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Stories from the Bahá’í Faith

Exile, Imprisonment and Freedom

“At nine years of age, I was banished with my father, Baha’u’llah, on His journey of exile to Baghdad, Arabia; seventy of His followers accompanied us. This decree of exile, following after persistent persecution, was intended to effectively stamp out of Persia what the authorities considered a dangerous movement. Baha’u’llah, His family and followers were driven from place to place.

Baha'u'llah's Prison Cell in Akka
Baha’u’llah’s Prison Cell in Akka | Clarence Welsh, 1921 |
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“When I was about twenty-five years old, we were moved from Constantinople to Adrianople and from there went with a guard of soldiers to the fortressed city of Akka where we were imprisoned and closely guarded.
“There was no communication whatever with the outside world. Each loaf of bread was cut open by the guard to see that it contained no message. All who believed in the universal precepts of Baha’u’llah, children, men and women, were imprisoned with us. At one time there were one hundred and fifty of us together in two rooms and no one was allowed to leave the place except four people who went to the bazaar to market each morning under guard.
“Akka was a fever-ridden town in Palestine. It was said that a bird attempting to fly over it would drop dead. The food was poor and insufficient, the water was drawn from a fever-infected well and the climate and conditions were such that even the natives of the town fell ill. Many soldiers succumbed and eight out of ten of our guards died. During the intense heat of that first summer, malaria, typhoid, and dysentery attacked the prisoners, so that many of the men, women and children were all sick at any one time. There were no doctors, no medicine, no proper food and no medical treatment of any kind. I used to make broth for people and, as I had much practice, I made good broth, (said ‘Abdu’l-Baha, laughingly). […]
“Freedom is not a matter of place. It is a condition. […] Unless one accepts dire vicissitudes he will not attain. […] When one is released from the prison of self, that is indeed freedom, for self is the greater prison. When this release takes place, one can never be imprisoned. They used to put my feet in stocks so, (and he put out his feet before him to illustrate and laughed as though it were a joke).
“I would say to the guard: ‘You cannot imprison me, for here I have light and air and bread and water. There will come a time when my body will be in the ground and I shall have neither light nor air nor food nor water, but even then I shall not be imprisoned.’ The afflictions which come to humanity sometimes tend to center the consciousness upon the limitations. This is a veritable prison. Release comes by making of the will a door through which the confirmations of the spirit come. They come to that man or woman who accepts his life with radiant acquiescence.”

from talks with ‘Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921), son of Baha’ull’ah (1817-1892)

A Martyr for her Beliefs

Tahirih at the Conference of Badasht
Tahirih at the Conference of Badasht | Public Domain Mark
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Táhirih* was educated by her father and then married to her cousin at age thirteen. The couple had two sons and one daughter. She travelled throughout Persia and talked with many important religious leaders of her day. Although she never met the Báb in person she corresponded with him and was known as the only woman among his seventeen disciples. Táhirih became an influential poet and theologian of the Bábí faith. She debated with Muslim clergy and organized women in towns encouraging them to reject their oppressed status.
Although her family and her in-laws were asked to keep her quiet and tried to stop her, Táhirih never relented in her struggle for the freedom of women. She was stoned in the streets and banished from one town to the next.
At one particularly heated meeting with notable religious scholars, Táhirih publicly removed her veil as a demonstration of the freedom and equality of women. Simply the sight of her face caused horror and shock among the onlookers. In shame, one man slit his own throat. Some unsheathed their swords and attempted to kill her.
A pioneer for women’s rights, bold, and impetuous, Táhirih denounced the evils of her day, declaring, “You can kill me whenever you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women”. Táhirih was held under house arrest and then martyred for her beliefs at the age of 35 in 1852 CE. It is said that she was strangled with her own veil, the symbol of her struggle for the emancipation of women.

Account of a Bahá’í martyr in Iran

*Táhirih (Pure One), is the name Bahá’u’lláh gave to (1817?-1852). Her date of birth is uncertain, as birth records were destroyed at her execution.

Bird with Two Wings

Hummingbird | © Amyn Kassam | Creative Commons Licence
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One day, at a meeting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá asks the British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst to explain to him why she believed that women should have the right to vote.
Emmeline Pankhurst replied: “I believe that humanity is a divine humanity and that it must rise higher and higher; but that it cannot soar with only one wing.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá expressed his pleasure at her comment and pursued with another question: “But what will you do when one wing is stronger than the other?”.
The suffragist shot back: “Then we must strengthen the weaker wing.”
‘Abdu’l-Bahá smiled and asked her one last question: “What would you say if I were to prove to you that women is the stronger of the two wings?”
With good-natured repartee, Emmeline Pankhurst answered: “You will earn my eternal gratitude!”

Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 30-31.