Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The first woman martyr of Jewish background

Shídrukh Amír-Kíyá Baqá came of valiant stock. A paternal grandfather, Hájí Dáwúd Mítháqíyán, a prominent member of the Jewish community of Káshán, while still young accepted the Cause in that city and went on foot to the Holy Land to attain the Master's presence. 'Abdu'l-Bahá referred to him in a Tablet as 'Affectionate'. Later on, with his wife and some of his children, he pioneered for about twenty years in Palma, Spain, and was privileged to buy a plot of land in Madrid for the Mashriqu'l-Adhkár.

      Another forebear, on the father's side, Mírzá Háshím, also embraced the Cause in Káshán at a time when the friends were being persecuted. He arose in their defence and protested to the Governor against the injustice and oppression, and was promptly locked up in prison himself. However, his wit and eloquence won him liberty. The Master addressed him as 'Zealous'.

      A maternal grandfather, Hájí Dáwúd Iqrárí, of Káshán, accepted the Faith when young. His father and brother, too, embraced the Cause but none knew of the others' belief until they met at a Bahá'í meeting. Thereafter, they worked together in service to the Faith, entertaining the friends and guiding seekers to the Truth. They bought the impressive house of a high-ranking official with a view to holding befitting meetings therein to teach the Faith and, in this, they attained to their heart's desire. At one of these meetings they hoisted in front of the house a banner bearing the inscription Yá Bahá'u'l-Abhá, inviting friend and stranger to enter. The Master said they were hospitable and of noble aim and that He was well pleased with them.

      Shídrukh, a granddaughter of these veterans, was born in Tihrán on 8 October 1935, the eldest daughter of Rúhu'lláh Mítháqíyán and Ruhníyyih Iqrárí, both faithful servants of the Faith. Shídrukh had three sisters and one brother and from an early age was deeply attached to the Cause and its institutions. She was fond of music and took piano lessons at school. She had a charming voice and was the first person in Írán to record a prayer, revealed by our beloved Guardian, to the accompaniment of the piano. It was highly approved by the Hands of the Cause and was played in many continental conferences and large Bahá'í gatherings in Írán. For a time she was on the national television network demonstrating cooking and other domestic courses. She knew English and was well-versed in some arts. At age sixteen Shídrukh was married to Manúchihr Baqá; one daughter and two sons were born of the union.

      A visit to the Holy Land as a pilgrim reinvigorated her faith; she attended the International Conferences held in London, Palermo, Alaska, Paris and Brazil and had vivid recollections of them all.

      While in the United States, two years ago, for her daughter's wedding, her children and sisters urged her not to return to Írán where her life would be in danger, but she disregarded their plea. 'When our beloved Guardian exhorted us to pioneer,' she told them, 'we did not heed his call; we let ourselves down. Now that the Universal House of Justice bids us maintain our posts, will we desert them and fail a second time? Not I! I feel I am needed in Írán and return there to do what lies in my power, regardless of the consequences.' When the hour for departure arrived, she was overcome with emotion. She opened her prayer book and read prayers which brought solace to her heart and the strength and courage to continue on her course to her destined fate and eternal glory.

      Though Írán was agitated and distress was rife, she stood firm as a rock, bringing the friends together in devotional meetings and restoring calm and tranquility to their disturbed hearts. She was ever ready to serve and was appointed on various committees. She was put in charge of organizing the Nineteen Day Feasts held in her district. This took up most of her evenings. She spoke to the friends of the need for steadfastness, courage and sacrifice in the path of the Beloved, conveyed to them the messages of the National Spiritual Assembly, and inspired them to be firm. Whenever news came of a martyrdom or some other affliction engulfing the Bahá'ís, she would expatiate on the glory of sacrifice, the station of the martyrs and the lustre which their deeds would shed on the pages of history.

      The steadily mounting wave of oppression instigated by the authorities with a view to casting terror into the hearts of the believers, dampening their zeal and thus weakening the institutions of the Faith, was putting a heavy strain on the faith of some of the friends. At such a time of stress, Shídrukh did not flinch or falter. With the utmost courage, she arranged meetings at her own home or at the homes of her sister or children who were all abroad. She attended to the bereaved families of the martyrs and offered them comfort and shelter. One of these was a Bahá'í woman from Yazd whom she lodged in her sister's home.

      Shídrukh was always very cautious in arranging Bahá'í meetings, and if she suspected any leak threatening the safety of a proposed meeting, she promptly switched it to the house of her sister or children. In spite of all her precautions, however, there came a night — Monday, 2 November 1981 — when, at the hour of nine, there was a knock on her door. The Local Spiritual Assembly of Tihrán was in session at her home. She approached the door and asked who was knocking. The Bahá'í woman from Yazd answered, and recognizing her voice, Shídrukh was reassured and opened the door. To her dismay, she found that the Bahá'í woman was not alone; armed guards of the Islamic Revolutionary Party accompanied her. What had transpired was this: at the home of Shídrukh's sister was also a Muslim lodger, addicted to drugs, who made himself a nuisance to the neighbourhood. Shídrukh had consulted the Local Spiritual Assembly about the advisability of evicting him on the ground of his failure to pay the rent but was asked to refrain from taking any action for the moment. It appears, however, that some of the neighbours had lodged a complaint against the man and the guards had come to investigate. They asked where the owner of the house was and the Bahá'í woman from Yazd, being simple, led them to Shídrukh

      The guards asked the six Assembly members in session. Shídrukh, her husband, the woman from Yazd and another Bahá'í (Firdawsí's son), there present, to accompany them. Aware that the National Spiritual Assembly members who had been asked to accompany a similar squad of guards had never been seen again, Shídrukh insisted that she would accompany them only to the police station situate in the same street. The wrangle attracted the neighbours, and faced with a not too friendly crowd, the guards complied with Shídrukh's wish. Once at the police station, however, the guards transported their captives to a prison. After some ten days, Firdawsí's son and the woman from Yazd were released, and the rest transferred to another jail noted for its severe discipline and the oppression inflicted by its warders.

      The following account is based on reports by fellow prisoners, Bahá'í and non-Bahá'í, and Shídrukh's relatives who were witness to these incidents.

      Time and again, the Revolutionary Committee put pressure upon her to recant her faith, holding out freedom as the reward. It was a serious life-and-death game, not a mock one. A letter to her sister a week before related her encounter with the authorities when she approached them on behalf of herself, her sisters and brother to clear up the matter of their inheritance from their father. 'What is your religion?' the President of the Court had asked, and she had replied that she was a Bahá'í. 'If you desire prosperity,' he had suggested, 'you had better recant your faith or you will experience serious loss.' 'Did you not hear,' she answered, 'what the old Bahá'í in Yazd said when such a proposition was put to him, that man of eighty summers whose head was repeatedly dashed to the ground to persuade him to comply with your demand? Did he not say: "What! Should I surrender my faith to secure some baubles?" I, too, tell you that I can do without my inheritance, if necessary.' The President said, 'You represent others who may not be of the same mind as you.' She replied, 'They are Bahá'ís, too, and none of them will barter the eternal world for this transitory one.' Having said this, she arose and, without waiting for permission from the Court, departed, leaving the President fuming with rage at his failure to turn her from her faith.

      Shídrukh had for long prior to these events been engaged in committing to memory prayers and Tablets and passages from the Holy Writings. This she did in anticipation of the day when she might be confined somewhere without access to Bahá'í literature. Now, in prison, she could reap the reward of her foresight and draw on her memory for those priceless gems that were to delight, sustain and strengthen her.

      Several times they told her that she could secure her freedom just by signing a paper. This was ostensibly to the effect that she would not participate any longer in any Bahá'í administrative activities, but she knew in reality it was a ruse on the part of the authorities; if secured, that document would be given wide publicity as evidence of her recantation in an effort to demoralize the friends, weaken their resolve and undermine the institutions of the Faith.

      While she was in jail, the authorities confiscated her property as well as that belonging to her deceased parents, her sisters, her brother and her children who were all abroad and whom she represented legally.

      During one of the interrogations, Shídrukh came face to face with her husband who was also in prison. He told her that he had signed the paper presented to him and was to be freed. 'For the sake of our children,' he said, 'you, too, sign it and secure your freedom.' She pressed his hand and merely said, 'Steadfastness! Steadfastness!' and was sorrowful, wondering what contrivance had brought about his defection.

      According to her sister, Shídrukh was permitted to make one short telephone call to her relatives a few days prior to her martyrdom. She told them not to be concerned about her.

      A non-Bahá'í who was immured for three days with that group said, on release, how the morale of them all had been sustained by the courageous spirit and uplifting words of Shídrukh — 'With such faith and steadfastness and zeal animating her, you should have no fear for her,' we were assured.

      On 4 January 1982, Shídrukh and the six members of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Tihrán were secretly executed, this information being obtained fortuitously by their relatives and friends. No will or document exists to attest to her martyrdom although it was reported that she and the members of the Local Spiritual Assembly had decided to write their wills. The authorities were not prepared to deliver her body and, later, a demand seems to have been made for five hundred thousand túmáns [in excess of $50,000 U.S.] apiece for every will they would hand over. Since their wishes and intentions were known and their deeds and words were testimony to the unity, the greatness and glory of God, there was nothing further that could be gleaned from their wills. It is said that all these prisoners were buried unwashed, in the clothes they were wearing, and without any funeral rites, in a common grave.

      As far as is known, Shídrukh is the first Bahá'í woman of Jewish extraction to lay down her life for the Faith. A year prior to her martyrdom, she requested the prayers of the Universal House of Justice for steadfastness in the Faith for herself and her sisters and brother, and for the progress of her father's soul in the realms above. She withstood all tests and trials and never faltered until she attained the glorious station of martyrdom. She advanced with arms extended wide to embrace the darts of sacrifice and gave her life joyously for her belief. Her daughter and two sons, her three sisters and brother, all firm and active in the Faith, endure this tragic blow confident that the precious blood so willingly shed on Írán's soil for the love of the Glory of God will not be in vain and that every drop will raise a thousand lovers to serve the Cause of God and His people.

      Shídrukh was a loving mother, an affectionate sister, a trustworthy companion, a faithful mate, a gracious hostess, a true Bahá'í.

      In response to an enquiry from the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada the Universal House of Justice cabled on 14 January 1982:

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