Religious Diversity News

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Zoroastrians, Divided Over Conversion, Face a Shrinking Future

Author: Rana Rosen

Source: Beliefnet

Wire Service: RNS

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/214/story_21491_1.html

As a high school boy in Minnesota, Joseph Peterson spent the late 1960s reading at the local library, passing over Mad Magazine or sci-fi novels in favor of ancient religious texts.

The scripture of the Zoroastrians — the faith of the old Persian Empire — captured the Christian teenager with its reverence for nature and belief that God created good but not evil.

“It was years before I would meet another Zoroastrian,” he said. Donning a “sudra,” or sacred white shirt tied with a chord, Peterson began to dress, pray and think of himself as a Zoroastrian. He was unaware, however, that he was entering a faith that forbids converts.

The religion’s closed-door policy might be unremarkable if it was thriving. But Zoroastrianism, once a major religion considered by some experts to be the first monotheistic faith, is in danger of extinction with an estimated 160,000 adherents across the globe. A more generous estimate puts that figure at 276,000.

Today, Peterson, 52, is the only widely accepted convert in the United States. The few who recognized him as an equal sparked a fiery debate within Zoroastrianism when he was officially converted in 1983.

Zoroastrians Fear The Disappearance of Their Religion Through Assimilation

Source: The New York Times

On January 1, 2001, The New York Times reported that 1100 years ago, many Zoroastrians fled from Iran to India. Now a “second diaspora” is progressing, as Zoroastrians migrate around the globe. Because there are only 200,000 Zoroastrians left worldwide and because interfaith marriages are common, many worry that the scattered members of this faith will assimilate into the surrounding culture: “we’re not living in proximity, in the neighborhoods we had in India,” said one. The Zoroastrian religion dates back about three thousand years, to the prophet Zarathustra, of Persia, who “taught an ethical code…The faith proclaims belief in a single deity, Ahura Mazda,
whose name means Wise Lord. A central tenet is that human beings have free will,
to think for themselves and choose between good and evil. The ultimate goal is
to do good, eliminate evil and move the world toward perfection.” Although Zoroastrianism “long held a dominant position in ancient Iran,” centuries of oppression have resulted in significantly dwindling numbers. These shrinkages have led to a debate about the religion’s ancient prohibition of the acceptance of converts into Zoroastrianism. In the words of one proponent, “the right thing to do is to give people a
choice, so if they want to live their lives in accordance with a certain
teaching, they can. That was the essence of Zarathustra’s teaching.” On the other side of the debate, however, are those who believe that “in order
to survive in a vast multitude of different races and cultures, we had to
formulate certain rules. And one of the rules is, we have to be an
exclusive community.” Modern Zoroastrians have the Internet and air travel to keep in touch. Plus, the numbers of Zoroastrian associations have been growing around the world. Some observers, therefore, deem Zoroastrian fears of disappearance through assimilation to be unfounded.

Zoroastrians Free to Perform Rituals, Priest Says

Source: Payvand.com

http://www.payvand.com/news/05/apr/1002.html

On April 1, 2005 Payvand.com reported, “Iranian Zoroastrians perform their religious rituals in total freedom, respect and peace in light of the Islamic establishment of the country, said a senior Zoroastrian religious figure here on Thursday.

Local Zoroastrian priest Goshtasb Balivani made the remarks in an address to a group of Zoroastrians at Hirom Baad rituals at Pir Herisht temple, 17 kilometers north of this central Iranian city on Thursday.

The temple is called after Pir Herisht, nicknamed as Morvarid, one of the servants of Iran’s Sassanid King Yazdgerd.”

Zoroastrians Gather in Toronto to ‘Unleash the Spark Within’

Author: Eric Shackleton

Source: The Canadian Press

http://www.hamiltonspectator.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=hamilton/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1183090869027&call_pageid=1020420665036&col=1014656511815

Hundreds of Zoroastrians, followers of the prophet Zarathustra, are gathering this weekend to reflect on their faith, and its main tenets of “good thoughts, good words and good deeds.”

The delegates, expected to number about 500 from around the world, are attending the 14th annual North American Zoroastrian Congress from today until Monday.

The religion, one of the oldest in existence, has greatly influenced Judaism, Christianity and other faiths with regard to the ultimate victory of good over evil and the resurrection of souls, experts say.

The convention is sponsored by the Zoroastrian Society of Ontario and Fezana, which is short for the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America.

The theme of the get-together, “IMPACT Unleash the Spark Within,” was chosen “because we felt that all of us have that spark of creativity, charity and community service,” said Phee Vania, chair of the congress.

Zoroastrians Hold Community Event On Site of Planned Temple

Source: The Mississauga News

http://www.mississauganews.com/mi/people/story/3308632p-3830855c.html

On February 8, 2006 The Mississauga News reported, “It’s a housewarming, only without the house.
Members of Mississauga’s Zoroastrian community will gather Feb. 12 on a 10-acre parcel of land they have purchased as the future site of their church.

A fun day of ice skating, treasure hunts and hot chocolate is planned as the newly-formed Ontario Zoroastrian Community Foundation (OZCF) celebrates its first Family Fun Day on the plot of land located at Burnhamthorpe Rd. and Ninth Line.

The event is designed to appeal to the younger members of the congregation and help raise money for a community centre and place of worship.

OZCF priest Nozer Kotwal said there are more than 200,000 Zoroastrians worldwide, including 5,000 in the GTA, North America’s largest Zoroastrian community.

The foundation, which formed in 2001, counts some 200 Mississauga families among its 600 members. Members gather for celebrations such as Navroz, or New Year’s Day, which falls on March 21 according to the Zoroastrian calendar.”

Zoroastrians Keep Old Traditions Alive In Australia

Author: Neena Bhandari

Source: News Blaze

http://newsblaze.com/story/20100318081728iwfs.nb/topstory.html

It’s a Sunday morning. A fire is burning on a silver urn in the sanctum sanctorum as about 30 children pray with a priest in the main hall of the Darbe Meher, the place of worship and community activity for Zoroastrians, in the Sydney suburb of Annangrove.

Nestling amidst verdant surroundings with a tranquil billabong (pool of water) and fruit trees, the Darbe Meher has become the epicentre of learning and festivities for the Zoroastrians who have migrated to Australia from India, Pakistan and Iran since the 1960s.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2006 census, there are 2,110 people (1,156 males and 954 females) practising Zoroastrianism, the pre-Christian faith founded in Persia (Iran) by Prophet Zarathushtra, who believed in a single God, Ahura Mazda.

Zoroastrians Make Annual Pilgrimage to Mountain Cave

Source: BBC News

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3816297.stm

On June 17, 2004 the BBC News reported, “Members of Iran’s dwindling Zoroastrian community are making their annual pilgrimage to the temple in the rocky mountain of Chakchak. The desert site near the central city of Yazd is holy to the minority whose numbers are said to have halved to 22,000 since the 1979 Islamic revolution. It is believed the last Zoroastrian princess sheltered from the Muslims in a cave on Chakchak in AD 640…Yazd is the historic capital Zoroastrianism, considered by some to be the world’s first monotheistic religion and a profound influence on Judaism, Christianity and Islam…Legend says the Chakchak mountain opened up and received Nikbanou [daughter of the last Zoroastrian king] – closing behind her at a spot marked by a fresh water spring. Pilgrims have long since removed a colourful rock believed to be a petrified cloth that was all that was left of Nikbanou. Today, pilgrims make their way up the towering rocks, following hundreds of steps to a cave where they pray and drink clear water from a spring.”

Zoroastrians Observe Anniversary of Zarathustra’s Death

Source: Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week817/feature.html

On December 24, 2004 Religion & Ethics Newsweekly ran a feature story on Zoroastrianism: “This week marks an observance for a belief system much older than Christianity — the anniversary of the death of the prophet Zarathustra, also known as Zoroaster. Zoroastrianism began in ancient Iran or Persia and may be little known today, but it left its historical imprint on Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Estimates vary widely, but some claim that as few as 115,000 Zoroastrians remain, a few in Europe, North America and Iran; the vast majority in India, where they are called Parsis. From Bombay, now officially known as Mombai, Fred DeSam Lazaro reports.”

Zoroastrians Observe Sadeh Festival In Iran

Author: Staff Writer

Source: Cultural Heritage News Agency

http://www.chnpress.com/news/?section=2&id=7553

Iran’s Zoroastrian community held the Jashn-e-Sadeh Festival for celebrating the discovery of fire on the 10th of the Iranian month of Bahman (which coincided this year with Jan. 29).

Considered one of the biggest Persian festivities in ancient times, Jashn-e-Sadeh — also known as the day of kindness — is celebrated by Zoroastrians throughout the world.

Sadeh is a mid-winter festival celebrated 50 days before Norouz (the Persian New Year starting on March 21) to honor fire and to defeat darkness and cold.