Everlasting fame of the soul and charitable giving in Zoroastrianism
A predominant feature of Zoroastrianism is a strong sense of personal responsibility and duty towards immortality/everlasting fame of the soul. (See poetic gathas, Ysana 45.7, 3rd rhymed verse line.)
As each man or woman is held responsible for the fate and everlasting fame of his or her own soul. Thus, it is a religious duty for each Zoroastrian individual to designate a sizeable part of his or her fortune for the immortality and/or everlasting fame of his or her own soul.
According to the Zoroastrian jurisprudence property is divided into three categories law: “designated for the individual/self” (pad xvíshí), “In trusteeship, literally to attend, stand by ” (pad stürí), and “for the upholding of the soul” (pad rúván dáshtan). See Mādayān ī hazār dādestān pt. 2, p. 21.2-3.
Accordingly a considerable portion of each individual’s estate is set apart for the everlasting fane and immortality of his or her own soul.
The testator could specify the purpose of the fund set aside for his or her soul, called “property of the soul” (xvástag í rúván) by means of a specific formula in his or her will. (See Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 71.1-2)
For example the individual can specify (rúván yazishn ráy) “for ceremonies for the soul,” e.g. religious rites and ceremonies to be performed after death. Or the individual can simply specify the simpler expression (rúván ráy) “for the soul.”
In the latter case the administrator or guardian has the right to use the endowment money in any way he/she deems as “most beneficial for the soul” like for building roads, bridges, irrigation canals, etc., as alms for the poor and needy, or for other charitable acts such as animal shelters and hospitals, all of which are considered to benefit the deceased soul. (Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 34.3-6
An individual could also establish a foundation for the souls of friends or relations. The declaration could be either verbal or written as part of a will or as a separate document (rúván í xvísh ud aníz kas ráy.) See Mādayān, pt. 1, pp. 24.17-25.1.
For example Shápür I, in his inscriptions at Naqš-e Róstam, states that he has founded a fire temple “for the mightiness of his soul’” (pad amáh rúván) and four fire temples for the souls of members of the royal family (Back, pp. 331-69).
The declaration of the founder of the foundation shall also contain a provision that no person has the right to alienate property dedicated for the upholding of the soul: “Neither the trustee of the foundation nor any other person is authorized to sell or give away that property.” See Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 35.3-6).
In addition, the founder has the right to assign guardianship (sálaárí) or trusteeship (dáštárí) of the foundation to anyone he or she chooses, whether a member of family or not. See Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 27.12-14)
If the founder did not explicitly assign trusteeship to a particular person, it remains within the family and his or her relatives are obligated to serve as guardians. (See Mādayān, pt. 1, pp. 29.9-11, 45.15-17, 46.9)
The requirements that has to be met by the founder are similar to those in other legal Zoroastrian contexts, namely to be of full/legal age (púrnáy, i.e., at least fifteen years old), Zoroastrian (hú-daæn, lit. “of the good religion”, be intelligent (höshyár), and “not guilty of a mortal, deadly sin ” (ní marg-arzán).
It shall be emphasized that both men and women can establish a charitable foundation and like everything else in Zoroastrianism, sexes have the same rights as well as the same responsibilities. (See Mādayān pt. 1, p. 27.15-16; pt. 2, p.
The property set apart for charitable purposes is viewed to consist of a principal, or base (bün), and the income, profit or what it bears, brings forth (bar.), arising from it.
By preference the bün is productive fixed property: cultivated land, vineyards, orchards, and the like.
The principal cannot be alienated or encroached upon (Mādayān, pt. 1, p. 35.3-6).
Fire temple endowments are furnished with income-producing property such as vineyards and are designated as “fire’s own” xvíší í átaxš. (See Mādayān, pt. 2, p. 39.6.)
In his inscriptions Shápūr I reports having conveyed property to the five fire temples that he had established.
There is NO distinction in Zoroastrian legal terminology between private endowments of a public character like bridges and fire temples, intended to benefit the community, and family endowments, intended mainly to ensure income for the children and descendants of the founder.
Charitable endowments are safe from confiscation by government authorities in Zoroastrian jurisprudence, and can provide income for the families of the founders.
The principal of the foundation remains a distinct part of the property of the founder’s family and is inherited by his or her descendants, though they have no right to change its legal charitable status or function (See Mādayān, pt. 1, pp. 24.16-17, 24.17-25.1, 25.2-5, 46.4-9).
If the founder has transferred trusteeship to a person outside his or her family, the principal of the foundation and the right to its use transmits to that person’s descendants (See Mādayān, pt. 1, pp. 35.3-6, 24.13-16, 25.2-5, 25.17-26.1, 29.3-6).
I shall like to conclude that much of what we know of moslem shia waqf can be traced back to the Persian Zoroastrian jurisprudence.
In both, the principal (bün, Ar. mawqūf) can not be consumed, and the income (bar, Ar. manfaʿa) is used for charitable purposes specified by the founder. (including, in the waqf ahlī, the right of usufruct to his family).
The stipulation of the founder contains the same passage forbidding alienation of the principal. Similarly, the founder has the right to designate a trustee or guardian (Pers. sālār; Ar. motawallī) of his or her choice.