Persians make up 60-65% of Iran’s total population of nearly 83 million people. Sunni Islam came to Iran via the Arab conquests of the 7th century, but Shia Islam become the state religion in the 16th century.
Though Islam replaced the Zoroastrian religion in the region, Persians are proud of distinguishing themselves from Arabs by retaining their language and culture. Through various empires stretching over centuries, Persian culture – including art, literature, and architecture – flourished.
Most Persians are warm, gracious, family-oriented food-lovers (their cuisine is world-renowned) who enjoy picnics, long walks, and celebrations – especially Persian New Year (Noruz). Codes of polite behavior run deep. Persians are known for their long, complicated, and cherished rituals of simply saying hello and goodbye!
In Iran today, both conservative and progressive classes exist side by side. Islamists want to control every aspect of life. For example, public dress and behavior are regulated by “morality police.” In private, however, many Iranians are secular and resist the influence of Islam and its religious leaders.
Three-quarters of Iran’s population live in cities, where they struggle with universal urban woes: rapid and massive population growth, inadequate infrastructure, and deadly pollution. Iran is rich in oil as well as agriculture and livestock, but external economic sanctions and internal corruption have strangled the nation’s economy.
Iran is described by some émigrés as a prison-like country in chaos. An estimated 13 million live under the poverty line. Opium addiction is reaching epidemic levels. There are approximately 200,000 street children. Prostitution is widespread, though hidden. Natural disasters (earthquakes and floods) exacerbate the challenges people face.
Many Iranians, 70% of whom are under age 35, are disillusioned by Islam and consider themselves secular, if not atheist.
It has been 40 years since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, and the Iranian government’s hostility towards all things Western is deeply entrenched. There are systematic crackdowns on political activists, anti-government demonstrators, and human rights defenders.
Iran has the fastest growing evangelical population in the world even though the government rules that only Armenians and Assyrians can be Christian. Ethnic Persians must remain Muslim. Therefore, all Christian activity is illegal.
Though official reports list 300,000 Christians, most likely there are many more. Believers meet secretly in small house fellowships,
but are often compromised by informers and are in urgent need of trained leaders.
Christian resources exist, but materials written by Persians are sorely needed. Accessing Christian resources via the internet and satellite television is a better option, which tens of thousands of Persians
Outside of Iran, evangelical church fellowships are growing and flourishing among Persians in diaspora.
Persecution is severe. Hundreds of Christians are arrested and/or imprisoned each year. Some Iranian Christians flourish under persecution and have victorious stories to tell, even at the time of their death.
Others struggle intensely and privately, dying broken and alone, known only to Jesus.