Immortal Heroines

Alleged Image of Fatima Baraghani, Tahira (d. 1852) and a specimin of  her Handwriting,

 

IMMORTAL HEROINES

 Stephen Lambden

In progress - under revision and rewriting

Below are some notes which were never fully or properly written up in 1995. They were used for a paper delivered at the first UK Baha'i Gender Studies conference, convened in July 1995 in Newcastle upon Tyne (UK)  by Fariba Hedayati.  

"In proclaiming the oneness of mankind He [Bahā'u'llāh] taught that men and women are equal in the sight of God and that there is no distinction to be made between them. The only difference between them now is due to lack of education and training. If women is given equal opportunity in education, distinction and estimate of inferiority will disappear... God is the creator of mankind. He has endowed both sexes with perfections and intelligence.. in His estimate there is no question of sex. The one whose heart is purest, whose deeds are most perfect, is acceptable to God, male or female. Often in history women have been the pride of humanity..." (PUP:174-5)

"`Abdu'l‑Bahā said to a group of friends around him: "Taken in general, women today have a stronger sense of religion than men. The woman's intuition is more correct; she is more receptive and her intelligence is quicker. The day is coming when woman will claim her superiority to man... But in the sight of God sex makes no difference. He or she is greatest who is nearest to God."" (ABL:104-5)

In his one-volume hagiographical history of the first century of the Bābī-Bahā'ī dispensation (1844-1944 CE) entitled  God Passes By (1944), Shoghi Effendi (d. 1957 the Guardian of the Bahā'ī Faith) refers to a succession of prominent female religious worthies of past religious eras as "immortal heroines" (GPB:347). In chronological order their names and dates, along with the religious dispensations within which they lived, are

  • 1 Sarah (d. 2100 BCE?)  -- Abrahamic religion ["Sabeanism"]
  • 2 Asenath/ Āsīya/ Āsīyih ... (d. c. 1,400 BCE) -- Egyptian / Israelite religion [Judaism].
  • 3 Mary / Maryam (d. 1st cent CE), mother of Jesus  - Christianity.
  • 4 Fātima  =    (d. 6XX)   --daughter of the Prophet Muhammad - Islam (7th cent. CE)
  • 5 Ṭāhira  =   Fātima Baraghani  (d. 1852) - the Bābī religion (mid 19th cent. CE)
  • 6. Bahiyya  = daughter of Bahā'u'llāh entitled  the `Greatest Holy Leaf' (d. 1932).

Shoghi Effendi's singling out of the first four of these women is rooted in writings and statements of `Abdu'l-Bahā'. The latter in his diverse statements was often inspired by Islamic archetypes. Relevant, for example, is the following extract from his talk delivered in Philadelphia (USA) on June 9th 1912,

"Often in history women have been the pride of humanity -- for example, Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was the glory of humankind [mankind]. Mary Magdalene, Āsīyih, daughter of Pharoah, Sarah wife of Abraham, and innumerable others have glorified the human race by their excellences." (PUP:175) 1   

Such statements of `Abdu'l-Bahā about great women of past ages,  the first four "immortal heroines" , are an extension of Islamic tradiions (ḥadīth)  attributed to Muhammad or the Imāms. The following are a few examples:

`Anas reported that the Prophet [Muhammad] as saying, "Among the women of the universe, Mary daughter of `Imrān, Khadījah daughter of Khuwalid, Fāṭima daughter of Muhammad and Āsiya wife of Pharoah are enough for you" (Tirmihdi cited Mishkat II:1361).

"The most gracious (afdal) of the women of Paradise are four: Khadījah daughter of Khuwalid, Fāṭima daughter of Muhammad, Mary daughter of `Imrān [Amram] and Āsiya daughter of Muzāhim and wife of Pharoah" (Ibn `Abbas citing a Prophetic tradition recorded in Majlisi, Bihār2 13:162). 

`Alī related  that he heard God's Messenger say, "The best woman of her time was Mary daughter of `Imrān, and the best woman of her time is Khadījah daughter of Khuwalid"   (Bukhari and Muslim cited Mishkat II:1360).

This is closely paralleled in a Prophetic tradition related from `Alī as cited in al-Ṭabarī,

"The best of the women of the people of Paradise are Mary daughter of `Imrān and Khadījah daughter of Khuwaylid [and wife of the Prophet Muhammad]."  (see Ṭabarā [VI:393-8] cited Ayoub II:123)

 The famous Shī`ī Qur'ān commentator Shaykh Ṭabarsī  [Tabrizi, d.     ] in his  ADD  refers to the following tradition reported on the authority of Abū Hurayrah from the Prophet Muhammad,

"The most excellent of women are four: Mary daughter of `Imrān, Āsiyah daughter of Muzāḥim and wife of Pharoah, Khadījah daughter of Khuwaylid [and wife of the Prophet], and Fāṭimah daughter of Muhammad." (Tabarsi III: 65-6 trans Ayoub II:97).

In his Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā' ("Tales of the Prophets"), Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah al-Kisā`ī    (13th cent. CE)  records an interesting Islamic tradition from Ka`ab al-Ahbar (d. );

"When God created the most beautiful dark-eyed houris, the angels said, "Our God and master, hast thou created anything more beautiful than the dark-eyed houris?"

"O hosts of angels," came the cry in response, "I have created among the women of the world four girls who excel, the houris as the sun excels the moon and other constellations. They were Asiya daughter of Muzahim, Mary daughter of Amran, Khadija daughter of Khuwaylid, and Fatima daughter of Muhammad" (al-Kisa'i, trans. Thackston, 213).

Shoghi Effendi wrote that each of the abovementioned "immortal heroines"  had "outshone every member of her sex in previous dispensations" (ibid). Their place in the history of religions and in what manner they have been viewed as the "pride of mankind" (PUP:175) will be briefly succinctly examined as recorded in sometimes ancient religious traditions. 

"Immortal heroines" of  the Pre-Bābī-Bahā'ī  era

The identity and story of the first four the women listed above is touched upon in various sources, most notably in the Bible and the Qur'ān and related exegetical writings such as the Jewish Targums and Midrashic literatures and the Islamic Tafsir and Qisas  al-anbiyā'  ("Stories of the Prophets") sources. Much of what is registered in these sources about these "immortal heroines" is legendry or hagiographical. Concrete historical facts are few and far between prior to the historical researches of modern times. The stories of ancient prophets and their wives and families are often pictured in ideal terms. They were viewed as perfect on a human level; never wayward or sinful.Only a few lines about each of them can be set down here with the focus upon their role and importance in the often mythical history of religions.

 

[1] Sarah

 Sarah (= `Princess' previously Sarai) lived around 4,000 years ago (the 19th century BCE?). She was from the city of Ur of the Chaldees. In the Biblical tradition she was the most important one of the three wives (Sarah, Hagar and Keturah) of the (for Baha’is) Manifestation of God named Abraham (previously Abram; see Genesis 12ff). Some traditions make Abraham her half-brother (Gen 12:13;20:12). She traveled with her husband to Canaan/Palestine. According to Genesis 12:11 she was beautiful. This beauty is celebrated by some Egyptians in an address to the King in one of the dead sea scrolls, The Genesis Apocryphon  (1QapGen):

".. and beautiful is her face...fine are the hairs of her head! How lovely are her eyes! How desirabl;e her nose and all the radiance of her countenance...How fair are her breasts and how beautiful all her whiteness! How pleasing are her arms and how perfect her hands, and how [desirable] all the appearence of her hands! How fair are her palms and how long anmd slender are her fingers! How comely are her feet, how perfect her thighs! No virgin or bride led into the marriage chamber is more beautiful than she; she is fairer than all other women. Truly her beauty is greater than theirs. Yet together with all this grace sage possesses abundant wisdom, so whatever she does is perfect (?)." (trans. Vermes, DSSE 3 ed., 254).

The ancient kings of Egypt and Gerar wished to marry  Sarah thinking that she was Abraham's sister and not his wife ( XX X ).

 In a letter written in 1935 (Sept. 4th) to a Bahā’ī of the Indian subcontinent, Shoghi Effendi responded to a question about this episode

"Concerning the passage in the Old Testament in which Abraham is reported to have addressed his wife as his sister, the interpretation given it by some Christians cannot hold, as it implies that the Messengers of God are all sinners. A much more plausible explanation would be, that in doing so Abraham wished to emphasize the superiority of the spiritual relationship binding him with his wife to the purely physical and material one." (Dawn of a New Day, Messages to India 1923-1957,  pp. 197-8).

 Biblical and related tradition has it that Sarah was barren for many years. On becoming pregant at the age of ninety (!) she laughed and subsequently gave birth to Isaac from whom Jesus' genealology is traced in the Gospels of Matthew (1:2ff) and Luke (?). Isaac was the younger half-brother of Hagar's child Ishmael from whom Muhammad is believed to have descended.

 According to the Biblical book of Genesis, Sarah died in Hebron at the age of 127.  According to the Rabbis this was when she heard that Abraham intended to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham purchased the Cave of Machpelah for her burial. (Widoger, WWR:360)

 [2] Āsīyih

Āsīyih [= Āsina= Asenath], a contemporary of Moses (fl.c. 13th cent. BCE?). Āsīyih  (d. 1,400 BCE?) -- Egyptian / Israelite religion [Judaism]. Identity and name spelling can vary greatly.

"The Arab lexicographers derive Asiya's name from the verb asā (from which, by pseudo‑etymology, Mūsā, "Moses," may also be derived), meaning "healing" and "solace" (cf. the Syriac asiya,  "physician" ), which latter function she performs with respect to both Moses and Pharaoh. The possibility of Mūsā as "source/instrument of healing" was recognized and employed in the legend when, as a babe, his presence heals the diseased daughters of Pharaoh." (Thackston, 252 fn.100). cf. Essenes.

 The Israelite heroine Asenath (Egypt. `belonging to/servant of [the godess] Neith' fl.c. 1,400 BCE?) was the daughter of Potiphera (Pentephres) priest of On (= Heliopolis, Egypt). She was given by Pharoah to Joseph as a wife and became the mother of Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen 41:45ff;46:20). 2  It has been observed by Walker that the name Āsīyih in Islamic sources corresponds to the Biblical Hebrew Asenath (Walker, 1928) -- scribal error (pointing misplacement) "N" ->" Y". It has been also been observed, however, that "there is little justification for this interpretation since āsiya is in all sources named as the daughter of Muzāim and has no connection whatsoever with Joseph, in whose legend the roles of both Asenath and of the wife of Potiphar have been combined in the figure of Zuleikha" (Thackston, 1978:351).

Fn of Thackston =

"Thackston further observes pp.351-2 fn. 00. "It has been suggested (Walker, "Asiya," 48) that Asiya  is a scribal error for Asina (= Asenath, the daughter of Poti‑pherah and wife of Joseph, see Gen 41:45, 41:50 and 46:20), although there is little justification for this interpretation since Asiya is in all sources named as the daughter of Muzahim and has no connection whatso‑ever with Joseph, in whose legend the roles of both Asenath and of the wife of Potiphar have been combined in the figure of Zuleikha. Walker connects Asiya's legend, especially her martyrdom at the hand of Pharaoh, with that of St. Catherine of Alexandria, who shares a number of attributes with Asiya, including a connection with Moses in that Catherine's supposed tomb is at Jebel Ekaterina in Sinai near the Jebel Musa, where the Decalogue is said to have been revealed. St. Catherine was of royal lineage; Ibn Kathlr (Qisas al‑anbiya', II, 8) gives Asiya's name as Asiya bint Muzahim ibn [ 352 Tales of the Prophets of al‑Kisa'i]  'Ubayd ibn al‑Rayyan ibn al‑Walid, thus establishing her to be of royal lineage also. Of striking similarity to Pharaoh's torture of Asiya is the account of the martyrdom of St. Catherine: Asiya is tortured to death with iron stakes, after which the angels bear her off into heaven in a dome of light (see Nlsaburi, Qisas al‑anbiya', p. 187), a standard topos in martyrologies, cf. the old woman put to death by Nimrod (p. 141 above) and the martyrdom of Queen Alexandra in the St. George legend ( Tha'labi, Qisas, p. 392 and also in the Syriac version in Acta martyM~m et sanctorum, ed. Bedjan, I, 295ff.). Asiya's last words are given in Koran 66:11: "Lord, build me a house with thee in paradise; and deliver me from Pharaoh and his doings, and deliver me from the unjust people."   

As Asiya is Pharaoh's wife and not his daughter (called Thermutis in Midrashic literature ), she is placed in relation to Haman the Vizier as was Esther, from whose legend Haman (chief minister to Ahasuerus) was lifted. There may possibly be some connection between Esther's name, Haddasah ("myrtle"), and the Arabic as (also "myrtle") and Asiya. The Arab lexicographers derive Asiya's name from the verb asa (from which, by pseudo‑etymology, Musa, "Moses," may also be derived), meaning "healing" and "solace" (cf. the Syriac asiya, "physician"), which latter function she performs with respect to both Moses and Pharaoh. The possibility of Musa as "source/instrument of healing" was recognized and employed in the legend when, as a babe, his presence heals the diseased daugh‑ters of Pharaoh.

There are some unmistakably alchemical elements in the Moses legend, particularly the "nonburning" of the Moses‑infant amidst the raging fire (this has its parallel too in the Abraham legend) and the subsequent casting of the child into the waters for a certain period of time ( all of the variant lengths of time recorded would be of significance), after which the infant effects miraculous cures. The connection of Moses with alchemy is carried further in his relation to Korah (see p. 245). Moses is known to figure prominently in the alchemical literature of late antiquity and in the Greco‑Arabic tradition also (see E. J. Holmyard, ed., The Arabic Works of Jabir ibn Hayyan, I, p. 86).

 The  exist a number of works in the `Joseph Cycle' of interest.

  • 1) `[History of] Joseph and Asenath' an haggadic midrash/ Hellenistic romance on Gen 41:45 ("..and he [Pharoah] gave him [Joseph] in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On..." in 29 chapters -- probably Greek Jewish+ Christian dating 1st cent BCE-->6th Cent CE??) (see Sparks, 1984:465ff)
  • 2) Book of the Prayer of Asenath.
  • 3) Life and Confession of Asenath.
  • 4) History of Assaneth  (See Charlesworth, 1981:137ff).

Asenath/ Āsīyih (or however her name is spelled)  has been variously identified in Judaeo-Christian sources. It has been noted that post- Biblical "Jewish legends attempted to explain the apparet heathen origin of Joseph's wife. In one recension she is pictured as a Hebrew (daughter of Schehem and Dinah) who was adopted by Potiphera; elsewhere it is claimed that although she was Egyptian, she was converted to Yahwism by Joseph." (J.F. Ross, Asenath, IBD I:247-8; cf. Ginsberg Legends II (1910), 38, 170ff)

Āsīyih in Islamic sources

Jewish and other legends about Asenath have contributed to the Islamic traditions about Āsīyih.  Though she is not explicitly identified, she figures in the Qur'ān and in Islamic qisas  al-anbiyā'  ("stories of the prophets") and associated literatures. She is believed to be the "daughter of Mu`azim and wife of Pharoah" who said of Moses "He will be a comfort to me and thee. Slay him not; perchance he will profit us, or we will take him for a son." (Q 28:00). In Qur'ān 66:11 she is an object lesson for the believer:

"God has struck a similitude for the unbelievers -- the wife of Pharoah, when she said, `My Lord, build for me a house in Paradise, in Thy presence, and deliver me from Pharoah and his work, and do thou deliver me from the people of the evildoers." (trans. Arberry, 594-5)    

 In many Islamic sources Āsīyih -- daughter of Muzāim (ibn `Ubayd ibn al-Rayyān ibn al-Walād) -- is identified as the "wife of Pharoah"’ Thus, in the following Sunni tradition related by Bukhāri and Muslim;

"Abā Mūsā reported the Prophet saying, "Many men have been perfect, but among women only Mary the daughter of `Imrān and Āsiya the wife of Pharoah were perfect.." (cited,  Mishkat II:1225)

 Āsīyih is said by al-Kisa'i to have been conceived on the very night that Āsīyih's father married; a night which corresponded with the day that Joseph married Zuleikha (al-Kisa'i, trans. Thackston, 213-4) :

"When Asiya had reached her twentieth year, a white bird in the form of a dove appearecl to her with a white pearl in its mouth.  "Asiya," it said, "take this white pearl, for when it turns green it will be time for you to marry; when it turns red God will cause you to suffer martyrdom." Then the bird flew away. Asiya took the pearl and fastened it to her necklace. When Pharaoh heard of her beauty, he wanted to marry her and sent to her father Muzahim to dispatch his daughter. When Muzahim told Asiya the news, she wept bitterly and said, "How can a woman who believes be the wife of an infidel?"  "My daughter," he said, "you are right; but if I do not do as he says, he will destroy us and all our people." Therefore she complied with his wish.  As a bride‑price the king gave her thousands of okes of gold and ordered so many thousands of sheep slaughtered that there was not a soul in Egypt who was not invited to partake of the feast he had prepared.  When she entered under his roof, Pharaoh came in intent upon her; however, God kept him from her and made him impotent. Then he heard a voice saying, "Woe unto you, O Pharaoh! Verily the end of your kingdom draws nigh at the hand of a man from the children of Israel called Moses."  "Who is that talking?" asked Pharaoh. "I do not know," answered Asiya." (al-Kisa'i, trans. Thackston, 214)

"Pharaoh had seven daughters, not one of whom was free of disease. As treatment the physicians had advised them to bathe in the water of the Nile, so Pharaoh had a large pool con‑structed in his house, and filled it with Nile water. God commanded the breeze to carry the ark and leave it in that stream. The eldest daughter discovered the ark, opened it and saw Moses inside, shining with the brilliance of the sun. When she took him up, all her diseases left her; and no sooner had all the girls taken him up in their arms than they too were cured of their afflictions by the blessing of Moses.

Then Asiya took him, not knowing that he was the son of her uncle Amram, and carried him to Pharaoh, who said when he saw him, "Asiya, I fear that this may be my enemy. I must therefore kill him."

 "This child is a delight of the eye to me, and to thee," said Asiya. "Kill him not, peradventure it may happen that he may be serviceable unto us; or we may adopt him for our son (28.9). Sire, if he be your enemy, you can have him destroyed whenever you wish. But keep him until such time."

 As Moses was hungry, wet‑nurses were brought from every corner of the kingdom; but he would not take the breast of any of them, as He hath said: And we suffered him not to take the breasts of the nurses who were provided (28.12), lest he suckle at the breast of any but his mother.  Moses' mother longed to see him and said to her daughter, "Go seek news of your brother." When the girl came to the palace, which was not closed that day to women capable of nursing, she saw Moses on Asiya's lap and said, "Shall I direct you unto some of his nation, who maV nurse him for you, and will be careful of him~" (28.12).  "Go and bring them to me," said Pharaoh.  She therefore returned to her mother and told her what hacl happened. Straightaway Jochebed, Moses' mother, went to Pharaoh.  "Take this boy," said Asiya, "and I give him your breast. Perhaps [218] he will take it." She did as she was told, and Moses accepted her to nurse him. Jochebed lived three years in Pharaoh's house" (Thackston Kisa’I, 217-8).

The torture & Martyrdom of Āsīyah

"Of striking similarity to Pharaoh's torture of Asiya is the account of the martyrdom of St. Catherine: Asiya is tortured to death with iron stakes, after which the angels bear her off into heaven in a dome of light (see Nlsaburi, Qisas al‑anbiya', p. 187), a standard topos in martyrologies, cf. the old woman put to death by Nimrod (p. 141 above) and the martyrdom of Queen Alexandra in the St. George legend (Tha'labi, Qisas, p. 392 and also in the Syriac version in Acta martyM~m et sanctorum, ed. Bedjan, I, 295ff.).

Asiya's last words are given in Koran 66:11: "Lord, build me a house with thee in paradise; and deliver me from Pharaoh and his doings, and deliver me from the unjust people." (Thackston, p.352 fn.100)

The Name and Person of Āsīyah in Baha’i sources

 In a Tablet dating to 1905  and probably addressed to  the Bahā’ī writer Wallsca (Pollock) Dyar  who was renamed Aseyeh Allen, the wife of Harrison G. Dyar d.1929,  a somewhat heterodox Bahā’ī who edited the Reality magazine and who wrote much on lepidoptera. In 1920  Aseyeh Allen Dyar  had published the volume, Introduction to the Bahā’ī Revelation: Being a Series of Talks Given During the Summer of 1919 on a Trip through the Nnothwest Introductory to a Statements of the Message of the Bahai Revelation.  Washington, D.C., 1920.  Writing to her husband `Abd al-Bahā states,

 "That blessed name which thou hast asked to remain with thee forever and become the cause of spiritual progress -- that name is "Aseyeh," which is the name of the mother of  `Abdu'l-Bahā. I give the blessed name to thee. Be therefore in the utmost joy and happiness, and be engaged in all gladness and attraction (or ecstasy) for thou hast become the object of such a favour." (TAB I:209)

 In a Tablet to the same (?) American Bahā’ī, `Abdu'l-Bahā  states that the use of the name Āsīyih [Aseyeh] "is acceptable in the Threshold of Oneness". This in that "the daughter of Pharoah had this name, who, when (Moses) the Light of Guidance dawned, became confirmed by the Merciful One, left the court of Pharoah with its grandeur and sovereignty, and became perfumed with the fragrances of holiness. Then she assisted in the service of His Holiness (Moses) -- upon her be peace!".

Following the above words `Abdu'l-Bahā adds that "Aseyeh was the name of my mother" (TAB I:218), namely, Āsīyih Khanām wife of Bahā'u'llāh  (c. 1820- ADD) . in 1251/ 1835 when he was 18 years old and she perhaps 15 Baha'-Allah married Āsīyih   She was the mother of `Abdu'l-Bahā (1844-1921), (Fātima), Bahā’īyih (1846 -- 19XX) and Mirza  Mihdi  (1849- XXXX).

[3] Mary the mother of Jesus  (fl. 1st cent. CE)

Mary  was the mother of Jesus Christ whom, according to two of the Gospels (Matt. and Luke), she conceived miraculously through the Holy Spirit. The New Testament  (Matt    Lk   cf. Isa 7:6) Qur'ān and Bābī-Bahā’ī scripture all affirm her virginal conception of the founder of Christianity. In Christianity, especially Catholic Christianity her saintly person became "the object of piety and cult" (Reumann ERel. 9|:249) Mariology -- founded as a systematic Marian theology by Francis Suarez (d.1617) -- exalts her in the light of her alleged "immaculate conception" and (implied; non-Biblical) "assumption (body and soul)" (Pius XII, 1 Nov. 1950) to heaven. Though formulated in the Middle Ages the non-Biblical "immaculate conception" has been defined according to the Papal Bull, Ineffabilis Deus   (Dec. 8th 1854) of Pius IXth  (1846-1878) as signifying that "in the first instant of her Conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin" (cited O'Carroll, 1982:178).  She came to be referred, from the Patristic period/ 4th-5th cent CE, as theotokos ("God bearer"). There exists an important theological volume entitled Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary  (Collegville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1982).

        Once a Catholic, Martin Luther (1483-1546) the father of Protestant Christendom, wrote much about Mary, most notably in his Commentary on the Magnificat (hymn of Mary, Luke 1:46-55, "My soul magnifies the Lord.. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed" Lk 1:46a,48b): "The Blessed Virgin was the most pure worshipper of God, for she glorified God alone above all things"  (cited O'Carroll, 1982:227). Luther greatly celebrated the faith and humility of the mother of Jesus. For some Catholic Christians Mary plays a role in the redemption of humanity (the co-redemptrix) along with Christ. Devotion to Mary is an important dimension of Christian spirituality.

 In Islam her piety is foremost among women. In Qur'ān 3:42 angelic beings are said to have declared to Mary, "God has surely chosen you and purified you; He has chosen you above the women of humankind."  Commentators have variously interpreted these words. She was, for example, believd to have been chosen in the light of her obedience and purified from all doubts and impourities (abarā, cf. Ayoub II:123)). On the basis of various traditions (adāth) she is seen as preeminent throughout religious history (the Adamic cycle) from Eve until the Day of resurrection. Such traditions go beyond what the Shā`ā commentator Shaykh Tabarsi [Tabrizi] (d.     ) asserted:

"Mary was the most excellent and venerable human being in her time." (Ayoub II:97). Thus, Ibn `Abbās reports of the Prophet, "The mistresses of the women of humankind are Mary, then Fātimih, then Khadījahh, ans then āsiyah." (Ayoub II:124).,

In one of his Tablets `Abdu'l-Bahā has explained the qur'ānic reference to the mother of Jesus as "Mary the daughter of `Imrān"

ADD HERE

 

[4]

Fātimah, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad

 Fāṭima   (c. 603 - c.633 CE) was the favourite daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (c. 570-632 CE) and Khadījah bint Khuwalid (c.554- 619 CE) as the wife of his successor Imām `Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib -- also the mother of the second and third (ultimately Twelver) Shi`ite Imāms, Ḥasan and Ḥusayn. She is the female member of the Ahl al-Kisā ("People of the Cloak") described by the Prophet  ( when they were gathered under his cloak)  as members of his family. She is especially important in Islamic piety,  having a status not dissimilar to the virgin Mary in Catholicism. In Shī`ī Islam she is known as al-batūl   ("the Virgin") and exemplifies humility, piety and spirituality as well as supreme motherhood and womanhood.

 The character and name of Fāṭimah became very famous. Worth noting is the fact that the parentally bestowed name of the last three of the saintly “immortal heroines” listed above was   Fāṭimah :

  •   [1] Fāṭimah  daughter of Muhammd
  •   [2] Fāṭimah  Baraghānī  (c, 1817-1862 )known as Ṭāhirah and
  •  [3] Fāṭimah  daughter of Bahā'-Allāh entitled `The Greatest Holy Leaf'. 

 Umm Salma told that in the year of the Conquest God's Messenger called Fāṭimah and spoke privately to her and she wept; he then spoke to her and she laughed. When God's Messenger died she asked her about her weeping and laughing and she repiled,

 "God's Messenger informed me that he was going to die, so I wept; then he informed me that, with the exception of Mary daughter of `Imran, I would be the chief lady among the inhabitants of paradise, so I laughed." (Tirmihdi cited Mishkat II:1362).

 There exist quite a number of important references to Fāṭima  in Bābī-Bahā’ī scripture. In his Risāla fi  al-nubuwwa al-khassah  the Bāb refers to Fāṭimah

ADD

 

[5]

Ṭāhirah   (c. 1813 [17] - 1852)

 Ṭāhirah  (c. 1813/17 -- 1852) was the daughter of a leading Shī`ī Muslim mujtahid named Ḥajjī Mullā  Ṣāliḥ. Born in Qazvīn, Iran into an important family of Shī`ī divines, her paternal uncle was Mullā Muhammad Taqī Baraghani (  ADD), the Imām‑Jum'ah or leader of prayers in the “cathedral mosque of that city " (so AB* Memorals). She was married to his son Mullā Muhammad from  whom she bore two sons and a daughter. She had a private teacher when still a child with whom she "she studied various branches of knowledge and the arts, achieving remarkable ability in literary pursuits. Such was the degree of her scholarship and attainments that her father would often express his regret, saying,  "Would that she had been a boy, for he would have shed illumination upon my household, and would have succeeded me!"  (AB*, Memorials).

  In speaking of Ṭāhirah modern Bahā’īs have frequently emphasized her role as a kind of suffragette type martyr. It was thus that she removed her veil at the Bābī conference of Badasht  in Persian Khurasan (1848). ADD            Ṭāhirah was Shi`I Muslim and became  a Shaykhī-Shi`i Muslim, a  devoted disciple of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa’i (d. Medina, 1826)  and of Sayyid Kāzim Rashtī (d. Karbala 1843[4] CE) with whom she corresponded and studied in Iraq. It was he who named her after a qur'ānic phrase, Qurrat al-`Ayn ("Solace of the Eyes"), According to `Abd al-Baha : "she entered into secret correspondence with Siyyid Kāzim, regarding the solution of complex theological problems, and thus it came about that the Siyyid conferred on her the name "Solace of the Eyes" (Qurratu'l‑'Ayn)." (MF: XX).  

Ṭāhirah made the transition from being a Shaykhī Muslim to becoming a `Letter of the Living' (no. 17) or major early disciple of the Bāb. She stood high amongst 17 other all- male disciples.  Her beauty, piety and learning were legendry. Much more than a proto-feminist she was an accomplished Arabist who translated into Persian the Bāb's complex first major work the celebrated neo-qur’anic Qayyúm al-asmā' , a quasi-commentary on the twelfth chapter of the Qur'ān (this translation is now lost thogh it is reported that Shoghi Effendi predicted its future discovery). She authored important treatises in Arabic and Persian in furtherance of the Bābī religion and according to Baha'-Allah himself predicted the his glorious appearance (see Lawh-I Sarraj, c. 1857).

Among her titles were Qurrat al-`Ayn ("Solace of the Eyes",  an appellation based on verse of the Qur’an) and Ṭāhirah ("the Pure One"). ADD 

The English orientalist Edward G. Browne ( 1862-1925) wrote some  inspiring paragraphs about Tahira which are worth citing here:

Some select Baha’i quotations pertaining to Tahira, Qurrat al-`Ayn

 "In the Cause of Bahā'u'llāh there have been women who were superior to men in illumination, intellect, divine virtues and devotion to God. Among them was Qurratu'l‑'Ayn. When she spoke, she was listened to reverently by the most learned men. They were most respectful in her presence, and none dared to contradict her." (PUP:282-3).

 "History records the appearance in the world of women who have been signs of guidance, power and accomplishment. Some were notable poets, some philosophers and scientists, others courageous upon the field of battle. Qurratu'l‑`Ayn, a Bahā'ī, was a poetess. She discomfited the learned men of Persia by her brilliancy and fervor. When she entered a meeting, even the learned were silent. She was so well versed in philosophy and science that those in [75] her presence always considered and consulted her first. Her cour‑age was unparalleled; she faced her enemies fearlessly until she was killed. She withstood a despotic king, the Shāh of Persia, who had the power to decree the death of any of his subjects. There was not a day during which he did not command the execution of some. This woman singly and alone withstood such a despot until her last breath, then gave her life for her faith."

(PUP:74-5).

 In his Memorials of the Faithful, Abdu'l-Bahā' refers to Ṭāhirah as "a woman chaste and holy, a sign and token of sur‑passing beauty, a burning brand of the love of God, a lamp of His bestowal" (MF:ADD)

Jināb‑i Adīb

"While I was in Tihrān in the year 1930, Dr. Susan I. Moody gave me an account of Ṭāhirah's martyrdom that had been given to her by Jināb‑i Adīb, an old and famous Bahā'ī teacher who had visited Bahā'u'llāh in 'Akkā. Formerly Jināb‑i Adīb had been a university professor and later he founded the Tarbīyat School for boys in Tihrān. His father had been a teacher in the family of Fath‑'Alī Shāh. The fol‑lowing is written under the signature of Jināb‑i Adīb, and he states he was an intimate friend of Qulī who came with Ṭāhirah to Tihrān. I only quote the part about Ṭāhirah's martyrdom:

   "In every meeting held in Tihrān, both women and men were speaking in Ṭāhirah's praise and honor. Many high‑born, loving women came to her and were filled with joy because of her hopeful words. All were attracted by her elo‑quence, and people of all classes, even the royalty and ministers of state, on entering her presence humbly bowed before her. Her speeches and explanations were spread all over Iran, and no one had the least doubt about her erudition and immense knowledge. While a youth I used to study philosophy with Mīrzā `Abdu'l‑Vahhāb, a brother of Ṭāhirah. When I had any doubts or made errors, I used to ask his help. One day in summer I went to him in the courtyard of his house. He was alone and as it was a hot day he wore a loose, light garment. After sitting a little and finding a good opportunity, I said, `I wanted to ask you some questions but I have hesitated; now if you will permit me, I shall ask you. ' He gave permission and I continued, 'Both the learning and the perfection of Ṭāhirah are so spread among the people that minds are amazed. No one knows better than you and I want to know from you the truth or falsity of this matter. '

  "Then he sighed and responded, `You have only heard word of Ṭāhirah; alas, you have not seen her! Know verily, that in a meeting where she sat neither I nor anyone else could say a word. It was as if all the former and future books were with her. She used to explain a subject by bringing forth demonstrations and proofs from the learned books, page by page, so that no one had the power to deny. ājī Mullā Taqī, who was assassinated, was heard to say many times, "When the signs of the promised One appear, the Zindīqs of Qazvīn will also appear, and the words of the Zindīq will be the words of a woman's religion! Now this woman and her religion have appeared." In fact her talks and explanations were the true witnesses for her. Since then, the clergy have prevented all women from studying lest they should become believers like Ṭāhirah.' (Tahirih, M. Root, pp.  ).

[X]

Bahīyyih Khānum, daughter of Bahā'u'llāh, (1846-1932).

  Designated by Shoghi Effendi as 'the outstanding heroine of the Bahā'ī Dispensation she was born in 1846 in Tehran. She accompanied Bahā'u'llāh on every stage of His exiles. When a young girl she decided to devote herself to the service of the Faith of her Father; therefore she never married. Following the passing of Bahā'u'llāh, she stood by her brother, 'Abdu'l‑Bahā, and assisted Him greatly at the time when the activities of the Covenant‑breakers were at their height. Perhaps her greatest hour of service was after the passing of 'Abdu'l‑Bahā when Shoghi Effendi, overwhelmed by the responsibilities thrust upon him, decided to leave the affairs of the Cause in the hands of Bahīyyih Khānum while he retired to recuperate and contemplate the tasks ahead. The `Greatest Holy Leaf' was so highly regarded by Shoghi Effendi that he apointed her head of the Bahā'ī Faith during his absense from Haifa during the early days of his Guardianship.     

            Of her character Shoghi Effendi has written: 'A purity of life that reflected itself in even the minutest details of her daily occupations and activities; a tenderness of heart that obliterated every distinction of creed, class and colour; a resignation and serenity that evoked to the mind the calm and heroic fortitude of the Bāb; a natural fondness of flowers and children that was so characteristic of Bahā'u'llāh; an unaffected simplicity of manners; an extreme sociability which made her accessible to all; a generosity, a love, at once disinterested and undiscriminating, that reflected so clearly the attributes of `Abdu'l-‑Bahā 's character; a sweetness of temper; a cheerfulness that no amount of sorrow could becloud; a quiet and unassuming disposition that served to enhance a thousandfold the prestige of her exalted rank; a forgiving nature that instantly disarmed the most unyielding enemy‑ these rank among the outstanding attributes of a saintly life which history will acknowledge as having been endowed with a celestial potency that few of the heroes of the past possessed.' (    ).

The Greatest Holy Leaf passed away on 15 July 1932 and is buried under a shrine in the Monument Gardens on Mount Carmel.

APPENDIX 1.  SEVEN FURTHER FEMALE `IMMORTALS’ OF PAST AGES

 Bahā’ī primary sources also highlight the greatness of other heroines and great women who lived between the time of Abraham and the Islamic dispensation as well in more recent times. They include,

  • [1] Deborah, the Israelite judge and prophetess (fl c. 1,250 BCE?),
  • [2] Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt (b. Alexandria, 69 BCE- d. 30 BCE), the last Pharoah of Egypt.
  • [3] Mary Magdalene (fl. 1st. cent CE).;
  • [4] Zenobia Queen of Palmyra (= Bath-Zebānah, 3rd cent. CE) wife of Odenathus.
  • [5] Catherine I , wife of Peter the Great (1672-1725),   
  • [6] The Catholic monarch Isabella (1451-1504), Queen of Castile [Spain\ (1474-1504)
  • [7] Queen Victoria (1819-1901), English Queen and Empress of India.  

The following notes represent only a synopsis of a large and complex body of legend, myth and historical anecdote.

[1] דְבוֹרָה֙ = Deborah, Israelite  judge and prophetess (fl c. 1,250 BCE?)

"The history of religion, likewise, furnishes eloquent examples of woman's capability under conditions of great difficulty and necessity. The conquest of the Holy Land by the Israelites after forty years' wandering in the desert and wilderness of Judea was accomplished through the strategy and cunning of a woman." (PUP:282)

 It is most probable that this is a reference to Deborah ("the Bee") wife of Lappidoth the Israelite judge and "prophetess" (`inspired woman'; see Judges 4:4ff & 5) who lived several hundred years prior to the first millennium BCE. She played a key role in the ancient Israelite attempt to settle central Palestine and was a courageous warrior before whom "the people of Israel" came for judgment, social justice or legal decisions. Judges chapter 5 consists of a very ancient poem the `Song of Deborah' in which she is described as a "maiden" or "mother in Israel" (Jud. 5:7b). She is also named therein; 

וּדְבֹורָה֙ אִשָּׁ֣ה נְבִיאָ֔ה אֵ֖שֶׁת לַפִּידֹ֑ות הִ֛יא שֹׁפְטָ֥ה אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל בָּעֵ֥ת הַהִֽיא׃

"Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time" (Judges 4:4).

עוּרִ֤י עוּרִי֙ דְּבֹורָ֔ה ע֥וּרִי ע֖וּרִי דַּבְּרִי־שִׁ֑יר

"Awake, awake Deborah!

"Awake, awake, utter a song! (Judges 5:12).."

[2]  Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt

"Among other noted women of history was Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, who held her kingdom against the armies of Rome for a long time." (PUP: 282

 

[3]  Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdelene was a prominent female follower of Jesus mentioned XX  times in the Gospels. Much legend has grown up around her.  In recent times an ancient Gospel, the ‘Gospel of Mary Magdelene’ has been published and translated.

 ADD Details

She, for example,

`Abdu'l-Bahā gave MM central importance in the primitive realization of the living presence of Jesus after his death on the cross. She championed the true, spiritual "resurrection" at a time when the male disciples were deadened with grief and fear at the time oif the crucifixion. It was her spirituality which spearheaded the growth of the primitive Christian church.

“….every influential undertaking of the human world wherein woman has been a participant has attained importance. This is historically true and beyond disproof even in religion. Jesus Christ had twelve disciples and among His followers a woman known as Mary Magdalene. Judas Iscariot had become a traitor and hypocrite, and after the crucifixion the remaining eleven disciples were wavering and undecided. It is certain from the evidence of the Gospels that the one who comforted them and reestablished their faith was Mary Magdalene." (PUP:134)

 "After the martyrdom of Christ, to Whom be glory, the disciples were greatly disturbed and disheartened. Even Peter had denied Christ and tried to shun Him. It was a woman, Mary Magdalene, who confirmed the wavering disciples in their faith, saying, "Was it the body of Christ or the reality of Christ that ye have seen crucified? Surely it was His body. His reality is everlasting and eternal; it hath neither beginning nor ending. Therefore, why are ye perplexed and discouraged? Christ always spoke of His being crucified.'' Mary Magdalene was a mere villager, a peasant woman; yet she became the means of consolation and confirmation to the disciples of Christ." (PUP: 282)

"Woman has everywhere been commended for her faithfulness. After the Lord Christ suffered, the disciples wept, and gave way to their grief. They thought that their hopes were shattered, and that the Cause was utterly lost, till Mary Magdalene came to them and strengthened them saying: 'Do you mourn the body of Our Lord or His Spirit? If you mourn His Spirit, you are mistaken, for Jesus lives! His Spirit will never leave us!' Thus through her wisdom and encouragement the Cause of Christ was upheld for all the days to come. Her intuition enabled her to grasp the spiritual fact." (ABL: 105)

[4]  Zenobia Queen of Palmyra

 A veritable "Queen of the East" Zenobia (= Bath-Zebānah, `Daughter of a Merchant') was the wife of the Palmyrean leader Udhaināt II (= `Odenathus'; d. 267 CE) who defeated the Persians in 265 CE. This woman was famous in history for her courage and leadership qualities. As a widow she attempted to make the city Palmyra, an Aramaeo-Arab syncretistic religious centre which is located in the middle of the Syrian desert, a near-eastern power; a city-state that challenged Roman power in the Near East (Spencer Trimingham, 1990:60ff). On behalf of her son Wahb-Allat (= Vaballathus) she inherited a large state which included "Cilicia and Mesopatamia, Syria and Phoenicia, Palestine and Arabia" (ibid) and adopted  an anti-Roman policy. Her general Zabdas occyupied Egypt and attempted to conquer Asia minor. Zenobia came, however, in 272 CE to be led captive through the streets of Rome after the Roman Emperor Aurelian (      ) took Palmra at the head of his army (Dionisi, art. Zenobia, EEC II). 

 During his stay at Cadogan Gardens -- the home of     -- in London Abd al-Baha'  met with Annie Besant (1847-1933), President of the Theosophical Society, as well as leading suffragettes and sometimes spoke "women's work and progress" mentioning Zenobia in the light of the fact that "The woman has greater moral courage than man; she also has special gifts  which enable her to govern in moments of danger and crisis. If necessary she can become a warrior." (ABL:101). He asked his audience if they recalled the story of Zenobia and the fall of Palmyra and discoursed as follows,

"There was once a Governor in Ancient Syria, who had a beautiful and clever wife. She was so capable that when the Governor died, she was made ruler in his stead. The land prospered under her sway, and men acknowledged that she was a better ruler than her husband. After a time the legions of Rome invaded the country, but again and again she drove them out with great confusion. She let down her beautiful hair, and herself rode at the head of her army, clad in a scarlet cloak, wearing a crown of gold, and wielding a two‑edged sword in her hand. The Roman Cæsar then withdrew his strength from five other provinces in order to subdue her. After a long and brave fight Zenobia retired into the city of Palmyra, which she strengthened with wonderful fortifications, and there she endured a siege of four months, Cæsar being unable to dislodge her. The food she had stored within the walls at last was gone, and the misery of her starving and plague‑stricken people compelled her to surrender.

"Cæsar was full of admiration for this great woman, because of her courage and endurance, and he asked her to become his wife. But she refused, saying that she would never consent to take as her husband the enemy of her people. Thereupon, Cæsar was enraged, and determined to humble her. He took her back with him in his ships to Rome. For his triumphal entry a great procession was prepared, and the streets were filled with people. In the procession came first elephants, after the elephants came the camels, after the camels came the tigers and the leopards, after the leopards came the monkeys, and lastly, after the monkeys, walked Zenobia with a gold chain round her neck. Still she carried her head high, and was firm in her determination. Nothing could break her spirit! She refused to become the Empress of Cæsar, so she was thrown into a dungeon, and eventually she died." (ABL:103-4)

`Abdu'l‑Bahā ceased. Silence fell upon the room, and it was some time before it was broken.

 "If equal opportunity be granted her, there is no doubt she would be the peer of man. History will evidence this. In past ages noted women have arisen in the affairs of nations and surpassed men in their accomplishments. Among them was Zenobia, Oueen of the East, whose capitol was Palmyra. Even today the site of that city bears witness to her greatness, ability and sovereignty; for there the traveler will find ruins of palaces and fortifications of the utmost strength and solidity built by this remarkable woman in the third century after Christ. She was the wife of the governor‑general of Athens. After her husband' s death she assumed control of the gov‑ernment in his stead and ruled her province most efficiently. Af‑terward she conquered Syria, subdued Egypt and founded a most wonderful kingdom with political sagacity and thoroughness. The Roman Empire sent a great army against her. When this army, replete with martial splendor reached Syria, Zenobia herself appeared upon the field leading her forces. On the day of battle she arrayed herself in regal garments, placed a crown upon her head and rode forth, sword in hand, to meet the invading legions. By her courage and military strategy the Roman army was routed and so completely dispersed that they were not able to reorganize in re‑treat. The government of Rome held consultation, saying, ''No matter what commander we send, we cannot overcome her; there‑fore, the Emperor Aurelian himself must go to lead the legions of Rome against Zenobia." Aurelian marched into Syria with two hundred thousand soldiers. The army of Zenobia was greatly in‑ferior in size. The Romans besieged her in Palmyra two years without success. Finally, Aurelian was able to cut off the city's supply of provisions so that she and her people were compelled by starvation to surrender. She was not defeated in battle. Aurelian carried her captive to Rome. On the day of his entry into the city he [136] arranged a triumphal procession--first elephants, then lions, ti‑gers, birds, monkeys--and after the monkeys, Zenobia. A crown was upon her head, a chain of gold about her neck. With queenly dignity and unconscious of humiliation, looking to the right and left, she said, "Verily, I glory in being a woman and in having withstood the Roman Empire.'' (At that time the dominion of Rome covered half the known earth.) "And this chain about my neck is a sign not of humiliation but of glorification. This is a sym‑bol of my power, not of my defeat."  (PUP:135-6)

"There are some who declare that woman is not naturally endowed or imbued with the same capabilities as man; that she is intellectually inferior to man, weaker in willpower and lacking his courage. This theory is completely contradicted by history and facts of record. Certain women of superlative capacity and deter‑mination have appeared in the world, peers of man in intellect and equally courageous. Zenobia was the wife of the governor‑general of Athens. Her husband died, and like the Russian Queen, Catherine, she manifested the highest degree of capability in the administration of public affairs. The Roman government ap‑pointed her to succeed her husband. Afterward she conquered Syria, conducted a successful campaign in Egypt and established a memorable sovereignty. Rome sent an army against her under direction of distinguished commanders. When the two forces met in battle, Zenobia arrayed herself in gorgeous apparel, placed the crown of her kingdom upon her head and rode forth at the head of her army, defeating the Roman legions so completely that they were not able to reorganize. The Emperor of Rome himself took command of the next army of one hundred thousand soldiers and marched into Syria. At that time Rome was at the zenith of great‑ (282) ness and was the strongest military power in the world. Zenobia withdrew with her forces to Palmyra and fortified it to withstand a siege. After two years the Roman Emperor cut off her supplies, and she was forced to surrender.

 The Romans returned in triumphal procession and pageant to their own country. They entered Rome in great pomp and splen‑dor, led by African elephants. After the elephants there were lions, then tigers, bears and monkeys, and after the monkeys, Zenobia-- barefooted, walking, a chain of gold about her neck and a crown in her hand, dignified, majestic, queenly and courageous notwith‑standing her downfall and defeat." (PUP:282-3)

[5] Isabella (1451-1504) Queen of Castile/Spain (1474-1504), Catholic monarch

 "The discovery of America by Columbus was during the reign of Isabella of Spain, to whose intelligence and assistance this won‑derful accomplishment was largely due. In brief, many remarkable women have appeared in the history of the world, but further men‑tion of them is not necessary. " (PUP:136)

[6] Catherine I ( = b. 1684 Poland  as Marta Helena Skowrońska, d. 1727) wife of Peter the Great, Peter Alexeyevich (1672-1725), Czar of Russia (r.1721-1725).

"Among other historical women was Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great. Russia and Turkey were at war. Muhammad Pāshā, commander of the Turkish forces, had defeated Peter and was about to take St. Petersburg. The Russians were in a most critical position. Catherine, the wife of Peter, said, "I will arrange this matter. She had an interview with Muhammad Pāshā, negotiated a treaty of peace and induced him to turn back. She saved her husband and her nation. This was a great accomplishment. Afterward she was crowned Empress of Russia and ruled with wisdom until her death." (PUP:136)

  "Among other noted women of history was... Catherine, wife of Peter the Great, displayed courage and military strategy of the very highest order during the war be‑tween Russia and Muhammad Pāshā. When the cause of Russia seemed hopeless, she took her jewels and went before the Turkish victor, presented them to him and pled the justice of her country's cause with such convincing skill and diplomacy that peace was de‑clared." (PUP:282)

[7]  Victoria, Queen of England  (1819-1901)

She ascended the British throne in 1837 and reigned for another 64 years until her death in 1901. In the light of her long reign which witnessed many cultural changes, her name gave rise to the adjective `Victorian' (from c. 1851) and the noun `Victorianism' (post-1901?). In 1876 she became the Empress of India which was reckoned the `brightest jewel' in the crown.

"Victoria, Queen of England, was really superior to all the kings of Europe in ability, justness and equitable administration. During her long and brilliant reign the British Empire was immensely ex‑tended and enriched, due to her political sagacity, skill and fore‑sight." (PUP:282)

 

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1 In this talk `Abdu'l-Bahā goes on to highlight the excellences of Bahā’ī women by stating, "In this day there are women among the Bahā’īs who far outshine men. They are wise, talented, well-informed, progressive, most intelleigent and the light of men. They surpass men in courage. When they speak in meetings, the men listen with great respect .." (PUP:175).