There Are Moments in Teaching...
That Are Rewarding
One of the reasons that I am still teaching is the result of my parents moving
from Pennsauken, NJ to Mt. Lebanon, PA. I was an above average student in
elementary school in Pennsauken. However, my father wanted his three boys to go
to college, which he was not able to do because of WWII. Therefore, he moved his
family into an excellent school system to assure his children would be equipped
His sacrifice resulted in an extremely negative feeling within me. I went
from an above average student to an average student in Mt. Lebanon, which was,
at the time, the 19th best school in the entire nation. Those years at Mt.
Lebanon made me feel not even average but below average. I doubted myself for
years until a finally realized that being average at Mt. Lebanon wasn’t the same
as being dumb.
In the past two decades, I have taught at several colleges and universities.
One of my reasons for teaching at 75 is that I don’t want any of my students to
suffer as I did. We aren’t all as smart as Albert Einstein or Stephan Hawking,
but we are all capable of doing far more than we think we can do academically.
Recently, I taught a world religions survey class. My students read about a
world religion from their textbook, reviewed my PPP, and then picked a topic that
they wished to address by going to the Internet for further research. Therefore,
it is a type of tripartite approach to learning. This is especially true because
the student addresses what he or she thinks important.
Then the class writes an essay on some aspect of the religion that week. Enter Mayra, one of my students.
This is her essay on the Baha’i faith. Look what interested Mayra.
Baha’i was intriguing, to say the
least. I had never even heard of this religion prior to this course. I was most
intrigued by its doctrines. Some I agree with, and others not so much. Baha’i
seems to be a very progressive, forward-thinking and inclusive religion. Baha’is
advocate independent investigation of truth, banishing prejudice of every kind,
oneness of humanity, one essential foundation for all religion, that religion
should cause love, affection and joy. They also advocate harmony of science and
religion, a universal language, education, equality of the sexes, abolition of
the extremes of wealth and poverty among other things.
The doctrine that I would consider my favorite is the equality of the sexes. I think that up until now, we have not discussed a religion that promotes equality like Baha’i does. Baha’i was founded in the mid-19th century C.E. in Iran. Persian women of the time were treated inferior to men and were oppressed. Some may even argue that they still are. Regardless, Baha’i sought to end the oppression of women and teaches that both men and women are equal beings. Persian women were veiled and forced to do so. Baha’i does not require women to wear a headscarf but obviously allows it if women choose to do so. Because Baha’i teaches that there is a basic unity of all religions, women are allowed to express interfaith.
This brings me to the story of Tahirih. Tahirih is seen as one of the most courageous women in Baha’i. She was a prominent figure of the 19th century during a time when most Persian women were kept illiterate and hidden from the public. As I mention previously, women in Iran were required to be veiled in public. Tahirih is perhaps most famous for appearing unveiled before an assemblage of men during which she gave an eloquent speech about the need to reject old patterns of society. It is said that the act was so shocking to the audience that one man stood up and slit his own throat at the sight of her face.
Like most great people in history, Tahirih was eventually executed for her then radical beliefs and actions. She is quoted to have said, “You can kill me, but you will never stop the emancipation of women.” As a woman, that resonates within me. Today, there is a foundation named after her. It is called the Tahirih Justice Center. For those that are struggling to say this in your heads, Tahirih is pronounced Ta-Hooray! Hooray for Tahirih and Hooray for women’s rights! That will definitely help me remember how to pronounce her name. The Tahirih Justice Center’s mission is to “protect courageous immigrant women and girls who refuse to be victims of violence. By elevating their voices in communities, courts, and Congress, we are creating a world where all women and girls enjoy equality and live in safety and with dignity.”
Baha’i and its attitude towards gender equality greatly pleased me. Specifically, learning the story of has been the most fun I’ve had throughout this course.
This was my response to Mayra’s essay.
As they say, “You go girl.”
Man, I thought that I had figured out everyone in this class by now. Here is a confession, I missed figuring you out. (-;
If I were your father, okay, grandfather, I would brag about you all the time.
Now, before I get to your reply, you and the rest of the women of the world won’t be treated as equals...ever, because men won’t give you equality or freedom. Period.
That is a truism. It applies to women, gays, racial and religious minorities. Name an oppressed group in America or the world, the dominant group won’t give freedom to the oppressed. Period. It never has. That is a given.
Now, the issue of headdresses (burkas, hijabs, etc.) need to be addressed by women. Males aren’t going to address the issue...they started it.
I wrote last week about being in the Grand Bizarre in Istanbul. I shared several photographs with the class of a conservative woman, a mix of conservative and liberal mother and daughter, and a liberal woman. Those three sets of women acted by either what men said or what they believed.
This demand for equality covers all aspects of life and all religions. Women must act. In time, some men will come around to equality for women...after the fact.
Many Americans have never heard of the Baha’i religion, and almost no American has heard of Tahirih, which reflects negatively upon our country and not on Tahirih. Tahirih will remain in the hearts and minds of women and some men beyond our borders.
Tahirih was born in Iran around 1817-1819. Muslim fundamentalists ran Iran back then as they still do today. However, Tahirih was different than most girls of her day. She loved to read and to question. When she was in her late teens, she really got into studying religions. Supposedly, her mother railed against any of her reading of books, “What is this business that you have with books? You'll find no use for them! It will only get you into trouble! Take a broom and learn to sweep! This is what you're good for Tahirih! You're only a woman!”
Interestingly, Tahirih’s father was far more liberal than her mother. They would discuss religion and general learning. Her father was a mullah or what we, in the West, would call a theologian. There is a cute story about how he would allow his daughter to secretly listen to his discussion at night with other leaders. When they left, Tahirih and her father would continue discussing the Qur’an.
One day, when the men in a small Iranian town were debating some religious matter, Tahirih took off her veil and said,
Arise brothers, the Qur'an is fulfilled and a new era has begun! Am I not your sister, and you my brothers? Can you not look upon me as a real friend? Are you aware that this old custom of veiling the face was not enjoined by Mohammad? Have you never heard that the wives of the prophet himself, on their journeys, had their faces exposed? Do you not remember that in some matters, Mohammad was wont to tell his disciples to go and ask his wife? Let us emancipate our women and reform our society. Let us arise out of our graves of superstition and self...
With that act of defiance, Tahirih was arrested and jailed. Nevertheless, she said while in prison, “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women!” At the time of her death, she was wearing a white veil. A group of prison guards took the veil and strangled her with it. Then they threw her down into a well hoping that they had stopped her influence.
Prior to her murder, Tahirih became a follower of the Bábí faith, which soon resulted in the Baha’i religion. While writing this essay, I remembered this comment by Steve Biko, “It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die.” Both Biko and Tahirih understood that truism. Both those martyrs will be remembered.
This video is from the Baha’i faith about Tahirih.
This video is of Tom Brokaw’s notion about this century being the century of women.