What do Iranian Muslims think of Zoroaster?

Zoroastrian Faith Community"Zarathustra taught us not to ask anyone about their religion"

"To think well and deeply for a minute is better than 70 years of prayer. Religion is there primarily for people who are looking for orientation. Those who think, speak and act well don't need religion."

Behsad Nikdin's words resound like thunder. The 57-year-old with the full gray beard and white clothes is a Zoroastrian priest.

"Zarathustra saw himself as a teacher who wanted to teach us the purity of thinking, saying and acting. Everyone who observes these three basic ideas obeys the Zoroastrian teaching. Zarathustra has taught us not to ask anyone about their religion. He who comes here can have his own belief, we only measure him by how he thinks, speaks and acts. That is the most important thing to us. The religion is not stamped on anyone's forehead or in a document lead to conflict in religion. "

Yazd as the center of Zoroastrianism

Nikdin is the head of the Zoroastrian community in Isfahan - a farmer who actually sees his "secondary calling" in serving others, visiting people who are sick and need help, receiving visitors and looking after the fire temple - the central gathering place for every Zoroastrian Community in Iran. A strange symbol is always emblazoned above the entrance: the Faravahar. It is the image of a bearded face with outstretched wings, tail feathers and other attributes and encodes the three goals of Zoroastrian action as well as the antagonism of good and evil that is inherent in every human being. The Faravahar can be found everywhere in Iran, on reliefs in Persepolis, on house walls, in documents, in the national coat of arms before the revolution.

The fire temple is not a house of prayer in the religious sense. Rather a place of meeting, exchange, adoration, devotion and remembrance. And the refuge of fire, the most important of the four elements: earth, air, water and fire. They are all sacred to the Zoroastrians and symbolize purity, explains Behsad Nikdin:

"We believe that where there is fire and light, there is no darkness."

Depiction of Zarathushtra in a manuscript from the 9th century (imago stock & people)

This fire is usually contained in a large chalice, filled with glowing logs which, according to tradition, have never been extinguished in particularly traditional fire temples for centuries. Today there are between 15,000 and 30,000 followers of Zoroaster, most of them living in Yazd.

The city in central Iran is the center of the Zoroastrian faith, not only in Iran, but for all followers of Zoroaster worldwide. Yazd now has a population of around 650,000, explains Ehsan Aragaggheri. The young German teacher from Yazd accompanies us:

"We have reached the elevation. These towers of silence are on the outskirts of the city of Yazd. And from up here we can see the city of Yazd very well."

"When someone dies, life is not over"

At the gates of Yazd, a hundred steps lead up a dusty slope and end on a small platform. A circular walled ring rises above it, like the outer wall of a water basin. There is a second one on the neighboring hill. Towers of Silence, a place of silence, traditionally the final resting place for Zoroastrians. In order to keep earth, air, water and fire pure, the followers of Zoroaster followed a special cult of the dead:

"According to the Zoroastrian belief it is like this: When someone dies, life is not over, it is like a circle of life, therefore life goes on. There is a rebirth, the soul of a person goes on to the others and lives on. Hence the body is not important, and you can take that body to the towers of silence. "

The walls around the area are taller than a man, a wall - what is behind remains hidden from view. Walls and floor are made of gray quarry stone, above only the pale sky. The place is empty, no further attraction to the eye. The visitor's thoughts, like himself, are trapped. The silence is reminiscent of that of a monastery, a place of retreat, of prayer.

House of the Dead and Tower of Silence in Yazd, Iran (imago stock & people)

"These circular paved stones are distributed in three large rounds. And this is important for the Zoroastrians: When someone died, the porters brought the dead up here. The priest came here, they laid the dead here on the ground without a dress. When it did was a man, he was placed in the first large circle because of his height, a woman in the middle and the children around the hole in the smaller circle. Nobody was allowed up except these two porters and the priest. Why this wall around the two of us up Are three meters high, there is a reason. When vultures come here, they stay where the corpse is. They eat the remains of the meat, and then they fly on. But the animals, like dogs and others, they could have these bones and then on to the city. The walls were built so high that it was not accessible to the other animals, only the vultures. "

Humans as a recyclable shell that shouldn't pollute the environment after their death: Here on the Tower of Silence at the gates of Yazd, everything revolves around finitude. One may find it comforting that in the imagination of the Zoroastrians the cycle of life ended and began - as "remains of meat", as Aragaggheri calls it, which other living beings served as food. After the dead had been eaten and rotted in the sun, helpers swept the bones into the pit in the middle, making room for the next to die. The custom lasted until the 1930s, when Shah Reza banned it for hygienic reasons. Today there is a cemetery below the Towers of Silence, where Zoroastrians have been buried in graves ever since - with a marble slab, tombstone, inscription and occasionally a picture of the deceased. There are around 1,000 resting places here, neatly in long rows and always plain white. It is the largest religious community cemetery in the world.

Chak Chak: tears for the Zoroastrians

"There are several Zoroastrian communities in the province of Yazd. Every year in winter there is the Sadeh festival, to which people come from everywhere. There they pray in their old Middle Persian language, Pahlavi. It is interesting that there is a Zoroastrian and a Muslim community can live together in complete harmony. This applies to all Zoroastrians in Iran. "

Omid Sahafinia set out with us to the northeast of Yazd. The 26-year-old Zoroastrian from the village of Mazra-e Kalantar works as a tour guide in the city. Now he accompanies us to Chak Chak - the place of pilgrimage for all Zoroastrians. Every believer should have been there once in a lifetime. Not an easy undertaking, because the shrine is secluded in a rocky desert. It takes a good hour in the car to drive to the cave in the hundreds of meters of sloping wall. There is hardly any vegetation, the sun is burning. We are the only visitors.

A Zoroastrian at church service in the Zoroastrian temple Pir-e Sabz in Chak (picture alliance / dpa / Kheirkhah)

In a narrow arcade a man is sitting in front of a room door. Zal Izadi is the keeper of the fire. The 65-year-old gnarled man in gray trousers, white shirt and cap is dozing in the shadow of the arcade. The marble-tiled floor of the cave is wet and slippery. It's dripping from the ceiling, the air is cool. Ehsan Arabaggheri:

"It was 600 AD at the time when the Arabs conquered Persia. The religion of these Arabs was Islam. Because before Islam came, the Persians here had the Zoroastrian religion, they were killed by the Arabs, so many fled to the Desert regions. These drops that we see here are the tears of a holy woman for the Zoroastrians, and it literally means: drops, drops and then this sanctuary was given the name Chak Chak. "

Four religions are recognized by the Iranian parliament: Judaism, Christianity, Islam - and Zoroastrianism. Studies show that young Iranians are becoming less and less enthusiastic about Islam and that mosques are beginning to empty, much like in our churches. On the other hand, it is unofficially suggested that Zoroastrianism, with its undogmatic nature, is enjoying increasing popularity.