Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Rustom Ghadiali: Zoroastrian priest a firm supporter of inter-faith harmony

Our dear friend, mentor and one of Singapore’s leading Parsi Rustom Ghadiali was featured in a Straits Times article earlier this month

One of the most memorable ques­tions Mr Rustom Ghadiali was asked as a Zoroastrian priest is: “Is Zorro a Zoroastrian?”

The kindly 82-year-old replied: “No. Zorro is a comic book charac­ter. Zoroastrian is a 3.700-year-old faith.”

The leader of one of the smallest faiths in Singapore – with only 300 believers – Mr Ghadiali has made his mark in promoting inter-faith harmony here.

Zoroastrianism is one of the world’s oldest surviving religions. Followers believe in one supreme being. Ahura Mazda. It was once the official religion of Persia, as Iran was then known, and one of the most powerful religions of ancient times. But the Zoroastrians dwin­dled in numbers after Alexander the Great defeated Persia’s army.

Zoroastrians were persecuted and fled their homes. Some, like Mr Ghadiali’s ancestors, settled in In­dia where they were called Parsis.

Rustom Ghadiali
Mr Rustom Ghadiali received the Inter-religious Organisation Award in March for his contributions to inter-faith harmony over a span of 30 years. He Is a priest of the Zoroastrian faith, which is one of the world’s oldest surviving religions and has around 300 followers in Singapore.

Mr Ghadiali studied the monothe­istic faith in his teens in India and was ordained as an Ervad or priest. An Ervad does not need to give up his secular life and become celibate as that is contrary to the belief that Ahura Mazda wants followers to live industrious and happy lives.

Mr Ghadiali first visited Singa­pore on a work trip in 1971 as a man­ager for American semiconductor firm International Rectifier – where he Liter became vice-presi­dent of the South-east Asia, India and China branch.

He had come to look for a site to build a semiconductor plant and was impressed by Singapore’s way of doing business. He quickly de­cided this was where he would spend his life.

“It wasn’t like in other countries, you didn’t have to bribe the officials. So I set up the plant here and settled down,” he explained.

He set up home in Singapore in 1973 with his wife Shirin, now 76. They have two daughters. N’atascha and Kharmayne, who were born in India and raised in Singapore. The sisters were gymnasts who repre­sented Singapore at the SEA Games in the 1980s and 1990s.

Mr Ghadiali connected with other Zoroastrians in Singapore. He became the leader of the com­munity in 1986. when he was asked to join the Inter-Religious Organisa­tion (IRO) to replace Mr B. R Vakil.

The IRO, started in 1949, fosters friendship and cooperation among the 10 official religions in Singapore and rotates its presidency among the leaders of the faiths.

“The Baha’i leader, who is my friend, called me and persuaded me to take on the role so that Zoroastri­ans can retain their scat in the IRO.” said Mr Ghadiali. Baha’i is one of the faiths included in the IRO.Mr Ghadiali was IRO president three times. During his stint in 2009. IRO worked with the Singa­pore Buddhist Lodge and the Chi­nese authorities to hold the first China-Singapore Religious and Cul­tural Exhibition, which attracted morethan 10,000 visitors.This helped to nurture and strengthen the ties between the reli­gious leaders from both countries.II is efforts over 30 years won him the IRO Award in March this year.

It is given to those who have contrib­uted to inter-faith peace.I RO’s current president K. Kesava- pany said: “We owe it to Mr Ghadi­ali and other members of the pio­neering generation for the peace and happiness that we enjoy.”Such harmony is the result of re­spect and discipline from all the leaders of the IRO, who follow a st rict code of conduct.Mr Ghadiali explained: “If we have disagreements, we don’t take it further or escalate it, we discuss it. And we also never comment on the other religions. We deal with in- ter-faith harmony, not intra-faith harmony. So if one religion is suffer • ing from internal issues, we step back and let them figure it out.”While IRO leaders have managed to stay friendly, parts of the world have been fraught with rising reli­gious tensions, as radicalism and fun­damentalism drive act s of violence.Recalling the climate after the Sept 11, 2001. terror attacks in the US.

Mr Ghadiali said: “The first thing that happened was that peo­ple started discriminating against Muslims. But terrorists can come from any country and any religion.”He added that the IRO leaders ap­peared together at a multi-religious memorial service for the attacks to lead prayers. It was a symbolic way of emphasising the harmony be­tween the different faiths here.But religious tensions are not a thing of the past. As Mr Ghadiali said: “It’s the same problem now be­cause of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and people have nega­tive attitudes of Islam.”But he believes that there is a way to deal with the misunderstanding and discord – through dialogue and discussion.He regularly speaks to youth through outreach programmes sup­ported by the Ministry of Culture. Community and Youth, and lec­tures organised by IRO and poly­technics.”One thing I noticed Is that there are more people without religious affiliations turning up. I asked them what they want and they say they are interested in learning instead of believing.” he said.Although a deeply religious man, Mr Ghadiali is far from dismayed.He said: “People can often have the wrong ideas about religion or even misunderstand its concepts. So I’m very encouraged by how young people do want to learn more about religion even if they don’t believe in any religion.”