Zoroastrianism emerged more than 1,000 years before the rise of Islam, in the remote desert of Babylon (today Iran). This religious tradition professes belief in one all-powerful and supreme god, and is rich with moral codes and apocalyptic notions. The historical development of Zoroastrianism is problematic, for there are numerous gaps in recorded works and many of the texts are not datable. However, the direct influence that this tradition had on the ancient Israelites, and on later Christian and Islamic religious practices and belief systems, cannot be questioned. Zoroastrianism is alive today in small remnant communities in both India and Iran. These communities have preserved the tradition for the past 14 centuries. Although there are only about 100,000 adherents to the Zoroastrian tradition living today, Zoroastrianism is considered a great religious tradition because of the structure of its religious ideas and its contribution to the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The religious beliefs of Zoroastrians are grounded on belief in the supreme creator god Ahura Mazda, meaning "Wise Lord." In ancient times, these people were referred to as Mazda worshippers who practiced the highest moral standards of the "Good Religion." The ethical component of Zoroastrianism emphasizes morality as both an ideal and as an achievement. Zoroastrians claim their vocation in goodness in thought, word, and deed. They have lived this vocation throughout the centuries, and have earned a solid reputation for trustworthiness in both the social and business worlds of ancient and modern times.
The name Zoroastrian refers to the traditions and the prophetic founder and teacher of the faith, Zarathushtra, whose name among the Greeks came to be known as Zoroaster. As a prophet, meaning one who speaks to god, Zoroaster revealed the secrets and will of Ahura Mazda, proper religious conduct, practices, and beliefs. Zoroaster, a great son of Persia, flourished 258 years before Alexander the Great, making him active in about 558 B.C.E.
Zoroaster's life followed a unique path. As an infant and youth, legends indicate that Zoroaster was protected from an attack by wild beasts. As a man he was given the gift of healing, and he performed miraculous cures such as reviving a horse near death. Zoroaster continued to develop into his role as a prophet, and entered into a spiritual odyssey testing his faith against demonic forces that attempted to steer him toward the path of evil via temptation. It was at this time when Zoroaster began the first stages of Zoroastrianism that he had a vision of Ahura Mazda, the one supreme creator god. In his vision, Zoroaster saw this good god in his heavenly realm, surrounded by six Amesha Spentas-holy immortals or angels. This moment helped Zoroaster understand that religion reflects an ongoing universal battle. In his vision from Ahura Mazda, Zoroaster was made aware that the forces of light (good) are in constant combat with the demonic counterpart, Angra Mainyu. Angra Mainyu is the dark antagonist to the god of light, Ahura Mazda. Angra Mainyu is surrounded by his evil spirits called the Lie, who serve his every command. Zoroaster called this dark army the daeva, which is a polytheistic term meaning "many gods."
The history of how Zoroastrianism was created comes from the legend describing a great battle between Ahura Mazda, the god of truth, and Angra Mainyu, the god of the lie. This notion of the constant battle between truth and lies was most satisfactory to Zoroaster when he witnessed all the evil around him, and he believed that Ahura Mazda was only good, and through him humans could be good. This belief led Zoroaster to preach the news of one supreme creator god, and to choose a path of goodness over evil.
The evolution of the Zoroastrian religion is based on secrets and ethical teachings that Ahura Mazda shared with Zoroaster. Zoroaster began a new religious movement of believing in one god in the Babylonian region.
The Zoroastrian tradition includes a strong belief in sacred texts called the Avestan Scriptures. They are deemed the holiest of Zoroastrian literature because they are believed to be delivered by the god Ahura Mazda to Zoroaster who compiled the Avestan Scriptures himself. The Avestan Scriptures are written in their original form of old Persian, which is the oldest form of the Persian language dating back to the Achaemenian era (559-331 B.C.E.). The Avestan Scriptures are divided into major and minor sections. The major section of the Scriptures focuses on right worship, laws, sayings, and the resurrection of Zoroaster. The religious worship for Zoroastrians is done through the sayings of a collection of hymns that are recited daily. These are called the "Five Gathas," and are written by Zoroaster himself as a personal address to Ahura Mazda, praying to God for righteousness. All Zoroastrians are to worship Ahura Mazda as the one and only supreme god.