by Roshni Kharoliwalla
“Intermarriage.” This word brings up what may be the most important and the most controversial issue the Zarathushti community faces today. Should intermarriage be accepted and promoted? This question baffles many and in some cases even tears families and communities apart.
After the fall of the Sasanian empire, some Zarathushtis, to escape Arab persecution moved to China, Central Asia, Punjab and even as far as Europe. Over time they intermarried and lost their distinct religious and ethnic identity and faded away. The only group that survived was the Parsis, which came to Sanjan on the Gujarat coast. Though they compromised on certain social and cultural issues — such as giving up the Persian language (Farsi) for Gujarati, laying down weapons, adopting Indian dress, etc — they refused to compromise on religious issues, such as wearing sudreh kusti, Atash parasti (reverence for fire), marrying only within the fold and not converting others to the Faith, and Manthravani (praying in the original language of the Avesta). The Parsis not just survived in India, but actually flourished because they decided not to tamper with the fundamental ground rules they had laid down for their survival as a religious and ethnic community.
Although intermarriage may be the best way for some religious communities (such as Christians, Muslims, and Hindus) to raise their numbers, we need to remember that there are some differences between these communities and the Zarathushti community. The Zarathushti community is very small compared to these others. When you combine two communities by marriage, the smaller will always mix into and become a part of the larger, never the other way around. That is, if you mix 300,000,000 Christians with a few thousand Zarathushtis, the Zarathushti community will mix in and disappear. When you begin intermarrying, large communities grow at the expense of smaller ones.
The Parsi aversion for mixed marriages should not be confused with “racial superiority” or “communal prejudice.” For Parsis, marrying within the community is important from the point of view of self-preservation. Parsis are torchbearers of a rich culture and heritage. Intermarriage leads to a dilution of faith and weakening of cultural bonds.
In religion, nothing stands higher than the sanctity of the scriptures, and there is nothing weird or “ultra-conservative” in respecting scriptures and trying to follow them as faithfully as one possibly can. Besides our scriptures, which many people think are vague, there are other sources of religious doctrine that Zarathushtis are expected to follow, one of which is the oral tradition that have come to us through history for the last thousands of years. These traditions are timeless and time-tested and if we fail to respect these Religious Laws with faith, discipline and humility, we do not deserve to survive and shall surely cease to exist.
Intermarriages are increasing at an alarming rate. The picture is worsening. A trickle has become a waterfall. Within a generation or two, it looks as if our community will be all but wiped off the face of the earth on the account of Intermarriage alone. The real point to note is that the writing is already in large letters on the wall. Sooner or later, if the escalation of intermarriages remains unchecked, hardly a mirror in the world will be able to reflect an authentic Parsi face.
Parsis do not claim racial superiority. Conservative Parsis seek to treat all humans as equal, but would prefer to remain separate from them in some ways; marrying only those of our own faith is one way for us to do this. Being a Zoroastrian is more than just confessing a religion, it means that we belong to a particular historic group and its every Zoroastrians duty to adhere to the fundamental customs, traditions and percepts laid down by our religion. Religion is man’s method of worshipping God, so it must be followed as God wants, not as man wants. What is religion if it can be changed by man? Therefore, it is our moral obligation and duty as staunch Zarathustis to strictly adhere to this important tenet of marrying within our community and strive to increase our dwindling population so that our religion and community survives.
Our forefathers adhered to the tenants of our religion unwaveringly; their strong faith and ethnic identity helped keep the community together even during trying times. Moreover, in spite of hardships, they prospered, making our lives pleasant and worth living till date. And today the responsibility of our future generations lies in our hands. Its our duty to conserve our religion and make sure that our future generations have enough ground to grow and prosper and also to tend our holy fires! Lets give our children a better life and a fair chance to one of the oldest religions in this world.
Roshni F. Kharoliwalla was born and raised in Mumbai, India. For 160 years, her family has published and distributed Zoroastrian prayer books. She lives with her husband in Madison, Wisconsin, and earned her Bachelors degree in Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin Whitewater in May 2007.