The 8th World Zoroastrian Youth Congress took place in London this week, from July 21st – 26th 2023. It was last held in London 27 years ago.
There were numerous panels, sessions, key-note speeches and socials about young Zoroastrians and their future.
Young Zoroastrians from all over the globe flew in from over 15 different countries.
The congress across six days hosted panels, seminars, thought sessions about the future of the community, interfaith marriage, mental health, anti-normative career choices.
Zoroastrian facts of interest:
- Zoroastrianism is the world’s oldest monotheistic faith.
- The most famous Zoroastrian is Freddie mercury (Freddie Balsara), and even though the world knows his name they know nothing about his community / culture.
- Zoroastrians are mistakenly known as ‘’fire-worshippers as we have an eternal fire that burns in our places of worship.
- The 3 wise men in the Christmas story were Zoroastrians.
- We famously also used the cycle of life theory to bury our dead in the past. (sky burials). In the past, when we died, vultures would eat the body (returned to nature),after the religious ceremony and we thought this was a healthy positive human/animal/earth cycle of life. This has now died out, as there are no vultures.
- We occupied Iran when it was called Persia. When the Muslims took over, Zoroastrians fled across the world as refugees. Our ancestors were refugees in India and the generosity of King Rana helped us to succeed.
- Zoroastrianism is older than Islam and Christianity and numerous other cultures have been influence by Zoroastrian inventions, education, symbolism and more. (Especially our very own British royal family and the freemasons)
- Like the Jewish community, we must be born into the religion, but unlike the Jewish rule which dictates birth by Jewish mother, Zoroastrians can only be accepted in a mixed faith marriage if the father is Zoroastrian.
- As you can’t convert into the religion, one day it will totally die out. We are the smallest underrepresented community in the world.
- Famous British Zoroastrians include …Freddie Mercury, Celebrity chef Cyrus Todiwala, actress Nina Wadia, Lord Bilimoria, BBC News ‘ Matthew Amroliwala.
I was asked to be on two panels. One about Zoroastrians working in the media, and another more informal, interactive Ask Me Anything session.
In attendance were young Zoroastrians from over 15 various countries, with so many of them already achieving brilliant accolades across various industries.
What a great couple of panels at the World Zoroastrian Youth Congress I was honoured to take part in.
So many young Zoroastrians from over 15 countries and all so smart, funny, dynamic and hot! There were around 500 people in the room, even after partying until 5am! Impressive
It was so good to see young people from my community globally achieving so much.
Who knew we were this talented?
There were some great speakers and questions.
Below are just a handful of interesting attendees I heard about who would make brilliant stories.
1. Ruzbeh Hodiwala – from India/ studying in the UK
Ruzbeh Hodiwala is a Zoroastrian scholar at SOAS who has conducted extensive research and delivered numerous speeches on Neo Zoroastrians (Converts) and the future of the religion.
Angle: Focus on the dwindling population and reduced acceptance of converts.
2. Natalie & Nicole Kanga – are from the USA
Natalie and Nicole Kanga are sisters from an interfaith marriage. Both have played instrumental roles in their local Zoroastrian communities, organizing events and delivering speeches. Natalie spoke on the headliner panel about ‘Relationships’ and the future of the community. Natalie works at a mental health startup, while Nicole is in project management. Both are fantastic advocates for the community, speak very well, and continuously work to promote acceptance and inclusivity within the faith.
Angle: Focus on relationships, inter-faith marriage and the identity of youth who have grown up in inter-faith households. Promote acceptance and how coming together can even be our superpower. This is also a theme that may resonate with other South Asian communities.
3. Shreas Pardiwala – is from India
Shreas Pardiwala is a Bollywood actor and psychologist from Bombay and clearly extremely popular with an infectious, addictive personality – the audience adored him!. This was his first time at the congress, and he spoke on multiple topics, including Zoroastrians in the media, and mental health. He is very comfortable in front of the camera and obviously a star.
Angle: Focus on Zoroastrians breaking out of ‘normative’ careers and into creative pursuits.
4. Parshan Koshravi – from both the USA & Iran
Parshan Koshravi is a young democrat from California and the 7th World Zoroastrian Youth Congress Chair. He gave a talk on Zoroastrians in public life. His unique and interesting journey is worth following, especially as there were a few panels focused on the role of Zoroastrians and human rights, which connects back to our heritage with the Cyrus cylinder.
Angle: Focus on his political career and his pursuit to embody values of good thoughts, words and deeds to develop communities of good. Much of his political work surrounds human rights.
5. Ayesha Billimoria -is from India
Ayesha Billimoria is an athlete who was once the fastest woman in India. She is considered one of India’s most successful athletes. Ayesha gave a talk at the Congress and also runs a social enterprise where she promotes young South Asian girls’ involvement in sports.
Angle: Similar to Shreas, Ayesha is breaking out of that ‘normative’ career, really embodying the value that Zoroastrian girls can live for themselves and empowering those around her.
The whole congress was organised and led by the young Zoroastrians in the UK
The Zoroastrian faith, which has endured for over 3500 years, carries a profound message of Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds. In a world increasingly divided, with a current population of only around 200,000, it is crucial to gather the next generation to ensure the survival and development of this ancient religion. The 8WZYC aims to host a variety of speaker sessions, workshops and social events to foster diversity and inclusion within the Zoroastrian community.
The congress reignited connections by inspiring young Zoroastrians to address the challenges of dwindling numbers and leverage their diverse population. Over 70 distinguished speakers shared insights on various topics, including inter-faith marriage, LGBTQ+ relationships, conversion, and the achievements of young Zoroastrians in media, arts, and sports.
In addition to the enriching sessions, evening events provided a platform for the youth to network, engage, and explore different aspects of their identity. Attendees had the opportunity to experience Persian dancing and instrumental performances, fostering connections that transcend borders and amplify the global voice of Zoroastrianism.
Key Themes at the congress were:
1. Religious Education & Identity – This theme will provide delegates with insights into the rich history of Zoroastrianism and how it relates to their current values, behaviour, and overall identity.
2. Social Responsibility – This theme will address a range of issues, from sustainability to human rights, and explore the role that young Zoroastrians can play in tackling these challenges.
3. Networking and Opportunities – This theme will highlight career pathways in media, entrepreneurship, design and more, as well as opportunities to network and create lasting connections with others.
Thank you to the young London based team who coordinated an incredible lineup of speakers. Stay connected!