April 27, 2011

The Persian Princess and Tahirih

There was a Persian princess by the name of Shams-i-Jahan Khanum [Khanum means lady, and Shams-i-Jahan literally means the “sun of the world”). She was a granddaughter of Fath-Ali Shah, one of Qajar Kings, and a relative of the reigning Shah. She was interested in religion and had made a pilgrimage to Mecca. Because of this pilgrimage she was called Haji Khanum [Haji means a person who has gone on pilgrimage to Mecca]. She had heard about Tahirih and her beautiful poems, and as she herself occasionally wrote poetry, she longed to see Tahirih. She had heard that Tahirih was imprisoned in the house of the kalantar (mayor) of Tihran.

In a book of poetry that she later wrote, the princess described her meeting with Tahirih. She wrote that one day she left the palace with her maids under the pretense of going for a walk. They came to the garden of the kalantar and entering it, Haji Khanum gradually approached the building where Tahirih was imprisoned on its second story. When she reached the building she turned to God and said, "O God if this Cause is true, make Tahirih come forward and let me see her.”

“As soon as I had thus prayed," she writes, "the window of the top story suddenly opened and Tahirih, like a brilliant sun, looked out and called to me, ‘What dost thou want, O princess?’

"I was so astonished that I stared at her, solemnly, and then began to cry. She smiled and then laughed. I was deeply affected by this. It seemed to me strange that I, a Princess and quite free, should be walking into this garden and crying, while she, a prisoner in that little room, was laughing.

"I said to her, 'O Lady, I would like to know why you are imprisoned?” “She replied, 'Because I have spoken the truth. Why did the descendants of Muhammad fall into captivity? Because they, also, spoke the truth.'

"I asked her, 'Where is the truth?' “She said, 'The center of truth appeared in the world and they killed him.'

"I asked her, 'Is it the one they killed in Tabriz?' “’Yes,’ she answered, 'He was our Promised One, your Promised One and mine, and they martyred him.'”

"Then I asked, 'Who were those people who were in the Fortress of Tabarsi?'

“She said, 'They, also, were His disciples'”

The princess now writes, "At this point in our conversation the guards suddenly heard me and came rushing into the garden; but before I was aware of their approach, Tahirih called to me, 'O princess, go, lest you fall into trouble' and she shut the window and withdrew. Then the servants of the kalantar came up to me and said, 'What are you doing here, Lady?'

“Vexed with them, I replied, ‘I came here for a walk'

“Although they knew what was my object yet, out of respect, they merely replied, ‘Very well. Now that you have finished your walk, kindly leave the place.'

“For several days after this I wept and cried, and I longed to see once more this lady, the prisoner, until at last God heard my prayer and again I saw Tahirih at the wedding of the son of the Kalantar."

While Tahirih was a prisoner in the house of the kalantar one of his sons married a young girl. The night of the wedding, when all the princesses and the ladies of the royal household were assembled in the kalantar's home, one of these royal ladies said, "It would be interesting to see that Baha'i lady who is a prisoner here." All the ladies joined in her wish, and asked for Tahirih. Finally they sent a message to the kalantar beseeching him and saying that it would be a real joy, and a wedding present if he would let them see the prisoner.

They sent for Tahirih and brought her from her prison room to the wedding feast. One of the princesses described her thus: "When I saw her my heart was filled with happiness. When Tahirih entered the room, she was so beautiful and so dignified, and when she spoke it was with such power that we in the room gradually turned to her and came and listened to her, and forgot all about the wedding." She spoke with great enthusiasm and now she related her sorrows, in stories, and the ladies began to weep, and again she told them stories that made them laugh, and as she walked up and down the room she chanted her poems in such a wonderful way that everyone was astonished. Not one of the ladies wished to hear or to see any more of the wedding festivities; nay rather, they listened to her almost the entire evening. And as a result of that night's experience many of those ladies, of whom the princess, Haji Khanum was one, became firm followers of the Cause.

From this night all the ladies of the kalantar's household were greatly attached to Tahirih. They asked kalantar's permission to have her live in the house with them, rather than in the little room in the garden. So she was brought to the house and was closely associated with the ladies there. One of the maids in the house of the kalantar afterwards related that Tahirih, the prisoner, radiated such love, greatness, power and majesty to everyone there that all, both ladies and maids, became so devoted to her that they would have given their lives for her.

Some years later, the princess, Haji Khanum, heard that one of the sons of Mirza Buzurg, the father of Baha'u'llah, who was a Minister at the court of the Shah of Persia had become the leader of the Babi Movement, but she did not know which son. She questioned a friend who, misinformed herself, told her that Mirza Yahya Azal [the unfaithful half-brother of Baha’u’llah] was the one.

For ten years the princess waited, constantly expecting this son of Mirza Buzurg to take the place of the Bab and very eager to see him. At last she started forth on a pilgrimage to Karbala and on the way arrived in Baghdad. There she made inquiries for Mirza Yahya Azal and was shown his home.

She sent a friend with an invitation to him, saying, "I wish to talk with you for about an hour."

When Mirza Yahya heard the name of the princess he was frightened and said, "This Lady is of the royal family and will cause us trouble. Do not inform her and do not let her come here to me."

When this was repeated to the princess she was astonished, and said, "If this man is the right one, the true one, then how is it that he does not know of my longing and my love for the Cause?”

Again she sent a message to him, saying that "I promise I won’t betray you or tell anyone. You have my word on it.” I want only to see you for a little while as you are from God."

This answer made Mirza Yahya still more afraid, and he said, "Do not let her come here at all."

The princess became angry at this answer and she decided to return to Persia and to re-convert to their old beliefs those whom she had taught.

Suddenly, one of the servants of Baha'u'llah came to her, and said, "Do not be depressed and sad. The light, the truth is somewhere else. The one whom you seek is the brother of Azal, and he has sent me here to invite you to come and see him tomorrow."

The princess now became very happy, and she spent the whole night in prayer, weeping and waiting for the day. She reasoned with herself, saying, "Suppose, tomorrow, I go, and am not able to ask the questions which distress me! I had better write them down." So she wrote all her questions on a piece of paper which she put under her pillow, in order to be ready to ask them the next day.

Early in the morning the servant of Baha'u'llah came to her, and said, "Baha'u'llah invites you to come, and to bring your questions with you."

She was amazed, and she thought, "Who has told Baha'u'llah that I have questions!” Constantly she said to herself, "This one is the true one, and not Azal."

In an entirely new frame of mind, she went to the home of Baha'u'llah, taking her questions with her. When she arrived Baha'u'llah was pacing inside the house. The moment she saw him, the Blessed One, she fell upon her knees. Baha'u'llah came forward and raised her up, encouraging her, and saying, "Do not be troubled; all is well." Then she wept for joy, and unhesitatingly she accepted his Reality, saying, even, "Thou art God." He answered, "No, God forbid. God is far beyond being in a body." She said, "If you are not God then who told you that I am depressed and that I was going back to Persia and that I have questions to ask."

Baha’u’llah said, "Nay, I am not God, but God told me of these things." Before she looked at her questions, Baha’u’llah began to answer those very questions which she had written down.

This story was recorded by the princess herself, in her own handwriting, in her book.

After a time, she left, but Baha'u'llah promised her that she should see Him again. She hoped to meet Baha'u'llah in Adrianople, but was unable to do so. At last, after ten years, she saw Baha’u’llah in Acre. She sold all her property in order to secure the money for the journey, and married a man quite outside her own social station, that she might be able to go to Acre to see Baha'u'llah.

In the East, in those days, if a princess married a merchant it would have been considered an extraordinary thing because she had to forfeit her rank. But this princess was so devoted to the Cause that she married Haji Sadiq Kashani, a Baha'i, and out of her own funds she paid their traveling expenses to Acre.
(Adapted from an account in Star of the West, vol. 14, April 1923)