Dear fellow Zarathushtis,
[ cc: Vada Dasturjis, Ervad Sahebs, Bombay Parsee Punchayat (BPP), Zoroastrian Studies, Religious Anjumans, Priestly Madrassas, Traditional Zoroastrian Home page moderators, TMYZ officials, prominent Zarathushtis, etc ]
the misleading advertisement from ARZ - Association of 'Revival' of Zoroastrianism continue in the Jame.
In their latest advert, ARZ is mixing the race issue with conversion. Why?
Perhaps they are misled, or they wish to mislead the other members of the community by making the devout Zoroastrians feel guilty of not accepting people of other ethnicities and races into the religion.
How can we do so, the devout Zoroastrians will be saying to themselves, when our religion clearly forbids inter-marriage and 'conversion', and any way, shape or form.
Racism means trying to harm another race or ethnic group. This is practised by extreme people like the KKK (Ku Klux Clan) where they openly state that they are against the "Jews, Africans and Catholics". We Zoroastrians have no such ill-feelings for other races and communities. In fact, Zoroastrian charities have bettered other communities, even as far as their religious places of worship go.
So no, if Zoroastrians want to preserve their race by marrying within the community only, are not racists.
In conclusion, we practise "race consciousness" and "race preservation" - and certainly not racism!
It is wrong of ARZ to resort to such scare-mongering and mis-representation of facts.
Dear readers, If you wish to congratulate or thank Mrs Mistry for her wonderful expose, you may do so by writing to us, or to her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
(encl. the write-up from Mrs. Pervin Mistry below)
In last Sunday's issue of Jam-e Jamshed Weekly (18-2-2007), the advertisement given by A"R"Z, under the standard title: Zoroastrianism is for all Mankind, reads: "Our Prophet was NOT a racist".
A"R"Z (read the "R" as "Ruination") states very clearly (reference Mumbai Mirror, 8-2-2007) that the Association is against conversion and admitting converts into their proposed cosmopolitan Agiary near Malad. Strangely, they will, however, permit entry to all juddin spouses! The standard title "Zoroastrianism is for all Mankind" demonstrates that A"R"Z actively supports and promotes conversion! Obviously there is some confusion in the minds of the Wadia brothers who have set up the A"R"Z and dictate its agenda. They are not sure whether they accept conversion or are against it!
This is the second week in a row when the mindless twisting of the sacred scriptures is not publicized by the A"R"Z. For this, the community is appreciative of its religious feelings being spared from weekly heresies aired in the Jam-e. So far the innumerable scriptural misquotations and lessons in history have been dealt with and now it is time to deal with the socio-cultural issue of what is "racism".
1) Racism and racists: We are not just an ethnic group . We are a religious group. As Parsi-Irani-Zarthushtis we have never considered our identity to be "ethnic" alone. In Greek, ethnos means "nation" and "ethnic" means pertaining to a group of people having a common national and cultural bond. The Parsi-Irani-Zarthushtis are a distinct religious group and we care to preserve our distinct religious identity. Our ancestors did not give up their lives and their native homeland of Iran in order to preserve only their "ethnic" or socio-cultural identity. They would have continued to live in Iran and by converting to Islam, they would have been able to preserve their ethnic/national identity, but they would have surely lost their religious identity as well as the remarkable unbroken lineage sustained through the bloodline from Gayomard. Subsequently the group calling itself the Parsi-Irani-Zarthushtis would have ceased to exist.
Our Hindu brethren have common cultural and religious traditions such as the worship of fire and rules of purity as described in the Book of Manu; and they, too, belong to the ethnic Aryans. If the Hindus had converted us or we had not followed the "closed-door" policy in India then too we would have ceased to exist as a religious community in India . What identifies us as a distinct group is that we are the followers of a Revealed Religion and we fear for the loss of our religious identity if we assimilate with other ethnic groups through conversion and intermarriages. It is indisputable that it was to preserve the RELIGION and not the "ethnic identity" that we arrived at the shores of India and established our atash-kadehs and dokhmas; preserved our rituals; practised "boonak-pasbani". Survival is distinct from racism or discrimination. It is called "self-preservation"!
What distinguishes our religion from other religions are the fundamental spiritual disciplines of a) wearing sudreh-kusti; b) practising dokhme-nashini; c) kriya-kaam which includes not just kusti-padyab, jashan, navjote, obsequies, gahambars, etc. but also the higher rituals of Vendidad, Yasna, Nirang-e Din; d) recitation of the unique manthravani based on "staot yasna"; e) observing the rules of purity or ashoi; f) perpetually preserving the worship and sacredness of fire. g) Above all, as a religious group, we practise the most important spiritual discipline which is " boonak pasbani" and it is to practise this religious mandate that we are religiously enjoined to abstain from proselytism and interfaith marriage. The injunction in the Vendidad, Husparam Nask, Dinkard, Gathas, Chithrem Buyat, Patet and other scriptures against proselytism and interfaith marriage is mandatory for a Zarthushti to obey. These scripturally binding disciplines are our sacred covenants with Ahura Mazda and Asho Zarathushtra which we have maintained through countless millennia and for which we left Iran and have survived miraculously in spite of several holocausts and inhumane persecutions, mostly in Iran and to a much lesser degree in India as well. The shifting of our Iranshah for His protection from being defiled through exposure to juddins and Kisseh Variav are examples.
History proves that Zarthushti groups who left Iran to preserve their religious identity perished through intermarriage and proselytism except for the group which came to India and practised "boonak-pasbani". We, too, could have assimilated with the Hindus if it was only the "ethnic identity" we wanted to preserve; or, we could have continued to live in Iran, converted to Islam and still remained ethnically, racially, the same. We left Iran to preserve our religious identity and religion. Let us never forget the cardinal reason for leaving Iran so we may continue to survive as Zarthushtis! To Zarthushtis, what is more important than life itself is religion and religious identity, and please make no mistake about this religious zeal. We have the clarity of vision and complete security in the scriptural, religious beliefs and identity.
From the above reasoning it will be evident that we are not racists who practise racism against other religions and communities but we are preserving our religion as per the mandates given in our revealed scriptures. The Parsi-Irani-Zarthushtis are proud that we are held as the most literate and respected community who practise the virtue of universal charity and universal brotherhood extending it to all humanity as well as to all the kingdoms of Nature! Cyrus the Great has given humanity the First Charter of Human Rights in the 6th century BCE by not converting his subjects. He followed the principle of religious tolerance, brotherhood among nations and did not subjugate the conquered nations by converting them to our religion. He accepted all as equals and accepted the rights of diverse humanity to exist without deviating from their personal beliefs and religions. He did not discriminate against those who followed a different religion or cultural identity. He proved that he was not a racist by liberating the Jews and rebuilding their Temple from his own treasury. Our sacred scriptures reveal that all religions are manifested on Earth according to the Divine Will; each has a role to play in the spiritual development of varied humanity and that religion is the choice of the immortal soul who chooses before birth the time, place, parents and religion into which it will be born. Religion is bestowed at birth and all religions lead to the Final Goal of Salvation. If we, as a micro-minority religious community preserve our "tokham" and follow the mandates of our religion we are not practicing racism but self-preservation!
2) Discrimination: The question of Zarthushtis practising racism and discrimination does not arise. Our religion enjoins us not to convert but respect all religions and live in peace and harmony with the followers of other revealed religions. It is an insult to our Holy Prophet, Asho Zarathushtra, to apply a word such as "racist" when His Holy name is mentioned! Those who proselyte others believe that only their religion is superior and therefore they will accept others as equals only if the others convert to their religion, customs, and traditions; in short, become like them and accept only their way of thinking. These individuals do not respect the rights of other religions and other individuals to exist in harmony and peace without their being identical! This is discrimination indeed! Not the other way around!
Those who do not respect the rights of other religions and individuals to exist in harmony are comparable to the daevas and ashmoghs mentioned in the Gathas who torment the Soul of Mother Earth by causing wars, bloodshed, hatred, destruction of spirituality and world peace. It is an indisputable fact that conversion leads to religious wars and hatred among mankind. By painting a green apple red, the green apple will still retain its own distinct taste and texture! Similarly, converted juddins will always retain their own spiritual genes inherited at birth and they will exhibit the traits and follow the customs, traditions and spirituality of their own religion and environment in which they were brought up. Will the A"R"Z accept the street dwellers of Mumbai and those who follow an alternate life style into their family, home and community? Definitely not! They subscribe to "selective" proselytism. This is indeed an act of discrimination as well as playing God to decide who should follow which religion! Mazdayasni Zarthushtis have inherited their genes, traits and way of life from their forefathers through "boonak pasbaani" since countless millennia and countless generations. We are a distinct religious community and there is no discrimination, racism or dishonor in maintaining what we have cumulatively inherited for countless successive generations.
Will the A"R"Z accuse the Hindu sage, Swami Vivekanand, of being a racist and practicing discrimination? He delivered his famous speech a t the First Parliament of World Religions held at Chicago in 1893 wherein he maintained that "We accept all religions to be true. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist _ nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. Each must assimilate the Spirit of the other and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law and growth." By stating this, is Swami Vivekanand a racist and discriminating against all religions except Hinduism? No! He is affirming what our forefathers maintained throughout that righteousness is a universal virtue and can be acquired through any religion one is born into and therefore there is no spiritual justification to proselyte. Righteousness stemming from virtues cannot be the hallmark of only one particular religion. Can we not, as a religious community, accept universal goodness and virtues without claiming these to be solely a Zarthushti privilege? Swamiji refers to the preservation of "individuality", identity! To preserve what is one's own is not "discrimination" or "racism" and our Zarthushti identity and individuality certainly merit utmost preservation as we are such an ancient religious community that have contributed so much to world civilization and religious thought!
Did Mahatma Gandhi discriminate others when has said: "All Religions are branches of the same mighty tree. But one must not change from one branch to another for the sake of expediency. By doing so, one cuts the very branch on which he sits." Will the A"R"Z call Mahatma Gandhi a racist? They will not! Religion is a Pathway to God. All Paths lead to the same Destination but if one is lost on the Path where the Omniscient Lord has placed him/her by virtue of birth, how will the person find the way treading another Path that is completely strange and new? The person who simply changes the name of the religion by converting to another will suffer from the same spiritual disorders because it is not the name of the religion that makes an individual spiritually more enlightened but it is in following the religion one is born into with faith and dedication that makes an individual spiritually illumined.
It is time for the Parsi-Irani-Zarthushtis to lead the world religions to live in peace and harmony and follow universal brotherhood by following religious tolerance and the non-proselytism movement. The world is tormented by wars, hatred and bloodshed. We can set an example to all as to how we have survived for over 1300 years without a kingdom or country to call our own. We have lived without physical boundaries but we have maintained our spiritual boundaries and therefore we survived.
Abstention from proselytism does not indicate discrimination to others. It indicates acceptance of brotherhood and tolerance towards all religions to co-exist in mutual peace and harmony. The real conversion is self-conversion and converting to righteousness. May the A"R"Z stop following the path of unrighteousness and follow our religion the way our ancestors followed, with faith and dedication. Our sagacious ancestors were not racists and they not discriminate others because they did not accept converts! They were the true followers of Universal Brotherhood!
Please note that as a religious community, we have never practised discrimination against juddins as is evident from the universal philanthropy extended to all other religious communities in India and throughout the world. It is not discrimination but self-preservation and obedience to the Laws of Asha that we do not proselyte. No Prophet has prescribed conversion from religion to religion. Spiritual illumination is the result of faith and obedience to His Will and to accept the religion which He has ordained for us from birth. Asho Zarathushtra was certainly NOT a racist. He was a Yazad who was in communion with the Divinity and obeyed His Divine Will. There is no word "to convert" meaning "to proselyte" found in the Sacred Avesta which was revealed by Ahura Mazda to Asho Zarathushtra. True conversion is from within; it necessitates converting vices to virtues and not from religion to religion.
Atha jamyat, yatha afrinami!
Pervin J. Mistry