Can Zoroastrians save their faith?

By Deena Guzder / The Washington Post

Many of us recently finished celebrating Christmas, Eid, and Hanukkah; however, few of us have heard of the religion that deeply influenced those traditions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. As the world’s oldest monotheistic religion, Zoroastrianism introduced ideas of a single deity, a dualistic universe of good versus evil, and a final day of reckoning. The three wise men who visited the infant Jesus were Zoroastrian magi.

Last week, a tiny but devout group of Zoroastrians convened in Dubai for the 9th quadriennal World Zoroastrian Congress to discuss the uncertain future of their ancient faith. With 750 believers in attendance, roughly 1 out of every remaining 187 Zoroastrians worldwide attended the four-day conference. Once the religion of millions in pre-Islamic Persia, Zoroastrianism now boasts fewer than 140,000 adherents, with a third over the age of 60.

At the conference, Zoroastrians spoke about religious preservation with the same zeal as zoologists speak about protecting an endangered animal. Speakers touted myriad proposals to reverse the current community trends of late marriages and few children. They proposed speed-dating events to encourage young Zoroastrians to fall in love; Web sites to facilitate matrimony across borders; and monthly subsidies to Zoroastrian parents willing to have more than one child. Nothing short of “Facebook for Zoroastrians” was proposed to save the 3,500-year-old religion from the brink of extinction.

While the most precipitous decline in the community’s numbers came from the Muslim conquest of Persia in the 10th century, the community’s current existential crisis is a result of its own insistence on endogamy. Despite their shrinking population, Zoroastrians remain fiercely divided over whether to recognize interfaith families, let alone accept converts. Khojeste Mistree, a self-proclaimed conservative member of the community, spoke in Dubai about retaining Zoroastrianism’s “ethnic-religious-identity” and warned coreligionist against “radical” ideas of accepting foreigners into the fold. On the other hand, internationally acclaimed screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala urged delegates to embrace children of interfaith couples as well as “spread the beautiful fragrance of our religion across the world.”

Zoroastrian theology professes that humankind is designed to evolve toward perfection if each human being cultivates a “good conscience” to combat greed, lust, hatred, and other evil forces that threaten to thwart this natural progression. A good conscience is formed by nurturing good thoughts, speaking good words, and practicing good deeds.

Community leaders attending the Dubai conference spoke of Zoroastrianism’s proud history of safeguarding human rights, promoting women’s rights, and protecting the environment. Cyrus the Great–the Zoroastrian Persian emperor of ca.600 – 529 BCE–was responsible for the world’s first human rights document, the Cyrus Cylinder. The religion’s sacred texts urge both genders to equally share responsibilities, which may explain why many Zoroastrian women excel in their professions and delay marriage. Zoroastrianism is also regarded as the world’s first eco-religion since it strictly forbids polluting the earth. In India, Zoroastrians are known for their unique practice of sky burials, in which corpses are exposed to natural elements such as wind, rain, and vultures in open-topped “Towers of Silence” as an ecologically friendly alternative to cremation.

Despite Zoroastrians progressive past, today’s community seems reluctant to reform its stance on conversion despite its declining population. Many Zoroastrians insist their religion regards conversion as inherently disrespectful because it devalues other faiths by suggesting Zoroastrianism is superior. Some Zoroastrians claim years of religious persecution led to self-isolation, so the community’s ban on conversion was a survival mechanism–rather than a religious duty–that is no longer imperative.

Anxieties about community survival are not, of course, restricted to Zoroastrians. The American Jewish community has conflicted views on interfaith marriage; however, there are still roughly 128 times as many Jews worldwide than there are Zoroastrians. On the polemical issue of conversion, conservative Zoroastrians maintain religion is inherited the same way one inherits her eye color. Liberal Zoroastrians reject exclusionary practices and propose following the example of reform Jews who selectively allow conversion.

When Zoroastrians fled Persia during the Islamic incursions in the 10th Century, they were granted refuge in India. The refugee community retained its religious traditions and social fabric in “baags”–gated communities–where youngsters intermingled, intermarried, and perpetuated their faith. During the second-wave of the Diaspora, from the 1960s onwards, many Zoroastrians sought educational opportunities and job security in Western Countries. Scattered on distant shores, the community struggled to rebuild community centers and fire temples (Zoroastrians regard fire as a symbol of God’s light and wisdom). Highly educated and upwardly mobile, Zoroastrians increasingly study, work and marry outside the community.

Today, India is still home to the majority of Zoroastrians, but the community is declining by about 10% every decennial census, according to a report released by UNESCO. Mahatma Gandhi once declared, “I am proud of my country, India, for having produced the splendid Zoroastrian stock, in numbers beneath contempt, but in charity and philanthropy perhaps unequalled and certainly unsurpassed.” Many of India’s chief industrialists–including Ratan Tata of the vast Tata conglomerate–are Zoroastrians (known in India as Parsees) who gave considerable sums to medical, educational, and housing initiatives for the indigent. Other notable members of the Parsee community have included Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara) of the rock band Queen and Rohinton Mistry who authored “A Fine Balance,” which was shortlisted for the 1996 Booker prize.

For Zoroastrians, six degrees of separation is reduced to one. The closeness of the Zoroastrian community was captured as delegates greeted each other in Dubai. One exclaimed, “Your uncle was the doctor who delivered my first child!” Another reminisced, “Do you remember me? I use to give your mother sewing lessons. Membership in a tight-knit community has many benefits–although some of those benefits veer uncomfortably close to nepotism–but marrying within an increasingly narrow gene pool is risky. Doctors attending the Dubai conference devoted entire lectures to warning their coreligionists about troublingly high levels of breast cancer and multiple sclerosis in their community.

In some ways, Dubai was an unlikely choice for the jubilee year of the World Zoroastrian Congress given the region’s historical animosity towards religious minorities. Indeed, rumors abounded that discussions on Zoroastrian theology were censored since the conference was branded as an “Invest in Dubai” event to make the conference palatable to the ruling powers. Yet, in more nuanced ways, Dubai was the perfect symbolic destination for a community struggling to survive. Dubai’s past glory and precarious future–seen in its airports clamoring with emigrating foreigners–is an imperfect but useful parallel for the Zoroastrian community whose heyday has past and whose future remains tentative.

Watch a recent video about Zoroastrianism.

Deena Guzder is freelance journalist who recently spoke about Zoroastrianism on NPR.

  • http://begood-forgoodnesssake.blogspot.com Roda

    I HAVE YET TO MEET ANOTHER COMMUNITY THAT IS SO FULL OF NEGATIVITY AS THE PARSIS. DO YOU NOT STUDY MIND PSYCHOLOGY AND UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE GUILTY OF A SELF FULFILLING PROPHESY. POSITIVITY BEGETS POSITIVE RESULTS AND NEGATIVITY DOES THE SAME. HAVE YOU ALL NOT HEARD OF THE THE LAWS OF ATTRACTION . AS YOU THINK SO IT WILL BE. ZARATHUSHTRA’S FIRST ADVICE – THINK GOOD THOUGHTS SEEMS TO BE LOST ON THE WHOLE PARSI COMMUNITY WHERE WE KEEP LAMENTING OUR DECLINING NUMBERS. WHY CANNOT WE BE MORE POSITIVE ABT THIS ISSUE ONLY THEN WILL BE ABLE TO CROSS THAT MENTAL HURDLE THAT WE SEEM TO HAVE IMPOSED ON OURSELVES.

    WELL I AM MORE POSITIVE AND WILL PRAY TO AHURA MAZDA THAT AS I PRAY MAY MY TRIBE INCREASE. AMEEN

  • http://www.rediffmail. a.rustomjee

    “Khojeste Mistree, a self-proclaimed conservative member of the community, spoke in Dubai about retaining Zoroastrianism’s “ethnic-religious-identity” and warned coreligionist against “radical” ideas of accepting foreigners into the fold.”
    WILL SOME ONE EXPLAIN WHY NO ACTION IS BEING TAKEN AGAINST PANTHAKIES OF FIRE TEMPLES WHO AVAIL OF SERVICES OF CHASNIWEALAS WHO ARE NOT PARSEES?

  • Porus Dadabhoy

    Quality not Quantity

  • Porus Dadabhoy

    Dear Mr. Rustomjee:
    I think we have more problems in the West than in India to focus on Chasniwalas is ridiculous.
    Zoroastrian converts in U.S. write books on black magic, sell sex under the name of religion, and Zoroastrian Dasturs use manipulation to try and con American Women. I have seen it and walked away.
    They claim they are M.D.’s when they are not.Bogus conmen.
    Those are not the teachings of Zoroaster.
    As far as intermarraige goes, people marry for different reasons religious identity being a principal one.
    It happens.

  • http://www.rediffmail. a.rustomjee

    Dear Mr. Porus,
    Firstly, I am not Mr. but Ms. Secondly, my reference to Chasniwalas is to highlight the double standards of certain individuals who see nothing wrong in engaging services of “Parsees” of doubtful pedigree to work in holy Fire Temples in Mumbai. I am certainly not in favour of neo Zoroastrians (S American variety) who are no religionists. But the term foreigners would also exclude Irani Zoroastrians and Zoros from countries like Norway who have been initiated into the Religion with Sudreh Poshi Ceremony by ordained Priests. As for me I am opposed to all conmen be they indians or of foreign origin.

    If our priests see nothing wrong in engaging services of Parsee Chasniwallas of mixed pedigree then do such holier than thou individuals have moral right to prevent off springs of mixed marriages from entering our fold.
    Trust I have clarified the confusion.

  • http://www.rediffmail. a.rustomjee

    BTW, Mr Porus there is no dearth of conmen in India, within our community who create mass hysteria in meeting to sway the gullible by evoking sentiments.One particular organisation in our community is actively aiming at regimentation of the community and wants to prevent dissenting thoughts much in the same way as Bohra sect is subjected to.
    This dangerous trend may not be discernible to you if you are residing in west as you appear to be.

  • Siloo Kapadia

    YES we can save the faith but NO, not the way the community is today in India. The community outside of South Asia is thriving, thanks in part to acceptance of the children of intermarried couples. The next step will be to allow the non-Parsee spouses to enter the religion. So while the numbers in South Asia continue to dwindle, the numbers in North America, Singapore, East Asia, etc. will continue to grow.

    And what about the “youth” in Mumbai? I was there in a certain “baug” in 2005. What a shock I had. Garbage strewn everywhere, many youngsters hanging out with nothing better to do with their time. The younger men, many seemed more like thugs than anything else with their demeanor, with no ambition other than socializing and “getting girls,” while the younger women were interested only in money and status. Moreover many men and women, sadly, could have used a good bath! Religion? Forget it! For most that was the last thing on their minds.

    Perhaps for many the question should not be “why should one of us marry an outsider” but rather “why would an outsider want to marry one of us?” !!!!! I sure wouldn’t want either of my sons to marry anyone like those that I saw and met. I fully understand what many have stated here and there on this website; that the community is dying out in more ways than just numbers.

  • Siloo Kapadia

    YES the faith can survive but NO the community can not, at least not in its present form in India.

    In North America, Singapore and elsewhere, thanks not only to immigration but also to more acceptance of the children of intermarried couples and their spouses the respective communities continue to grow.

    India, however, is a different story. I was in one of the “baugs” in 2005. What a shock I had. Garbage strewn everywhere. Many of the young men seemed to want to do nothing more than to socialize and to “find girls.” Gone are the days to want to start one’s own company or to climb up any corporate ladder.

    The young women I met were more ambitious, but most were only interested in money, social status, and seemed more stuck up than anything else.

    Also many of both genders needed a bath. Religion seemed to be the last thing on anyone’s mind.

    So I think the question for many is not “why would one of us want to marry an outsider?” but rather “why would an outsider want to marry one of us?” !!!!!

  • Autvia

    The Parsee’s speak for themselves. We Iranian Zoroastrians are a proud people happily allow conversions. We would encourage conversions to the full extent if only the Iranian regime changed and that the fanatic mullah’s would relax.
    Personally, I believe all people of Iranian heritage, or all Aryans, should be allowed to convert back into the religion. All Persian muslims were once Zoroastrians and they have the full right to come back into their true religion.
    I have seen conversions myself and it has been done. That is, in Iran. Nothing new about it.
    How does one enter the great religion in India. No offense to the majority of Parsees, but their ancestors who moved to India would support converts considering the fact that quite a few Parsees do not even look Aryan. Obviously there has been interracial marriages taking place in the Indian Zoroastrian community of Parsees. Then why do the Parsees themselves go against conversions? Hypocritical isn’t it?
    With support from the Parsees, the Zoroastrian community would rise up once again.

  • Sean

    It is very sad to see that many Parsis do not even understand our holy book .
    According to the holy script all the people that were born within Iranzamin
    are Zoroastrian by birth. This is the will of Ahura Mazda.
    Now people in Iran due the ignorant choose otherwise and practice other religion in contrary of Gods will.
    Also FYI in past few years over 4 million Iranian converted to our old religion.
    Yes We do not need foreigners to help us preserve Zoroastrianism, we have Plenty of Iranians.

  • Farhang

    The disunity prevalent amonst Zoroastrians of different background is another big problem. The Iranian Zoroastrians consider themselves more superior and intelligent than the Indian Parsees. After the Dubai conference the Iranian delegates critized the Dubai show and heaped scorns on the organisers citing that nothing was talked about the religion. In addition to late marriages, no marriage, inter caste marriage, non acceptance of children of inter faith marriages into the Zoroastrian faith, divorces are on the increase amongst the Iranian Zoroastrians also. Where once trust and love was the basis of marriage now wealth and deceit is the cornerstone. A very sad state of affairs and as statistics confirm, with a population of around 160,000 with over 50 % of the total above the age of 50 years old it is just a matter of time the only Zoroastrian left will be pictures of some Zoroastrians engraved on their tombstone in the Zoroastrian cemetry in Tehran and elsewhere if these are preserved as museums.

  • Yora

    Im not clear about this conversion aspect and inter-marriage. As someone who currently wrestling with the possibility of marrying a non-zoroastrian (which would probably mean me converting), i find no clarity on the matter.

    The Irani council has issued a statement in the past saying that conversions to our religion are allowed. (Im not clear on whether this was restricted to irani ethnicity or all races/ethnicities).
    Parsi community leaders are vehemently against this and have made statements to support their point of view.

    Autvia is also correct, I myself know so many parsi who have no irani or aryan features, they look like sub-continental indiginous people.

    I would like to point out some things which are not available for people to review and come up with intelligent decisions.
    a) No official statistics on birth death, inter-marriage, community size. For everyone one person saying that community will increase with inter-marriage, you have one person saying that the community has shrunk due to inter-marriage. Given that we are so few with such plentiful resources and capabilities, this should be a no brainer to track and present as fact (and easily accessible facts).
    b) No worldwide census of zoros. Given that we have less than 200000 people worldwide and individually we are probably at 3 degrees of separation, there is no reason why country zoro organizations could not take responsibility for their country and carry out a census/statistics exercise and combine that into a global database. (please understand that today, a few hundred thousand is miniscule in data terms and in population terms, its not a big deal). We are looking at a 2/3 month of effort in the worst case scenario; and yes we are rich enough and have more than enough funds to pay for something like this.
    c) There is no internet forum for zoros to discuss openly or anonymously about points like this. Given that the rest of the world has forums in which membership is in the thousands on topics like christianity, bass fishing, videogames and ecology, it is disappointing to see that we dont even have a forum where participation is in the 50’s or 100’s and where discussion takes place between people of different opinions or from different countries.

    I dont think our religion is doomed to die a sudden death, it will be slow and will gradually trickle its way down over the next 100 years or so. There is very little involvement, sense of community and tradition, and the supporters are mainly those in the 45+ age bracket. Once they pass away, things will be very different and less cohesive, thats when the actual quick decline will be witnessed.

  • Delnavaz

    Hi,

    there have been some comments about Parsis not having Aryan features ! What are Aryan features……….. the Germans under Hitler considered themselves Aryan & they look v. different from Iranians. I’ve met loads of Iranians who some of my non Paris friends, found it difficult to believe that they are Iranians or Parsis. You will find plenty of Parsis whose colouring is very light & some who are dark. Parsis have been living in India for over a 1000 years, obviously their features, colour would go through some change, that does not mean there has or has not been intermarriage. Autvia, you are right, we “Parsis speak for ourselves”, that is why this is called Parsi khaber & we speak our views on our blog. What you may or may not do in Iran is a different issue.
    cheers

  • Autvia

    Hello,
    I write on your blog because it is important that the true meaning of Zoroastrianism is known by the general public. I don’t want people to think that Zoroastrians are very similar to Hindu’s. Parsi’s are very fond of wearing hinduistic clothing and put the tilow on their head during marriage and sedreh pushi.
    I have nothing against Parsis but Parsis make it sound as though Zoroastrianism is very “selective” or better put, exclusive. That makes it sound as if we’re racist.
    When I say Parsis speak for themselves, I mean that instead of posting articles such as “Can Zoroastrians save their faith” they should change the title to “Can PARSIS save their faith”. Then you can exclude all non-parsis.

    Some of my relatives and I were visiting India and we wanted to see one of the Dar be Mehrs in Udvara. We were pushed out of temple by a dark-skinned lady saying that we were too white and that we were muslims. So doesn’t this tell you something about Iranian vs. Parsi features?
    Some Parsis, whether dark or white, do look completely different from Persians. They look more like “subcontinental indigenous people”. There is nothing wrong with that. But then why do Parsis say that no conversions should be allowed when conversions have been taking place within your own community? Throughout India,

    To Farhang: I’ve noticed Parsis having a strong sense of dislike towards Iranian Zoroastrians as well. You are right. There is disunity among Zoroastrians. But the Parsis consider themselves superior. A few of my relatives lived in India and they told me how Parsis would intimidate them by saying that they were muslims since the Koranic symbol was placed on their passport. What even surprised me more was that how the wife of a Parsi man, who was actually Madrasi, always said that Parsis were more superior and Iranians were uneducated and inferior. This comes out of a non-Zoroastrian. Then how can Parsis say that Zoroastrians do not allow conversions?

    Well, I know not all Parsis are like this. The majority are good and I am very happy to see that the religion, whether in one form or another, has managed to bring a little delight to India. But at the same time, many don’t follow the true essence of Zoroastrianism.

  • farzana cooper

    “Once the religion of millions in pre-Islamic Persia, Zoroastrianism now boasts fewer than 140,000 adherents, with a third over the age of 60.”

    How did Zoroastrianism sore to millions in pre islamic persia without conversion?

  • farzana cooper

    Autvia,
    ive seen Iranian Zarathustris who have Mongolians features with flat noses … And as Delnavaz said Nazis had their own definition of Aryan characteristics…I would like add that Hindus, Buddhist and Jains in India refer to themselves as Aryas just like Zoroastrians of Persia, though they look very different. The gist is, ‘Aryan’ is the other name for a subgroup of the Caucasian Indo -European race and Iranians are no benchmark for judging Aryan characteristics.

    Never the less, racial characteristics have nothing to do with Zoroastrianism per se. No where in Gatha does Zarathustra specify that his followers be only Aryans.

    thank you

  • Khushroo

    Amazed to see the debate on issues like Aryans, Features, Parsi Zoroastrian, Non-Parsi Zoroastrian, white/dark skin and so on while we should all simply be happy to be part of a great Religion and to try and do our best to avoid its extinction. Ignore the small differences please. The proponents and the opponents of conversion, both, have their points which should be respected and not scorned and should not distract us of our collective responsibility towards our religion.

  • Anti – Dhongidox

    Farzana,
    Do you think even for a moment that there is shortage amongst crackpot Bawas who think and think aloud in terms which faintlyly resembles the thinking of Nazis.What happened to Nazis will also be the fate of these crackpots.

  • farzana

    True Anti – Dhongidox, another similarity is, the Nazis did not allow any criticism of the 3rd Reich:)

    Khushroo, you are right, today, we are more a melting pot of genes…. Anyway just came across this, plz watch it

    ==> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73LBZAHK5mo

  • farzana
  • farzana

    Dear Autvia,
    As far as i know, Parsi Khabar is an open interactive blog for anyone who wants to share their opinion on the subject… You’re very much welcome here.

    Its really sad to hear that you had to face racial discrimination from so called ‘PURE’ parsis here in India. Its even oxymoron that they call themselves followers of Zarathustra yet good teachings of Zarathustra has any influence on them.

    Well, not all Parsis are racially obsessed with ‘Purity’ though some are. Maybe you bumped into the lot on the other side of the divide:)

  • farzana

    Dear Autvia,
    As far as i know, Parsi Khabar is an open interactive blog for anyone who wants to share their opinion on the subject… You’re very much welcome here.

    Its really sad to hear that you had to face racial discrimination from so called ‘PURE’ parsis here in India. Its even oxymoron that they call themselves followers of Zarathustra yet none of his good teachings have any influence on them.

    Well, not all Parsis are racially obsessed with ‘Purity’ though some are. Maybe you bumped into the lot on the other side of the divide:)

  • rohinton

    I would like to point out that the Nazis carried out their racist policies by killing human beings in mass numbers ..kindly do not compare the Nazis to those Parsis/Zoroastrians who do not believe in conversion.

    Thank you.

  • Anti – Dhongidox

    Dear Rohinton,
    Is not depriving prayer facilities to those opting for alternate methods of disposal of dead an act of apartheid? Is it not cruelty and inhumanity of the worst type.?
    Sorry, I am talking of rank conversions which is a debatable point. But what about children of Parsee women who are inter married and whose husbands have no issues if the child is inclined towards our religion.?
    Lastly what about the flip flop of our reverend ‘high’ priests who perform Uthamna and Navjotes of non Parsee industrialists?
    Enough time has been spent in brushing inconvenient but glaring facts under the carpet and time has arrived when duplicity has to be exposed before the community becomes a museum piece.

  • Anti – Dhongidox

    Moderator, pl ignore my earlier post as it had a typing error. Thanks.
    Dear Rohinton,
    Is not depriving prayer facilities to those opting for alternate methods of disposal of dead an act of apartheid? Is it not and act of cruelty and inhumanity of the worst type.?
    Sorry, I am NOT talking of rank conversions which is a debatable point. But what about children of Parsee women who are inter married and whose husbands have no issues if the child is inclined towards our religion.?
    Lastly what about the flip flop of our reverend ‘high’ priests who perform Uthamna and Navjotes of non Parsee industrialists?
    Enough time has been spent in brushing inconvenient but glaring facts under the carpet and time has arrived when duplicity has to be exposed before the community becomes a museum piece.

    Reply

  • Rohinton

    Will it take an actual taste of the ” Nazis’ medicine” to make some persons understand why not to confuse the Nazis with the orthodox Parsis/Zoroastrians?

  • saf

    Rohinton, Ive been reading the comments here regularly. Well, I think, the reference to Nazis is just symbolic representation for certain section of the community who think they are purer than others.
    Just as, in number of write ups ‘Taliban’ is used to draw parallel with jealous fundamentalism in any community.

  • Anti -Dhongidox.

    So ORTHODOX are those who believe in practicing discrimination based on material Wealth and reverend “High” priest who indulge in flip flop.
    as for threat of Nazi ‘medicine’ mentioned by Rohinton, it only vindicates the mindset of Nazi type upbringing.

  • Rohinton

    I agree with Mrs.Kapadia’s observations of the ‘baug parsis’.
    While the Parsi/Zoroastrian/Intermarried members of the community in the West do not exhibit this self-destructive behavior; their vile and un-Zoroastrian behavior serves to damage only the Religion and the community. I have been witness to this in the West for over two decades; and have observed that the Zoroastrian religion for these people, is no more than a means to be exploited for their self-serving needs.That could be anything, ranging from the simple fact that they are unable to fit into Western society or that they need the required hours of community service for their college applications.
    The oft-repeated sentence I have heard from the Intermarried Zoroastrians is ” I am not religious, I do not know much about the religion ” yet, they are the ones who insist on having their kids’ Navjotes performed. One such child, whose navjote has been performed declares that he/she is half Zoroastrian and half … (the other parent’s religion).
    Their constant derision of Parsis, their unjustified attacks on two-parent parsis, their self-imagined victimisation (their spouses and their kids are completely accepted by the community) in my opinion; are certainly not going to do anything whatsoever to preserve the religion or the Parsi community.
    And then, there are the crass and arrogant Parsi members, who, having “made it” in the West, display NOT ONE sign of ever having been influenced by the wonderful
    religion of Zoroastrianism. And yes, many of them could also use a shower, if not a bath !
    Like you, I cannot see my kids marrying any of these people, despite them being much more ambitions and wealth-driven than the ‘baug Parsis’.
    I wish I could be optimistic like you, in perceiving them as the torch-bearers of the Zoroastrian religion and the Parsi/mixed Parsi Community.Only time will tell !

    P.S: I wish to make it very clear that I have also met a few very decent people at the Community Centers ‘ and they have been both, Zoroastrian and non-Zoroastrian. I am sure there are other selfless members of the community who do not fall into the above category.

  • Rohinton

    Saf,
    I still do not see the comparision. Most Parsis/Zoroastrians, including the orthodox/conservative ones respect other religions. I am not aware that they ever
    attack other religions or plot against them. So, neither of the terms, “Taliban” nor “Nazi” is appropriate; whether used symbolically or whether to draw parallels.

    The “Nazi’s medicine” is MOST DEFINITELY NOT A THREAT but a pointer that you should by no means confuse the two. Any form of aggression should be abhorrent to Zoroastrians.

    Thank you very much.

  • Rohinton

    Correction : Two Parsi parent families and not two parent parsis…..sorry!

  • Autvia

    There have already been over 2 million conversions in Tajikistan. However, due to islamic rule the people are more quiet about it. If only there was a more moderate government, then conversions would take place at a rapid rate.

    Watch on youtube:

    “Parsi patriotic song — As Tajiks we can be adherent of any religion and belief, But our cultural Identity is Zoroastrianism, its embedded in our culture and identity for thousands of years — good words, good thoughts and good deeds”

  • saf

    Autvia,

    Good! Im happy for those who willingly choose Zoroastrianism over Islam. Parsis of India are no divine custodians of faith. It belongs to everyone in the world who want to adhere to good thoughts, good words and good deeds.

  • Dr J H Carter

    Let me first make it clear that I have no interest in joining any religion, but it seems to me that the biggest danger to any insular community, religious or otherwise, is the risk of inherited disease through inbreeding rather than interbreeding. The more interbreeding that can take place, then the healthier the gene pool will be. One has only to look at the suffering of so-called ‘thoroughbred’ animals to see what happens when inbreeding is encouraged. Some of the more conservative members of Zoroastrianism seem more concerned with preserving their idea of ‘race’ rather than the religion. Unhealthy orthodoxy. There is one race – it is called the human race.

  • Dr J H Carter

    sorry – I meant to add that I have been closely connected to many Parsi’s through family connections. My personal experience is that they are wonderful, capable and generous people and I truly hope that, as the title asks, they can and will save their faith.

  • Shan

    Hello,
    I dont even know if being a non parsi, i am allowed to post a comment here. If i am not, please do forgive and delete the post.
    Personally, I am very fond of the Zoroastrian religion…having attempted to try and understand its concepts…i am truly enamoured by its beauty and historic nature. I am sure any non zoroastrian like me would die to get into the folds of such a pure religion. I am not sure, but i believe that the parsee punchayat effectively caretakes all the community members by providing them with residences…like the one at dadar. I think an increase in the communities numbers may strain resources on such an organization which is unique…so as to say…no other religion on this earth has a singular unified community body so effectively maintaining the community. I dont think the community is in anyway endangered because of numbers. I think it is faith that binds you and that has been kept alive all these centuries after migration from Iran. I love you people…

  • Parsee Beti

    Ancestors of indian Zorastrians had to make pact with the king who had given them permission to land on a shore and refuge in his kingdom.King was Jade Rana .our ancestors had to promise them that we will not preach our religion to hindu indians and/or do convert them to our faith.on this promise we were allowed to step in stay and flourish in india Parsis as they called us.That was a time when india was devided in several small kingdoms which often waged war on each others. To save our selves from winning rulers & to save pak padshah form being harmed form Wiining kings including moghals said pact kept on repeating & became an
    order. Dastur Meherjirana helped moghal emperor akber to
    create a new religion called Deen E Elahi The Royal Faith
    in which he had included some of our very effective chants form khordeh avesta as emperor was very impressed with effects of these but he never allowed emperor to convert to our faith as a part of our Pact thats how indian zarthusties had to close doors of conversion.In indipendent india Community did not take any step to correct the same as every parsee was for him or herself with lack of foresight and taking pride of being orthodox(?)
    which has put us in situation of extinction in india. time have changed keeping fundamentles of faith intect if we accept new followers to community there is no harm what so ever
    Children of inter faith marriages should get an acceptance in
    community as its not their fault of having just a mother from this faith .willingly and honestly if they accept deen e mazdayasni .

  • Parsee Beti

    Ancestors of indian Zorastrians had to make pact with the king who had given them permission to land on a shore and refuge in his kingdom.King was Jade Rana .our ancestors had to promise them that we will not preach our religion to hindu indians and/or do convert them to our faith.on this promise we were allowed to step in stay and flourish in india Parsis as they called us.That was a time when india was devided in several small kingdoms which often waged war on each others. To save our selves from winning rulers & to save pak padshah form being harmed form Wiining kings including moghals said pact kept on repeating & became an
    order. Dastur Meherjirana helped moghal emperor akber to
    create a new religion called Deen E Elahi The Royal Faith
    in which he had included some of our very effective chants form khordeh avesta as emperor was very impressed with effects of these but he never allowed emperor to convert to our faith as a part of our Pact thats how indian zarthusties had to close doors of conversion.In indipendent india Community did not take any step to correct the same as every parsee was for him or herself with lack of foresight and taking pride of being orthodox(?)
    which has put us in situation of extinction in india. time have changed keeping fundamentles of faith intect if we accept new followers to community there is no harm what so ever
    Children of inter faith marriages should get an acceptance in
    community as its not their fault of having just a mother from this faith .willingly and honestly if they accept deen e mazdayasni they should get warm welcome.

  • Rohan

    Hello everyone. It has been a couple of weeks since the last posts, but I find this discussion very compelling (even though sometimes, it seems to be a discussion we have over and over again.)

    I am of the younger generation (early 20s.) I was born of a Parsi mother and a non-Parsi father. I grew up and had a navjote in bombay, going regularly to tata agiary in bandra. this occurred only because my mother was fiercely passionate about her faith, and passing it on to me–including its values and its practices. I live in the US now, and I am occasionally able to go to a Dar-e-Mehr shared between the Parsi and Persian Zoroastrian communities in our area. I grew up identifying as a parsi with an asterisk (given that my father is not Parsi (he is not even Indian…an agnostic european ). I have kept my Zoroastrian faith with me, wearing my sudhreh kusthi/poushi every day and enduring whatever locker-room curiosity (or worse) that it brought.

    Only later in life have I become more acutely aware that many in the community have an interest in describing me as non-Parsi (at least they cannot call me non-Zoroastrian.) Rohinton and saf: I definitely think that anti-conversion parsis are not Nazis or Taliban (although caricatures can be amusing). It is silly insist on those analogies. At the same time, I think “Dr” Carter (unsure why your phd or md is relevant here) has a very strong point: it is hard to deny that there is a racial component to this interest. Many parsis are horrified at the concept of some “tribal” person from the jungles of brazil or (god forbid) kalus (blacks for our persian friends) being admitted into their group.

    However repulsive such racialist sentiments may be, they highlight the truth that Parsi identity is ethnic; it is not a religious identity alone. A crucial part of the ethnic identity is that one must be Zoroastrian (a religious identity), just as many consider only Muslim Arabic speakers to be Arabs (they keep Christian Arabic speakers separately.) You don’t have to be arab to be muslim, and you certainly should not have to be Parsi to be Zoroastrian (even my grandmother who was dismayed that her daughter married a westerner always told me that Parsi was the community and Zarathoshti the religion.)

    Most ethnic identities have a strong component of birth so this focus on birth might be expected/forgiven for the ethnic part. However, note also that the ethnoreligious identity is also deeply embedded in Indian society and history–Parsis define their uniqueness and describe their strengths in contrast to other communities in India: most industrious, most charitable, honest, and even modern (ironic eh?). This is because they are fundamentally Indian and thus reasonably indocentric; moreover, Indian social structure places a huge emphasis on birth, even in Muslim and Christian communities who have theoretically left caste behind. The psychology of birth is inseparable from these facts about Indian society.

    Another (perhaps forgivable) reason for the desire to keep some check on Parsi membership are legal and financial benefits accorded in India, such as officially protected fire temples. The state of many places of worship in India are much more chaotic, harder to maintain, and dirtier, presumably because the greater traffic brought on by less serious or even non-worshippers. There are also the baugs, the hospitals, and the many other direct financial benefits endowed by Parsi industrialists. The parsi politics of bombay are driven significantly by these financial factors. Perhaps people fear marriage into the community like an immigration marriage to the US, where it is done simply to secure benefits. I cannot imagine that this would be a real phenomenon, but the fear has some sort of a logic behind it. Again, however, this argument has nothing to do with the religion, and it bestows no religious authority on the in-marriage dictum.

    Now to the discussion of “moral decay” in the west and in baugs: this is a problem that afflicts the young people of all communities. I too find this to be problem. It is cultural feature of urban India and many societies that are indian and non-Indian. It is one of the few legitimately negative aspects of the US that Khomeini feared and hated when he took control of Iran and made it a fundmentalist state. Of course, this is an extreme and ultimately counteproductive technique, as repression only breeds rebellion. Rather children have to be taught by their parents to hold positive values and to discern what’s good and right from what’s not–your genes do not help you to do this. Depending on the social environment, there are thieves and swindlers and killers of all racial background.

    In my opinion, if you care about preserving “quality” rather than quantity of the “faith” you should excommunicate (or at least suspend) those who do not observe the tenets and practices of the religion, rather than those whose genes are “impure”. Marriage to someone in the community (unless you’re a man, in which case it’s ok no to) is not the main tenet of the religion–in fact, the tradition and scholarly analysis of the texts indicate that it is not a tenet of the religion at all, but a feature of Parsi ethnic identity.

    Obviously, as the community of Iranian Zoroastrians (to whom the Parsis wrote for advice on the religion a few centuries ago) believe, those who accept the rites and beliefs of zoroastrianism are Zoroastrians. Parsis should recognize that, and they can keep whatever rules they like for financial and government purposes. They should allow intermarried children, Iranis, and Iranian Zoroastrians, to see Parsi dead if there is some family reason, and they should bar towers of silence from taking the dead of any zoroastrian as long as there is space. I aver that anybody who believes deeply in god and in their religion would not want non-believers to be buried (or put in a tower of silence) with w/the faithful–this judgment may still be made, but without birth as the only consideration. I know so many “full born” Parsis for whom the faith is no part of their life. But this marriage bar doesn’t even encourage or require young people to get in touch with the religion or learn anything about it. All it means is that your parents must know each other, and that you’re probably related already…

  • rustom jamasji

    Rohan , quite an interesting post…
    Ironically the situation to convert others has become an issue and we are gonna have to solve it. Problem is that there are those who really care but with different perspective n thats fine , yet those who have an agenda to change zoroastrianism to suit personal dislikes/likes whose actions thwart all attempts.

    In any case if conversion was the core for Zoroastrianism surviving then how come such was not true for over a milenia.
    This phonemenon of magic mantra being conversion came up 15 to 20 years ago…

    And not having converted for over a millenia we became sucessfull and saved zoroastrianism
    Not only saved Zoroastrianism but gave back.Whilst it is true of Indo Pak Zoroastrians asking advise from Iranian counterparts, its true vice versa also..
    One such wud be the Hataria case…
    other example on this line is a recent phonemen..the bringing of ther Aden Fire to India..first time ever., a live fire in an aeroplane..

    How come the saviours of Zoroastrianism who came as refugees gave back to Iran n Persia from India-Pak in terms of religious instituions/ social institutions/ and giving the freedom to Zoroastrians in Iran n Persia to practise Zoroastrianism by paying the jizya tax apart from other monetory funds…
    How did we not only survive but once again flourish the Zooastrian flame, rituals, practises, texts etc etc…without converting though being in a much more frugal state and the world not so globally inclusive or closely connected

    Are we facing the consequences of a generation ignoring the whys n hows, thus not being able to pass it on and now the void is absolutely visible due to the negligence towards a generations responsibility of each of being part of a small community
    This irresponsibility or negligence rings true especially when now we have those who want to convert others to follow ours when such themselves then wanna change Zoroastrianism…

    Are we now taking ‘to convert’ as the magic mantra to preserve Zoroastrianism..and so maybe the israelis now shud import people if each n every israeli forgets his/her responsibility towards the Jewish state

    In the 1800 we had missoneries from the western world converting Zoroastrians into christianity with the pretext on the same lines…’everything is lost for you guys, you guys do not know as everything is destroyed, claiming rituals as unzoroastrian,texts as unzoroastrian etc etc’…today we from within…just to convert a foreign spouce…have ourselves arrived at portraying the saviours of Zoroastrianism as being diferent to Zoroastrianism!!! And thus have the fashion to segment and term Parsism.
    Whilst a Yank remains a US Citizen , or a ‘jock , a scottish’…or one that follows Islam is a Muslim/Moslem. Mosalmeen/Mosalman..we to eat the cake and have it too..i.e..to convert others..but to change Zoroastrian laws to suit oneself/spouce, claim that the laws, texts etc preserved by the saviours of Zoroastrianism are not Zoroastrian….but Parsi ones!!!

    One can play on the term that was put on by the refuge givers on the Zoroastrians..mainly due to the geographical location…yet i feel this manuplation does immense injustice to those whose sucessfull sacrifices allows us to be Zoroastrians today, and allows Zoroastrianism to survive thru the Zoroastrian instituions set up based on Zoroastrian philosophy and laws! Now to imply that the instituion laws set by such shud be changed since they are parsi n not zoroastrian implies that the savious of Zoroastrianism didnt know what they were doing…and we have sort of cracked the case,….though again…how cud zoroastrianism be saved??!! ..if Parsism was what we were practising..?!
    For people then to segment away the saviours of Zoroastrianism from Zoroastrianism itself shows a lot of respect we shower on those who are responsible for us being Zoroastrians.
    I mean your sudeh Kusti cud now be termed as Unzoroastrian but Parsi..just to suit someone..

    Sad is the case when the instituions are wanted by such groups yet demand to change its laws set up by the donor of the instituion based on laws of Zoroastrianism as passed on by the saviours of Zoroastrianism is thrusted upon all!

    Again if we are in a stage that conversion is a must to save Zoroastrianism….then why dont we ourself learn our roots, and travel the extra mile to strenghten the zoroastrian systems weakened by negligence emmiting from excuses such as’ oh that not modern’ or lets change though the change is rudderless!.. Why r we making excuses that what we cannot preserve or not like is not Zoroastrianism at all!

    Yes India is religo centric..yet texas can be termed as one of the most religious belt . The vatican had its eyes open n responded strongly to the Govt of India when the hindus had enough of conversion and the pendulam struck the other way in orrisa.
    Missoneries acivity in Africa…shows no less a fervour..the missoneries themselves being from the westerm world…

    Im not trying to point at ure statements of India but merely trying to show that on a more diplomatical scale the issues that fuse identity or on religious feelings is a worldwide global concept. We shud leanr fom ur own history and strategies applied onmthe sasanians by those who wanted to convert Persia away from Zoroastrianis before the Islamic era. Such is very relevant today!n everywhere..not only in India

    On the monetory issue , This includes every society/country or organisation including the U.N. One cannot blame the UN since it doesnt sanction money meant to develop Africa for other purposes…this is akin to one asking for adaption..but to the richest of the parent available!

    I do completely agree with you on that the greatest threat is from within,.. those from within that belittle the faith, thru their wisdom, archeological evidence becomes debris!, Zoroastrian texts become unzoroastrian and those who fuse us with various babas etc in India…and those who wnna chanellise Zoroastrianism thru a vote bank or to make it a personal worshop of likes and dislikes…

    In any case..the situation being complex….one must give a round to our immediate forfathers that the demand to change, end zoroastrian principles wud mainly consist of the intermarried….and time proves this right!!!

    My point is that those who wanna convert others..shud do it on lines of Zoroastrians as passed by the savious of Zoroastrianism.. not abandon practises not liked under one pretext or the other…the most dimunitive pretext being that the saviours of Zoroastrianism set up Parsism…and now after them scessfully installing Zoroastrian institutions and we including our grandparents having taken from it…claim that they followd Parsism..

  • Rohinton

    Rohan,

    Your circumstances are different – your dad being agnostic,
    and your mom being a staunch Zoroastrian have meant that you have practised only ONE religion i.e. Zoroastrianism.

    In practice, in the West , most of the children of the Intermarried Zoroastrians practise TWO religions even after
    their proclamation to the contrary, in their Navjote ceremonies ! This double-religion practice ( and multi-religion in their future generations !!! ) , we are made to believe is going to be what is going to promote Zoroastrianism and allow it to spread in the coming ages !!!!!! And, while this idea is being propogated as the ” TRUTH ” , the Parsees/Zoroastrians who do not follow two religions and do not see this idea as ” The Truth” need to be attacked and made to leave the centers.

    This is the beginning of the end of Zoroastrianism in these groups atleast ; and the start of a new Christian-Zoroastrian, Hindu-Zoroastrian, etc. religion !!!!!

  • Delnavaz

    Hi Rohinton,

    I find your post factual. Thanks for saying this is such a simple manner.