Religious Diversity News

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Zoroastrian New Year

Author: Staff Writer

Source: PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

KIM LAWTON, guest anchor: On our calendar this week, Bahais and Zoroastrians prepare for their New Year, called Norooz, which occurs at the spring equinox. The Zoroastrian faith began in ancient Persia, now Iran. Estimates vary widely, but some claim that only as few as 115,000 Zoroastrians remain, most in India but also in Iran, Europe, and North America. To learn more about how Zoroastrian Americans celebrate Norooz, we visited the Aidun family in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Zoroastrianism teaches that people should do good to help their one God in his cosmic struggle with the power of evil.

We visited a Zoroastrian family of Iranian-Americans, the Aiduns, in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Zoroastrian New Year’s Celebration with a Newly Arrived Afghan Family

Source: The Detroit Free-Press

On March 21, 2002, The Detroit Free-Press featured the story “Afghan family reflects on new life in America.” It reported on the experiences of the Sadat family in Lansing: “Wednesday, the first day of spring, was a special day for Lansing’s struggling Afghan community. It was Nowruz (pronounced No-ROOZ), a New Year’s holiday that’s a major celebration of the year in Afghanistan, Iran and neighboring countries that share … [the religious heritage of] Zoroastrianism. For [Samira] Sadat and her family, it was a time to share traditional treats, including a dish made of seven kinds of dried fruit and nuts. It was also a time to reflect on what they’ve left behind and where their lives are going… This year’s Nowruz was different. There were no new clothes. Everyone in the Sadat family is wearing hand-me-downs from a local church. … The old frame house her family shares doesn’t feel like home. ‘We miss our people, our culture, our religion,’ Sadat said. ‘It’s quite different here. I don’t know yet if I will stay. I can’t decide yet.'”

Zoroastrian Population Declines, Faith in Danger of Dying Out

Source: The Australian,5744,11337640%255E2703,00.html

On November 10, 2004 The Australian reported, “They have survived as exiles for 23 centuries, since Alexander the Great drove them from their Persian homeland all the way to the western shores of India, where they took refuge and flourished.

They found favour with the British, taking high office during the Raj, and founded some of India’s most prominent business houses.

Now, more than 3000 years after their Zoroastrian religion was first born, the Parsees of India are facing their greatest challenge yet: the prospect of extinction.

Falling birth rates, growing migration to the West and marriage outside the community have sent the Parsee population plummeting in the past few decades.”

Zoroastrian Priest Testifies Against Use of Marijuana as Sacrament for “Neo-Zoroastrian” Practice

Source: KVOA

On August 27, 2006 KVOA reported, “A couple from Pima, Ariz. arrested in a car that contained 172 pounds of marijuana say the drug is a sacrament in their religion. The U.S. attorney’s office contends they’re trying to use religion as a cover for a drug organization.

Danuel and Mary Quaintance staked their religious freedom claim in federal court here this week in a three-day hearing in connection with their February arrest in Lordsburg on drug charges, the Albuquerque Journal reported Friday in a copyright story.

The couple are charged with conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute more than 50 kilograms of marijuana found in the car in which they were riding. The driver, another church member, has turned state’s witness.

U.S. District Judge Judith Herrera said she would take written arguments and review transcripts and documents before deciding whether to dismiss the charges based on the Quaintances’ right to freely exercise their religion.

Danuel Quaintance’s attorney, Marc Robert, portrays him as ‘a spiritual man who has followed his religious beliefs and practices at great personal risk.’

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Luis Martinez and Amanda Gould argue that the defendants are drawing from ‘a hodgepodge of unsupported speculations for most of their assertions … in an effort to cloak themselves in a religious mantel.’

The Quaintances contend they have a right to marijuana as the central focus of the Church of Cognizance, founded by Danuel Quaintance in 1991 and registered as a religious organization in Arizona in 1994… Danuel Quaintance testified the Church of Cognizance is based on his research and interpretation of religious texts and is a form of neo-Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion that holds as sacred a drink made from a mountain plant called haoma.

In the teachings of Zoroaster, the plant, the drink and the god are the same. The Quaintances believe cannabis, hemp or marijuana is haoma.”

Zoroastrian Revival Raises Issue About Conversion Legitimacy

Source: Outlook India

On June 13, 2005 Outlook India reported, “In Mumbai, a Navjote evokes images of traditionally dressed Parsis gossiping at tables groaning under the weight of food after a teenager goes through a formal initiation ceremony into the faith. But it’s not the same anymore. Recently, five Russians and a Ukranian were initiated. They weren’t prepubescent kids either—the group included an editor, a lawyer and an interpreter. And the ceremony wasn’t held in Mumbai, the heart of the Parsi community, but in Moscow.

In a community where funerals seem to outnumber Navjotes, as Parsis grapple with aging and dwindling numbers, they are turning up in strange places. From Swedish pop stars to Muslim preachers, Zoroastrianism is enjoying a bit of a revival and the Indian Parsis are unsure how to deal with it. This has become a flashpoint in the small community. Zoroastrians have traditionally not proselytised or believed in conversion to Zoroastrianism. But away from the protected world of Mumbai’s Baugs, a new breed of Zoroastrians has appeared, as has a growing number of mixed-marriage children who are not allowed to be Parsis.”

Zoroastrian Scholars’ Meeting in Pune Promotes a Conservative Path for Faith

Source: The Indian Express

On May 31, 2005 The Indian Express reported, “Continue to keep fire temples off limits to non-Parsis. Keep converts out of the fold. Safeguard dakhmas (towers of silence) and religious institutions. Promote a Parsi way of life.

Had it not been for the cheering of these vows by about 2,200 Parsis, the white-and-gold decor, the pearls, embroidered silk saris and traditional daglis at the Mahalaxmi turf club would have been mistaken for a Parsi wedding jashan.

The Saturday evening gathering was actually the launch of the World Alliance of Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis (WAPIZ), by a clutch of religious scholars.

The Mumbai-based conservative organisation will resist reformists’ attempts to extend religious rights and recognition to non-Parsi spouses and their children.

It will also oppose the Bombay Parsee Punchayet if it agrees to join the International Zoroastrian Organisation (IZO) to be set up in London, a cosmopolitan body with open membership to non-Parsi Irani Zarthoshtis.”

Zoroastrian Temple to Open in North Virginia

Source: The Washington Post

On May 10, 2003 The Washington Post reported that “Washington’s small but growing Zoroastrian community will add to the area’s array of international religious buildings with a Persian-style temple… At long last, more than 150 Zoroastrian families will have a permanent place for worship, religious education, initiation ceremonies, funerals and weddings, [Farhad] Shahryary said. No more moving about from borrowed or rented spaces used for liturgical and educational functions, as they have done since they founded the Zoroastrian Association of Metropolitan Washington 24 years ago.”

Zoroastrian Wedding Marks Presence of Ancient Faith

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

On November 29, 2005 The Sydney Morning Herald reported, “The bride wore a delicate sari made of white Indian silk, the groom the ceremonial dress of the dagli or overcoat, also in white.

As per the rites of their ancient religion, one of Australia’s smallest, a white sheet, a curtain of separation, hung between them as they sat while two priests passed twine around them seven times in a gesture that indicated unbroken unity.

When the curtain fell, however, the couple dispensed with tradition, sealing their marriage with a kiss before showering each other with rice, the symbol of plenty and prosperity.

The newly married couple, Zubin Appoo and Rakhshandeh Hira, are Parsis, the ethnic group that practises Zoroastrianism, the pre-Christian faith founded in what is now Iran by the Bronze Age prophet Zarathustra.

Zoroastrianism spread to India when followers fled Arab invaders in the seventh century and is one of the oldest monotheistic religions.

These days it is in numerical decline, not least because some followers are finding love outside the faith. Traditional Zoroastrians believe that religion and ethnicity are inseparable and that one must be born and married in the faith. There are fewer than 1800 adherents in Australia, so the marriage of Zubin and Rakhshandeh in the Annangrove prayer hall at the weekend was a much celebrated event.”

Zoroastrian Woman Prepares Indian Cuisine for Whole Foods Stores

Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel,0,6837983.column?coll=sfla-features-food

On June 22, 2006 South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported, “Grocery shopping can get pretty humdrum and meal planning a drag. So when I heard that Whole Foods Markets are putting some interesting ethnic items on their prepared foods menus, I wanted to meet Rashne Desai, the woman behind the meals.
We got together at the Plantation store, where I learned Desai grew up in Bombay in a Zoroastrian family. Living in a religious minority originally from Persia, they ate ‘Parsi’ food, but made with Indian spices.
‘We took Indian flavors and added to them,’ Desai says. Much as Cubans have sofrito, this cooking has a flavor base made up of sauteed onions, garlic, ginger, jalapenos, spices and tomatoes.
Today, as an executive coordinator of prepared foods for Whole Foods, Desai is re-creating these flavors for the company’s Florida stores.
It’s been a long journey.
In 1970, Desai came to the United States to attend school in Hartford, Conn. ‘I hated my first year here. It was too quiet.’
She was used to the meat, vegetable, flower and milk vendors coming to the door. ‘There was no one on the streets in this country,’ she says.
But by her second year, she adapted. Her mother mailed her the spices she needed to cook the flavors she craved. And an Indian professor invited her to join his family for meals.
After graduation, she worked for Citibank in New York City.
‘There I had tons of Indian food,’ she says. And she enjoyed living in an urban center.
But when she reached the point in her career that she’d have to get an MBA to advance, she decided to learn to cook instead.”

Zoroastrianism Dying Out in Modern Times

Author: Neha Singh Gohil

Source: Hamilton Spectator

Like most 12-year-old boys, Rayan Dastoor watches movies, goes to school and surfs the Internet for the latest tunes by Linkin Park. But Rayan also spends five hours a day in prayer sessions and religious studies. His homework includes memorizing sacred scriptures in the ancient Persian language.

Rayan is one of 30 boys enrolled in Dadar Athornan Madressa, a boarding school for future Zoroastrian priests. The school, in Mumbai, India, is one of only two worldwide. Graduates, known as “mobeds,” or priests, serve Zoroastrian communities from Atlanta to Pakistan.

By age 14, when Rayan and his classmates are ordained as priests, they will face declining congregations and an uncertain future. Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic faith thousands of years older than Islam or Christianity, was once the dominant religion across west Asia. But with interfaith marriages on the rise and orthodox priests unwilling to allow conversions to the faith, Zoroastrians have dwindled to 200,000 worldwide.

Nearly 25,000 live in North America, scattered from Toronto to Los Angeles. Most are Parsis, descendants of Zoroastrians who fled persecution in Iran and landed on the shores of India 1,000 years ago. Following the three tenets of their religion — good thoughts, good words and good deeds — the few thousand faithful rebuilt what was left of their ancient traditions.