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Religion in Iran

Iran has been the home of several religions, which either arose in it or found a permanent abode within its boundaries. Generally speaking, we can make a distinction between the religions that originated in Iran and are called Iranian, and Islam, which, although of Semitic origin, has been the religion of Iran for the past fourteen centuries. The Iranians contributed much to Islamic civilization and Islamic thought itself, and accepted Islam whole-heartedly.

Therefore, in speaking of the religion of Iran we must include not only the Iranian religions but Islam as well. The Iranian tribes that invaded the plateau and finally settled on it practiced a religion similar to that of the Indo-Europeans in general and to Hinduism in particular, many of the Hindu gods being known also to the ancient Persians. It seems, however, that some kind of religious difference had caused the Iranians and the Indians to separate from each other. For example, the word deva, which is related to the English word divinity, has the positive sense of an angelic being in Hinduism, but among the ancient Persians it had the opposite connotation of an evil and demonic being. Nevertheless, the religion of the Persians in the pre-historic period was of the Aryan type with close affinities with other Indo-European religions.

There were also among the Persians a group called the Magi who practiced certain methods to reach a state of religious ecstasy. The Magi, who were famous as masters of wisdom, survived into the Zoroastrian period. They are known in the West through the story of the three Magi who were present at the birth of Christ and also through the word magic, which is derived from their name. Some have even called the Zoroastrians themselves the Magi, but it would be more correct to reserve the term Zoroastrian specifically for the followers of the religion of Zoroaster.

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