Zoroastrianism (also sometimes known as Mazdaism) was adapted from an earlier, polytheistic faith by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) in Persia between 1400 and 1200 BC (although, in the absence of written records, some scholars estimate as late as 600 BC).
Zoroastrianism combines elements of monotheism and dualism. Many modern scholars believe that Zoroastrianism had a large influence on Judaism, Mithraism and Manichaeism, and thus indirectly influenced Christianity and Islam.
Central to Zoroastrianism is the world's constant struggle between Good and Evil. In the beginning of creation, the Supreme God ("Ahura Mazda") created two twin spirits for good ("Spenta Mainyu") and for evil ("Angra Mainyu" or "Ahriman"). Men are free to choose the path of either spirit. The path of good or righteousness ("Asha") will lead to happiness ("Ushta"), whereas the path of evil will lead to unhappiness, enmity, and war. Therefore, it's strongly encouraged that one chooses Asha. This philosophy is symbolized in one of the religion's main mottos: "Good thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds." Note that the twin spirits are not regarded as physical beings, but abstract emanations that exist in a person's mind.
With the duality of good and evil comes the concepts of Heaven, Hell and the Final Day. After death, a person's soul crosses a bridge ("Chinvato Peretu") on which its good deeds are weighed against its bad deeds. The soul reaches heaven or falls to hell based on the outcome. When evil is finally defeated on the Final Day, the world will be purified by a bath of molten metal and the souls of sinners will be released from hell.
By the 6th century, Zoroastrianism had spread to northern China via the Silk Road, gaining official status in a number of Chinese states. Zoroastrian temples still remained in Kaifeng and Zhenjiang as late as the 1130s, but by the 13th century the religion had faded from prominence in China.
In the 7th century, the Zoroastrian Sassanid dynasty was conquered by Muslim Arabs, and Zoroastrians were awarded the status of People of the Book by the Caliph Omar, although some practices contrary to Islam were prohibited, such as sibling marriages. Before this took place, however, thousands of Zoroastrian priests were executed, hundreds of temples destroyed, and religious texts burnt. Further, the use of the ancient Avestan as well as Persian languages was prohibited. Islamic invaders attempted to distort the teaching of Zardusht by presenting Zoroastrianism as polytheistic cult thus facilitating the annihilation of the Iranian culture and its peoples.
Arab invasion and the subsequent repression by Islamic authorities left the deepest scar in this ancient monotheistic faith that was once dominant in a region stretching from Anatolia to Persian Gulf and Central Asia. The Persecution of Zoroastrians by Muslim rulers of theocratic Iran continued after the Arabs left; even today, however, one can find Zoroastrian communities living and practicing their faith in Iran despite persecution.
In the 8th century, Zoroastrians fled to India in large numbers, where they were given refuge by Jadav Rana, a Hindu king of Sanjan (the modern-day province of Gujarat) on condition that they abstain from missionary activities and marry only in their community. Although these strictures are centuries old, Parsis of the 21st century still do not accept converts and are endogamous. The Parsis of India speak a dialect of Gujarati.
Unusually among religions the Zoroastrian faith even when holding positions of power, has been tolerant and supportive of other faiths.
It is widely believed that the Three Wise Men said to have borne gifts for Jesus of Nazareth were Zoroastrian Magi. The Achaemenid Persian Kings Xerxes and Darius had previously assisted the Jews in rebuilding their temple at Jerusalem.
Principles of Zoroastrianism
Some major Zoroastrian concepts:
Small Zoroastrian communities survive in Iran and in India (where they are called Parsis or Parsees), totalling approximately 250,000 followers. Iranian Zoroastrians are called Gabars (a name deriving from the Arabic word kaffir meaning infidel), but this is a pejorative term. Some Zoroastrians in Yazd and Kerman still speak an Iranian language distinct from Persian. They call their language Dari (not to be confused with the Dari of Afghanistan). Their language is also called Gabri or Behdinan. Sometimes their language is named for the cities in which they are spoken, Yazdi or Kermani.
Small but fast growing Zoroastrian communities exist in large cities in the United States, England, Australia, and Canada. Since the early 1990s, new Zoroastrian congregations have also been founded in Brazil, Venezuela, Germany, Sweden and the republics of Central Asia. Inspired by the missionary organization The Zarathushtrian Assembly (http://www.zoroastrian.org), based in Los Angeles, California, and in line with Zoroaster's original teachings, these congregations have, contrary to the Indian Parsis, quite happily accepted hundreds of converts.
One of the most famous Zoroastrians is the late Freddie Mercury, the frontman of the group Queen. He was given a traditional Zoroastrian funeral after he died of AIDS on the 24th of November, 1991. The following year another international pop star, Alexander Bard from the band Army Of Lovers, converted in Gothenburg, Sweden, and became one of the founders of the Swedish Zoroastrian congregation, currently the largest in Europe. Famous Indian Parsis include symphonic conductor Zubin Mehta, philosopher and nuclear scientist Homi Bhaba, and the Tata and Godrej industrial families.
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