What is a Zoroastrian?

Zoroastrians in Iran
Zoroastrians in Iran

People ask me this question all the time. Here’s the short answer:

What is a Zoroastrian?

A Zoroastrian is a follower of the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, also known commonly as Zarathustraism and Mazdaism by some. It is one of the oldest surviving revealed religions in the world and according to many scholars, the first historically monotheistic faith known to mankind. It was founded (or reformed, depending on which scholar you ask) by a Persian or as some like to say, Indo-European Prophet named as Zarathustra. The Greeks however referred to him as Zoroaster, which eventually became the more common name for Zarathustra in western literature. Thus, a Zoroastrian is a follower of Zoroaster.

Zoroastrianism was once the state religion of many of the lands of the Iranian-speaking peoples for centuries until their conquest by the Arabs and other Muslim forces in the 7th – 9th centuries. Though no official census exists from those days, there were likely millions Zoroastrians (or those practicing some form of Zoroastrianism) until the demise of the Sassanian dynasty, the last Zoroastrian royal family of Iran. Today, Zoroastrianism still survives, though in much fewer numbers due to many factors including centuries of religious persecution, conversion to other religions, low birth rates and in many cases, assimilation into the larger populations to which they had emigrated to.

How many Zoroastrians are there in the World?

The number of Zoroastrians in the world today varies depending on who’s counting. I’ve read and heard of numbers anywhere from 50,000 up to 5 million. Numerical data on Zoroastrians can be difficult to obtain but in general, it is believed that the true number is closer to 150,000 – 200,000 souls throughout the world. This includes approximately 60,000 – 90,000 in India, about 25,000 – 40,000 in Iran, 1,000 – 3,000 in Pakistan, 10,000 – 12,000 in Europe and perhaps 15,000 – 20,000 in North America.

I’ve met a few people who claim that there are Zoroastrians hiding somewhere in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan as well as several hundred thousand among the Kurds of Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. It’s hard to verify such claims. There are however many peoples whose cultural and religious practices originate or resemble those of ancient Zoroastrians, such as Kurdish Yazidis and some Central Asian peoples. This does not necessarily mean that they are Zoroastrian but rather that they may have Zoroastrian roots or some cultural links to the religion.

Through today it has few followers, the contributions and influence of modern-day Zoroastrians in places such as India, Iran, Great Britain and even the Americas far outweigh what would be reasonable given their actual numbers.

To learn more about all things Zoroastrian, click here.

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