Kurdish people are returning to Zoroastrianism

One of the oldest known religions in the world is making a comeback in the Kurdistan Region of the Middle East. This is due to the recent opening of a new Zoroastrian temple in Sulaimani. A region that is under the sweeping influence of Islam, will no doubt spark reactions from the Islamic State that is waging a war on the borders of Kurdistan. According to the Chief of the followers of Zoroastrianism in Kurdistan Awat Hussamaddin Tayib, there are many Kurds in the region who are currently practicing the resurgent religion in secret.

Zoroastrianism was founded by Prophet Zoroaster approximately 3,500 years ago, and its elements of monotheism, the concept of a savior to liberate humanity from the chaos and suffering in the world, the concept of heaven and hell and free will are the precursors of major world religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The founder, Prophet Zoroaster, was a reformer in the 6th century BCE and is also touted to have contributed immensely to the beginnings of astrology and magic.

The basic tenets of Zoroastrianism:
  • Good thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds (Humata, Hukhta, Huvarshta)
  • There is only one path and that path is the path of truth
  • Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, and then all beneficial rewards will come to you also

Followers of this ancient religion believe in one God, known as Ahura Mazda, The Lord Creator and Mazda, Supremely wise. This deity is the singular sustaining power of the universe. The concept of duality applies to the deity in the introduction of an opposing force of Ahura Mazda, known as Angra Mainyu. It is only in later years that the concept of Angra Mainyu (angry spirit) was built upon into Ahriman, the Devil who features prominently in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Zoroastrianism’s sacred texts are the writings of Zoroaster known as Gathas and the Holy Scripture known as Avesta. These texts were primarily written in a Kurdish ancient dialect called Avestan. Tayib, the chief of the followers of the religion has been promoting efforts for the congregation to study it in order to keep Avesta alive.

During the opening of the new temple, fires were lit and drums were played to celebrate the occasion. Tayib is proud of her religion because she can manage the affairs of her congregation, “without any gender discrimination”. According to a 2005 survey conducted by Adherents, there are about 2.6 million Zoroastrians in the world. Most of these adherents are found in India, Iran and in the Kurdish Diaspora.

The major challenge facing followers of this old religion is the pressure being applied by the Islamic State, a terrorist organization which is intolerant to any other religion in its sphere of influence apart from Islam. According to Tayib, it is this fear of the Islamic State that has prevented many followers from publicly practicing and showing their devotion to Zoroastrianism. 

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