It’s rock ’n’ roll and re­li­gion

Fred­die Mer­cury film de­picts fam­ily clash over their an­cient faith

Albany Times Union - - FAITH & VALUES - By Va­sudha Narayanan The Con­ver­sa­tion

In the new film about Fred­die Mer­cury, “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody,” there’s a scene in which a fam­ily mem­ber scolds the lead singer of glam rock band Queen.

“So now the fam­ily name is not good enough for you?”

“I changed it legally,” Mer­cury re­sponds. “No look­ing back.”

He was born Far­rokh Bul­sara. His was a mi­grant fam­ily. Their first home was in In­dia. Then they moved to Zanz­ibar, be­fore set­tling in Eng­land, and they were Zoroas­tri­ans, mem­bers of one of the world’s old­est re­li­gions.

Zoroaster, a prophet who lived in mod­ern-day Iran, is viewed as the faith’s founder around 1200 B.C. He is be­lieved to have com­posed the Gathas, hymns that make up much of the Yasna, the litur­gi­cal texts of the Zoroas­tri­ans for whom Ahura Mazda is the supreme lord and cre­ator who rep­re­sents all that is good. In this as­pect, the re­li­gion is one of the first ex­am­ples of monothe­ism, the be­lief in one god.

Schol­ars have noted the his­tor­i­cal in­flu­ence that Zoroas­tri­an­ism has had on con­cepts in Ju­daism, Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam, in­clud­ing monothe­ism and the du­al­ity of good and evil.

Flee­ing re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion from Mus­lims in Per­sia be­tween the sev­enth and 10th cen­turies, the Zoroas­tri­ans set­tled in In­dia, where they came to be called “Par­sis.”

In In­dia — and wher­ever they have gone — Par­sis have adopted some of the cus­toms of the land they live in, while main­tain­ing their cul­ture, re­li­gious rit­u­als and be­liefs.

Today, Zoroas­tri­an­ism has a shrink­ing but de­vout fol­low­ing, es­ti­mated at be­tween 128,000 and 190,000 mem­bers around the world, with 18,000 liv­ing in the United States. Par­sis count a num­ber of fa­mous mu­si­cians, sci­en­tists, schol­ars, artists and en­trepreneurs among their ranks.

Like his an­ces­tors, Fred­die Mer­cury in­te­grated into a new cul­ture and be­came a Western pop icon.

“What his Zoroas­trian faith gave him,” his sis­ter Kash­mira Cooke ex­plained in 2014, “was to work hard, to per­se­vere, and to fol­low your dreams.”

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