Not Just Islam in Iran

Trip Start Dec 12, 2010
Trip End Dec 16, 2012

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Flag of Iran  ,
Wednesday, April 10, 2013

When heading to Iran, we knew it was an Islamic country and that we would be visiting many mosques. We knew we would learn more about this religion, and that Karen would have to wear a head scarf when in public. We knew that Iran was Islamic, and possibly a dry country in terms of alcohol. What we didn't know, was that as far as religions go, there is not just Islam in Iran.

Yes, that’s right. Islam is the main religion in Iran. But back in the times of the Achaemenid Empire, the state religion was Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism is an ancient Iranian religion in which its followers believe in one universal god and the importance of good deeds, good thoughts and good words. Today in Iran many people still follow the principals of Zoroastrianism, as there is not just Islam in Iran.

When we were in Tehran, we were immediately enlightened to the religion of Zoroastrianism, as many buildings around the city featured the Zoroastrianism symbol. Then, during our visit to Persepolis we could easily identify the symbol once again. But it wasn’t until we reached Yazd that we actually realised that there is not just Islam in Iran.

While visiting Yazd’s Zaroastrian Fire Temple, we were able to acknowledge Zoroastrianism as an active religion in Iran, as we witnessed pilgrims visiting the temple. These pilgrims were here to see the fire that has been burning the third century AD. In the Zoroastrian religion, earth, water, and fire are key elements of the beliefs.

After visiting the fire temple, we then ventured to the Towers of Silence. Not actually towers, but rocky hills on the outskirts of Yazd. This place is a significant pre-Islamic Zoroastrian site. We climbed one of the hills to find a pit, which we were told was the place where Zoroastrians placed their deceased. They then allowed the vultures to naturally clean the corpses before pouring acid onto the bodies, therefore dissolving the bones into the earth. Obviously this place is no longer used as a place to 'rest’ the dead, but a clear reminder that there is not just Islamic history in Iran.

With all this talk about Zoroastrian sites, we hope you don’t get the impression that Yazd is the Zoroastrian capital of the world. Yes it does have some historical Zoroastrian sites, but it also has a lot of other sites. While in Yazd we visited the Jamme (Friday) Mosque, the Shrine to the 12 Imams, and admired the genius of the wind towers which are scattered throughout the city. Yazd being a desert city, has a warm climate, and the genius of wind towers (which catch the wind and act like air conditioning), and the underground water channels and reservoirs, allowed people to live comfortably before air conditioners were invented.

Anyway, let’s get back to Zoroastrianism shall we? After getting some Zoroastrian knowledge in Yazd, we headed out into the desert to visit a religious site for the Zoroastrians of the world. This was is called ‘Chakh Chakh’ literally meaning ‘drip drip’. As we arrived in the heat, we were faced with a rocky path, leading to many steps which lead to a Zoroastrian temple. We looked around to find many people making the climb to the temple, and we were once reminded that there is not just Islam in Iran.

A little out of breathe from the climb, we entered the temple in a cave to find water all over the ground, and we could hear the constant drip of the ‘holy water’. We watched as believers participated in prayer at the prayer niche, wet their hands, and also drank the ‘holy water’. As we walked out of the temple, we noticed the door had a similar relief to the ones found in the ancient Achaemenid city of Persepolis. This made sense as the state religion of the Achaeminid Empire was in fact Zoroastrianism. We left Chakh Chakh with a little more knowledge of Zoroastrianism and had it clear in our heads that there is not just Islam in Iran.

Reflecting on our expectations of what we would see and learn while in Iran, we were amazed. We had not expected to come to Iran and learn about another religion other than Islam. We had not expected to see other religious sights, and we had not expected to be saying ’there is not just Islam in Iran’. But in the end, that’s the way it is.  
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