So spoke Zarathustra, of course… But what exactly do we know about Zoroastrianism, which was the official religion of Persia? Investigation into an essential and little-known part of Iranian culture ... and some details on the situation of religious minorities in Iran.
Minority religions in Iran
Iran, an authoritarian theocracy, paradoxically (and relatively) tolerates minority religions. In the constitution resulting from the Islamic Revolution, contingent positions of deputies are even granted to Christians (2), Jews (1) and Zoroastrians (1).
A very relative freedom of worship, with serious drawbacks, of which here are some illustrations:
- some state functions are closed to non-Muslims.
- the obligations and prohibitions of Islam are imposed on all, without distinction of belief.
- Mass wine is tolerated lip service, but 80 lashes were reserved in 2013 for 4 Protestants who had drunk this wine during a private service.
- a non-Muslim cannot marry a Muslim and if a non-Muslim marries a Muslim she is converted manu militari to Islam.
- the conversion of a Muslim to another religion is punishable by death sentence... Paradoxically, more and more young Muslims, saturated with excessive religiosity, are braving this prohibition.
What exactly is Zoroastrianism?
This monotheistic religion venerates Ahura Mâzda, creator of heaven and earth. The prophet is Zarathustra (Zoroaster among the Greeks). By enacting its 17 gathas (sacred texts) which oppose good to evil, good thought to bad, truth to lie, the latter will have inspired beautiful people!
For example, the famous philosophical poem Thus Spoke Zarathustra of Friedrich Nietzsche, self-baptized "the 5th Gospel". Richard Strauss will be inspired by this work to compose his eponymous symphonic piece that Stanley Kubrick uses in 2001, a space odyssey (yes, the scene where the ape-man discovers the tool).
This religion is also not foreign to certain principles of Freemasonry. It is not for nothing that in the Masonic opera of Mozart, The Magic Flute, the high priest is called ... Zarastro, representing the light and opposed to the Queen of the Night who supports obscurantism. Take the time to read again, see, listen to all this ... we tell you a little more about Zoroastrianism, a little-known religion, still alive in Iran.
Zoroastrianism, therefore, dates back to 1 or 2 millennia BC It was, for centuries, LA official religion of ancient Persia, until 651 when the last Zoroastrian king was assassinated. Islam (s') being imposed on all, the persecutions begin. Some Zoroastrians then migrated to Afghanistan and India and formed the community of Parsis.
Today we count 250 Zoroastrians around the world, including 000 to 35 in Iran. Note that, as a revenge on time, many Iranians exiled following the Islamic Revolution have converted to Zoroastrianism.
And then, in Iran itself, certain Zoroastrian festivals remain very popular in all other religious communities. March 20 or 21, for example, Nowruz (Zoroastrian New Year's Day) is celebrated by everyone in Iran. Muslims then ignore the Arab calendar (lunar), in favor of the Zoroastrian calendar (solar). This has quite annoyed the mullahs for a long time, but they have failed to eradicate this practice which they describe as pagan. In 2010, UNESCO for its part inscribed Nowruz on the list of the cultural heritage of Humanity.
Original practice of this liturgy, the sacred flame worship, sometimes preserved for 1500 years in the fire temples. It is easily visited in Yazd and the surrounding area. Another very special practice (banned since the 1930s in Iran) was to place the bodies of the deceased in a tower of silence (Dakhma). Skinned by the vultures, they thus disappeared without directly defiling either the water, the earth, or the fire (the remaining bones being simply thrown into a well). Today, these towers are gradually falling into ruin (some can be seen around Yazd, isolated on their hills in the desert). The practice continues in India.
Do not miss : fire temples Ateshkadeh (in Yazd) and Chak chak (70 km north of Yazd) and the towers of silence (10 km north of Yazd).
Judaism and Christianity in Iran
The Jewish presence in Persia dates back to the conquest of babylon by Cyrus the great (642th century BC). Persecuted by Zoroastrianism, the Jews welcomed the arrival of Islam in 2000. The following centuries saw a series of persecutions, until the end of the 2007th century when the Jews gained some rights. When Israel was created, many migrated there. Moreover, Moshe Katsav, a native of Yazd, will be president from XNUMX to XNUMX.
Since the Islamic revolution, the life of the Jews has been peppered with harassment. In 2000, in Shiraz, a trial sentenced 13 Jews to prison for espionage (they risked being hanged). They will eventually be released under Western pressure.
The holding of a satirical cartoon competition on the Shoah (2006 then 2015 and 2016), the denialist positions of ex-President Ahmadinejad and the systemic anti-Zionism of Tehran also have reasons to worry this fragile community.
It has also melted like snow in the sun, going from 85 souls in 000 to 1979 today ... Not sure that a plaque inaugurated in Tehran in 26 in homage to the Jewish Iranian soldiers who died in the Iran war -Irak restores the confidence of the Jews in their future on this land ... Trips to Israel are always done on the sly, via a stopover to cover their tracks, and by not affixing the Israeli visa directly to the passport, to avoid traces: did we say freedom?
Do not miss : à Hamedan, the tomb of Esther and Mordechaï.
The first Christian conversions in Persia are credited to St. Thomas. A community that has suffered endless persecution since its constitution.
Today, the 200 Iranian Christians are divided into several communities, half of which are Armenian apostolic church et church of the east (Assyrians and Chaldeans). Not proselytes, they are relatively pampered by the Muslim power.
As for the other churches, things are getting worse, with frequent persecutions that can go as far as prison for fantastic reasons. Because the Muslim authorities are worried about the increase in conversions to Christianity and the emergence of many “house churches” to practice this faith clandestinely with the family. The figure of 450 converts is circulating.
Do not miss : the Armenian monasteries north-west of Tabriz ; Vank Church and the Armenian Quarter in Isfahan
Consult our Iran online guide
Read our Travel to Iran report.