Theology of Tahirih as Revealed in Her Poems

By Anthony Lee

Presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #137
Bosch Baha'i School: Santa Cruz, CA
May 26–30, 2016
(see list of papers from #137)


    She is most commonly designated Qurratu'l-Ayn (Solace of the Eyes), certainly the most well-known woman in Bahá'í history, and the most controversial. `Abdu'l-Bahၠrecognizes her as a saint with these words in Memorials of the Faithful: "A woman chaste and holy, a sign and token of surpassing beauty, a burning brand of the love of God, a lamp of His bestowal, was Jinab-i-Tahirih."

    As a Babi, Tahirih wrote many learned treatises in defense of the Bab and Babi doctrines. In these she makes use of the traditional conventions of Islamic jurisprudence and theology. Amin Banani, in the preface to his translation of a selection of Tahirih's poems, makes a distinction, however, between Tahirih's learned dissertations and her poetic voice. He insists that her scholarly works are "too arcane and abstruse" to reveal her "tempestuous temperament" and her true doctrine. This distinction between Tahirih's words and Tahirih's voice is useful and instructive. This paper will investigate her poems to find a structure of mystical theology. Her poems inhabit a structure that does not rely upon Muslim scholarship for its arguments, but rather insists on the inspiration of the spirit for its power and legitimacy.

    The poems reveal Tahirih's belief in the abrogation of the Islamic shari'a, the dismissal of all law while awaiting the universal proclamation of a new dispensation. They also reveal her antinomian sentiments, her reliance on feminine power, her call for social justice and universal reconciliation. She speaks of unity with God (fana') and devotion to his Manifestation. All this was a new theology that broke with Islam and its traditional theology in favor of a revolutionary new doctrine.