Malak Jân (1906 - 1993)
Sociocultural Milieu
Born into a family of notables from an ancient mystical lineage dating back to the 14th century, Malak Jân's ancestors had settled approximately two hundred years ago in the village of Jeyhounabad. Located in Western Iran, the village lies in close proximity to Mount Bisotoun, renowned for its rock face in which the great Achaemenian King, Darius the 1st, had the narrative of his exploits engraved over 2500 years ago. At the turn of the 20th century, Jeyhounabad, a typical village of clay houses, had about one hundred inhabitants whose main source of subsistence was agriculture. The Kermanshah region, in which Jeyhounabad is situated, lacked in prosperity and was marked by frequent conflict and war. As a result, the region was strongly influenced by a variety of peoples and cultures, including Persian, Kurdish, and Arabic—none of which encouraged the equality of women and some of which adamantly forbid it. At the time of Malak Jân, women were considered inferior in every respect and were not allowed to meaningfully participate in any of the important centers of life, be it government, education, politics, or religion.  Indeed, women were not encouraged to be educated or to earn a livelihood, could not own property, and were deprived of an equal share of inheritance, even food.  Instead, women were raised to be fully dependent on and subservient to men, a role similar to that of women in the West prior to the 20th century.

It was in this environment that Malak Jân was born to Haj Ne’mat (1871-1920) and Sakineh Khanoum. For a period of time, Haj Ne'mat, well-known for his honor and integrity, served as counselor to the governor of the region of Kermanshah. Following an overwhelming spiritual experience, however, he decided to fully devote himself to mysticism. From that moment on, with the support and accompaniment of his wife, he lived a life marked by asceticism, contemplation, and sacred music. He authored numerous poetic works, including The Book of the Kings of Truth, a hagiographic history in verse published under the direction of the French scholar and philosopher Henri Corbin, who considered it "an entire bible onto itself."   His willpower, dedication, and wisdom rendered him a highly influential and respected figure far beyond his own community and region.

On December 11,1906, Malak Jân was born, the fifth of seven children. Prior to Jâni’s birth, her father had relayed to close companions his anticipation of a newborn with uncommon strength and purity. His eldest son, Ostad Elahi (1895-1974), born eleven years earlier, already demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for spirituality and mysticism. As he did for Ostad and in opposition to the local custom that granted girls little or no consideration, Haj Ne'mat carefully attended to all aspects of Malak Jân's secular, moral, and spiritual education. Their relationship was one of both teacher and student and father and daughter. Malak Jân was raised by her parents with the same attentive concern with which they raised all of their children, cultivating an intimate and highly spiritual familial environment where all were encouraged and treated equally. This early education no doubt influenced her later dedication to ensuring that the rights of all were preserved and respected, particularly those of women and children.

Malak Jân's first difficult trial came at the young age of thirteen with the passing of her father and mentor. In spite of this loss, she continued to remain committed to her pursuit of discovery, self-knowledge, and the service of others. She fully devoted herself to her spiritual vocation, a commitment symbolized by the white habit that she wore throughout her life.

Malak Jân's next trial would come at the age of fourteen, when she began feeling a pain in her eyes that would intensify over time; by the age of twenty, she had lost her sight in both eyes and was permanently blinded. Despite what appeared to most as a tragedy, she not only accepted her condition, but was also grateful for what she viewed as an opportunity for greater understanding and self-knowledge. Indeed, she would often say: "God took away my sight, but opened before me the doors to the other world; no one can imagine what I have gained from this."

Centennial Celebration of Malak Jân

A Life Unseen: A Legacy of One Woman's Courage, Humanity & Insight

Asia SocietyDecember 12, 2006
Asia Society, New York

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