Zarathushtra, known later to Greeks as Zoroaster; is believed to have been active in eastern Iran shortly after 600 B.C. As a priest of the Aryan faith, he severed these ties and proclaimed his mission. Our knowledge of his teachings comes from the Avesta, a fragmentary collection of hymns, legal codes, and rituals of various dates. Claiming to be the chosen of Ahuramazda; (God), Zarathushtra preached the eternal conflict between Good and Evil, between the Truth and the Lie; and he advocated Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds. Ahuramazda was opposed by Ahriman; the personification of evil and darkness.

The Aryans, whose way of life was reflected in the Ahriman;Avesta, were sedentary cattle breeders and farmers who held cattle in very high respect. They worshipped fire and water, and considered the pollution of the earth a great evil. Zoroaster himself is believed that was a monotheist preacher who worshiped Ahuramazda only. While the worship of Ahuramazda continued in Parthian times, the religion called Mazdaism reached its high point in the Sassanid period. There was a clerical hierarchy, with two Ahriman; magi residents in each village. For many years, kartir headed this clergy and four inscriptions relate his efforts to spread the faith, to establish an orthodox form and to crush down other religions. Sacred fires burned in fire temples and in the open air; there were national fires, fires established by the rules, the so-called varahan;varahan fires, and village fires.

The Zoroastrians

Zoroastrianism prevailed in Iran before the advent of Islam. The Zoroastrians have their own associations in Tehran and other provinces like Kerman, Yazd and Zahedan.


Then in the Sassanid era, varahan;Mazdak, a native of Khorassan, appeared as the dualist reformer of Zoroastrianism and advocated such specific principles as non-violence, vegetarianism etc. His contemporary ruler, Kavad, at first supported the new sect as a possible lever against the power of the clergy and the nobility, but the apostle and his followers were massacred in 528 A.D. The Mazdaki sect, however, persisted in the Islamic era.

Advent Of Islam

The converting of Iranians to Islam made a break with the past that affected not only Iran but all of Western Asia, and resulted in the assimilation of peoples who shaped and vitalised Moslem culture. The Sassanid eraís end marked a new beginning in Iran. Thus the Arabís assimilation with Iranians in regions the former entered, caused a new Islamic beginning.


After the demise of the Prophet of Islam, friends and supporters of his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, learnt that another group was proceeding to choose the Prophetís successor. The latter group which in time formed the majority, and later came to be known as the Sunnis, undertook to choose a caliph without consulting the Prophetís Household. Ali and his supporters protested against this choice of a caliph. Their protest marks the origin of the difference in view between the minority Shiites (followers) of Ali and the majority Sunnis (traditionalists).

The Shiites believe that the Prophet Mohammad did appoint his immediate successor, and did make clear the chain of imams who would follow the latter. Something he had to do for his religionís sake and to ensure that his followers did not go astray. In fact, they reason that in his many speeches, especially the one he is said to have delivered at Ghadir-e-Khom and through an explicit ordinance, the prophet had left no doubt that Ali was to be his rightful successor.

Likewise, the Shiites believe that Almighty God sent Prophet Mohammad, and the Prophet appointed Ali as his successor and foretold Aliís eleven offspringsas the other imams. The last of the 12 is the Saviour Mahdi, who is still alive but cannot be seen by anyone, and who will appear at the end of time to save humanity.

Though the Shiites hold certain common beliefs with the Sunnis regarding Islam in general, there exist some differences. Unlike the Sunnis, they consider the issue of succession (imamate), as having been settled once and for all by the Prophet. Imamate to them, like Prophethood is divine vice-regency. The prophet is the messenger of God, the imam is his successor and the imamate comprises 12 infallible persons.

Both the Sunnis and the Shiites believe in the Quran and in the three fundamentals of Islam: Monotheism (Towhid), Prophethood (Nabowat) and Resurrection (Maíad). The Shiites believe in an additional two: Godís Justice (Adl) and Succesion (Imamate). There are hardly any disputes regarding the practical laws of religion comprising prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, religious taxes, holy war etc.

Before passing on to the particular case of Iran, one important theme of Shia that may be referred to is the importance attached to the concept of martyrdom. Martyrdom is not in any way a monopoly concern of the Shiites. It is a common concept for all Moslems, having its archetype in the example set by the Companions of the Prophet. None the less, it has acquired a certain particular flavor and importance in the context of Shia. This has been through the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the third Imam of the Shiites. He is, doubtless, one of the most important figures in the religious consciousness of the Shiites. The fact that he met his death in battle, that he attained martyrdom, is seen by the Shiites not simply as a factor of history; it is seen as a fact of profound and continuing spiritual significance.

Shia came to Iran in the very early days of Islam. From the very beginning, history mentions the names of Iranians who served as faithful companions of the 12 imams at various stages.

There are more than 150,000,000 Shiite Moslems scattered the world over, mostly in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Iranian Shiites represent 91 percent of the entire population.

The Sunnis

The Iranian Sunnis constitute 7.8 per cent of the population and are concentrated mainly in the Kurdistan , and Seestan & Baluchistan provinces. They perform their religious rites and Friday prayers according to their own beliefs. The constitution has recognized five Sunni schools of thought and has accorded their followers the right to practice their own canons within local limits.

Religious Minorities

The constitution recognizes three religions, however, there are several more such as Baha'i Faith which are not recognized: Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism (Article 13). Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians, forming 0.7 per cent, 0.3 per cent and 0.1 per cent of the population respectively, are proportionally represented in the Islamic parliament.

The Christians

The Christian community forms 0.7 per cent of the population. The majority of Christians are either Armenians or Assyrians, and most are followers of the Georgian rite. But there are also Roman Catholics, Protestants, Adventists, Anglicans etc.

The Jews

Jews have around 30 synagogues all over the country. They have one member in the parliament, and an association by the name of Talmouz; Talmouz, private schools and social committees.

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