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Religion in the Achaemenid Period

In Iran, according to available sources, there existed a faith called Mizda'i which professed faith in one god named Ahura-Mizda, a name, having a root which is similar to a Greek word, meaning , great and possessor of wisdom', hence Ahur-Mizda would mean the great god of wisdom and reason. This faith professed belief in god as the unique creator of the world, and a belief in a number of secondary and tertiary gods, and in angels, in the resurrection which is all very significant, and also in good deeds as something very essential. Thus it is a highly interesting point of note that as a result of such basic religious education in ancient Iran, Islam spread so swiftly eastward.

The Mizda'i religion during subsequent periods became corrupted with superstitions so that a man called Zoroaster appeared to reform the Mizda'i religion. His place of appearance has been a subject of controversy in history. 28

Of course Zoroaster is not a prophet but a reformer of the Mizda'i code. As to the appearance of Zoroaster quite odd accounts are related in history about the place and the date of his appearance, though generally historical indications place his appearance about six centuries B.C. simultaneously in regions which had a common origin and similar conditions, namely India and Iran. In Iran Mizda'i faith is an ancient religion, and in India Brahmanism is an ancient faith, but no evidence is available about the date of origin of either of them. Mizda'i faith was later on corrupted by superstitions, and Zoroaster as the reformer makes his appearance in Iran. In India Brahmanism, too, gets mixed with superstitions, and a man named Buddha appears to reform it. There is a great resemblance between the life of Zoroaster and Buddha in all the phases from the beginning to the end. In the Semitic regions, too, six centuries later, namely concurrent with the rise of Jesus 29 Christ (a.s.) the main faith had been the monotheistic religion of Judaism. This religion to faith was spoilt by superstitions, and a man named Jesus rose to fight those superstitions. In this way the life of Jesus Christ (a.s.) resembles those of Zoroaster and Buddha. I do truly wish that I could have delved in deeper study in the similarity present, especially in the case of Zoroaster and Buddha, as both of them have a fifty percent resemblance with the lire of Jesus. There is another common characteristic between the lives of Jesus and Zoroaster; the history of Christianity shows that Jesus was ordained as a prophet at the age of thirty. It is said that Zoroaster, too, rose at the same age as a reformer to correct the Mizda'i code by the order of Ahura-Mizda.

Before the rise of Zoroaster, according to the available testimonials of history a class named the Magi held responsibility for religious practices in Iran especially in Azarbayjan, as keepers of the fires. It is has been said that Zoroaster himself was at first either of the Magi class or in contact with them and had even wished to become a Magus. There is a frequent mention of Magus and Magi in the Achaemenid inscriptions, but no mention is made of Zororaster. In Zororaster's hymns, called 'Gathas', no mention has been made of the Magi except in one place, and no mention is made of Darius and Achaemenids at all. Thus it is not clear for us whether the religion in the time of the Achaemenids and Darius' era had been Mizda'i faith or zoroastrianism or different schools of Budaism. What is certain, however, is that Judaism had existed as a religion and then had been patronised by Darius. 30 This point is mentioned in the Jewish holy books as well as historical records. 31 What also appears certain is that in those days in 'he realm of Iran various faiths had been prevalent, and there may not have been a formal or a state religion as such especially since no mention is made of Zoroaster in the inscriptions of Darius, nor has there been a mention of the Achaemenids in the 'Gathas'. This could lead us to deduce that state and religion had separate existence, allowing people to practice their own religion and letting the government proceed with its own function. It is in the Sassanid period that religion gains the government' s support and there is a state it became the religion of the country. This aspect warrants an exclusive and objective study of the Sassanid period since it is closely related to the age of the rise of Islam.

To sum up, this eastern neighbour of Arabia was twelve centuries ahead of Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, in extent, greatness, power, natural resources, social, technical and administrative progress and attainment of central governmental organisation and also historical precedence. How, then, did it happen that such an advanced country should succumb so easily to a newly-risen movement originating in Hejaz, is the topic for our further discussion.

28. History has referred to Azarbayjan in one case as the place where Zoroaster made his appearance, and Susa (Shoosh) capital of the Achaemenid kings as another spot, and again elsewhere in eastern Iran in the deserts of Baluchestan.

29. History of Judaism in Iran, Vol. 1, pp. 25 onward.

30. Ancient Iran, Hassan Pimia, Vol. 2, p. 52.

31. In the Torah the namme of Darius, son of Histaspes, has been mentioned in a few places: once in the Book of Azra, Chapter Six, Verse 1, saying: "Then King Darius ordered a search in the library of Babylon which held treasures". and then in Verse 15 of the same chapter related to Darius' order f or building a temple: "This temple was completed on the third of Azar in the sixth year of Darius' reign." Likewise, the Book of Prophet Zachariah (a.s.), too, mentions, him in Chapter 1, Verse 1 and Chapter 7, Verse 1. It should be mentioned that in ancient times, we come across the names of two other Dariuses, namely the Median Darius the last Median king, and Darius the 2nd or 3rd who was vanquished by Alexander, and they should not be mistaken f or Darius the Great.

Adapted from the book: "Background of the Birth of Islam" by: "S. T. H. Khwarazmi"

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