Are we discriminating if we do not proselyte others?

By Mrs. Pervin Mistry

Dear Friends,

There are some on the other aliases who accuse staunch Zarthushtis of "discrimination" and "racism" if we do not allow conversion. They accuse us of being "undemocratic". This is my answer.

On the contrary! Those who propagate conversion believe that only their religion is superior and therefore everyone must follow their religion! They are the ones who do not respect other religions and will accept others as equal only if they convert to their belief, their way of thinking. This is discrimination indeed! Not the other way around! By painting a Doberman white with black spots, the Doberman does not become a Dalmatian! Similarly, a juddin cannot become a Zarthushti even if a renegade mobed performs the so-called "navjote". Some heterodox also subscribe to "selective" proselytism. This is indeed an act of discrimination as well as playing God to decide who should follow which religion! Mazdayasni Zarthushtis have inherited their genes, traits and way of life from their forefathers through "boonak pasbaani" since countless millennia and countless generations. We are a distinct religious community and there is no discrimination or dishonour in maintaining what we have cumulatively inherited for countless successive generations.

At the First Parliament of World Religions held at Chicago in 1893, Swami Vivekanand stated: "We accept all religions to be true. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Budhist , nor a Hindu or a Budhist to become a Christian. Each must assimilate the Spirit of the other and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law and growth." By stating this, is Swami Vivekanand discriminating against all religions? No! He is affirming what our forefathers maintained throughout that righteousness is a universal virtue and can be acquired through any religion one is born into and therefore there is no spiritual justification to proselyte. For example, any Zarthushti who is philanthropic and kind is likewise a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, in spirit, since he lives the Christian yet universal motto of "man grows by giving", and "help thy neighbour". A Hindu also upholds this motto by being charitable since giving alms to the needy is a way of practising "dana" yoga and hence, in spirit, the Hindu who is philanthropic is also a Christian as well as a Zarthushti and a Muslim! Righteousness stemming from virtues cannot be the hallmark of only one particular religion. Can we not, as a religious community, accept universal goodness and virtues without claiming these to be solely a Zarthushti privilege? Swamiji refers to the preservation of "individuality". To preserve what is oneís own is not "discriminationí and our Parsee/Zarthushti identity and individuality certainly merit utmost preservation as we are such an ancient religious community that has contributed so much to world civilization and religious thought! "Every individual grows according to his own law and growth" proves that different religions are needed to suit the different spiritual needs and growth of the varied humanity. Conversion does not make an individual a better human unless the conversion is from within, of converting vices to virtues!

Religions are divinely revealed. A religion is not a system of democracy. Democracy is invented by humans wherein one chooses one party of specific political thought over the other. To abstain from converting others does not mean we are "undemocratic"! Proselytism breeds hatred. It is only because we did not proselytise that we, as a community, are respected in India and Iran. The recent atrocities in the Balkan, Africa, India and in other parts of the world are due to conversion from religion to religion. As a micro community, we cannot afford a blood bath that has gripped the other communities such as the Christians and Muslims, especially in India in recent times.

Our community would also do well to learn from its past history that proves that the groups of Zarthushtis who left Iran after the Arab conquest to settle in Europe and Asia perished, through their "open-door" policy of inter-communal marriage and proselytism. These Zarthushti communities perished because they were absorbed into the ethnic and racial identity of the larger host communities. In time, they lost touch with their religious traditions, rituals and customs and by adopting a newer way of life of the host communities, they lost their religious identity as well. There are no living, practising Zarthushti descendants of these groups in existence today. Only some archaeological evidences stand as mute testimony to the annihilation of the Zarthushti communities who intermarried, proselytised and perished outside of Iran and India!

Please note that it was only in India and India alone, that the migrant Irani community of Zarthushtis, the Parsis, flourished. Our sagacious ancestors were able to preserve their religion and religious identity because they adhered to their traditions and rituals, and practised "boonak-pasbaani" or the "closed door" policy. They are the only group outside of Iran to survive for over thirteen centuries - even through persecutions and massacres! Please, let us not destroy what our forefathers died for, what they suffered for! They gave up their lives so we may inherit the great Mazdayasni Zarthushti Din unchanged, as they inherited it from the previous generations. As a religious community, we have never practised discrimination against juddins as is evident from the universal philanthropy extended to all other religious communities in India and throughout the world. It is not discrimination but self-preservation and obedience to the Laws of Asha that we do not proselytise. Christianity and Islam are comparatively newer religions. Prophet Mohammed has mandated his disciples not to convert people of the Book, meaning those who already follow certain prescriptive, revealed religion. It is the disciples themselves who discard the original teachings and discriminate against others who do not follow their beliefs and practices.

In both Christianity as well as Islam, there is no outside conversion. A Muslim cannot renounce his religion of birth. Then how can proselytism of others into an alien faith, a faith of so-called "choice" be accepted? The crusades were the cause of proselytism. Proselytism breeds hatred and contempt for the rights of other religions and religious communities to exist in peace and harmony. It is only because we do not proselytise that we, as a community, are respected in India and Iran. The recent atrocities in the Balkan, Africa, Middle East, India and in other parts of the world are due to conversion from religion to religion. The recent episode of the public hanging of a Muslim in Iran who declared himself being converted to a "Zarthushti" is a warning. The killing of a leader in Tadjikistan who claimed to be a "Zarthushti" is yet another warning that conversion is not just morally wrong but it leads to loss of lives and breeds hatred. As a nominal community, we cannot afford a blood bath that has gripped the other communities such as Christians and Muslims, especially in India in recent times.

It is absolutely a false conception to believe that our religion teaches conversion from one revealed, established religion to another! All the other great religions are referred to in the Gathas and in other prayers as "daenyao vanghuyao", meaning the good religions based on the principle of Vohu Mano! Changing the mere name of oneís religion is in no way spiritually beneficial to any individual. The true conversion must come from within, of converting vices to virtues and every religion teaches its followers to attune to the Good Mind and to progress spiritually! All religions subscribe to Renovation, Resurrection, Divine Justice and the other universal beliefs regarding virtues, life after death, etc. All religions are established according to the Divine Will and have a purpose to exist. Human interference of conversion from religion to religion works against the soulís spiritual progress. This is the prime reason why we do not proselytise. True conversion is from within and not from religion to religion. Hope every Zarthushti will, with knowledge and obedience, spread the fame of the laws of our religion to all others to likewise convert their own Angra Mainyu to reflect Spenta! The great Mazdayasni Zarthushti Din will survive forever, till Frashogard!

Atha jamyat, yatha afrinami!

Pervin Mistry

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