Iran’s Christians

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Even as Iranian Christians face intensified persecution, arrest and potential execution, an increasing number of Iranians are turning to Christianity and other religions. Clearly there is an emergent trend among Iranians to seek new social and religious outlets.  Since the Presidential Election of 2009, there has been a surge in Muslims leaving the faith; most of them have joined branches of Christianity, while others have also shown interest in Sufism, Zoroastrianism, Bahaism, and Buddhism.

Daily pressures from the Islamic Republic and their Revolutionary Guard tentacles have created a reactionary movement among the Iranian people, who are turning to various practices to distract them from harsh governmental restrictions.  Similar to parallel movements in other countries with hard line Sharia-practising governments, Iranians are opting to experiment with different ideologies and religions to find release.

This new trend of religion surfing and underground worship has greatly agitated the Iranian regime, which does not have the best track record for practicing what it preaches.  For a government that has often claimed that it has tolerance for different religions, and that even has provisions in its Constitution protecting minority groups, the recent crackdowns on Iranian Christians demonstrate the inability of the Islamic Republic to make space for differing ideologies.

Since Christmas, reports say more than 70 of Iran’s Christian minority have been taken into custody, making it the most significant and widespread attack on this minority group in Iran’s history.  State television reported that Tehran’s governor, Morteza Tamadon, confirmed more arrests would be made.

In a series of government raids, Grassroots Christian groups and organizations have been targeted for posing a threat to the government, which suspects these groups of attempting to convert Muslims and spreading Western influence.

The roundups have been specifically targeted toward Christian converts, one of Iran’s three major Christian communities, consisting of the Armenian Christians who migrated to Iranian Azerbaijan in the 11th century, Assyrian Christians who have lived in Iran since the time of the Assyrian Empire, and a large and growing web of Christian Converts who have left Islam and have converted to various sects of Christianity.

The targeted Christians belong to a small community who gather for prayer and Bible classes in private homes instead of churches and other institutions.  They are similar to other “house church” movements in places such as China and Indonesia, where government restrictions are present.

Christians in the West are drawn to home churches that create a deeper sense of community and intimacy, but Iranian Christians, who have felt government vigilance on their community, opt to meet at these houses instead of churches in an effort to avoid the authorities.

Armenians and Assyrian Christians have certain rights and are recognized under the Iranian Constitution, but converting, or more specifically, the act of turning from Islam, is punishable by death. To leave the Islamic faith or to attempt to convert others away from the faith warrants capital punishment under Sharia Law. Under this law, a Muslim who becomes Christian is called a mortad, meaning one who leaves Islam. If the convert attempts to convert others, he is called a mortad harbi, or a convert who is waging war against Islam. Killing such a person is deemed a good deed and is the obligation of all Muslims, both according to the fatwa and reinforced in the Islamic Republic’s penal code.

New Christians are therefore forced to print any books, pamphlets or other literature in covert fashion to avoid arrests. While Armenians can have Bibles printed in Armenian and services conducted in their language, converts are prohibited from printing Bibles or conducting Christian services in Farsi.  This forces Christian Farsi speakers to practice in underground Church groups.

Though the Iranian constitution grants protection to religious minorities born into religions such as Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews, namely religions who have a sacred scripture, over the last year and a half, individuals in these minority communities have reported increased pressure and clashes with government officials and Revolutionary Guards as their influence continues to mount throughout the country.

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  • Tom S

    Blessed Virgin Mary, implore your Divine Son to the protection of Christians in Iran and the Middle East.

  • George

    The author is misinformed. The number of Armenians in Iran was never 3,000,000. It may have been as much 200,000 or 300,000 at most. Because of emigration, the current figure is estimated to be between 40,000 and 80,000 but no accurate figure are available. Also, Armenians still do have representatives in the Iranian parliament (the Majls) as before. Armenians have two representative and the Jews and Zoroastrians have one each.

    While the article does touch on it, the key point is that only evangelical Christians who try to convert Muslims to Christianity are being targeted. Since Iran subscribes to the idiotic Sharia laws like a number of other Islamic countries, apostasy (giving up one's religion) for Muslims is punishable by death. Thus, these self-serving and misguided Christians are essentially trying to kill the converts. Armenian and Assyrian Christians who generally do not try to convert Muslims, in general, face no discriminations.

    • cjk

      "Thus, these self-serving and misguided Christians are essentially trying to kill the converts."
      Well any credibility you gained by rightly pointing out the population error in the article was lost by such an outrageous statement.

    • Renate

      becoming a true believer in Jashua means that the believer has heaven to look forward to and seeing Jashua face to face. So the sting of death has been taking away. These "self serving" Christians aren't misquided. They prayerfully give their fellow man the Greatest Truth there is. I think the Persian who accepts this truth does so knowing full well of the consequences. You don't need to feel sorry for them. They, after accepting Jashua, know full well of the danger but still accept gladly because as Muslims, they had no such assurance nor hope. What is "self serving" about spreading the Greatest Good News. Most Christians in the Middle East do not have an easy life , yet they continue to tell others of the saving love of Jashua, because they are compelled to do so not for any "self-serving" gain.

      • Renate

        I meant Jeshua

    • Mustafa

      Dear George; Have you been in Iran for a period of time? You see Hsia’s morning crowded in Paris or NY, Iranian Local TV broadcast them as a victory of Shi’ism, but in Iran, New Christians, Muslim converts must go UNDER GROUND Churches, pray in fear, fear in relationship with new comers (to be spy from secret police)… and one day, suddenly the door will break, and Iranian police with all equipments and weapons will entered from walls and all around and arrest everyone like murderers! You know their representatives in the Iranian parliament, they are not real, they are from Regime’s, just a propaganda, ask real Christians in Iran!

  • USMCSniper

    The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an Islamic theocratic monarchy in which Islam is the official religion. Although no law requires citizens or passport holders to be Muslim, almost all citizens are Muslims. Proselytizing by non-Muslims is illegal, and conversion by Muslims to another religion (apostasy) carries the death penalty, although there have been no confirmed reports of executions for apostasy in recent years. Religious freedom is virtually non-existent. The Government does not provide legal recognition or protection for freedom of religion, and it is severely restricted in practice. As a matter of policy, the Government guarantees and protects the right to private worship for all, including non-Muslims who gather in homes for religious practice; however, this right is not always respected in practice and is not defined in law.[2] Moreover, the preaching and public practice of non-Muslim religions is prohibited. The Saudi Mutaween or Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (i.e., the religious police) enforces the prohibition on the public practice of non-Muslim religions. Sharia Law applies to all people inside Saudi Arabia, regardless of religion.

  • Sherie

    I am an Iranian Christian (convert) – nice article. However, please refrain from using the Arabic word (Farsi) for Persian, and just call it Persian. Thank you.

    • George

      "Farsi" is, in fact, the Persian word for the Persian language. So, you are not really Persian if you don't know this fact.

      • Matt

        If you extrapolate this further, "P" does not even exist in Arabic:-)

      • fmobler

        Not quite George. The P and F phonemes are a bit confusing. It is true that many modern Persians pronounce it as "farsi" but definitely the pronunciation "parsi" is also common in many dialects. You might be a little more generous and assume Sherie speaks one of these. In any case, "farsi" — according to a historical linguist friend I asked today — is almost certainly an arabization of earlier pronunciations. That is, the dialects that still pronounce it as "parsi" seem to be those dialects that have been less influenced by Arabic in other ways as well.

        • George

          You are nitpicking. "Farsi" is the standard term for the native language in Iran. "Parsi" is used to designate the Persians who emigrated to India. This is such an obvious distinction that no further discussion is necessary. Sherie is clearly an impostor.

          • Seyed

            George,

            I am sorry to point this out to you. Parsi was the real language of Persians.
            It comes from the ancient race Pars. Unfortunately after the Arab Invasion , the whole language and writing changed dramatically, and the presnt language spoken today is not the real Parsi . Arabs couldn't pronounce "P"
            and that's how the word farsi was introduced and stuck to this date.

            Nick

          • George

            What are you talking about? The basic question is whether the language of Iran is called "Farsi" in Iran at this moment of time. Who cares about the history? Actually, in English, I have no problem if the language is called Persian. But, Farsi has also become common and I see no problem in using it. English is a dynamic language and it evolve through usage.

          • fmobler

            Indeed George. The question is what the language is called today. But that question does not have one answer. Farsi/Parsi currently has regional dialects in which the first letter is pronounced a lot more like an English p that like an English f. It also happens that some native speakers (rightly or wrongly) attribute the p pronunciation to Arab colonialism. Whether you and I think that is a serious claim is irrelevant. Some native speakers of the language think it is.

            You accused Sherie of being an impostor based on her trying to make a political point of the pronunciation. The accusation is not warranted based on the way things are right now in Persia/Iran.

            People (not impostors) who feel that their native culture has been debased by invaders all over the world often try to make their point with linguistic fights. This attention to details may seem trivial to the outsider, but they do not signal a fake. For the entire Franco period in Spain, people who insisted on writing and speaking Catalan were ridiculed and even censored. Franco called them "impostors" too — people hiding behind false claims of unimportant linguistic differences. But then, as you say, how cares about history?

    • Darius

      You need to know that Persian is not native to Iran. It is what the Greeks called the Iranians since ancient times (referred to the people that lived in the Persis region).
      SO to think Persian is Iranian, shows your own lack of understanding.
      That is why Reza Shah asked the world to Call Iran,

  • http://www.visitbethshalom.org Myles Weiss

    Thank God for the heroic Christians of Iran. They are the hope of the nation.
    After the phony elections I wrote a song for the women of Persia…they are like Esther standing up for the people in the court of the king. Ironically, my given name is Mordechai!
    View it at : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olEFP-ez0e4

  • jtbaumgart

    Just a point in passing, this article seems word for word copy from International Christian Concern's website.

  • Al Bema

    is there any website about Christians in Iran?