Zoroastrianism thrived among other faiths

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Prophet Zarathushtra (Zoroaster in the West) received a revelation from God Ahuramazda (Wise Lord) and taught freedom of choice, equality of all, and acceptance of God’s creations as sacred. Historians have said Zoroaster lived in ancient Iranian lands over 4,000 years ago, though new research by archaeologist Mary Settegast, graduate of U.C. Berkeley and Columbia University, suggests he lived before 6,000 B.C., confirming Roman and Greek dates.

King Vishtasp of Bactria and others who were attracted by the rationality in Prophet Zoroaster’s teachings accepted the Mazdayasni (God-worshiping) religion. In Zoroastrian tradition, we believe that there will be several saoshyants (messengers) who will be born after him, from time to time, to deliver God’s message. Therefore, Zoroastrians have a natural respect for all religions, and accept all as brothers and sisters.

In sixth century B.C., when the Zoroastrian king Cyrus the Great established the Persian empire, Zoroastrianism was the major religion of the empire. But he allowed his conquered subjects to continue following their native religions, thus introducing the principle of separation of church and state, which was generally followed for over a 1,000 years under successive Zoroastrian kings and queens.

When some Zoroastrians migrated to India, they assured the Hindu king who gave them refuge that they will not convert his subjects. For over 1,300 years the Parsis (Persians), as Zoroastrians are known in India, kept their promise and lived in harmony with other communities in the Indian subcontinent.

I grew up in Bombay with Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Parsis living on the same street, and we sent sweets to each other on our festival days. Parsi doctors gave free treatment to poor people of all faiths, and Parsi philanthropists also helped people of all religions.

Zoroastrians accept the goodness of other religions and believe that the real meaning of  “conversion” is to convert from an evil life to a good life—not to change to a label of “Zoroastrian” and make claims of religious superiority. Zoroastrians believe that all major religions are inspired by one Supreme Being, and have many ethical teachings that are common.

In today’s world where religious conflicts abound due to ignorance and blind faith, we need to be humble, learn about other religions, and accept one another as one family. I have attended many interfaith events and given talks to promote this concept, and other Zoroastrians do the same in U.S. and European cities.

Education, acceptance, and cooperation will bring peace and prosperity for all.

Let us educate our own communities.

Maneck Bhujwala worked in the U.S. as an engineer  for 33 years. Currently a realtor and vice president of an interfaith council, he lives in Southern California with wife, Mahrukh, and attorney daughter, Shehnaz.


Hinduism is acceptance

When I agreed to contribute an essay on tolerance and acceptance from a Hindu perspective, I was in a dilemma. As the saying goes, “Humility is a strange thing … the minute you think you have it, you’ve lost it”—being Hindu, too, is a strange thing … the minute you classify yourself, you are no longer Hindu!
The term Hindu refers to a certain attitude rather than affiliation. Like a mathematician has a broad purview and not limited to narrow specialization; a Hindu is a global citizen who includes all living beings as an extension of oneself, regardless of superficial differences.

The word “namaste,” used as greeting and farewell, means “I see my reflection in you.” It sums up the Hindu attitude, which celebrates the interconnectedness of all life. All living and nonliving beings are physical forms of energy as are thoughts and feelings, subtle forms of the same energy. Being Hindu is to respect the multitasking power of the eternally present, indestructible, intelligent living energy, who generates itself to appear as all forms of existence, operates the preservation of its innumerable forms and degenerates all its forms, only to regenerate into new and different forms of life.

In other words being Hindu is seeing all forms of life as a manifestation of the same G.O.D. (Generative, Operative, Degenerative laws of energy) and to recognize that laws of energy apply equally to all forms of life regardless of individual beliefs. Thus, a Hindu mind is secular and free to seek universal wisdom through infinite sources; be it a mandir, masjid (mosque), gurdwara, church, synagogue, agyari, buddhist temple, or other.

The word dharma is defined as “that which holds together.” Hindu dharma then translates to an attitude that promotes solidity and peace. The strength to accept and let go is often misconstrued as Hindu weakness.

Yet the ability to be open to different possibilities, embrace change, include unfamiliar lifestyles, constitutes the tolerant and compassionate philosophy that formed the bedrock of India’s multicultural society. New customs assimilated into the mainstream through a process driven by appreciation of deeper similarities and an acceptance of superficial differences.

The lotus in full bloom is a magnificent representation of the Hindu spirit of oneness.  Its center is the source of the expanding cosmos, which is made up of the same substance. Its close-knit petals illustrate the letters, H, I, N, D, U, as oneness of Humanity; oneness of Intelligence; oneness of Nature; Oneness of Divinity; Unity in plurality.

Here’s to the future Hindu or global citizens who sing, “I take the best from all that I see … I put on my ghungroos or my ballet shoes; bring out my tablas or my pianos … for the world is my family!”

Mona Vijaykar is director of India in Classrooms and The Globasaurus Program.


Turbans and aliens in our midst

The year 2010 will be remembered both fondly and with reservations by people of various faiths in America. Unfortunately, 2010 will also be remembered for continued war, terrorism, intolerance, and aliens in our midst. Another year of living dangerously while interfaith groups and neighbors continued to strive to maintain what has made America the most desirable destination for millions from around the globe.

But our lives remain troubled. The issue of Park51, or “Ground Zero Mosque,” in New York certainly did not help. The Founding Fathers of this country made a decision to keep religion and government separate for a very good reason. In this case the media created an issue that did not warrant such attention. The proposed mosque was not located within Ground Zero. I am completely for incorporating the sentiments of New Yorkers and the nation in not building this center. But how far away from Ground Zero should one move it?

And the controversy did not stop there.

On the one hand, we had the threat of burning of Korans in Florida, which drew a wide debate and universal Muslim condemnation (thankfully backed by many in mainstream American). But in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, were not mosques blown up with both people and Korans in them? We do not want holy books of any religion burnt, but when the attack comes from within, where is the condemnation? Are double standards being applied?

Terrorist attacks were planned or attempted on American soil in 2010. The Times Square incident was the most prominent. But when people of color (i.e. brown people, in this case) get singled out for “special treatment” due to the acts of a few bad apples, what do we do? An aircraft is stopped and a Pakistani couple is quickly detained. Is there automatic profiling or reasonable suspicion at work here? Are we getting just too carried away? What does a turbaned Sikh have to do with Osama Bin Laden? Answer: Except for a head covering, nothing!

Xenophobia cannot govern America. This country has overcome its past German, Japanese and Russian community fears. Muslim fear and suspicion, too, will be overcome, Inshallah (“God willing”), someday. But as this year has highlighted once again, we are far from a resolution to this problem. The dilemma continues for both Muslims in this country and for America itself.

There is a reason for both the continued expansion of America’s internal security apparatus and the anti-immigration wave reflected in the state of Arizona’s passage of its own illegal immigration law this year. Both are a response to the threat of violence (either political or drug related) and perceived to involve people of a particular religion or color.

One can only hope that the 2011 will bring at least some resolution to our alien dilemma. Al Qaeda or the Mexican drug cartels cannot rule our lives forever.

Ras H. Siddiqui is South Asian journalist based in the Sacramento area.


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