The Zoroastrian Community in Historical Perspective

The advent of the Islamic Republic witnessed a return to strict socio-religious minority status for Zoroastrians under the new Muslim constitution of Iran. Legal distinctions between Muslims and Zoroastrians-which reflect ordinances that Zoroastrians experienced under many previous Islamic regimes-circumscribe their daily lives. The concept that Zoroastrians are unclean has been revived. Codes for dress, such as use of the veil by women, and rules for socialization, especially across genders, plus public enforcement of such stipulations by the revolutionary guards are viewed by many Zoroastrians as restrictions of their fundamental rights and as Islamic praxes alien to them. Stemming from economic discrimination, chronic unemployment is prevalent among members of both genders-particularly the youth-despite appropriate education and training. Lack of employment has led, in turn, to varying degrees of poverty, malnutrition, and a reluctance to marry and produce children. While employment opportunities are withheld, Zoroastrian men feel that they are considered fit for only one occupation: military conscription.

Many individuals eventually, and in some cases surreptitiously, left Iran. So by 1984, the Zoroastrian population in Iran had declined considerably. Despite inflated figures in recent censuses that put the community’s numbers at around 90,000, a figure officially revised downward several times thereafter to around 45,000, the number of Zoroastrians continues to decline in the twenty-first century. Zoroastrians now constitute a mere 0.05% of the overall population of Iran. Nonetheless, Zoroastrians continue to survive not only in the central Iranian city of Yazd which has been their stronghold for several centuries, but also in Tehran, Shiraz, and Esfahan. Zoroastrians’ public complaints about their subordinate status are infrequent because communal stress brought about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran and the establishment of a theocratic Islamic Republic based on the Shari`a triggered a subconscious and conscious reaction among Zoroastrians: minimization of conflict with the Muslim majority and its political and socio-religious authority through cooperation and avoidance. In sum, members of the Zoroastrian community, when faced with societal changes that could threaten the welfare or survival of the community often still react in a manner initially enjoined by their high priests during the tenth century:" Act in a manner that is most cautious and least harmful."

Jamsheed Choksy
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