoned amidst the confusion that afflicted a persecuted community.
“Of all those who had shown themselves capable of carrying on the work which the Báb had handed down to His followers, Bahá’u’lláh alone remained.
[1 Mirza Abu’l-Fadl quotes in his “Fara’id” (pp. 50-51), the following remarkable tradition from Muhammad, which is recognized as an authentic utterance of the Prophet and to which Siyyid Abdu’l-Vahhab-i-Sha’rani refers in his work entitled “Kitábu’l-Yavaqit-iva’l-Javahir”: “All of them [the companions of the Qá’im] shall be slain except One who shall reach the plain of ‘Akká, the Banquet-Hall of God.” The full text is also mentioned, according to Mirza Abu’l-Fadl, by Shaykh Ibnu’l-‘Arabi in his “Futuhat-i-Makkiyyih.”] Shoghi Effendi, The Dawnbreakers, p. 654
The Seven Martyrs of Tihran
It is against this immense picture of “ruthless carnage” that we are invited, in Book 7 of the Ruhi courses: “Walking Together on a Path of Service” to study the lives and learn to tell the stories of the Seven Martyrs of Tihran. Who were these people, these wonderful people, who, among many others before and after them, “fed and sustained the flame that glowed in those valiant hearts”? Is it not amazing that the Baha’i Faith could survive such a loss of all its great leaders but one, Baha’u’llah?
Let us return now to Section 7 of the course where we find these word:
“Story telling is an art which when used properly can inspire, animate, stimulate imagination, convey profound concepts, teach and even lead to change of behavior.” ( Walking Together on a Path of Service, p.120)
And let us do our level best to follow the guidance of Shoghi Effendi:
“Utilize, as extensively as you possibly can, the wealth of material which Nabil’s stirring and precious narrative contains, and let it be your chief instrument wherewith you can feed the flame of enthusiasm that glows in every Baha’i heart and upon which the success of your magnificent, your incessant efforts must ultimately depend.”
There is one final note which I would like to add. It may be possible to contribute, over time, to another hope expressed by Shoghi Effendi:
“Shoghi Effendi was very much interested to learn of the success of the `Pageant of Nations’ you reproduced… “It is through such presentations that we can arouse the interest of the greatest number of peoples in the spirit of the Cause. That day will the Cause spread like wild fire when its spirit and teachings will be presented on the stage or in art and literature as a whole. Art can better awaken such noble sentiments than cold rationalizing especially among the mass of the people. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, Page: 98)
“As we grow in our capacity to tell the stories of the heroes of our Faith, perhaps some souls, blessed with the necessary gifts and skills, will be inspired to produce plays and maybe movies and other forms of art. Let us pray and work for the fulfillment of our Guardian’s prediction: “It is through such presentations that we can arouse the interest of the greatest number of peoples in the spirit of the Cause.”
1 on the cross: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” St. Matthew, Ch. 27, v. 46
2 I swear by Thy glory, O my God! Thy Lamp which Thou didst light within the tabernacle of man crieth out to Thee and saith: “O Thou the one alone Beloved! How long wilt Thou forsake me? Lift me up to Thee, I pray Thee. Though this wish of mine be the wish of a human creature, yet Thou knowest that my true wish is to sacrifice myself in Thy path. Thou art He Who hath made my desire to be the same as Thy desire, and my will the same as Thy will. Do Thou preserve Thy loved ones, I beseech Thee, in the shelter of Thy shadowing mercy which transcendeth all things, that haply the sufferings they bear may not deter them from turning in the direction of Thy name, the All-Glorious, the Most Bountiful.” (Baha’u’llah: Prayers and Meditations, Page: 151)
3 My blood, at all times, addresseth me saying: “O Thou Who art the Image of the Most Merciful! How long will it be ere Thou riddest me of the captivity of this world, and deliverest me from the bondage of this life? Didst Thou not promise me that Thou shalt dye the earth with me, and sprinkle me on the faces of the inmates of Thy Paradise?” To this I make reply: “Be thou patient and quiet thyself. The things thou desirest can last but an hour. As to me, however, I quaff continually in the path of God the cup of His decree, and wish not that the ruling of His will should cease to operate, or that the woes I suffer for the sake of my Lord, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious, should be ended. Seek thou my wish and forsake thine own. Thy bondage is not for my protection, but to enable me to sustain successive tribulations, and to prepare me and to prepare me for the trials that must needs repeatedly assail me. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations, pp. 10-11)
4 It is interesting to note that the story says: “a mere acknowledgement was not sufficient in this day”. The history of the Faith unfolds in ages and epics. The needs of one “day” differ from another.
5 The campaign was one to raise pioneers for South America.
Táhirih (1814 or 1817 – August 16–27, 1852), a famous Baha’i poet, was probably best remembered for unveiling herself in an assemblage of men during the Conference of Badasht. The unveiling caused a great deal of controversy and the Báb named her Táhirih (meaning “the Pure One”) to show his support for her. She was soon arrested and placed under house arrest in Tehran. A few years later in mid-1852 she was executed in secret on account of her Bábí Faith. As a prominent Bábí (she was the seventeenth disciple or “Letter of the Living” of the Báb) she is highly regarded by Baha’is, and often mentioned in Baha’i literatureas an example of courage in the struggle for women’s rights. Her date of birth is uncertain, as birth records were destroyed at her execution.
Her poems were translated by the various authors found in this volume
1. The Song of Tahira — Translated by: Arthur J. Arberry
If ever confronting face to face my glance should alight on you
I will describe to you my sorrow for you in minutest detail.
That I may behold your cheek, like the zephyr I have visited
house by house, door by door, lane by lane, street by street.
Through separation from you my heart’s blood is flowing from my eyes
river by river, sea by sea, fountain by fountain, stream by stream.
My sorrowful heart wove your love into the fabric of my soul
thread by thread, thrum by thrum, warp by warp, woof by woof
Tahira repaired to her own heart, and saw none but you
page by page, fold by fold, veil by veil, curtain by curtain.
2. Translated by: Masudu’l Hasan
O Beloved, if I am admitted to your presence
I will tell Thee in detail of the grief that I suffer because of Thy separation,
In order to get a glimpse of your face, I am moving like zephyr
From door to door, and street to street
Because of Thy separation the blood of my heart flows as tears
From my eyes, like fountains, streams and rivers
Your love is woven into the fabric of my soul;
Thread by thread, warp by warp, and woof by woof,
In the book of my heart, there is nought but you
In every word, every sentence, and every page.
3. Translated by Farzaneh Milani:
I would explain all my grief
Dot by dot, point by point
If heart to heart we talk
And face to face we meet.
To catch a glimpse of thee
I am wandering like a breeze
From house to house, door to door
Place to place, street to street.
In separation from thee
The blood of my heart gushes out of my eyes
In torrent after torrent, river after river
Wave after wave, stream after stream.
This afflicted heart of mine
Has woven your love
To the stuff of life
Strand by strand, thread to thread.
4. Translated by Mohammad Ishaque:
If I happen to see thee before me face to face, I shall tell you of my pangs in minute details;
To see thy face, like unto Zephyr I passed from house to house, door to door, street to street, lane to lane;
The circuit of thy tiny mouth and thy cheeks with down of ambergris (are luxuriant) with buds, roses, tulips and fragrance,
On account of thy separation, my heart’s blood flows forth from my eyes (like) many a Tigris, many a sea, many a brooklet, many a stream,
The dejected heart hath knit thy love on the web of life thread by thread, fibre by fibre, warp by warp, woof by woof;
Tahirah entered her heart and found nothing save thee (searching) page by page, fold by fold, screen by screen, layer by layer.
5. The Effulgence of Thy Face … Translated by Edward Granville Browne:
The effulgence of thy face flashed forth and the rays of thy visage arose on high;
Then speak the word, “Am I not your Lord? “and “Thou art, Thou art!” we will all reply.
The trumpet call “Am I not?” to greet how loud the drums of affliction beat.
All the gates of my heart there tramp the feet and camp the hosts of calamity.
That fair moon’s love is enough, I trow, for me, for he laughed at the hail of woe,
And triumphant cried, as he sunk below, “The Martyr of Karbala am I
When he heard my death-dirge drear, for me he prepared, and arranged my gear for me;
He advanced to mourn at my bier for me, and o’er me wept right bitterly.
What harm if thou wilt the fire of amaze should’st set my Sinai-heart ablaze,
Which thou first mad’st fast in a hundred ways but to shake and shatter so ruthlessly?
To convene the guests to his feast of love all night from the angel host above
Peals forth this summons ineffable, “Hail, sorrow-stricken fraternity!”
Can a scale of the fish of amaze like thee aspire to enquire of Beings Sea?
Sit mute like Tahira, hearkening to the whale of “No” and its ceaseless sigh.
6. The Morn of Guidance — Translated by Susan Stiles Maneck and Farzad Nakhai
Truly the morn of Guidance commands the breeze to begin
All the world has been illuminated; every horizon; every people ,
No more sits the Shaykh in the seat of hypocrisy
No more becomes the mosque a shop dispensing holiness
The tie of the turban will be cut at its source
No Shaykh will remain, neither glitter nor secrecy
The world will be free from superstition and vain imaginings
The people free from deception and temptation
Tyranny is destined for the arm of justice
Ignorance will be defeated by perception
The carpet of justice will be outspread to everywhere
And the seeds of friendship and unity will be spread throughout
The false commands eradicated from the earth
The principle of opposition changed to that of unity.
7. Awaiting Your Blessing — Translated by Susan Stiles Maneck and Farzad Nakhai:
In the path of your love, 0 Idol, I am enamored with torment
How long will you ignore me, I am grief-stricken
My face veiled, my hair torn out
I have separated myself from all creation
You are the light, you are the veil, you are the moon, you are the horizon . . .
8. Translated by Farzaneh Milani:
In pursuit of your love, 0 darling,
Enamored of afflictions, I am
Why do you shun me so?
Weary of your separation, I am.
You’ve veiled your face
You’ve disheveled your hair
You’ve abandoned people
Just as secluded, I am.
You’re the milk and you’re the honey
You’re the tree and you’re the fruit
You are the sun and you are the moon
A speck, an iota, I am.
You’re the palm and you’re the date
You are the nectar-lipped beloved
A distinguished master, you, dear love,
An insolent slave, I am.
You are the Mecca and you are the One
You’re the temple and you’re the shrine
You’re the beloved, the honored one
The miserable lover, I am.
“Come to me!”
Love said alluringly
“Free of pride and pretense,
Manifestation of the One, I am.”
Tahereh is but floating dust at your feet
Drunk by the wine of your face.
Awaiting your blessing
A confessing sinner, I am.
9. In the Land of Your Love — Translated by Susan Stiles Maneck and Farzad Nakhai:
In the land of your love I remain, finding no favor from anyone
See what a stranger I am, Thou who art King of the land?
Is it a sin, 0 Idol, that my every breath breathes the mystery of your love?
Separate me, kill me, take me unjustly
The time of patience has ended, how long should I stand separation?
When every piece of my being, like a hollow reed, tells a sad tale
Reason cannot apprehend you, souls die of your thought
All the door of existence are nothing, you are ultimate
When the zephyr passes by bringing news of their destruction
Making pale the faces and the eyes weep, what would be your loss?
You step to my bed in the morning out of compassion, I fly with both wings and hands
When you rescue one from this place, you will take her to the placeless place
Then I will let go of the soul of the world, for you are the creator of all souls.
10. Yearning Love — Translated by Edward Granville Browne:
The thralls of yearning love constrain the bonds of pain and calamity.
These broken-hearted lovers of thine to yield their lives in their zeal for thee.
Though with sword in hand my Darling stand with intent to slay though I sinless be,
If it pleases him, this tyrant’s whim, I am well content with his tyranny.
As in sleep I lay at the break of day that cruel charmer came to me,
And in the grace of his form and face the dawn of the morn I seem to see.
The musk of Cathay might perfume gain from the scent of those fragrant tresses rain.
While his eyes demolish a faith in vain attacked by the pagans of Tartary.
With you, who condemn both love and wine for the hermit’s cell and the zealot’s shrine,
What can I do, for our Faith divine you hold as a thing of infamy?
The tangled curls of thy darling’s hair, and thy saddle and steed are thy only care;
In thy heart the Absolute hath no share, nor thought of the poor man’s poverty.
Sikandars pomp and display be thine, the Qalandars habit and way be mine;
That, if it please thee, I resign, while this, though bad, is enough for me
Pass from the station of “I” and “We” and choose for thy home nonentity,
For when thou has done the like of this, thou shall reach the supreme Felicity.
11. Translated by Farzaneh Milani:
Kingdom, wealth, and power for thee
Beggary, exile, and loss for me
If the former be good, it’s thine
If the latter is hard, it’s mine.
12. Translated by Masudu’l Hasan:
You are fond of power and empire;
I am fond of faith and poverty;
If power and empire are to be preferred
Be blessed with them.
And if the way of the Dervish is to be deprecated
I don’t mind the punishment.
13. A Beauty Mark … Translated by Susan Stiles Maneck and Farzad Nakhai:
At the corner of the lip, a single beauty mark and two black tresses,
Alas, for the bird of the heart, a single grain and two snares
A constable, a shaykh and I; the talk is of love.
How can I reply to them; one boiled and two raw?
From the face and the locks of the Idol my days are as nights.
Alas, for my days; day is one, night two …
14. Should I Unveil? — Translated by Farzaneh Milani:
Should I unveil my scented hair
I’ll captivate every gazelle
Should I line my narcissus eyes
I’ll destroy the whole world with desire
To see my face, every dawn
Heaven lifts its golden mirror
Should I chance to pass the church one day
I’ll convert all Christian girls
15. Arise — Translated by Farzaneh Milani:
O slumbering one, the beloved has arrived, arise!
Brush off the dust of sleep and self, arise!
Behold the good will has arrived,
Come not before him with tears, arise!
The mender of concerns has come to you,
O heavy-hearted one, arise!
O one afflicted by separation,
Behold the good tidings of the beloved’s union, arise!
O you withered by autumn,
Now spring has come, arise!
Behold the New Year brings a fresh life,
O withered corps of yesteryear, up from your tomb, arise!
18. If Anyone Walks In My Path — Translated by Edward Grandville Browne:
If anyone walks in my path I will cry to him that he may be warned
That whoever becomes my lover shall not escape from sorrow and affliction
If anyone obeys me not and does not grasp the cord of my protection
I will drive him far from my sanctuary, I will cast him in wrath to the winds of “NO”
I am Eternal from the Everlasting World; I am the One from the Realms of the Limitless;
I am come [to seek for] the people of the Spirit, and towards me do they advance.
Tahirih in History, Edited by Sabir Afaqi, published by Kalimat Press, 2004, p. 257-264.
 Tahireh did not give titles to her poems. For easier identification, each poem here has been given an arbitrary title taken from the text of a translation.
 Browne’s footnotes are taken from his publication of this poem in E.G. Browne’s comp., Materials for the Study of the Bábí Religion, (Cambridge University Press, 1918), p. 249
 See Qur’an vii, 171. The meaning is, “If you claim to be God, we will all accept your claim.”-E.G.B.
 There is a play on the word bala, which means “yea” and also “affliction” – E.G.B.
 Salá, which I have translated “hail,” means a general invitation or summons. –E.G.B.
 ie. the Imám Husayn, of whom several of the Bábí leaders claimed to be the “Return”. – E.G.B.
 ie. Thou art a mere tiny scale on the smallest fish on the Ocean of Being, and even the Leviathans of that Ocean can but proclaim their own insignificance and non-existence. –E.G.B.
 Browne’s footnotes are taken from his publication of this poem in E.G. Browne’s comp., Materials for the Study of the Bábí Religion, (Cambridge University Press, 1918), p. 249
 This poem is presumably addressed to the Báb.-E.G.B.
 i. e. the religion of Islam, which, having survived the terrible Tartar invasion of the thirteenth century, fell before the Báb.-E.G.B.
 “Love and wine” are to be understood here in a mystical sense. – E. G. B
 A Qalandar is a kind of darwish or religious mendicant.-E.G.B.
 Though not included among the poems quoted in this volume, the following fragment was translated by Browne and is worth including here. He attributed the poem only doubtfully to Tahirih, however.
 Or Saintship, for Wilayat has both meanings. Amongst the Arabs, he who would seek the protection of some great Shaykh or Amir catches hold of one of the cords of his tent, crying Ana dakhiluk! “I place myself under thy protection!”—E.G.B.
 Not-Being, or Negation, or Annihilation.-E.G.B.
 The Arabic words with which this line concludes are, as is too often with the Bábís, hopelessly ungrammatical.-E.G.B.
I came into the Baha’i Faith in 1982, and have been very moved by stories of the martyrs of the Faith ever since, including the story of Mona Mahmudnizhad, a 16 year old who was martyred for her beliefs in 1983.
Azadeh Rohanian-Perry an American-Iranian woman living in Durham, North Carolina recounts the story of her childhood friend, Mona Mahmudnizhad. Mona was only 16 years old when she was executed together with nine other women in Shiraz, Iran on June 18, 1983. She was offered her life to recant her Faith. She refused. Mona asked to be the last of the nine to be hung so she could pray for their others as they faced their deaths. When it was her turn, she kissed the rope and calmly placed the noose around her neck.
Here’s my favorite play about Mona’s life:
Here’s an interview with Ruhi Jahanpour, who spent many months in prison in Shiraz. She shares her experiences with the other Bahá’í women incarcerated along with her, including 16 year-old Mona Mahmudnizhad. All ten women and youth were hanged in 1983.
Here’s a song about Mona that was popular on the “hit charts”:
Here’s another song paying tribute to Mona, by Smith And Dragoman.