Iran Religious Diversity (Part 1, Zoroastrianism )
Before we talk about such a vast subject in Iran and Zoroastrianism, Hafez says: Let go of the war of the seventy-two nations. They did not find the truth. Thus they went after a myth.
The image of Iran coalesces with Islam, but this ancient land has always been a gateway to different ideas and beliefs.
The official religion of Iran throughout its history has been either Zoroastrianism or Islam. This diversity in religious beliefs has created a culture full of wonders and shows the coexistence of followers of different religions in Iran.
Under the banner of their religion, these followers have always shared one thing in common, their homeland.
Iran is the mother of her Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim children. However, when the official religion of Iran was Zoroastrianism, they were considered religious minorities. After the spread of Islam in Iran, Zoroastrians also joined them.
If we look at the story from the beginning, we can divide this religious diversity into two categories: the religions that have no followers today and the established Abrahamic ones.
History shows that religion begins with worshipping different gods or goddesses in any tribe or civilization.
Before Zoroastrianism, if we consider the Elamites as the original inhabitants of the Iranian plateau, they started with matriarchy and many mother goddesses. Then they gave way to the Aryans, whose hierarchy of gods and goddesses was fundamentally different.
According to documented evidence, before Zoroastrianism, Mithraism was prevalent in pre-Zoroastrian Iran in the Aryan era. The Mithraic temples and the surviving names from that period stand witness to this, such as Mount Mihr, on the slopes of where Darius I, the Achaemenid, built Persepolis.
So far, they did not officialize any religion or ritual because the Aryans had not yet dominated the entire plateau of Iran. But traces of the emergence of Zoroastrianism were visible in north-eastern Iran. Zoroaster was a prophet who replaced the worship of countless gods with monotheism.
Of course, we must say that in the theology of the Iranian Aryans, from the very beginning, they gave a kind of supremacy to Ahura Mazda. The trio Ahura Mazda, Mitra, and the goddess of water, had the highest religious category before Zoroaster. The Aryans were different families living together. To communicate better in society, they needed to enter into contracts with each other.
For this reason, the god who oversaw the covenants gained more supremacy and popularity, and Mithra moved to a higher rank.
Zoroaster believed in the supremacy of wisdom. As long as he saw wisdom as the ruler of all actions and behaviors, justice was there, and covenants were in place; Zoroastrianism.
Ahura Mazda means the “Lord of Wisdom,” the “highest wisdom.” After that, all the gods and goddesses were considered his creations. Zoroaster became a prophet who established a religion that had the largest impact on other monotheistic religions like Islam and Christianity.
Although the number of Zoroastrianism followers in ancient Iran was escalating day by day and the number of fire temples were increasing, even with the formation of the Achaemenid Empire, the Zoroastrian religion was not yet officialized.
Zoroastrianism and their priests changed the religion from its mythical state to Sharia. It became a religion with special rules, laws, rewards, and punishment systems. They were the ones who gave refuge and hope to people during the time of the Alexander invasion and the disintegration of the foundations of an Iranian government.
The Sassanid officialized Zoroastrianism strongly during their Empire. It became so powerful that the task of everything was determined by religion and Sharia. The Magi issued a fatwa that an Iranian born in the land of Ahura should not follow a religion other than Zoroastrianism. That started religious discrimination.
Only powerful emperors such as Shapur I and II or Bahram V and Khosrow Parviz did not submit to the rules and power of the Zoroastrian Magi.
During the reign of Shapur I, a half-blood Iranian named Mani, the founder of miniature painting, came to Iran and preached his religion. It was a combination of different beliefs of Mesopotamia, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism. After Shapur, who was a supporter of Mani, all the followers of Mani and Mani himself were killed.
The Zoroastrian priests’ coil on Iranian soil became so strong that they not only alienated the people but also created innovations in the religion to gain more power. In a way that at the end of the Sassanid period, this religion was taken out of the monotheistic state of Zoroaster. Exactly what the Middle Ages did with Christianity.
Islam entered Iran, Sunni Islam, with the Shiite minority. All the governments that were formed, were all Muslims and imposed restrictions on religious minorities but did not prevent the establishment of their religions.
Zoroastrianism gave everything it had to Islam because, in any case, Zoroastrianism had long ruled in a hierarchical and distinct system and had a certain structure that was a special privilege for Islam, which was deprived of such an advantage.
Ironically, many Islamic missionaries and scholars consider their fatwa to be Islamic and are unaware of its Zoroastrianism background.
The golden age of the Abbasid caliphs, called the heyday of Islamic civilization, began with the translation of Christian and Zoroastrian books, and most famous scholars, philosophers, or religious and political thinkers came from famous Iranian families.
Now that knowledge was no longer possessed by a particular class like how it was during the reign of the Sassanid because of the Magi’s law, the Persian language flourished and literates such as Rudaki and Ferdowsi emerged from these developments and lasted forever.
For this reason, while they were Muslims, they did their job using what their past as an Iranian had given them, and this was the main factor and the beginning of the coexistence of different religions. Because there was no superiority and no discriminatory factor in the name of religion.
Many Christians and Jews worked with the government or were the main factor in the government’s economic prosperity due to their expertise in some industries…