Bahá'í Epistolary

Monday, 18 June 2007

A tribute to ten Shirazi women

On the night of the 18th of June, 1983, ten Bahá'í women were hanged in Shiraz for refusing to deny their faith.

"Two days later, Mona and the other nine women were told that they would be given one more chance to recant their Faith or be sentenced to die. It was their last chance to remain alive. That night, Mona had another dream in which she was in prison saying the long obligatory prayer. Abdu'l-Baha came through the cell door and sat on the bed on which Mona's mother was sleeping. Tahirih Siyavushi was sleeping on the floor. He patted her mother's head and raised His other hand towards Mona, who thought to herself that He might leave if she continued saying her prayer. So she sat on her knees in front of Abdu'l-Baha and held her hands in His. 'Abdu'l-Baha asked Mona, "What do you want?" Mona replied, "Steadfastness." 'Abdu'l-Baha asked again, "What do you want from us?" Mona replied, "Steadfastness for all the friends." Abdu'l-Baha asked for a third time, "What do you want?" Mona again replied, "Steadfastness." Then Abdu'l-Baha said twice, "It is granted. It is granted." "

"Mona replied, 'Mother, If I knew that during each year I spend in prison only a few people become Baha'is, I would wish that I could spend a hundred thousand years in prison.'

'And if I knew that because of my execution, all the youth of the world would arise, join hands in service to humanity, become selfless, teach the world about Baha'i ideals and try to move the world, I would beg Baha'u'llah to give me 100,000 lives to sacrifice in his path.'

* * * * *

It is with trepidation that I begin to write these words. My heart’s vocabulary of emotions seems unequal to the object of my contemplation, how much more the groaning structure of my words. I have prayed with all the fervour of my heart for the sincerity to feel, the eloquence to express. And yet, at the gateway, my knees weaken.

Tahirih Siyavushi, when she placed her neck upon the noose, was my age as I write these lines. Mona Mahmudnizhad, when she breathed her last, was my age when I became a Bahá’í. Mrs. Yalda’i was the same age as my mother is today, when they killed her after whipping her two hundred times, blending her clothes with her skin. Mrs Ishraqi was only four years younger. Her daughter Roya, Zarrin Muqimi, Shirin Dalvand, Akhtar Sabit, Simin Sabiri, and Mahsrid Nirumand, were all younger than I am.

This very night, perhaps this very hour at which I am now writing, twenty four years ago, they were killed for a Faith whose name I bear.When I think of them, I remember the living.

Not in the abstract.

I remember a young Shirazi woman in the lonely town of Felixtowe, England, who taught me to pray, not in words, but in the fervour of her supplications, and the burning fire in her gut at the perplexity of being alive, of being spared, when those ten women, when Mona, her own friend, were not. I think of her brother, and his dreams of Bahá’u’lláh, and his unassuming, yet unflagging and fruit-bearing dedication to servitude to His Cause. I think of the same outwardly disciplined, inwardly consuming flame in the serenely fervent eyes, brimming with unshed yet constantly flowing tears - of devotion and pain and longing - of a lone woman scholar of Shiraz, of the same generation, who now quietly but powerfully sheds her light in far distant Northern climes. And I think of those ten women’s fellow prisoner, who blessed my house with her stay, and befriended my three year old child, with whom I was united, for brief hours, in their remembrance, as I laboured to bring her voice, and their memory, to tens of thousands of readers of two publications in Scotland. And I remember a husband and wife I briefly met at the Guardian’s resting place in London, on a brief respite from some six years spent in different Iranian prisons, on their way back to Iran to likely future incarceration. They invited me to be their guest, should I ever visit the land of my heart’s desire. I felt they were my hosts already, as they shared of the abundance of their sorrow-seared, joy-irradiated, hearts.

That quiet intensity in the eyes of these cherished companions, or rather, to use a Persian idiom, that burning in their liver - something at once intensely spiritual, and visceral, instinct at once with light and only just contained emotion, like a voice that says, at every moment “Do not rest! Do not falter! Do not betray the trust!” - is to me pure evocation, lingering perfume of a moment, a moment that broke through the bars and walls of Adelabad and Seppah, and refused to become past, remaining instead present, ever ongoing, long after the fingers that type these fugitive words join the earth that entombs their precious if ephemeral bodies.

Perhaps my thoughts turn so immediately, so instinctively to these friends of mine, who belong, not by design or by appointment, to what the Bahá’í writings call “the remnant of the martyrs”, even as their forebears were the “remnants of the sword” (baqiyyatu’s sayf), because they seem to hear most immediately and pressingly, most continually and urgently, an admonishment that these ten women, and their fathers, and husbands and friends who shared their fate call out to us, in that silence that speaks when words avail not, call out insistently, in the manner of their death, to the manner of our lives.

I do not know by what means to fit my feet into their crimson footprints. My spirit breaks with love and inadequacy. Many are the things I hoped to say in this brief tribute. None have the strength to make it past my yearning. I can only hope the heat of their affliction is such as to burn at least some links in the long chain of self-defeat that holds me back from flying as my innermost spirit visions and desires, and that the selfsame heat does make me move, move an inch, a mile, a frasakh:

“While Persia remains heedless and unaware and its sorely-tried friends are beset by grievous repressions and cruelties, the hosts of life, the bearers of the divine Message of salvation are moving far and wide over the extensive territories of the free world, and bending their energies to capture the citadels of men's hearts. The motivating impulse, the driving power which is responsible for the successful achievements of these sanctified beings is derived from the heat and flame and the influence released through the relentless persecutions and ordeals which the pure-hearted friends in Persia are enduring. Wherefore has the Master said: When the light of God is ignited in the East it will shed illumination upon the West and its evidences will become visible both in the North and in the South.” (Shoghi Effendi, Fire and Light (Nar va Nur), section III)

How inert my motion feels in relation to the flame that burnt up those ten hearts this night in 1983 - and their pain was real, and trying, and their supplications for firmness constant (perhaps an indication of an equally constant awareness of a dangerous fragility under inconceivable mental, and emotional, and spiritual stress), however triumphant and spiritually jubilant the final outcome.

And yet, I look inside my heart, and I find the fragrance of their sacrifice in the very depths of my aspiration, I find a love for their spirits, for their humanity, and for the manner of their love. I find within myself a yearning for faithfulness to the trust of their sacrifice, for answer to their call, in Mona’s case explicit and unequivocally, for a reaction from us all, a reaction to their deaths in the form of genuine, burning servitude, and I cannot ignore that indeed, in their sacrifice is, even for such an indigent one as me, a “motivating impulse”, a “driving power”, that does “shed illumination” over the farthest reaches of my soul.

It is up to me, with God’s assistance, for the “evidences” of such a driving power as their martyrdom contains, so far invisible and folded in the recesses of unrealized aspiration and longing, to “become visible both in the North and in the South.” I feel unequal to the task, but cannot rest in such a feeling. I lack the language to address those 10 women, to lift my heart in prayer and give expression to my feelings. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s own voice gives vent to my humble request to Mona, Roya, Zarrin, Shirin, Akhtar, Simin, Mahsrid, Mrs Ishraqi and Mrs. Yalda’i:

“O ye who have suffered martyrdom! O trustees of His Revelation! …O illustrious and noble ones! May my inmost reality, my spirit, my entire being and whatsoever God hath bestowed upon me through His bounty and grace be laid down as a sacrifice for you.

I bear witness that ye are the radiant stars, the gleaming meteors, the resplendent full moons. the brilliant orbs in this wondrous Revelation. Well is it with you, O birds that warble in the gardens of divine unity; blessed are ye, O lions that roar in the forests of detachment; happy are ye. O leviathans that swim in the waters of His oneness. Verily ye are the signs of divine guidance. ye are the banners that flutter in the field of sacrifice.

I beseech God to bless me, through the breezes of holiness wafted from that glorious centre of sacrifice, and to quicken me with the reviving breath of heavenly communion blowing from that blessed region.

I beg you to intercede on my behalf in the presence of the ever-living, sovereign Lord that He may graciously suffer me to quaff my fill from the choice sealed wine, may grant me a portion from the unbounded felicity that ye enjoy and may exhilarate my heart by giving me to drink from your chalice which is tempered at the Camphor Fountain. Verily my Lord is merciful and forgiving. By bestowing the bounty of sacrifice in this realm of existence, He aideth whomsoever He willeth with whatsoever He pleaseth.”

((‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Fire and Light (Nar va Nur), section XX)

And so, as I remember these ten women, and the 200 believers who were executed in those years, and the afflictions that still rain down on the sweet and valiant friends of Iran, and as I approach the day in which the King of the Messengers was martyred, I cannot but evoke the glorious company which those ten women joined on this, their festal night:

“How well is it said:

'The worldly wise who garner the ears of grain

are unaware of Layla's secret, For unto none was accorded the great glory

but Majnun --

he who set the whole harvest afire.'

“... In this way most of the favoured ones of God offered up their lives as martyrs in the field of sacrifice. He Who is the resplendent Morn of divine guidance, the Exalted One [the Bab] sank below the horizon of sacrifice. Quddus sought companionship with the Beloved through glorious martyrdom. Mulla Husayn opened a new gate to the field of martyrdom. Vahid distinguished himself as a peerless figure in the arena of sacrifice. Zanjani [Hujjat] offered up his life as a martyr upon the plain of tribulation. The King of Martyrs hastened forth to the place of sacrifice. The Beloved of Martyrs was enraptured with ineffable gladness when he offered up his life for the sake of God. Ashraf attained the heights of honour as he unflinchingly set his face towards the arena of sacrifice. Badi', as he breathed his last, exclaimed: 'Magnified be my Lord, the Most Glorious!' The martyrs of the land of Ya [Yazd] drank their fill with relish from the draught of glorious martyrdom, and the martyrs of Shiraz laid down their lives in the arena of ardent love to the tune of sweet and wondrous melodies. Those massacred in the land of Nayriz were inebriated with the brimful cup of sacrifice, and the martyrs of Tabriz were seized with ecstatic joy and unleashed new energies in the field of sacrifice. Those who renounced their lives in Mazandaran exclaimed: 'O Lord! Destine for us this cup that brimmeth over with the choice wine'; while the martyrs of Isfahan laid down their lives with utmost joy and radiance.

“…In truth those that are guided solely by their reason would be unable to perceive the sweetness of this cup, but the ardent lovers will be overjoyed and enraptured by the holy ecstasy which this wondrous draught doth produce. Every discerning observer who hath gazed upon the countenance of that graceful Beloved was prompted to lay down his life as a martyr, and every receptive ear which had hearkened unto that celestial melody suffered its listener to become so enravished with joy as to offer up himself without hesitation as a sacrifice. The moth which is animated by love will burn its wings as it flitteth round the lamp of God and the phoenix of tender affection will be set ablaze by the fire of ardent desire. No unfamiliar bird can partake of the heat of this Fire, nor can the fowls that dwell upon the dust plunge forth into this heavenly Ocean. However, praise be unto God, ye are the leviathans of this ocean, the birds of this pasture, the moths of this lamp, the nightingales of this meadow.

And upon ye rest the glory of the Most Glorious!”

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Fire and Light (Nar va Nur), section XIII)


Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

Interesting to know.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, o eloquent one. You have said it all. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Yaran.