In 1986 there were an estimated 32,000 Zoroastrians in Iran. They speak Persian and are concentrated in Tehran, Kerman, and Yazd. Zoroastrianism initially developed in Iran during the seventh century B.C. Later, it became the official religion of the Sassanid Empire, which ruled over Iran for approximately four centuries before being destroyed by the Arabs in the seventh century A.D. After Iran’s incorporation into the Islamic empire, the majority of its population was gradually converted from Zoroastrianism to Islam, a process that was probably completed by the tenth century.
During the Qajar era there was considerable prejudice against Zoroastrians. In the mid-nineteenth century, several thousand Zoroastrians emigrated from Iran to British-ruled India to improve their economic and social status. Many eventually acquired wealth in India and subsequently expended part of their fortunes on upgrading conditions in the Zoroastrian communities of Iran. The emphasis placed on Iran’s pre- Islamic heritage by the Pahlavis also helped Zoroastrians to achieve a more respected position in society. Many of them migrated from Kerman and Yazd to Tehran, where they accumulated significant wealth as merchants and in real estate. By the 1970s, younger Zoroastrians were entering the professions.
Like the Christians and Jews, the Zoroastrians are recognized as an official religious minority under the Constitution of 1979. They are permitted to elect one representative to the Majlis and, like the other legally accepted minorities, may seek employment in the government. They generally enjoy the same civil liberties as Muslims. Although Zoroastrians probably have encountered individual instances of prejudice, they have not been persecuted because of their religious beliefs.
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