February 20, 2008 / 5:08 PM / 11 years ago

Iran's ancient pre-Islamic community dwindling

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s Zoroastrian community has shrunk by half to 45,000 people since the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution, as members of the ancient faith search for jobs and a better future in the West, their MP said on Wednesday.

Zoroastrians pray around a fireplace in the Zoroastrian temple of Chak Chak in central Iran near the city of Yazd, 677 kilometres southeast of Tehran June 16, 2006. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

“I’m personally worried and I would want the community to return,” said Koroush Niknam, who represents the pre-Islamic religion in Iran’s 290-seat legislature and has registered to stand for re-election in a March 14 parliamentary poll.

“Iran is our birth place ... our prophet was born in this country,” he told Reuters referring to the faith’s founder Zoroaster who is believed to have lived in the 6th century B.C.

Zoroastrianism, the dominant belief in Persia until the Muslim Arab invasion of today’s Iran thirteen centuries ago, is one of three recognized minority religions in the Middle Eastern country together with Christianity and Judaism.

Zoroastrians, who now live mainly in Tehran or the central desert city of Yazd, see life as an eternal conflict between their good god Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, the embodiment of evil.

Like Jewish and Christian Armenian representatives in Iran, Niknam rejected Western accusations that minorities face discrimination in the predominantly Shi’ite Muslim state of 70 million people.

INHERITANCE LAW

The U.S. State Department said in a 2007 report that all religious minorities suffered varying degrees of discrimination in Iran, particularly in employment, education and housing.

The number of Jews and Armenians in the Islamic state has also declined in the last three decades, but Niknam said poor job prospects in Iran were the main factor.

“If there are any problems we are trying to resolve them through the Islamic establishment and there is no need to have a third party step in,” he said in his office, adorned with images of Zoroaster and Islamic Republic’s founding father Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

But Niknam also said there were problems with Iranian legislation under which a member of a minority religion who converts to Islam gets all the family inheritance.

“What do you think will happen to the family? It will be undermined,” he said. Niknam said he had petitioned Khomeini’s successor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, about the issue and suggested he was hopeful for a change of the rules.

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