In Brief: Zoroastrianism


Ahmad Nooruddeen Jahangeer Khan, London, UK


Having originated in ancient Persia, Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world. It dates back to approximately 3,500 years ago and the Prophet Zarathustra (as) (also commonly known as Zoroaster) is traditionally regarded as the founder of the religion. The concept of dualism is one of the central themes in Zoroastrianism, i.e. the doctrine that there are two supreme opposing forces in the world – good and evil. The religion grew to the point where it became the official religion of ancient Persia between 600 BCE and 650 CE.[1] Today, it is one of the world’s smallest religions with Zoroastrians numbering no more than between 100,000 and 200,000, the majority of whom are found in India.[2]


Most of what is known about Zarathustra (as) is from the Avesta which is a collection of Zoroastrian religious scriptures. According to Zoroastrian tradition, at the age of 30, while taking part in a purification rite, Zarathustra (as) had a vision in which he saw a Supreme Being. In this very first revelation, in which he first saw God, Zarathustra (as) was taught the three cardinal principles of religion – ‘good words, good thoughts and good deeds.’

He began preaching to the people about this Being Whom he recognised as Ahura Mazda (the Wise Lord). He taught that man could attain nearness to God by following the path of asha (truth and righteousness). In the Yansa (a collection of Avestan texts) Zarathustra (as) is recorded to have said:

‘I who have set my heart on watching over the soul, in union with Good Thought, and as knowing the rewards of Mazda Ahura for our works, will, while I have power and strength, teach men to seek after Right.’[3]

Zoroastrianism became so popular that it shaped the Persian empire and even Cyrus the Great became a devout follower of the religion. Some scholars are of the opinion that Zoroastrianism may even have had some sort of influence on the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as they have similar concepts such as One God, heaven and hell and the Day of Judgment.[4]

The beginning of the decline of Zoroastrianism’s popularity is commonly ascribed to the time after the Muslim conquest of Persia between 633 and 651 AD, as many of the followers converted to Islam over time, and the ones who did not then migrated to India.

Sacred Texts

The Avesta is the oldest core part of the Zoroastrian sacred scriptures. It contains hymns composed by Zarathustra (as) known as the Gathas. The Avesta has another section called the Younger Avesta, which contains commentaries, myths, stories and details of ritual observances. With regards to the authenticity of the Avesta, Dhunjeebhoy Jamsetjee Medhora, a 19th century Parsi writer from Bombay, writes:

‘The Avesta is evidently a fragment literature, containing nothing but prayers, recitations, and instructions for purifications; and when we take into consideration, the imperfect state in which even these exist, no one could, for a moment, entertain the idea that the Avesta as it is, could ever be made capable of yielding any sort of systematic philosophy or religious system.’[5]


As mentioned previously, Zoroastrians believe in One God named Ahura Mazda. According to the religion, Ahura Mazda is Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Impossible for humans to fully conceive, Unchanging, the Creator and the Source of all goodness. This is summed up in the words of Zarathustra (as):

‘I recognise Thee, O Mazda, in my thought, that Thou the First art (also) the Last – that Thou art Father of Vohu Manah; – when I apprehend Thee with mine eye, that Thou art the True Creator of Right [Asha], and art the Lord to judge the actions of life.’[6]

With Ahura Mazda being the power of good, His adversary and opposite power is Angra Mainyu, meaning ‘destructive spirit’, and is the source of death and evil. If one follows the path of Ahura Mazda, they attain heaven, and if they follow the path of Angra Mainyu, they are thrown in hell.

Zoroastrians pray several times a day and communal worship takes place in a fire temple known as a Agiary, Atashkadeh, Atashgah or Dar-e-Mehr. This may be one of the reasons for the common misconception about Zoroastrianism that its followers are fire-worshippers, whereas in reality this is not true. In Zoroastrianism, fire is the symbol of purity and represents the light of God. Its importance is such that no ritual or ceremony is performed without a sacred fire.

As such, Zoroastrians place less emphasis on ritual worship and try to focus on the central ethics taught to Zarathustra (as) – ‘good words, good thoughts and good deeds.’

About the Author: Ahmad Nooruddeen Jahangeer Khan is an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and serves as deputy of the Comparative Religions section of The Review of Religions.


[1] “Zoroastrianism at a glance,” (BBC Religions, October 2, 2009). Accessed January 4, 2021:

[2] Editors, “Zoroastrianism,” (History, October 8, 2019), Accessed January 4, 2021:

[3] Yasna, 28.4.   

[4] Editors, “Zoroastrianism,” (History, October 8, 2019), Accessed January 4, 2021:

[5] Dhunjeebhoy Jamsetjee Medhora, The Zoroastrian and Some Other Ancient Systems (Bombay, India: The Indian Printing Press, 1886), 2.

[6] Yasna, 31.8.

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