“A Thousand Years of the Persian Book” at the U.S. Library of Congress Highlights Two Works by Bahá’ís

Bill Collins, Program Planning Officer, U.S. Copyright Office, Library of Congress, posted the following about a new exhibit of Persian books at the Library of Congress that highlights two Bahá’í works—one by Bahá’u’lláh and one by Dr. Amin Banani, a professor of Persian history and literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, about Táhirih and her poetry.

The Library of Congress opened an exhibit on March 27, entitled “A Thousand Years of the Persian Book.” It will run until September 20, 2014, and may be seen on the second level of the in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building in Washington, D.C.

The final sentence in the introductory text for the Religion section ends with this sentence: “Newer faiths like the Baha’i Faith developed as late as the nineteenth century in Persia expanding to the Near East and beyond.”

Among the items exhibited (in the Religion section under “Heavenly Verses”) is “Áyát-i-iláhí”—verses by Bahá’u’lláh for reading morning and evening—published in an elegant edition in Germany. The text accompanying the exhibit reads: “Heavenly Verses. The Bábí religion and social movement, which had its origins in Shi`ite Islam, began in the mid-nineteenth century, and, after a number of upheavals, evolved into the Baha’i faith based on the teaching of Mírzá Husayn-‘Alí Núrí (1817-1892), better known as Bahá’u’lláh to his followers. He authored a number of religious and theological works in Persian and Arabic. Because of political turbulence in Iran, many Baha’is moved to neighboring lands and spread out across the world. This book, published in Europe, is a modern Persian publication of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to be studied with morning and evening prayers.”

Also included in the exhibit, in the section on “Women Writers,” is Amin Banani’s collection and translation of Táhirih’s poetry. The accompanying text reads: “Tahirih. Fatimah Baraghani (1814-1852), born in Qazvin, Iran, is better known by her honorific titles: ‘Táhirih’ (the Pure One) and ‘Qurrat al-‘Ayn’ (Solace of the Eyes). Her activism, intellectual struggles, tragic life story, and execution has captivated generations of modern Iranians, making her an icon in the struggle for women’s emancipation and rights. In the Bábí and Baha’i faiths she is venerated as a martyr. Táhirih, born into a wealthy and powerful family, was educated by her father in theology, jurisprudence, Persian literature, and philosophy. Her interest in jurisprudence attracted her to the Shaykhi and Bábí religious movements. After a Bábí gathering at which she publicly unveiled herself, she was arrested for heresy and later executed. About twenty poems attributed to her have become symbols of activism in Iran.”

You can view the exhibit by clicking on http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/current and then selecting “Religion” to see the work by Baháu’lláh and on “Literature,” then “Women Writers,” to see Professor Amin Banani’s translation of a poem by Táhirih. Be sure to leave time to browse through all the categories—The Persian Language, Writing Systems and Scripts, The Epic of Shahnameh, Religion, Science and Technology, History, and Literature—to marvel at the richness of a thousand years of books in Persian.

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The following excerpts from a February 26, 2014, press release from the Library of Congress, adds additional information about “A Thousand Years of the Persian Book.”

“An exhibition at the Library of Congress will explore the rich literary tradition of the Persian language over the last millennium, from illuminated manuscripts to contemporary publications. The exhibition will bring attention to the literary achievements of Iran and the greater Persian-speaking regions of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Central and South Asia, and the Caucasus. . . .

“The exhibition’s 75 items are drawn primarily from the outstanding Persian collection in the Library’s African and Middle Eastern Division. The Library’s Persian collection is among the most important in the world today outside of Iran.

“The exhibition is made possible through the generous support of the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), Ambassador Hushang Ansary, Jawad Kamel, Nazie Eftekhari and other generous donors.

“The Persian language gained prominence as a literary and common cultural language about a thousand years ago. Since then, a rich and varied written and spoken heritage has developed in the Persian language, elevating the visibility of the Persian civilization among world intellectual traditions. That tradition is particularly strong in the fields of storytelling, poetry, folklore, and literature, with important contributions in historiography, science, religion, and philosophy.

“The exhibition will look at the Persian language and earlier writing systems and scripts; the seminal 10th-century “Shahnameh” (Book of Kings); and works in the fields of religion, science and technology, history, literature, classical Persian poetry, 18th- and 19th-century literature, modern and contemporary literature, women writers, and storytelling and children’s literature. The exhibition will also demonstrate the continuity of the written word as a unifying cultural force in Persian-speaking lands. . . .

The lead curator of the exhibition is Hirad Dinavari, reference specialist for the Iranian World Collections in the Library’s African and Middle Eastern Division (AMED). The exhibition director is Cynthia Wayne of the Library’s Interpretive Programs Office.

“In conjunction with the exhibition, a series of lectures at the Library of Congress will take place from April through September, organized by AMED and cosponsored by the Roshan Institute for Persian Studies at the University of Maryland, with the generous support of the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute based in Hawaii. A schedule of the lectures will be forthcoming.

“The Library’s African and Middle Eastern Division is the center for the study of 78 countries and regions from Southern Africa to the Maghreb and from the Middle East and the Caucasus to Central Asia. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/rr/amed/.”

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 158 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at www.loc.gov.”