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(From “The Zoroastrian Tradition’ by Farhang Mehr)

Zoroastrianism is the first religion that has taken a doctrinal & political stand on the subject of human rights and has condemned the limitation or curtailment of those rights under any pretext.

Although it is a modern legal coinage not used in religious literatures of the past, the concept of human rights as a system of values & ideas is ingrained in Zoroastrianism. In Zoroastrianism the idea of human rights stems from the principle that man is created to be a co-worker with God and as such ought to try to emulate the master of the craft. Being only a good creator, God has created the Universe and man as essentially good.

The Prophet’s insistence on freedom of choice in acceptance of a faith; Zarathushtra’s advice to his daughter to respond to the call of wisdom & love in her choice of a bridegroom; the recognition of the equality of men & women in all respects; the condemnation of autocratic & unjust rule and the recommendation to the faithful not to submit to oppressive rulers – all these demonstrates the values of human rights in Zoroastrianism. The Zoroastrian notion of human rights is the natural extension of the two doctrines of the goodness of God and the function of man as God’s co-worker.

Violence, oppression, exploitation, extortion & trespassing are not godly qualities and man is advised to avoid them. Physical assault & mental torture are reprehensible acts, whether committed by individuals or by governments; they are strictly forbidden. The word ‘slavery’ is nonexistent in the Gathas.

The commitment to equality of human beings, irrespective of ethnic origin & sex, is evident in the Gathas. The Gathas give equal praise to Fryana of the Turanian ethnic group and to Maidyomah, the Prophet’s nephew, and to Jamaspa of the Hvogva tribe. The privileges of people are commensurate with their righteousness and not with their ethnic affiliation.

The equality of males & females is unreservedly admitted. The particular attention given to the equality of sexes in Zoroastrianism is not matched by any other religion. In all his sermons the Prophet gives recognition to man, ‘Na’, and woman, ‘Nairi’, by addressing them separately and on equal footing. He gives both men & women complete freedom in the choice of creed and marriage. In a sermon addressed to his daughter Pouruchista, Zarathushtra teaches young men & women to consult with their inner self – with their perfect wisdom & love (Armaity) – before entering into the uniting bond of marriage.

Overwhelmed with the equality of the sexes in the Holy Scriptures, the later Zoroastrian sages extended the Gathic principle of the equality of the sexes to the attributes of God. In the Younger Avesta, the names of the three attributes retain their Gathic female gender, and three other named reflect the male gender.

No caste system or class privilege is recognized in the Gathas. Zoroastrianism rose against the caste system prevalent in Indo-Iranian societies. In the Gathas the Prophet reprimands the two classes of ‘Karapans’ & ‘Kavis’; he avoids any allusion to Athravan & Magis as a class lest that would be interpreted as an implied recognition of hereditary privilege in the priesthood. The class system of the Sassanian era, of priests, warriors, husbandmen, & artisans had its roots in pre-Gathic Iranian society, probably reintroduced by the Magi.

The Gathas recognize only a vertical social structure based on ‘Nmana’ (Family), ‘Vis’ (clan or village), ‘Zantu’ (tribe or city), & ‘Dahyu’ (Country).


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