Gojastak Abalish

Gojastak Abalish

Gojastak Abalish or Gizistag Abalis is an apologetic treatise between Adurfarnbag, a Zoroastrian and a heretical Zandiq, Abalish. Abalis puts seven questions to Adurfarnbag about Zoroastrian doctrine which he answered truthfully and satisfactorily. Each answer puts a gentle smile on the face of Islamic ruler, Al-Ma’mun, who was an ardent supporter of science and knowledge.

Who is Abalish?

The eponymous antagonist of the text is Abolish or Abalis, a dweller in Istakhr, Fars Province. The name, according to scholars, is not Persian. However, as the title says, he is “accursed” or Gojastak. Gojastak, has previously used for Ahriman or evil and Alexander, The Great. The latter is called Gojastak because he burnt holy books of Zoroastrianism when attacking Persian in 330 B.C.

Gojastak Abalish
Persepolis On Fire by Peter Connolly

One day Abalish, formerly a follower of Mazdeism, stepped into a fire temple in Istkahr in order to practice Baj or Waj, whispering prayer before and after a meal. But, he was wan not treated respectably and forced to leave the holy place. Feeling humiliated, he traveled to Baghdad to ask the Caliph for judgment. 

Who is Adurfarnbag?

On the other hand, Adurfarnbag or Azarfarnabag is the protagonist; defender of Zoroastrianism. Adurfarnbag, the son of Farroxzadan or Farrokzadan, is the first author of Zoroastrian compilation, the Dēnkard, Encyclopedia of Mazdaism. He is remembered and praised as leader of Mazdaism in 9th century because of his thorough knowledge of theology and religion in books such as Shkand-gumanig Vizar, Dadestan-i Denig, Zand-i Vohuman Yasht and Shayest Na-Shayest.

Gojastak Abalish Debate Topic

Like other Pahlavi texts, Gizistag Abalis’s topic is related to religion. Abalish targets some of the pillars of Zoroastrian beliefs such as dualism and its implications (Fire and Water, Punishment and reward); reason to worship fire which is weak in essence and needs care and ritual and custom (use of cattle urine, gomez, for ritual purification and use of the sacred girdle (kustig).

Initiation ceremony (navjote) showing the adoption of the white undervest (sudreh) and the chord (kusti)

Dispute in the Caliph’s Court

The debate between Azarfarnabag and Abolish took place in court of Al-Ma’mun (786 –833). Probably the time of debate goes back to late period of his reign, after the death of his astute Persian Vizir, Al-Fadl ibn Sahl in Sarakhs, 818. The reason is that before this period he was busy quelling civil unrest in Islamic land. According to the text, the debate took place before Al-Ma’mun and other religious leaders; Islamic, Christian and Jewish.

Other Versions of Story

Talking about the history is a tricky thing. While scholars agreed upon the event of Gojastak Abalish, Abol Ma’li, a theologian in 11th century, narrates a similar debate story where Islamic Jurists convinced the heresy of the Zoroastrian. As a result, Al-Ma’mun issued the order to kill him.

Gojastak Abalish
Al-Ma’mun and his Persian Vizir, Al-Fadl ibn Sahl in Velayat-e Eshgh TV Series (2000)

Al-Ma’mun’s enthusiasm for religious debate was also cited by the great Arab Historian, Al-Masudi, in Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems. Knowing the fact that the dominant discourse of then was Islamic, it was not surprising and almost probable that the account has undergone radical alteration. One of the most famous debate in Shiite world has happened between the eighth Imam of Twelver Shiites, Imam Reza and other religious leaders. The story was narrated by Ibn Babawayh, the most important Shiite scholar in 10th century. In his account, Imam Reza debates with high ranking leaders of Exilarch, Catholicos, Sabians, followers of Zabuur and arch-mobed of Zoroastrianism and wins. We are not sure,but this version could be the Islamized version of Gojastak Abalish.

Gojastak Abalish Translations

Gojastak Abalish was originally written in Pahlavi, middle Persian language.  Homi F. Chacha, an Indian Parsee translated the book into English with the title of “Gajastak Abâlish” in 1936. In addition, Prods Oktor Skjaervo also translated the book into English.

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