Family, Kinship, and Culture

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Parsis/Jamshed Mavalwala

Given the small size of the Zoroastrian community in Canada, simple numerical survival is a matter of constant concern. Zoroastrians are acutely aware that the current trend is to marry later in life than in earlier times and to have small families of one or two children only. Although the actual number of Zoroastrians in Canada has grown, this is because of immigration, not because of natural increase. A related concern is that the community may lose members through marriage with non-Zoroastrians. In India and Pakistan, and also in Iran, the Zoroastrian minorities were large enough and cohesive enough to provide ample opportunity for young people to find marriage partners within the community, but the situation in Canada is very different. In Canada the young people in the community go to school and enjoy a social life with youngsters from many other traditions and faiths. They meet very few Zoroastrians, however. As a result, intermarriages are common in Canada. These marriages are accepted as inevitable by many, but for some there is a question about the status of the children of such unions.

The Parsis do not practise conversion, for which no mechanism or system exists. One is born into this religious community. While in the past in the Indian subcontinent, intercommunity or mixed marriages occurred, and the children of Parsis fathers but non-Parsi mothers entered the community, the practice of defining a Parsi as the child of two Parsi parents remained the norm. Increasingly, a growing segment of the Parsi community in Canada accepts the children of intermarriages as Parsis regardless of whether it is their father or their mother who is a Parsi, on condition that both parents agree. The question of membership in the community – “Who can become a Zoroastrian?” – is also increasingly being asked. While some members of the community would welcome all who wish to convert, others are very reluctant to accept conversion, or even to accept the children of intermarriages as Parsis.

Another concern of Zoroastrians in Canada is the loss of the languages of both segments of the community. Zoroastrian children born and raised in Canada learn English and French, and they see little advantage in studying Gujarati or Farsi. The community urges young people to attend language classes, but currently the native languages are increasingly being abandoned. For Zoroastrians in Canada, as for all immigrant communities, the tensions between parents who were brought up in the culture of the homeland and children who are being raised in a Canadian context create a generation gap, particularly in the areas of cultural behaviour and religious practices. While the Zoroastrian community deals with this stress quite well, it continues to try to improve the dialogue between younger members of the community and its elders.

Since Zoroastrian women always have been as well-educated as their brothers, and since they inherit property equally, the role of Zoroastrian women in Canada has not changed dramatically after immigration. The possibility of women participating in the religious functions of the community in Canada has even been broached, but without success. The Parsi priesthood remains open only to males on a hereditary basis.