Zoroastrianism is a religion which has a considerable following in many countries around the world. The religion is also among the oldest extant religions in the world as its origin can be traced back to the 2nd Millennium BCE. The earliest records confirming the existence of Zoroastrianism are dated back to the 5th century BCE. Zoroastrianism was even established as the state religion of Persia, a distinction it held between 600 BCE and 650 BCE before the infiltration of Islam in the country and the Islamic conquest of Persia in the mid-7th century. During its peak, the Zoroastrian Achaemenid Empire covered an area of 8 million square kilometers. Some historians believe that Zoroastrianism influenced the Messianic belief as well as the beliefs of free will and the afterlife seen in the major Abrahamic religions including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Zoroastrianism revolves around the teachings of a prophet from Persia known as Zarathustra or Zoroaster and is based on the monotheistic belief of Ahura Mazda who is seen as the Supreme Being. Contesting against Ahura Mazda is Angra Mainyu, an evil spirit who is personified as the Devil who is known as Ahriman. The sacred religious book in Zoroastrianism is known as the Avesta which is made up of a compilation of religious texts. There are other important religious books which were written by Zoroastrian clergy between the 9th century and the 10th century, and these books include the Arda Viraf Namag, the Epistles of Manucher, the Selections of Zadspram, and the Denkard. These books are recognized as secondary books in Zoroastrianism and not scripture. According to figures from the Zoroastrian Association of North America, the global population of Zoroastrians is as many as 190,000 with the vast majority is residing in India.
Countries With The Highest Population Of Zoroastrians
India has the largest population of Zoroastrians in the world with an estimate placing the number of Zoroastrians in the country to be as high as 100,000 followers. The Indian population of Zoroastrians accounts for at least 50% of the total Zoroastrian population in the world. Zoroastrians have enjoyed centuries of peace in India and were able to establish a thriving community in the country where their presence is recognized in the Indian entertainment industry, the Indian economy as well as in the armed forces. Zoroastrians were also instrumental during India’s struggle for Independence in the 20th century in the British Raj. The history of Zoroastrianism in India can be traced back to the Sasanian period. Zoroastrians immigrated to India in large numbers in the 7th century as they fled Persia (present day Iran) to escape from persecution from the then-newly established Islamic rule. These Zoroastrian immigrants first settled in the island of Hormuz before entering into India. More Zoroastrians continued immigrating into the country throughout the centuries, and by the 15th century, the Zoroastrians in India had lost their contact with Iran. The Zoroastrian community in India is made up of two distinct groups which are the Parsi (meaning Persia or modern-day Iran) and Iranis. The Zoroastrian population in India is currently on a declining trend with the birth rate among the Zoroastrian community being significantly lower than the death rate. Scholars state that if the current trend persists, the Zoroastrian population is forecasted to number only 20,000 in the year 2020.
Iran has the second largest number of Zoroastrians in the world with Iranian Zoroastrians representing 0.03% of the country’s population. Records from the 2012 official Census of Iran indicates that the total number of Zoroastrians in the country at over 25,700 individuals. Iran is recognized as the birthplace of Zoroastrianism as well as its most pivotal figure, Zoroaster. Prophet Zoroaster was born around the 10th century BCE in modern-day Iran. By the 5th century BCE, Zoroastrianism had grown to become a dominant religion in Iran and had thousands of followers in the country. During the reign of Darius the Great over modern-day Iran, Zoroastrianism had been embraced by high profile individuals including the King himself. During the Sassanid dynasty which ruled over Persia between 224 AD and 651 AD, Zoroastrianism was officially recognized as the state religion, and it was during this period that Zoroastrianism flourished in the country, and some historians believe that the Avesta was first compiled during this period. However, the religion’s prominence in Iran came to an abrupt end in the 7th century after the Muslim conquest of Persia ended the Sassanid dynasty and in so doing, discrediting the recognition of Zoroastrianism as the state religion. Zoroastrians in Iran faced cruel treatment under the Islamic government with many Zoroastrian sacred texts being burnt by the Muslims. The increased religious persecution led to the mass migration of Zoroastrians to neighboring countries and particularly India with the exodus causing the numbers of Zoroastrians in Iran to plummet by as much as 80%. Majority of Zoroastrians in Iran are found in Kerman and Yazd.
There are an estimated 5,000 Zoroastrians in Pakistan. The Parsis represent the major Zoroastrian Community in the country. The history of the Zoroastrian community in Pakistan can be traced back to the 10th century BCE after many Zoroastrians who were fleeing from Persia to escape from the widespread religious persecution from the Muslims, settled in the country. Majority of the Parsi Zoroastrians in Pakistan are found around the nation’s capital, Karachi.
Azerbaijan is home to a significant number of Zoroastrians who are estimated to number around 2,000 which is equivalent to 0.022% of the country’s population. The religion has had a profound impact on the cultural landscape of Azerbaijan, with the country’s name “Azerbaijan” which translates to “protector of Fire” is said to be linked with Zoroastrianism. The Zoroastrian New Year, Nowruz is recognized as a holiday in Azerbaijan and is highly respected. Most Zoroastrians in Azerbaijan are found in Yanar Dog, Surakhany, and Khinalyg.
Zoroastrianism Outside Asia
While Asia has the vast majority of the global Zoroastrian population, there is still a significant number of Zoroastrians who reside in non-Asian countries. The United States has the largest number of Zoroastrians outside Asia with its Zoroastrian population being estimated to be over 11,000 individuals. Other countries with a significant Zoroastrian population are Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and New Zealand.