Global and Iranian history are both closely intertwined with the lives and destinies of prominent figures. Every one of them has laid a brick on history's wall, sometimes paying the price with their lives, men and women alike. Women have been especially influential in the last 200 years, writing much of contemporary Iranian history.
In Iran, women have increased public awareness about gender discrimination, raised the profile of and improved women's rights, fought for literacy among women, and promoted the social status of women by counteracting religious pressures, participating in scientific projects, being involved in politics, influencing music, and cinema. And so the list goes on.
This series aims to celebrate these renowned and respected Iranian women. They are women who represent the millions of women that influence their families and societies on a daily basis. Not all of the people profiled in the series are endorsed by IranWire, but their influence and impact cannot be overlooked. These articles are biographical stories that consider the lives of influential women in Iran.
Mahshad Khosroyani is the first female in North America to have become a Zoroastrian mobed, or priest. Age 20 when she embarked on her religious calling, she is also the youngest.
Khosroyani was born in Tehran in 1992 to a Zoroastrian family. Her grandfather, grandmother, and family elders spoke and conducted their religious ceremonies in the Dari language, and provided her with solid roots in and devotion to Zoroastrianism.
She was educated at Giv School in Tehran, one of the oldest Zoroastrian schools in Iran, and which was founded by two sisters, Sonabaei and Zarbaei, in memory of their late younger brother, Iraj. The school is still a prominent school in the capital today.
Like all children in the school, Mahshad Khosroyani’s education was led by the gathas, the 17 hymns believed to be composed by Zoroaster, the founder of the faith, and religious rituals, including the Jashn-Khani ritual.
She was an enthusiastic student, and embraced her religious teachings, which gradually became the path she took for her future life. Khosroyani’s parents, realizing her growing enthusiasm and seeing her interest in volunteering for charitable causes, were determined to support their daughter every step of the way.
Her father traveled to Canada because of his work, eventually settling there with his family and permanently immigrating to the country in 2000. This decision changed Mahshad Khosroyani’s life.
Fortunately, her new home, Toronto, was also home to a large community of Zoroastrians, including converts, as well as Iranians, and she was able to pursue the religious path she had begun in Iran.
The Canadian Zoroastrian religious community operated somewhat differently from what she had been used to in Iran. The Zoroastrians of Toronto were not as concerned with the practice of religious teachings and rituals as the Zoroastrians of Iran were, and the vital importance that a Zoroastrian religious family from Iran placed on these practices did not seem as essential for Zoroastrians in Khosroyani’s new country. However, with the help of the Canadian Zoroastrian community, Khosroyani started teaching the Avesta, the religion’s sacred text, to children.
She also led Zoroastrian children in Navjote ceremonies, a celebration that inducts an individual into the religion, and often takes place during adolescence.
Khosroyani sought to build a bridge between Iranian Zoroastrians and Parsi Zoroastrians, who immigrated to the US and Canada from India and other countries. Although the two branches of the religion are closely linked, they differ in their approaches, religious practice and outlook. In Khosroyani’s public religious addresses, she emphasizes the common ground between the two groups.
A Female Mobed — Why Not?
Khosroyani emphasizes that she grew up in a family that always promoted and supported equality between men and women. Despite this, she says she has faced discrimination — including from some Zoroastrian leaders who have argued that women should not hold the highest positions in the faith. As she became more serious about her preaching, she realized that the most important work of Zoroastrianism in Canada, ranging from studying and teaching the Avesta to more elaborate ceremonies and rituals, were managed and guided by men. Where is women’s role in these important practices and worship, she demanded to know? She says she has had to work to succeed as a woman, although she says she has never believed she should have any special treatment or rights because of her gender. She felt it was important to prove herself in practice through hard work and thus demonstrate to the elders and her wider religious community that she had the right vision and drive to play a key role in Zoroastrianism.
Mahshad Khosroyani is well versed in the religious history and narratives of Zoroastrianism, and has been since her childhood. In the course of her studies of the history of Zoroastrianism, she came across women who were equal to men in political, social, and even religious roles; in their influence, the supremacy of one gender over the other did not exist. These women inspired Khosroyani from the age of 16, and became determined to play a key role in the religious education of those around her.
It was at age 16 that she embarked on a course of Zoroastrian mobed training taught by Kerman Katarak. Katarak was the first person after Khosroyani’s parents to believe in her abilities, and introduced her to another Zoroastrian religious leader named Jahan Begley, who was the president of the North American Mobeds Council and became Khosroyani’s mentor. From age of 17 to 20, Khosroyani underwent arduous studies taught by world-class teachers, and she began teaching Avesta at an advanced level.
Jahan believed that becoming a mobed involved so much more than studying and reading the Avesta, and that it required commitment, diligence and persistence to achieve the level of spiritualism required for the very important and unique role. Khosroyani underwent three years of intensive training and religious study.
In 2011, Khosroyani had a moving and inspiring experience. A grand ceremony was held in Khosravi Hall in Tehran, during which eight Zoroastrian women were inducted as assistant mobeds. Until that day, she had believed that only men could attain such a high degree in religion. She suddenly realized that nothing could stop her from moving into an influential role in her religion.
Support from the Community
In 2012, Jahan and several other Parsi mobeds put their support behind Khosroyani, and committed to help her achieve her dream to become a mobed. And they had a unique proposal: that she travel to Iran and obtain the consent of Iranian mobeds to affirm her knowledge and learning.
She went to Iran in the summer of 2012. She spoke to members of the Tehran Zoroastrian Mobeds' Association, and they assessed her learning, analyzing and testing her knowledge of the Avesta, the Avestan alphabet, and the Gathas.
Mahshad Khosroyani feared it would be difficult to obtain the permission and approval of Zoroastrian elders to become a mobed, because the eight Zoroastrian female assistant mobeds each had at least 10 years of experience. The elders were initially hesitant to seriously consider endorsing Khosroyani, who they regarded as a curious little girl, but eventually they agreed to give her a three-year provisional permission, during which time they said they would monitor her progress. She would then become an assistant mobed.
Khosroyani has contributed religious articles to the Huffington Post and the Zoroastrian Society of Ontario, among others. She has also been a guest on Radio Asha.
Despite her devout spiritual aspirations, and her commitment to teaching, Khosroyani says she has tried to live a normal life, spending time with friends, pursuing non-religious educational studies, and engaging in business and leisure pursuits normal for her age.
Mahshad Khosroyani has said that she believes "good thoughts, good speech, and good deeds" are not necessarily religious doctrine, but a philosophical path to salvation, and that these values are not limited to followers of Zoroastrianism — every human being can apply these three vital principles to make the world a better place.