Dr. Ali A. Jafarey
Indo-Iranians or to define them more specifically the
Afghans, Indians, Iranians, Pakistanis, and Tajiks have been, more or less, familiar with
the Western culture for generations. The West is not a new phenomenon. Among these,
Zoroastrians of India, Iran, and Pakistan have been in the forefront. They are much more
familiar, even to the level of being called as to have westernized.
During the last two decades, many Iranian Zoroastrians and
Parsis have come to settle in Western countries, particularly North America and Great
Britain. People in smaller numbers have settled in France, Germany, Sweden, and few other
West European countries in the Northern Hemisphere, and Australia and New Zealand in the
Southern Hemisphere. Some of them have come to improve their economical and social
condition. Others have been forced out of the homeland because of unfavorable political
Those who have settled in large European and North American
cities have gathered together and established Zoroastrian associations and still more,
because of philanthropic assistance, have their places of worship and gatherings. They
regularly perform their religious ceremonies and celebrate their festivals.
Their general conditions in establishing themselves in
private business and good employment have been more than satisfactory. Iranians are fairly
accustomed to cold and freezing weather, but for Parsis the sub-zeros temperatures of
northern part of North America and Europe were tough to bear in the beginning. However,
both Iranians and Parsis have now acclimatized. In general, they are all doing well.
Although far away from their homelands, they are leading a happy productive good living.
Yet there seems to be something lacking, something wanting,
something missing in many families. Is it because they cannot meet each other the easy way
they used to in their hometowns? Is it because sprawling cities make it difficult to
closely communicate with one another? Is it because some do not have their relatives in
the same towns the way they had them at home? Are they missing their old friends, many of
whom have also migrated but not settled in the same cities they have? Are they feeling
homesick and isolated? Yes to all the questions, but these are not so acute as to make one
feel the way many do.
Then what is the reason? The answer is simple: Western
culture. Although westernized in their talks and walks in India and Iran, culturally
Parsis are Indians and Iranian Zoroastrians are deeply Iranians. This, to their surprise,
they have discovered here in the midst of Western culture. Their westernization at home
was voluntary mixing, but here it almost amounts to an immersion in it. At home they were
westernized Iranians and Indians who were somewhat "above" their common
compatriots. Here, whether they like it or not, they are Asians and not fully incorporated
by the host nations. Above all, Western culture has changed their family life. The
close-knit family in which the elders had a special say and play is disintegrating.
Parents are "losing" their dear ones.
Children brought up and born here are
"Westerners." They go to Western culture schools. They enjoy the freedoms the
Western society provides - freedoms which are taboos in Iran, India, and Pakistan. They
live their lives more with their non-Indo-Iranian friends than their parents and other
family members. They watch Western TV. They prefer fast food. They talk in English or the
European language in the country they reside. They hardly know Persian and Gujarati. And
they hardly sit and talk with their elders. The family stands split over Indo-Iranian
culture versus Western culture.
The clear majority of the friends of the Zoroastrian
children are non-Zoroastrians. These could be and would be boy and girl friends of some of
them. This brings them to know more about non-Zoroastrian religions, particularly
Christianity. And Christianity is a very active and attractive missionary religion. With
the amount of knowledge the children have about Zoroastrianism, this could prove
dangerous. Friendship with non-Zoroastrians could also end in intermarriages.
Traditionalist Zoroastrians, almost all Parsis or those Iranians brought up in a Parsi
environment condemn intermarriage. Some even excommunicate the children marrying outside.
Iranians show more leniency, adaptability, and adaptability. Yet many Iranians are not
quite happy if their child marries outside.
There is one more reason. The apathy towards religion is
growing almost in an epidemic proportion among the youth in general all over the world,
particularly the Western countries. Among other factors, modern science versus ancient
religion is a major reason. Legends, stories, history, social taboos, outdated customs,
and forcing obligations are some of the causes. This again has distanced the youth from
their "religiosity" expressed and practiced by the parents.
Should we go through the above statement again and think
clearly and without any prejudice, we will see that the core of the unrest is the family
breakup between the elders and their children, and the indifference shown by the children
towards religious beliefs and practices of their elders. What is the solution? Experience
has shown that force, deprivation, disinheritance and excommunication do not work. It
either ends up in losing the child or compromising and reconciling after some time. The
real losers are the elders. For them the problem remains unsolved. If this is the case for
the first generation immigrants, what will be the condition two or more generations later?
More alienation from the Religion and ancestral culture.
Can the Good Religion solve the problem? Let us see:
Zarathushtra founded his divine doctrine based on practical Primal Principles of Life. A
perusal of the Gathas, the only words of Zarathushtra, will make it clear that the Good
Religion is for all times and all climes. It is universal in every aspect of its doctrine.
The Good Religion is for all times because the Gathas guide
one to an ever-renovating progressive life that promotes human society and the natural
environment to increasing happiness and prosperity in mind and body through up-to-date
knowledge, freedom of choice, right discretion, well-thought words, and constructive
actions. Progress of science is proving the Gathic Principles of Life. The Gathas are not
the out-dated. They are all along the present and surely the future.
The Good Religion is for all climes because the Gathas are
inspiring words aimed at converting all the living people, even the wicked (Song 1.5, Song
7.3 -- Yasna 28.5, 31.3). The later Avesta confirms this. The FarvardinYasht speaks of
spreading the Good Religion all over the seven continents (13.94). The Yasna quotes
Zarathushtra saying: "Indeed I, who am Zarathushtra, shall cause the heads of the
houses, settlements, districts, and countries to follow this religion, which is Divine and
Zarathushtrian, in their thoughts, words, and deeds" (Yasna 8.7). The Vendidad
relates that "Zarathushtra asked Ahura Mazda . . . Should I guide righteous men,
should I guide righteous women, should I guide the irreligious evil-worshipping sinners
among people . . . ? Ahura Mazda said, "You should guide, O Righteous
Zarathushtra" (Vendidad 19.26).
Even the late Persian prayers, mostly recited by Parsis,
tell us the same. A piece attached to the Khorshid and other Niyayesh prays: "The
knowledge, extent, and fame of the rules of the Good Religion be wide-spread in the seven
continents of the earth! So may it be!" Din-no-Kalmo states that: "Zarathushtra
brought this Good Religion, the just, the upright, which Lord God sent for the creation
(all mankind)." Urvan-no-Kalmo, another prayer wishes: "May the immaculate glory
of the Mazdayasna Good Religion be wide-spread in the seven continents. May this wish be
This means that the Good Religion can and must thrive in
the Western world. Yet the Zoroastrian immigrants have not been able to adjust themselves
to certain customs here. Novruz, the Gahanbars, other monthly festivals such as
Farvardegan, Ardibeheshtegan, Initiation (Sadreh-pooshi/Navjote), wedding, memorials, and
funerals ceremonies are regularly held. Dar-e-Mehrs are open for individual and private
prayers. But the indifferent children, especially those in high schools, colleges, and
universities do not show the interest their elders want them to take. In Iran, the youth
is very much involved in religious and social activities. Sazman-e Farvahar, the Zartoshti
Youth Organization in Tehran, is more active than the local anjoman or the Mobeds Council.
There may be more than one reason for the indifference. The
child who spends most of his/her time in close contact with Western culture is not used to
ceremonies in which he/she would silently sit and respectfully listen for an hour or more
to prayers recited in a language he/she does not understand at all. His/her
non-Zoroastrian friends might have said that their services are held in English. He/she
wishes that his/her rituals were also understandable and enjoyable like theirs. Christmas,
Halloween, and Easter give a young person more fun. He/she likes, even loves it but the
parents do not. The trouble lies here, and it should be solved, otherwise the gap would
continue to widen. The next two generations could be quite strangers to the ancestral
culture, and the religion.
With universality and modernity of the Good Religion of
Zarathushtra in mind, and with the value and importance of the religious and social
traditions in view, there should be a way for the parents to coolly understand the
environment they and their children are living. This could be better understood through a
friendly, compromising dialogue between the parents and the children. It would be even
better for the parents and children in an association or neighboring associations to meet
together and discuss the whole issue with an open mind. It should include religious
education, keeping alive the cultural heritage, helping non-Zoroastrian Western friends to
understand what Zoroastrianism means and what it has contributed to the world
civilization, intermarriage and the integration of spouses within the Zoroastrian fold,
conversion/acceptance, and other outstanding problems. Involving the younger generation,
brought up here, in increasing religio-social activities would contribute to the cause.
Educational books and videos for the child and the young should both be authentic and
attractive. Modifying ceremonies without the loss of essentials to make them fully
intelligible to the younger generation will prove fruitful. Shelving the outstanding
unsolved problems just because of the fear of an uproar by some is not the answer. Uproar
may silence many but not for long. And uproar which repeats itself over and again loses in
effect. And it alienates the youth.
This brings us to uproars in meetings, in the press, and on
the Internet. The uproars in meetings are confined to the relevant circles, mostly among
the elders who have the helms of Zoroastrian organizations in hand. The uproar in the
press is again confined to the Parsis in India. The Parsi press has a very limited
circulation in the West. Both do not involve the youth.
The uproar on the Internet is what the youth gets. All of
us are realizing more than ever that the Internet is rapidly becoming a part of life for
the young generation. It can be a highly effective medium of religious education. But it
has been observed that anything which goes against the traditionalist views, is vigorously
attacked. The attacks are not sober in tone. They are generally insulting and personal.
This type of aggressive policy would not attract the youth. And the Internet offers
thousands of alternatives to a person who is put off by one or two, and this includes
Lastly let us bear in mind that Western culture is a
continuation of the culture promoted and spread throughout the then civilized world by
Zoroastrian Achamenians. It does have its flaws, some serious ones. Whatever the case,
with modern media of communications, it is spreading all over the world. There is no
escape. It will catch up sooner or a little later.
There are some Zoroastrian organizations in the West, which
have begun with educational classes for the young. The youth too have their activities in
some places. A good step, but not enough. What about other outstanding problems?
Therefore, why not be brave enough to face the problems and
at the same time, be friendly enough to work together to solve them. We can then relax to
see the youth carry the future with confidence. We have nothing to fear. We have the
Gathas as our Guide. Let us help our youth to contribute to Western culture all that is
good in the Indo-Iranian culture. It may remove many of its flaws and have it enriched.
With these few words said both in English and Persian, I
hope I have provoked some thoughts -- Good Thoughts that would translate into Good Words
and Good Deeds needed to promote and perpetuate the Good Religion of Zarathushtra in the
West, which is but a part of the seven continents.
May the Good Religion thrive here and every where! May the
Indo-Iranian culture enrich Western culture as it has done in the past!
Idha apam vijasaiti vanghvi daena
mazdayasnish vispaish avi karshvan yaish hapta.
Henceforth the Good Mazdayasni Religion will
spread all over the seven continents!