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Zoroastrianism is the religion and philosophy based on the teachings ascribed to the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathushtra, Zartosht). Mazdaism is the religion that acknowledges the divine authority of Ahura Mazda, proclaimed by Zoroaster to be the one uncreated Creator of all.
History of Zoroastrianism
Zoroastriansim was founded by Zoroaster, probably around 1,000 BC. Zoroaster was a Persian (modern day Iran), and lived in a polytheistic society. He taught that there was one God. Initially his teaching was rejected, but ultimately the king became a follower and Zoroastrianism became the state religion of the Persian empire.
Around 650 AD, Muslim invaders brought Islam to Persia. Some Zoroastrians fled to India. Those remaining in Iran have been persecuted and now only about 20,000 remain here. Worldwide there are about 140,000 followers.
The Avesta is the Zorastrian holy book. In it, the words of Zarathushtra are found in a series of five Gathas. The Gathas are poetry for worship of the one God and for understanding righteousness and social justice. Also in the Avesta there are further writings about rituals and practices.
Beliefs in Zoroastrianism
Zoroastriansim teaches in a single, supreme God known as Ahura Mazda. There is also a powerful evil spirit, Angra Mainyu, opposing Ahura Mazda and so somme see Zoroastriansim as a dualistic religion, rather than strictly monotheistic. This conflict between evil and good engulfs the universe, and people need to choose who to follow. Ultimately evil will be defeated.
After death, Zoroastrians believe that the soul is judged. If the person's deeds were more often good than bad, then the sould goes to heaven, otherwise it is taken to hell.
Zoroastrians worship with prayers and rituals before a sacred file. One must be born into the religion to be a Zoroastrian.
Small Zoroastrian communities are found in India, Pakistan, Iran, as well as major urban areas in United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and a worldwide diaspora. Zoroastrian communities comprise two main groups of people: those of Indian Zoroastrian background, who are known as Parsis (or Parsees), and those of Iranian background.
Zoroastrians in Iran have, like other religious minorities, survived centuries of persecution. Communities exist in Tehran, as well as in Yazd and Kerman, where many still speak an Iranian language distinct from Persian. They call their language Dari (not to be confused with the Dari of Afghanistan).
Subsequent to the fall of the Persian Empire, after which Zoroastrianism was gradually supplanted by Islam, many Zoroastrians fled to other regions in the hope of preserving their religious tradition. Among them were several groups who migrated to Gujarat, on the western shores of the Indian subcontinent, where they finally settled. The descendants of those refugees are today known as the Parsis.
In contrast to their co-religionists elsewhere, in India the Zoroastrians enjoyed tolerance and even admiration from other religious communities. From the 19th century onward, the Parsis gained a reputation for their education and widespread influence in all aspects of society, partly due to the divisive strategy of British colonialism which favored certain minorities. As such, Parsis are generally more affluent than other Indians and are stereotypically viewed as among the most Anglicised and "Westernised" of Indian minority groups. They have also played an instrumental role in the economic development of the country over many decades; several of the best-known business conglomerates of India are run by Parsi-Zoroastrians, including the Tata, Godrej, and Wadia families.
As of the census of 2001, the Parsis represent approximately 0.006% of the total population of India, with a concentration in and around the city of Mumbai (previously known as Bombay). Due to a low birth rate and high rate of emigration, demographic trends project that by the year 2020 the Parsis will number only 23,000 or 0.0002% of the total population of India. The Parsis will then cease to be called a community and will be labelled a 'tribe'.
In Central Asia
There is a growing interest among Iranians, as well as people in various Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, in their ancient Zoroastrian heritage; many people in these countries now consider themselves Zoroastrian. In fact, UNESCO (at the instigation of the government of Tajikistan) declared 2003 a year to celebrate the "3000th Anniversary of Zoroastrian Culture," with special events throughout the world.
Rest of the world
Currently, there is a dynamic and vibrant network of Zoroastrian associations throughout the world, including many major and minor conferences, which link many Zoroastrians of different cultural origins and regional residences.
Zoroastrian fire temples, as well as community centers (which are more common in the diaspora than temples, because of fire-consecration issues) are also found wherever Zoroastrian communities exist. Zoroastrian centers throughout North America and the world are increasingly finding themselves in need of expanding their physical structures to accommodate growing enthusiasm and interest amongst local Zoroastrian communities.
In 1996, the number of Zoroastrians worldwide was estimated to be "at most 200,000" (Melton, 1996:837). India's 2001 Census found 69,601 Parsi Zoroastrians. In Pakistan they number 5000, mostly living in Karachi. Although the religion is believed to have sprouted in the area now known as Afghanistan, there are very few Zoroastrians remaining there. North America is thought to be home to 18,000–25,000 Zoroastrians of both Parsi and Iranian background. Iran's figures of Zoroastrians have ranged widely; the last census (1974) before the revolution of 1979 revealed 21,400 Zoroastrians.
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