Back Zoroastrian Renaissance in Iran by Khosro Pardis

The following post is the opinion of the author and doesn't necessarily have a bearing on the stance of the Circle of Mithras

European Centre for Zoroastrian Studies
Cultural, Secular and Free-Thinking Association

Letter to my Parsis Friends
On Current Zoroastrian Renaissance in Iran

by Dr. Khosro Khazai Pardis
November 2011

1-Two Arab invasions
and the lessons we never learned:

In 1979, for the second time Iran was invaded by the Arab culture called Islam. The first time was 1400 years ago. At that time your far away parents refusing to submit to their laws had to leave their mother land, Iran , and settled down in India . Fourteen centuries later, that is today, millions of Iranians, experiencing strangely the same fate, had to escape their country, Iran , and seeking refuge in the West.

When your ancestors left Iran , they left with a strong sense of identity rooted in Zoroastrianism, even though declining at that time. That is why, after 1400 years, not only you bear Persian names, not only you preserved the Zoroastrian culture but you still consider Iran as a sacred land. No words, even though they come from the depth of our heart, are strong enough to express our gratitude to you. Thank you for all your sacrifices you endured during this long period to preserve this shining culture and brilliant Existential Philosophy.

Today the Iranians who are leaving Iran , (up to now over five million), they leave their country with a shattered identity and a broken culture rooted in nothing, in a frightening emptiness. It is not hard to bet that the third generation of Iranians in the west will not even recall where Iran is.

During this long period that separates these two catastrophic invasions, no lessons had been learned. Nobody, except perhaps the great Ferdowsi, or some other prestigious poet-philosophers, tried seriously to put their finger on the main problem that was the persistence of the colonial Arab culture (Islam) in Iran . The strict dichotomy between the Persian culture, based on Zoroastrianism and Arab culture based on Islam, had created a nation full of confusion and contradictions, in permanent war with itself. This confusion has reversed all the values that had made the basis of humanistic and progressive Zoroastrian culture of the Gathas. That is how freedom was confused with repression, happiness with suffering, justice with injustice, righteousness with deception, wisdom with superstition and light with darkness.

In this context, the unjust discrimination between men and women, the severe repression of all kinds of thoughts not fitting within Islam, attempt to destroy the Persian identity, its culture and history, forbidding any kind of pleasure in life including smiling or laughing, forbidding music, dance, songs and any kind of enjoyment were introduced. The free Persian women who before Islam could become, through the 1200 years of Zoroastrian Persian history, queens, ministers, leaders, governors and considered strictly equal with men in every walk of life were enveloped from head to toe in a black long shroud, exactly the same as the Arab women of 1400 years ago.

Ibn Khaloun, the historian of 14th century reports that during the Moslem Arab invasion of Iran, in 7th century, Omar the second Caliph of Islam had ordered to burn all the Zoroastrian books; and the daily huge fire could warm up for six months the water of all the reservoirs of public bath in Persia! The same was happened in the beginning of the second Arab cultural invasion in 1979 where the libraries set in fire and people had to hide books such as The Book of Kings of Ferdowsi, the books of Omar Khayam, Hafez, Roumi etc.

In this age of darkness, some of us remembered the golden Zarathustra's words: to fight the darkness dont draw your sword, light a candle. So, we went to find the light able to fight this deep darkness.

2- In search of light and a direction for action

In the first years of the Islamic revolution, we- that means a group of academics and activists from all horizons scattered in the world - were lost and confused. We did not know what direction to give to our struggle. Very soon we understood that a struggle with Islamic republic could neither be political, nor military and nor economic. With regard to the archaic and rigid religious nature of this regime, our fight could only be cultural. By culture we meant the radical transformation of mind and soul of the people. We had to offer them a new point of view towards life and existence. The time was ripe for this.

As from the beginning of this revolution, the Iranians started more and more, to realize for the first time, after 1400 years, what the nature of real Islam was and how it could function concretely in everyday real life. With astonishment, day after day, people of Iran began to understand the difference between the real concrete Islam and the one that those charlatans under the name of islamologues some journalists and so called intellectuals had tried, with their cheap advice to make them believe.

More and more, we found out with satisfaction that our most precious ally on this road was no one else than Khomeiny himself ! Unwantedly he was trying hard to show a very dirty face of Islam not only to the Iranians but also to the whole world ! After all, wasn't he considered the most knowledgeable person in Islamic laws, an Imam?

For the first time we did not need, by means of arguments and historical evidences to persuade the Iranians that Islam is the source of all the problems of Iran . They could see it and live it in every day life for themselves. They could now see more and more clearly how this religion had distorted and reversed all the Persian values. During the first ten years of the Islamic revolution, a huge number of knowledgeable and very critical books and articles on Islam were written by Iranians spread out around the world. Never during the past 1400 years and nowhere in Islamic world had we seen so many writings dissecting Islam and demonstrating its archaic precepts, and all in Persian language.

The conclusion was always the same: Islam is an Arab culture born in the 7th century in the deserts of Saudi Arabia . It was made to fit their tribal way of life. But unfortunately through the historical circumstances it was imposed by force to other nations very different to them such as Iran . All the evidences show that the Iranians have never been at ease with this culture that took the name of religion. They could never understand it, neither its language (Arabic) nor its rules and commandments that were in total contradiction with their original culture the Existential Philosophy of Zarathustra.

3- A trip deep into 4000 years of history

As from the beginning, we knew that it is the History and the Turning of Time that has given to our generation this mission, the mission to liberate Iran from 1400 years of humiliating Arab cultural colonialism. Our parents or our grand parents had never known or experienced the situation we are experiencing today. They had not the consciousness that Islam was not a religion in Iran but a cultural colonialism. The Islamic revolution in Iran clearly proved it to us.

Therefore, the first thing we had to do was the reconstruction of the Iranians shattered culture and broken identity and to give them life, energy and force. For this we had to go with serenity and open eyes deep into the ashes of 4000 years of Iranian history and bring up to our century the humanistic and progressive values of that culture. These values, needed first to be cleaned from the dust of history and if needed to be adapted to our century. Then they should be put together and united solidly as a powerful ideology.

My dear friends please do not be frightened from the word ideology. If in 1979 we were defeated by the Arab ideology namely Islam, it was because the values of our culture were scattered. The whole Persian literature and poetry since 4000 years ago, started with the Gathas of Zarathustra up to our time are filled with the values such as happiness, joyful life, respecting life not only of human beings but also of animals and plants, equality between men and women, righteousness, love, wine, music, dance, festivities ...etc.. They were aspects of Persian culture but they were not structured in form of ideology. They were the way of life, a point of view towards the existence. That is why these scattered values could not resist to the Arab culture namely Islam structured as an ideology. The core of Arab ideology was simple: The whole world must become Moslem. Thus, the war with those who refuse to submit, the infidels, are unavoidable. If you kill a non Moslem you can posses all his belongings and if you are killed by him you go straight to Allah's paradise enjoying eternally with 70 hurries.

Believing firm in this short, simple but efficient premise was the basis for a solid ideology that motivated the Tribal Moslem Arabs to give their lives and take with good conscience others lives to implement their believes. It was how they could defeat the powerful Persian Sassanid Empire. The Empire that was spread out from Chinese border to Egypt , covering India and the whole Central Asia, the whole Middle and Near East . The Empire that had defeated nine times the mighty Roma and had brought three of its emperors with thousands of prisoners to Iran . So, how the small tribal Arab army of more or less forty thousand persons with rusty swords and bare feet could defeat in 7th century not only Sassanid Empire but also conquer Spain, the Byzantine Empire and the south of France ? Because none of these powers started with the Sassanids, had no knowledge and no notion of a religious ideological war. Their armies were trained for conquest, fighting with real and concrete armies not with a belief or ideology. Even the Christians did not have much the experience of this kind of wars before 7th century. Their big crusade wars started as from 9th century.

I spent more than five years researching this subject to understand this phenomenon. I analysed carefully all the historical reasons, all the military forces in presence, even I considered miracle as the mullahs are used to say. But I could not find any other reason than a simple but solid ideology in which Moslems believed very firmly and for which they were ready to give their lives or take the life of another human being. Today, it is also with this ideology that they advance in Western countries.

An ideology is an instrument of struggle, specifically in a cultural struggle. It is a necessary weapon in the case of struggle between two different understandings of life and existence.

At this point of history, the most important thing for any Iranian was the reconstruction of his or her broken identity. This reconstruction was not an easy task. The horrible collision of Islam with Zoroastrianism had created through the centuries a bi-headed culture in which the Iranians had got used to live in daily contradictions, trying to conciliate archaism with modernism. This fact had cut the inner world of every Iranian man and woman in two opposite pieces, one fighting with the other. They became persons without identity: Neither Moslem nor Zoroastrian.

The first thing we had to do was to get in touch with the best Iranian brains scattered around the world and inviting them to collaborate. Those who understood the sense and the nature of our cultural struggle and the justness of our ideas answered very quickly and made us known their readiness for all collaboration.
4-Discovery of the most powerful instrument of liberation:
The Gathas of Zarathoustra

In the depth of the Iranian history and culture, where we could not go farther, we found a book that was shining like the sun for 4000 years but we had not been able to see it! How could we? Living for 1400 years in darkness, with a tragically confused mind, had made us all blind.

This book was the Gathas of Zarathustra. The very words that Zarathustra had pronounced 3700 years ago in order to express the gist of his Existential Philosophy. This could become the most powerful instrument for liberation of Iran ! As this could become the very basis of our ideology in construction.

A cultural battle is the battle of symbols. In this battle the symbols function as warplanes, tanks and guns. And the Gathas could become our atomic bomb in this battle! It means that the Gathas are and will be the most powerful symbol (weapon) in our hands. It was for these reason that Islamic regime confiscated several big boxes of Gathas in Persian that we had sent to Iran . In this context we had to put the entire Gathas in Persian on the internet ( In one single night our sites counter showed 12000 downloads! It was in 2005. But up to now more than one million persons have already download them.

You, our Dear Parsi friends, and you our Dear Iranian Zoroastrian countrymen, for thousands of years you had learned by heart the words of these sacred songs, transmitting them, with a lot of care, from one generation to another. Even though for 2000 years you had forgotten its language, you had the wisdom to create a sophisticated writing system to preserve at least the phonetics of these seventeen sacred songs. Finally you brought them with unimaginable sacrifices to the 18th century where their language was deciphered.

It is not a secret to say that before the Islamic revolution, 99% of the Iranians had never heard even the name of the Gathas! But today the Gathas are the best seller!

We noticed very soon that many translations of the Gathas, made particularly by some westerners, were real fields of ruin made in the context of linguistic studies, forgetting often their living spiritual massages. These translations had no soul, no life, and no beauty. However, Dr. Jafarey in the United States and Dr Hossein Vahidi in Iran had already made a very remarkable work on the Gathas, but I felt this sacred book still needed to get closer to the universally oriented Zarathustra's thought. For these reasons I had to spend more than five years of restless working to translate the Gathas from the original Zarathustra's Aryan Gathic language to modern Persian. I tried to give more freshness to the texts avoiding old fashioned words, or words foreign to Zarathustra's doctrine, rendering his message purer, poetic and accessible to a greater public.

This Persian version was published in 2005, then in 2006 it was translated and published in English, and this years ( 2011) the biggest French publisher Albin Michel published its translation in French ( with 120 pages of added historical data and commentaries) in a very large number of copies and a very good worldwide distribution. The Italian and Dutch translations are currently on the way.

The reasons the Gathas became so popular and the most powerful instrument in the Renaissance of Zoroastrian culture in Iran are the following:
The Gathas are an Existential Philosophy (please not to confuse it with the Greek speculative philosophy), they are a world view; they are a way of life based on free choice of everyone. Their values are beyond time and space, therefore eternal. The aim of life in the Gathas is to set up a happy and joyful life on this earth and to continue it in the spiritual world, in the consciousness. This happiness must include also animals and plants. And moreover the happiness belongs to those who make others happy.

As from the beginning, the Gathas show how a happy, serene and progressive society can be built. In the Gathas there are neither orders, nor commandments. There are no do this or not do that, nor eat this or do not eat that, no wear this cloth or do not wear that cloth etc. In the Gathas the greatest friend of human beings is the righteousness and his worse enemy is lies and deception.

There are neither sins nor retributions; but there are actions and reactions. Good actions result good reactions and vice versa. Good, in the Gathas, are the forces that help to set up a happy life, and bad are the forces that prevent to reach that happy life. The judgment between good and bad is made by wisdom. Wisdom is born in and with every human being and has nothing to do with official diplomas or titles. During 1400 years of darkness the wisdom in the Iranians has been stifled and was prevented to grow.

Unlike Semitic prophets who related themselves to a tribe or a specific people, in the Gathas, Zarathustra never says he is an Aryan or an Iranian or related himself to a particular people or tribe. The country he speaks of is all the countries in the world, the people he speaks of are all the people on this earth and the life he speaks of is all the lives, humans, animals and plants.

Thus, Zarathustra's culture is a universal culture, belongs to every human being who seeks a happy and wisdom oriented life on this earth. As a matter of fact, there are millions and millions of Zoroastrians in this world who are unaware they are Zoroastrians! Being a Zoroastrian is nothing else but a way of thinking, speaking and acting, all based on righteousness, joyfulness and wisdom.

A few months ago during a long live interview by the most important cultural French Radio France Culture about the Gathas, the presenter asked me with astonishment, it is hard to believe that the Gathas have were conceived 3700 years ago, so they seem modern! I told him yes you are right! In 4000 years they will also seem so modern, because they reflect the deepest aspirations of every human being on this earth no matter where they live and when they had lived. He then said with regret how come we didn't know this book before!

Yes! which philosophy, which religion, which culture in the world , have spoken as beautifully, as intelligently, as positively, as humanistic as Zarathustra in the Gathas.

Zarathustra's God Ahura Mazda, has created righteousness so human beings can build on its basis a happy society. He has created freedom of choice so that people can choose freely their own way of life, He has created serenity so that people can lead a serene life, He has created good thought in order to guide women and men towards the bright part of existence, He has created self dominance in order to prevent people from falling into mistakes, He has created evolution so that people can evolve and purify their consciousness towards perfection. And finally He has created immortality so that the purified consciousness which has reached the perfection can live happy forever.

5- The Gathic Society,
And the way its political system function

In a Gathic society that will be the foundation of Iranian culture, the largest atmosphere for any kind of political, economical, social and artistic activities is guaranteed. It is the most natural, as the freedom of thought is and will be the foundation of the Zoroastrian Gathic culture.

A Gathic society will be a free thinking society; it will recognize and accept all the ideas and political orientations. The equality between men and women will be the foundation of such society as it has always been the foundation of Zoroastrian culture; in this society no one will be a second rate citizen and everyone, whatever his or her religion, culture or ethnicity can and should take part in social life and activities, and endeavour for the happiness of others.

A society can not be happy if the animals are not happy and the plants are not flourished. It is the duty of every person to assure the animals and plants well being and happiness. Every page of Zoroastrian history and culture shows Zarathustra as the first environmentalist in the world. The protection of environment is basic in a Gathic society.

The political system will be based on the free choice of people. However the form of this political system, a kingdom or a republic, is not important. What is important is the nature of the political system that should be based on free elections, and the decisions should be made by elected representatives. The most important characteristic of an elected person is his or her righteousness and honesty. On this last point there is no concession.

A country like Iran , with several ethnics, can easily be kept together by a strong common culture, a culture inherited from its long history. The culture that has given birth to the first decree of human rights, the culture that its first king, Cyrus the Great, was so praised by Jewish prophets that he was entered into Bible as Saviour, the culture that through out its very long history and despite the vastness of its universal empire including almost all the civilised world, never imposed its religion or its way of thinking to anyone. This culture has enough power to defend the cohesion of the country.

6-Zarathustra and the Great Return

Dear Parsi and Zoroastrian Friends
You have preserved the Gathas for thousands
of years we will expand them.

Ever since the Islamic revolution in 1979, and the atmosphere of unprecedented terror and restrictions, gave the consciousness to the Iranians of what they have lost and what they got instead. What they had lost was immensely costly. As a matter of fact they lost their brilliant culture, their history, their identity, their pride and respect. Even in their wildest nightmare they could never see such a picture. Therefore they started to hate Islam, and longed to bring back their authentic ancestral culture that had given so much glory and pride to their history. So they recall Zarathustra, the Great Zarathustra.

Since 20 years, several inquiries in Iran show over 12 million people are calling themselves Zoroastrians! For this reason the Islamic regime is frightened. In un unprecedented way, the regime exercises a very hard pressure on Zoroastrian Centers in Iran to dissuade them from any contact with non Zoroastrians. If they make such contacts, the sanctions are very heavy, such as imprisonment and cutting off their budget.

It was in this context of fear that on 9 September 2008, the regime's parliament approved a bill with 196 votes in favour and 7 against that would punish apostasy with the death penalty. In fact it was the legalisation of the Islamic law of the apostasy that exists in Sharia.

Due to these harsh restrictions and almost impossibility to be initiated in Iran , many are coming with a lot of difficulties of visa and travel cost to our Centre in Brussels to pass the initiation of Sedreh Poushi or Navjote. Before they start their trip we keep telling them that Zoroastrian initiation starts in their heart and in their mind, and the ceremony is nothing else but a formality. We keep telling them that they are already a Zoroastrian as the flame has started to burn in their heart. But many of them want to pass through the initiation ceremony. I give you here an example among many others of this fire in heart:

We had a couple with their daughter who came from Iran with a lot of trouble. They had to wait one month to get their visa with all humiliating administrative difficulties. They took their plane at 4 o'clock in the morning at Tehran airport. They had to change their plane in Vienna and arrived finally at 4 PM. in Brussels and came to our Centre. They were extremely tired and exhausted. We ordered some food and refreshment for them. After passing the ceremony that took about one hour, I suggested to take them to see the beautiful Brussels Grand Place where our Centre is located and drink something. The husband said, we have no time because we should go back to airport and take our plane back to Vienna and then to Tehran . With a lot of surprise I told them you are so tired and we have prepared somewhere for you to sleep. The husband answered but I should be at my work tomorrow in Tehran ! And they left.

Just imagine the power of the burning flame inside them. They went through all these troubles only for one hour of initiation. We have people who weep from the beginning of the ceremony to the end. We have many people who are married since many years in Islamic way, but come to our Centre to remarry with Zoroastrian ritual. All these initiations are the sacred moments of immense emotional states of rebirth, of a new identity. They are finally able to choose by themselves freely and with full knowledge their way of seeing the world and moving through life and existence.

Among the huge number who are coming on the daily basis to our centre for the initiation ceremony the big majority are the Iranians who live in different European countries. The reason is that our Centre for the last 25 years has been the only one in Europe that does these ceremonies. Last year we had to make several trips to Turkey or other neighbouring countries to initiate to Zoroastrianism the Iranians who come for a few days in those countries.

During these trips we were told that around 12000 young Iranians are ready at any time to come to Turkey to have the initiation. We contacted the office of Turkish prime minister to have the authorization for such a big ceremony, but it was refused with polite pretexts. Of course their relationship, commercially speaking, with Islamic regime is very good. The reason we had chosen Turkey was that the Iranians do not need a visa for that country and the trip is relatively cheap. We went to Armenia , where they welcomed us very well, but we noticed they were lacking the necessary structures or accommodation for several thousand people at the same time. Now we are investigating the possibility of such action somewhere in India .

I am convinced and without a shadow of a doubt that the day when political structure of Islamic regime fall apart, the absolute majority of Iranians will return to their ancestor's Zoroastrianism based on the Gathas. These days are not very far away.

Dr. Khosro Khazai Pardis

Letter to my Parsi Friends
On Current Zoroastrian Renaissance in Iran
by Dr. Khosro Khazai Pardis
November 2011