Women Inspiring Women in Baha’i History: Tahirih’s Lineage

Collage of sixteen Bahá'í women
Some prominent Baha’i women (Image source)

On March 8th, we celebrate “the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women” and acknowledge the urgency of “accelerating gender parity.”1 As much as International Women’s Day is a celebration, it is also a monument to centuries of discrimination.

For as long as systemic discrimination has quashed individuals’ potential, some have refused to accept their assigned inferiority. Wherever sexism has caged women, resistance has arisen. Countless such efforts have gone unrecorded, lost to history, leaving humanity only scattered memories of women who spearheaded social transformation.

Yet, stirred by Baha’u’llah’s teachings on the equality of women and men, Baha’is have a tradition of recording women’s contributions. Thanks to the efforts of Baha’i historians, we can enjoy lengthy biographies of groundbreakers: Lua Getsinger: Herald of the CovenantMartha Root: Lioness at the Threshold, and From Copper to Gold: The Life of Dorothy Baker. We can also read briefer portraits of prominent women like Hands of the Cause2 Keith Ransom-Kehler and Amelia Collins in collections such as A Love Which Does Not Wait and Portraits of Some Baha’i Women.

Most anglophone histories of women in the Baha’i Era’s first century focus on Americans and Europeans, whose social context afforded more opportunities for public service. Recent histories, however, have begun to reveal how Iranian women navigated the constraints of traditional gender roles to serve their faith community, as exemplified by Bahiyyih Khanum, who led the Baha’is in the interregnum between Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi.

These are only a few of the many women who over successive generations have assumed active roles in the global Baha’i community. If we were to trace a lineage of inspiration, a family tree charting the ancestry of Baha’i women’s leadership, we would find the primogenitor in the early 1800s, in northwestern Persia, in a family of influential Islamic theologians: Fatimih Baraghani—better known to us as Tahirih, Qurratu’l-Ayn, and Zarrin-Taj.

Tahirih was a poet, a theologian, a follower of the Bab, and a martyr for her beliefs. She knew both Baha’u’llah, who titled her “the Pure One,” and Abdu’l-Baha, who called her “a sign and token of surpassing beauty, a burning brand of the love of God, a lamp of His bestowal.”3 Her dying words were, “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”4

Tahirih’s life story has been recounted by many admirers. Biographies abound—for recent examples, you can listen to this Baha’i Teachings talk or read this article. In 2016, I wrote an article about Tahirih’s influence on writers Isabella Grinevskaya, Laura Clifford Barney, Martha Root, and Bahiyyih Nakhjavani.5 In the short time since, another biography has been published.

Women and men around the world are still talking about Tahirih and benefiting from her legacy. Today, Tahirih’s revolutionary voice, which has, since her 1852 strangling, emanated primarily from pages written in the United States and Europe, is slowly circling back to its original platform, Iran.

Although Tahirih has long been vilified in her homeland due to her refusal to submit to tradition, some Iranians outside the Baha’i minority there have recently reclaimed her as their nation’s first women’s rights activist. In 2006, Iranian activists initiated the One Million Signatures campaign for gender equality. “To provide the genealogy of our method,” campaigner Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani wrote,6 “seeking face-to-face interactions in various public spaces…it is important to recall that this method is inspired by the words of the brave poetess and campaigner for women’s equal rights, Zarrin Taj…who wrote the following couplet more than 160 years ago.” Khorasani quotes Tahirih’s famous “Point by Point,”7 describing searching for her divine beloved “door to door.”

Khorasani represents one node in the spiritual genealogy of Tahirih, which I’ve been tracing through texts referencing her. So far, my bibliography contains 84 such texts, but the actual number surely exceeds 100, since my count excludes online publications and texts invisible to me because of language barriers.

Below, I’ve listed 27 works taking Tahirih as primary subject or protagonist, arranged by genre. For a fuller list of works referencing her, please visit my website. I hope this bibliography, by illuminating Tahirih’s lineage, inspires you to perpetuate a unique inheritance: the spiritual legacy of Babi and Baha’i foremothers.

Collections of Tahirih’s Writings

  1. Bi-Yad-i sadumin sal-i shahadat-i Qurratu’l-`Ayn, Nabighih-‘i Dawran. Iran, 1949.
  2. Jafarzade, Aziza. Zarrintaj-Tahira. Azerbaijan, 1996.
  3. Hatcher, John; Hemmat, Amrollah. The Poetry of TahirihEngland, 2002.
  4. Banani, Amin. Tahirih: A Portrait in Poetry. United States, 2004.
  5. Hatcher, John; Hemmat, Amrollah. Adam’s Wish: Unknown Poetry of Tahirih. United States, 2008.
  6. Hatcher, John; Hemmat, Amrollah. The Quickening: Unknown Poetry of Tahirih. United States, 2011.


  1. Root, Martha L. Tahirih the Pure, Iran’s Greatest Woman. Pakistan, 1938.
  2. Nuqabai, Hussam. Tahirah: Qurrat al-‘Ayn. Iran, 1972.
  3. Johnson, Lowell. TahirihSouth Africa, 1982.
  4. Lloyd, Ivan. Tahirih: A Poetic Vision. United States, 1999.
  5. Afaqi, Sabir. Tahirih in History: Perspectives on Qurratu’l-Ayn from East and West. United States, 2004.
  6. Ruhe-Schoen, Janet. Rejoice in My Gladness: The Life of Tahirih. United States, 2011.
  7. Ahdieh, Hussein; Chapman, Hillary. The Calling: Tahirih of Persia and Her American Contemporaries. United States, 2017.

Historical Fiction (Drama, Novel, Poetry)

  1. Najmajer, Marie von. Gurret-ül-Eyn: Ein Bild aus Persiens Neuzeit in sechs Gesängen. Austria, 1874.
  2. Grinevskaya, IsabellaБаб: Драматическая поэма из истории Персии в 5 действиях и 6 картинах (Bab: A Dramatic Poem of the History of Persia in Five Acts and Six Parts). Russia, 1903.
  3. Runcie, Constance Fauntleroy. The Bab. United States, ca. 1908 (unpublished).
  4. Barney, Laura Clifford. God’s Heroes: A Drama in Five ActsUnited States, England, 1910.
  5. Edge, Clara. Tahirih. United States, 1964.
  6. Barney, Laura Clifford; Shirazi, Azizullah. Translation of God’s Heroes (Daliran-i Rabbani). Iran, 1977.
  7. Demas, Kathleen Jemison. From Behind the Veil: A Novel about Tahirih. United States, 1983.
  8. Nakhjavani, Bahiyyih. Translations of The Woman Who Read Too Much (La femme qui lisait tropLa donna che leggeva troppoLa mujer que leía demasiado). France, Italy, Spain, 2007.
  9. Older, Julia. Tahirih Unveiled. United States, 2007.
  10. Nakhjavani, Bahiyyih. The Woman Who Read Too Much. United States, 2015.
  11. Nazerian, Parviz. The Raptured Point. United States, 2016.

Multimedia (Film, Music)

  1. Rice, Tadia. Solace of the Eyes: Songs of Tahirih and A Woman and Her Words – The Story of Tahirih. United States, 2000/2002.
  2. Tolouei, Shabnam. Dust-Flower-Flame. United States, 2015.
  3. Garcia, Gina and Russell. The Unquenchable Flame: A Musical Drama. United States, 2016.


  1. https://www.internationalwomensday.com 
  2. Eight women were appointed Hands of the Cause: Keith Ransom-Kehler (1933), Martha Root (1939), Amelia Collins (1951), Dorothy Baker (1951), Corinne True (1952), Clara Dunn (1952), Mary Maxwell (Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum) (1952), and Agnes Alexander (1957)
  3. Memorials of the Faithful 
  4. Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 75 
  5. www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/do-you-think-that-you-can_b_10816960.html 
  6. “The ‘One Million Signature Campaign’: Face-to-face, Street-to-street” 
  7. http://bit.ly/2oK1L6Q

This article was originally published on Baha’i Blog.