NEW YORK (AP) — Among the many world’s present-day religions, Zoroastrianism, based greater than 3,000 years in the past, is without doubt one of the most historic and traditionally influential. But regardless that its adherents preserve vibrant communities on 4 continents, they acknowledge their numbers are dauntingly small — maybe 125,000 worldwide.
Beginning Friday, about 1,200 attendees from 16 international locations might be assessing their religion’s prospects in the course of the four-day World Zoroastrian Congress in New York Metropolis, the primary one held in the USA since 2000.
The agenda displays a eager consciousness of the challenges dealing with their faith. Prospects for progress are restricted, on condition that Zoroastrians don’t search to transform outsiders and — in lots of instances — don’t contemplate the kids of blended marriages to be members of the religion. But there’s additionally some trigger for optimism.
“Have we ever been in a time like this?” puzzled Arzan Sam Wadia, a Mumbai-born, New York-based architect who’s co-chair of the congress.
“Ought to all of us despair and quit — ‘We will’t do something, let’s simply die peacefully’ — or do we’ve hope for the longer term?” he informed The Related Press.
Right here’s some fundamental details about the religion:
Based greater than 3,000 years in the past, Zoroastrianism is without doubt one of the oldest monotheistic religions nonetheless in existence, predating Christianity and Islam by many centuries. Particulars of its origin are imprecise, nevertheless.
The prophet Zoroaster, also called Zarathustra, is revered because the founding father of the religion, which turned dominant in Persia earlier than Arab Muslims conquered the area within the seventh century.
Cautious of persecution, many Zoroastrians left for locations in western India, notably Mumbai and Gujarat. India’s Zoroastrian inhabitants — generally known as Parsis — is bigger than that of every other nation, although the numbers there are declining whereas they improve in North America, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
At its core, Zoroastrianism emphasizes a unending battle between good and evil — a contest between the faith’s God, Ahura Mazda, and an evil spirit, Ahriman. Believers have the liberty to make good or unhealthy decisions; they had been exhorted by Zoroaster to assume good ideas, say good phrases and do good deeds.
Students say these tenets and different elements of Zoroastrianism had vital affect on different religions, notably Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.
“You’ve these concepts which have basically formed Western society,” stated Jamsheed Choksy, a professor of Central Eurasian Research at Indiana College. “Preventing the great battle, a objective of present to do good, to make the world flourish, to work collectively, to respect and love one another … all that goes again to Zarathustra.”
Conventional temples home a sacred hearth meant to burn perpetually. One other historic customized: raised, round constructions generally known as Towers of Silence, the place lifeless our bodies had been positioned to decompose somewhat than being buried.
The Nowruz vacation, which includes historic Zoroastrian traditions and marks the Persian New 12 months, stays a serious occasion on the Iranian calendar. It’s extensively celebrated, on or round March 21, in different areas that after had been a part of the Persian empire.
For Zoroastrians who left Iran and settled in India or ultimately in additional distant areas, their communities turned famend for producing entrepreneurs and philanthropists. Turning into rich was inspired throughout the religion, however with the proviso that riches must be used to assist others.
Jamsetji Tata, born in India in 1839, turned one of the outstanding industrialists and philanthropists of the nineteenth century, and the Tata Group that he based is without doubt one of the world’s largest multinational conglomerates.
One other flourishing conglomerate, the Wadia Group, was based by Parsi shipbuilder Lovji Wadia in 1736. The corporate constructed scores of battle vessels for Britain; its holdings as we speak embody a style journal, a cricket workforce and producers of textiles and biscuits.
Nonetheless probably the most well-known Parsi of recent occasions was neither an entrepreneur nor industrialist: Freddie Mercury, the legendary lead vocalist of the rock band Queen, was born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946 to folks from Gujarat who had been dwelling in Zanzibar.
The potential for additional shrinkage of the worldwide Zoroastrian group might be very a lot on the minds of attendees on the New York congress.
A number of classes will deal with Zoroastrians of their 20s and 30s. In describing the gathering, organizers promised that members will come away “reassured that the future of the religion is safe within the fingers of passionate and visionary younger Zoroastrians.”
Different matters on the agenda embody entrepreneurship, interfaith collaboration and the position of girls.
Wadia, the congress’ co-chair, who isn’t associated to the household behind the Wadia Group, has main roles in two separate initiatives geared toward strengthening the faith’s prospects.
One is a worldwide survey being carried out by SOAS College of London that goals to make clear components which can be selling or inhibiting Zoroastrianism’s progress and vitality.
Wadia is also program director of Zoroastrian Return To Roots, which organizes journeys to India for younger Zoroastrians who need to be taught extra about their faith’s historical past and tradition.
Wadia is satisfied the religion will survive, however maybe whereas present process main adjustments. In North America, for instance, he believes that adherence to particular cultural traditions would possibly diminish, at the same time as Zoroastrians preserve a fundamental set of religious pointers.
SOAS College’s Almut Hintze, a professor of Zoroastrianism, has described the worldwide group as “microscopically small” and worries concerning the decline of Parsis in India.
“Nonetheless, Zoroastrians are doing properly within the international diaspora,” she stated by way of e-mail. “It may properly be that numbers are going to stabilise, though secularisation and the wedding legal guidelines pose threats.”
Choksy, the Indiana College professor, sees North America as probably the most promising area for progress. He estimates that the USA and Canada are actually dwelling to greater than 30,000 Zoroastrians, larger than the newest determine for Iran.
“North America is the place there’s hope,” Choksy stated. “It’s partly because of immigration, but additionally the communities have extra youngsters, they really feel extra secure. It’s the intense mild.”
Related Press faith protection receives help by means of the AP’s collaboration with The Dialog US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely chargeable for this content material.