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The Mazdaki Faith (Mazdakism)

Mazdakism was in fact a religious movement with very strong social objectives that emerged during the reign of Qobād, also spelt as “Kavadh”, the king of the Sāsānian Empire. Qobād was the son of Fīrūz and succeeded Firuz’s brother Balāsh as ruler. Mazdakism had caused major revolutionary changes of a quasi socialistic nature in Iran. The main cause of this social movement was the existing Sassanid aristocracy, the strong social class system, and the turbulent and chaotic political, social, and economic conditions of Iran in those days. The heavy costs of Firuz’s war with the barbaric Ephthalites, or the “White Huns,” and the heavy tribute that had to be paid as a result of his defeat in this war had added to the poverty and pressure of the oppressed masses that were already facing economic hardship caused by subsequent droughts and famines. All these factors quite naturally had gradually paved the path for the acceptance of Mazdak’s revolutionary reformist movement, the popularity of which, increased day by day among the various strata of society. Apparently the momentum of Mazdak’s movement had reached to such an extent that in order to save his rule as well as to free himself from the unwanted domination and intrusion of the mobeds and the nobles in the administrative affairs of the country Qobād was but compelled to support the movement and to embrace Mazdakism merely in order to stabilize his political position among the masses by winning their support. However, in 523 AD, the Zoroastrian priests as well as the Sassanid aristocrats and nobles, whose vested interest had been threatened by the movement, colluded and conspired with Khosrow Anushirvān, Qobād’s crowned prince, who invited Mazdak and the other leaders of Mazdakism to a royal gathering and massacred all of them, thereby putting an end to Mazdak’s religio-social movement.Following the persecution and massacre of the Mazdakites all their books and written documents were destroyed and all the information available about this movement comes from brief mentions in Syrian, Persian, Arabic, and Greek sources most of which had been written by their opponents and adversaries. Therefore, our knowledge of the history and the belief principles of Mazdakism is negligible and all we know is that it was a social movement in the garb of a religion that was started by a Zoroastrian high-priest and a social reformist called Mazdak, the son of Bāmdād. As per the available evidences Mazdakism, too, professed the dualism that was particular to the ancient Iranian religions while it had, alongside, embarked on a new interpretation of Zoroastrianism and the Avestā and had sought to reform the Mazdayasnian doctrine.

The historical background of the Mazdakite doctrine and socio-religious reforms and particularly its dualistic views has been attributed to two different individuals about whom very little information is available. The first one was “Zartosht, the son of Khorgān”, a Zoroastrian mobed (priest) who lived in the Fārs region of Iran in the 5th Century AD and the other one was a person called “Bundos” who was a Manichaean who lived in Rome during the reign of Diocletian (284-305 AD) at the end of the 3rd century and who later on came to Iran and began preaching. He was known among the Iranians as “Dorost Din” (lit.: “Right Faith”) and his followers were called the “Dorsot Dinān”. According to the Muslim scholar, Ibn Nadim, there existed two Mazdaks viz. “Mazdak-e Qadim” (lit.: “the old Mazdak”) and “Mazdak-e Akhir” (lit.: “the more recent Mazdak”). This confirms the views of some other scholars who believe that prior to Mazdak-e Bāmdādān (Mazdak, the son of Bāmdād) there had emerged another cult that assimilated dualistic beliefs and Mazdak, in fact, had only revived and propagated their views and beliefs. Ibn Nadim referred to the Mazdakites as the “Khorramiyyeh” and wrote that “from among the two Khorramiyyeh cults the latter group, in fact, consisted of Zoroastrians who sought to make property and women common and who refrained from domination over each other, murder, and causing harm to others and were famous for their benevolence and hospitality. Mazdak-e Akhir belonged to this group and rose during the reign of Qobād but was later on killed by Khosrow Anushirvān.Generally speaking, the Islamic resources have for the most part ignored Mazdak’s worldview and theology and have only concentrated on his social and ethical teachings. The only Islamic scholar who has made some reference to the beliefs of this cult is Shahrestāni who has written about them in the following words: “The Mazdakites believed in the two original principles of “Good and Evil” or “Light and “Darkness” and paid respect to the three elements of water, earth, and fire and believed that the administrator of Good or the God of Light is enthroned in the paradise of the upper world, having before him the four powers of perception, intelligence, memory, and joy; in the same way as Khosrow, in the lower world, is enthroned having before him Mobedān Mobed, Hirbadān Hirbad, Sepāhbod, and the Musician. The four forces of the God of Light rule over seven “viziers” - identical with the seven planets of antiquity - called Sālār, Pishkār, Bārvar, Parvān, Kārdān, Dastur, and Kudak (Khādem). These seven viziers, in turn, move about in an orbit of twelve “spiritual beings” - identical with the twelve signs of the zodiac - called Khānandeh (lit,: “The Reader”), Dahandeh (lit.: “The Giver”), Setānandeh (lit.: “The Taker”), Borandeh (lit.: “The One who Cuts”), Khorandeh (llit.: “The One who Eats”), Khizandeh (lit.: “The One who Resurrects”), Koshandeh (lit.: The One who takes Life”), Zanandeh (lit.: “The One who Punishes”), Konandeh (lit.: “The Doer”), Āyandeh (lit.: “The One who will Come”), Shavandeh (lit.: “The One who will Go”), and, Pāyandeh (lit.: “The Eternal One”). The four powers are united in man while the seven and the twelve powers control the world. God Almighty manages the affairs of the world with the power of the letters, which when put together constitute the Supreme Name. By gaining knowledge of these mysterious powers and the secrets of the letters and the numbers one can attain to the knowledge of liberation and salvation and after acquiring awareness about the “secret of the religion”, he would be exempted from observing and performing religious duties because internal witnessing and illumination eliminates the necessity for external rituals.

The most important social messages propagated by Mazdak were equality of rights, commonness of property and distributive justice as regards to women. As emphasized by most Islamic historians, Mazdak believed that God provided the human race with the means of livelihood for them to distribute them equally among themselves and that no one should take more than his rightful share. However, the mighty have oppressed the weak and have taken over all the wealth for themselves, and therefore, it is obligatory on the part of the rich to return the undue share, since no one has higher rights over the others as regards wants, wealth, and women.

As per the dualistic worldview of Mazdakism the demons of darkness are the symbols of man’s mental wickedness as well as his ethical deviations, the most prominent of which are jealousy, anger, spitefulness, greed, and need. The main source of these Ahrimanic qualities, which lead to the destruction of equality and justice, is nothing but private ownership. These sources do not mention anything about the suggestions made by Mazdakism as regards making property and women common. But keeping in view the various available reports on the destruction of the family structure as well as the disturbances caused to the class system, the laws pertaining to private ownership, marriage rules, and family rights, as well as the reports of the reforms introduced by Khosrow Anushirvān - following the suppression of Mazdakism - in order to reinstate the laws that had been abolished, it is possible to somewhat perceive the true nature this religion.

Despite the continued murder, persecution, and suppression of the Mazdakites throughout the long years of Anushirvān’s rule, the followers of Mazdakism were not completely eradicated and they continued to live in hiding in different parts of Iran and, therefore, in the early centuries of Islam they emerged under the different names of the “Mazdakiyeh”, the “Khorramiyeh”, the “Khorram Diniyeh”, the “Sorkh Jāmegān” (lit.: “The Red-Clothed Ones”), and the “Sepid Jāmegān” (lit.: “The White-Clothed Ones”) and played a significant role in the formation and emergence of deviant sects in the Islamic world, and particularly the “Bāteniyeh” and the “Qarāmateh”.


* source: Bagheri , Mehdi " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.588- 58

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