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Faravahar, symbol of Zoroaster, at a Fire Temple in Yazd.

Digitized Zoroastrian Love App! The Preserver or Destroyer of Ancient Ways?

Zarin Havewala is an emerging Indian internet entrepreneur who has unashamedly cashed in on a niche religious sector. While ‘Christian Mingle’ and ‘Jdate’ unite the lonely hearts of Christians and Jews all over the world, Parsis (Indian for ‘Persians') now brings together followers of an ancient monotheistic faith that pre-dates both Islam and Christianity.

‘Zoroastrianism' was the official religion of Persia for more than a millennium, but the modern community is seeing decreasing numbers. "So far, 55 couples have found their partners through my efforts — 53 couples are already married, and two more couples are engaged to be married soon," says Ms Havewala, a Mumbai-based mother-of-two, to an ABC.net.au article. "The way the numbers are going, within 50 years or a maximum 100 years, we just won't be there — I'm talking about Parsis in India," Ms Havewala says.

Parsi wedding (exchange of rings).

Parsi wedding (exchange of rings). ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Ms Havewala now manages "an international database of Zoroastrian bachelors and bachelorettes” and leverages an “extensive list of names and numbers, careers and qualifications, ages and email addresses that's shared with singles who are looking for love,” she told reporters.

"Zoroastrians came to India about 200 years after the advent of Islam in Persia [because] there was a lot of oppression and religious conversion," Ms Havewala explained. About seven years ago, “it struck me very badly [that] a lot of our youngsters are getting married outside the community" Ms Havewala added, and she aims to reduce this trend.

Trio of Women at Zoroastrian Fire Temple - Yazd - Central Iran

Trio of Women at Zoroastrian Fire Temple - Yazd - Central Iran. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Zoroastrianism emerged from a common prehistoric Indo-Iranian religious belief system which dates back to the early 2nd millennium BC. The prophet “Zoroaster” is held as a reformer of the polytheistic Iranian religion, who lived in the 10th century BC. Zoroastrians believe that there is one universal, transcendent, supreme god, Ahura Mazda, or the "Wise Lord.”

There are 200,000 Zoroastrians worldwide with the majority (around 60,000) residing in India. Although it took Ms Havewala seven years to get her ‘Parsi-only’ dating app off the ground, the first to tap into this open-market, Aapro - which is basically Tinder in a different skin - was launched in 2016 by the Indian model and actor Viraf Patel.

Religion and Technology, Angels and Demons?

Many historians believe “Parsi protectionism” is to blame for the religion’s declining numbers, and in their attempts to protect the ancient Persian genome in India, the administrators of the religion prohibited inter-faith marriages, effectively stopping new people entering the faith. All things considered, might this new technological approach to “saving a dying religion” only serve to enhance the decline of followers?

The app developers and marketeers in India are fully aware of the results of recent studies into the mental effects of dating apps and they have carefully designed ways to mask and sell “around” these devastatingly negative effects. A new study featured in Time Magazine, which was presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, suggested some detrimental psychological effects of the popular dating app Tinder. In conclusion scientists discovered that “compared to people who weren’t on the dating app, Tinder users had lower levels of self-worth, reported being less satisfied with their faces and looks and were more ashamed of their bodies.” Tinder users were also "more likely to think of themselves as sexual objects, to internalize societal ideals about beauty, to compare their appearances to others and to constantly monitor how they looked,” the researchers found.

A Parsee Wedding, National Geographic, 1905.

A Parsee Wedding, National Geographic, 1905. ( Public Domain )

In the face of this, the Zoroastrian app controllers told reporters that “technologies and database-wrangling matchmakers will not only help Zoroastrians, they'll bring new life to the faith.” This is an unusual statement for people who know that any such secular dating app will potentially degenerate the self-esteems of its users and bring hardship into an already wobbling ancient religion. In the stark light of day, and over the long term, this, and all similar apps are akin to ‘sowing dragons teeth.’ In reality, the priesthoods of this ancient faith are powerless against financially backed app developers and a growing ‘relationship hungry’ populous.

And spiritually, users have peace of mind, in that even by breaking all the religious rules, according to Zoroastrian scripture, the end of the world will see the “wicked purified of their sins.” So all good there! Can you even begin to imagine how this new app must ‘feel’ for older Zoroastrians? Watching helplessly, as one of the oldest ‘faith’ systems in the world is digitized and dehumanized. My heart (swipe right) goes out to them all. Genuinely.

Top image: Faravahar, symbol of Zoroaster, at a Fire Temple in Yazd. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

By Ashley Cowie

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