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Defining Zarathusthrian Identity: Discovering Strength through Diversity

Personal Perspective

Zareen Hakim




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Growing up as a Zarathushti in America has been one of the most beneficial and challenging aspects of my life.  My sister and I were brought up like most Americans, but with a beautiful twist of Indian and Iranian cultures, given to us by our parents and ancestors.  Throughout my life, this cultural diversity has sparked many questions from my peers as to “what I was” or “where I was from”.  I’m sure that the North American Zarathushti youth of today can relate, and it is this issue of our time that I wish to explore in this article.  In conjunction, I wish to emphasize how Zarathustra’s vision is at the root of our strength as a people, and allows us to maintain the same “religious identity”, if not the same “cultural identity”.

Always having to explain my heritage to others and not having them understand or recognize my ethnicity or religion, was often a source of frustration for me.  It was confusing because I, myself, didn’t know everything about Zarathushtrianism or the origins of our traditions, and because there were so many inconsistencies in what people believed.  As a child, I would think, “Am I Indian because my parents are from India?  No wait, I’m just as American as any of my classmates are.  Then again, I’m Parsee, too…”.  I was proud of my roots and wanted to give people an accurate description, but while I attempted to do so, I was never truly content with my responses. 

As I grew older, I realized that I was crafted from all of these pieces, and that my identity was viewed differently, depending on the circumstances.  Am I American?  Yes.  Am I Indian?  Racially, no, but culturally, somewhat.  Am I Iranian?  Racially, yes, but culturally, not exactly.  Am I also a Zarathushti?  Yes.  These realizations forced me to learn more about my various identities in order to properly explain them to curious individuals as well to myself.  More so, it allowed me to separate my “culture” from my “religion”, a difficult but necessary thing to do when this level of diversity surrounds a new generation.

While the rise of cultural and racial diversity seems to be challenging the growth of our small Zarathushti community, I don’t think it should be.  For example, the Parsees who fled Iran adopted different cultures, but maintained the practice of the common Iranian religion.  In the same sense, Zarathushtrianism has been maintained and even spread in North America and other parts of the world, despite the change in cultural orientation and the rise of ethnically mixed marriages. 

What does this mean?  It means that Zarathushtrianism can flourish, despite these changes.  It means that one does not have to be brought up in Iran or India to be able to practice Zarathushtrianism.  Furthermore, it means that people of different ethnicities can adopt Zarathushtrianism as their religion if they choose to.  The beauty of Zarathustra’s vision is that it allows us and others to thrive in all environments.  It is a religion of tolerance, equality, acceptance, compassion, and most of all, CHOICE.  It allows a person, ANY person, to choose his/her own path through the use of Vohu Mana, which according to the Gathas, has been bestowed upon ALL humankind. 

There is strength in cultural and ethnic diversity – strength in others carrying out Zarathustra’s universal message.  If we look to the Gathas, embrace the core elements of our religion, Zarathustra’s vision has the power to unite across all levels.  I hope that we as a community will one day recognize that this vision is a gift to humanity, and that it can bring light to all where there is darkness.  After all, isn’t that what Zarathushtrianism is all about?