GABR (gabrak, gawr, gaur “Zoroastrian”; gabrī, gabrakī “Zoroastrianism”), a New Persian term deriving, in all likelihood, from Aramaic GBRʾ/gabrā (lit. man), which in the Sasanian period was used to indicate the free peasants in the region of Mesopotamia (Stayermanova, II, 25.2.1). The term is used in all stages of New Persian literature from the earliest period (e.g., Šāh-nāma, Moscow, I, p. 149;Balʿamī, ed. Bahār, p. 2; Sanāʾī, p. 368) as a technical term synonymous with mōḡ (magus), or the obsolete ātašparast (fire-worshipper), along with other religious denominations (e.g., Rūmī, Ḡazalīyāt, p. 124). With the dwindling of the Zoroastrian community because of frequent proselytisations and the curtailment of their social rights, the term came to have a pejorative implication, which is the reason for its commutation to the respectable zardoštī (Zoroastrian) in recent times.

Several etymologies have been proposed for the term, none of which is convincing. Some scholars have suggested mog-mard/ mgw-GBRʾ (magus), which is, however, untenable, for the element GBRʾ/gabrā, being an ideogram and a bound constituent of the compound, cannot appear in absolute form, nor may it be pronounced other than mard (man) in common parlance. The etymology suggested by Ebrāhīm Pūr-e Dāwūd, which has been received more favorably, is based on the supposed mispronunciation of the Arabic kāfer (unbeliever) by the Persians in early Islamic Period. But, although Persians still fail to articulate some Arabic speech sounds properly, there is no unusual sound in kāfer that would require phonetic modification. Moreover, although gabr has been sometimes used to denote infidel (kāfer) by semantic extension (e.g., Rūmī, Maṯnawī II, p. 287, v. 177; Ḥasan Rūmlū, ed. Navāʾī, I, p. 384; Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 85, 87), kāfer as a generic word could hardly refer to a specific revealed religion such as Zoroastrianism. It, therefore, seems likely that gabr, used already in Sasanian times in reference to a section of Zoroastrian community in Mesopotamia, had been employed by the converted Persians in the Islamic period to indicate their Zoroastrian compatriots, a practice that later spread throughout the country. The term has also been used by the Muslim Kurds, Turks, and some other ethnic groups in modified forms to denote various religious communities other than Zoroastians, sometimes even in the sense of unbeliever.



A. Bausani, “Gabr,” in EI2 II, pp. 970-71.

Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, ed. Moʿīn, III, pp. 1773-74.

Dehḵodā, s.v. Grundriss II, p. 697.

Ḥ. Javānmard, “Pīrāmūn-e vāža-y gabr,” Hūḵt 14/11, 1342 Š./1963, pp. 21-22, 66.

Jovaynī, ed. Qazvīnī, I, pp. 53-54, where the term gabr means idol worshipper.

G. Lazard, La Langue des plus anciens monuments de la prose Persane, Paris, 1963, pp. 140, 195.

M. Moḥīṭ Ṭabāṭabāʾī, “Lafẓ-e gabr moštaqq az kāfer nīst,” Hūḵt 21/6, 1349 Š./1970, pp. 35-41.

M. Moʿīn, Farhang-e fārsī, 6 vols, Tehran, 1342-52 Š./1963-73, III, p. 3193.

Idem, Mazdayasnā wa taʾṯīr-e ān dar adabīyāt-e pārsī, Tehran, 1326 Š./1947, pp. 395-96.

A. Pažūh, “Soḵan-ī čand dar bāra-ye vāža-ye gabr,” Hūḵt 14/10,1342 Š./1963, pp. 19-23.

N. V. Pigulevskaya, Les villes de l’état iranien aux époques parthe et sassanide, Paris, 1963.

E. Pūr-e Dāwūd, Anāhītā, Tehran, 1343 Š./1964, pp. 302-18.

M. Qazvīnī, ed., “Moqaddama-ye qadīm-e Šāh-nāma” in M. Qazvīnī, Bīst maqāla, 2 vols., Tehran, 1332 Š./1953, II, pp. 5-90.

Jalāl-al-Dīn Moḥammad Balḵī Rūmī, Ḡazalīyāt-e Šams Tabrīzī, ed. R. N. Nicholson, Cambridge, 1898.

Idem, Maṯnawī, ed. and tr., R. N. Nicholson, Text, II, Leiden, 1929.

R. Šahzādī, “Vāža-ye gabr,” Hūḵt 14/8, 1342 Š./1963, pp. 21, 60.

Abu’l-Majd Sanāʾī Ḡaznavī, Dīvān, ed. M.-T. Modarres Rażawī, Tehran, 1320 Š./1941.

F. Sorūšīān, “Dar ḥaqīqat-e maʿnī-e gabr,” Hūḵt 14/10, 1342 Š./1963, pp. 24-25.

M. Shtyermanova, Vesmirnaya Istoriya (World history), Moscow, 1955.

(Mansour Shaki)

Originally Published: December 15, 2000

Last Updated: February 2, 2012

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Vol. X, Fasc. 3, pp. 239-240