The Letters of the Living were the first people who, each individually, and without help from others, recognized the promised One, the Báb, in 1844. They became His first Disciples and they are known to posterity by the title bestowed on them by the Báb! All but one of them were men. Tahirih was the only woman among the Letters of the Living. Here is the story of how she found the Promised One and the incredible role that she played in proclaiming His Message to the world.
Tahirih lived in Persia over one hundred and seventy years ago. In fact, she lived there at the time when the Báb began teaching His message and she became one of His first followers. She was the only woman among the first special nineteen followers to believe in Him who the Báb named ‘The Letters of the Living’.
One day, while Tahirih was visiting her cousin, she found some books that interested her very much. They were written by a holy man of Persia called Shayk Ahmad, who had been preparing for a long time for the coming of a new Teacher from God. Shaykh Ahmad was sure that this was the time when such a great Prophet would appear and he had written many books about it. These were the books that Tahirih had found. She borrowed them from her cousin and spent most of her time reading and studying them.
Tahirih’s father was angry and objected to her reading but this did not stop her. She even wrote secretly to Siyyid Kazim, who was a follower of Shaykh Ahmad and the leader of the people who were convinced that it was time for a new Prophet of God to come.
Tahirih was so anxious to meet Siyyid Kazim that she left her home in Persia and went to the town of Karbila in Iraq. There she found that Siyyid Kazim had died ten days before her arrival. She decided to stay a while, meet some of his followers, pray and meditate, and await any news about the coming of the anticipated 'Promised One."
One night, while Tahirih was in Karbila, she had a very strange dream. She saw a young man in the heavens. He was wearing a black cloak and a green turban. He had his hands upraised and he was reciting verses. At once, she memorized one of those verses, and wrote it down in her notebook when she awoke. She was very much impressed by this dream and the memory of it stayed with her constantly.
Days passed. Then Tahirih was given some of the writings of the Báb. She took them eagerly and began to read them. As she read them she was startled to see the very words which the young man had spoken to her in her dream! Surely this must be the One whom they were waiting for! This must be the Promised One!
Shortly after this, she heard that her sister's husband, who was also interested in these new teachings, was about to set off from his home in Qazvin to search for the Promised One. Immediately, Tahirih sent a sealed letter to him and asked him to give it to the Promised One when he found Him. Her brother-in-law promised he would. Tahirih asked him to say the following words to the Báb from her:
“The light of Thy face flashed forth,
And the rays of thy face rose high.
Then speak the word, 'Am I not your Lord?'
And 'Thou art, Thou art!' we will all reply!”
When Tahirih’s brother-in-law arrived in Shiraz, in the south of Persia, he was guided through prayer to recognize that a young man called the Báb was the Promised One. He went to His House and gave Him the letter as she had asked him to do and he also repeated her message to the Báb.
The Báb lovingly welcomed Mirza Muhammad 'Ali (Tahirih’s brother-in-law) as the sixteenth person to believe in Him and said that Tahirih was the seventeenth. Not only was Tahirih one of the first 18 believers (who were called the 18 Letters of the Living by the Báb) but she was the only woman among them.
Tahirih is reported to have been fearless and outspoken. She lived in a country where women were not allowed to go to school, where they were kept in their own part of the house and not allowed to go anywhere by themselves, where they had to wear veils over their faces if they went out on the street. Nevertheless, Tahirih arose to spread abroad the teachings of the Báb, for she was sure that this Cause, which she loved dearly and knew to be true, would be victorious. She charmed all those that she met and her belief was so strong and sure that she affected everyone who came in contact with her.
(Adapted and modified from ‘Child’s Way’ magazine, February 1953)