|Islamic Republic of Iran|
Area 1,648,196 sq.km. Situated between the Caspian Sea in north and Arabian Sea/Persian Gulf in south. A central desert ringed by mountains.
Capital Tehran 11 mill. Other major cities Mashhad 2.15m; Isfahan 1.63m; Tabriz 1.28m; Shiraz 1.13m; Qom 880,000. Urbanites 61%.
Over 70 ethnic groups, some being small nomadic groups.
Indo-Iranian 71.8%. Persian (Farsi, Dari, Tajik) 30mill.; Kurd (6) 5m; Luri 4,946,000; Gilaki 3,659,000; Mazanderani 2,946,000; Bakhtiari 1,154,000; Baluch 623,000; Takistani 306,000; Tat 137,000; Mamsani 127,000; Talysh 112,000.
Turkic 22%. Azeri (Azari) 11,224,000; Turkmen 1,003,000; Qashqai 962,000; Khorasani 773,000; Hazara (speaking Dari) 687,000; Teymur 206,000; Shahseven 100,000.
Semitic 3%. Arab (mainly southwest and Iraq border) 2m; Jews 20,000.
Christian minorities 0.2%. Armenian and Assyrian. Reduced from 1.5% in 1975 due to emigration.
Other 3%. Gypsy (Nawar and Ghorbati) 1,470,000; Brahui 16,000.
Refugees. At one time 4.5m Afghans, Iraqi Kurds, Shi’a Arabs and Tajiks were refugees in Iran. Maybe up to 1.5m remain, but now they are somewhat integrated into Iran.
Literacy 72%. Official language Persian (Farsi; Dari and Tajik are major dialects); spoken by 83% of Iranians. All languages 69. Languages with Scriptures 3Bi 2NT 4por 12w.i.p.
Oil provided 75% of export earnings in 1995 and carpets, 11%. Material progress under the Shah was reversed by the bigotry of the religious leaders, national paranoia and the flight of the business and technology elite. Inefficiency, corruption, war with Iraq and economic sanctions imposed by the West brought Iran to the brink of disaster in the 1980s. There has been a slow improvement since 1990 and the lot of the rural poor has greatly improved. Rapid population growth outstrips the means to feed and employ all. Unemployment may be 30%. HDI 0.715; 95th/174. Public debt 7.6% of GNP. Income/person $1,000 (5.6% of USA, in 1982 it was 18%).
The Shah was deposed in the Shi’ite Muslim Revolution, and a theocratic Islamic Republic declared in 1979. Regional loyalties and anarchy brought the country close to civil war and ruin. The Iraqi invasion of 1980 led to 8 years of bitter war and over 1 million Iranian dead. Since 1990 democratic elections have increased the influence of more moderate politicians and the 2000 election was decisively won by the reformers. Yet the conservative leadership retains overriding powers which keep Iran as a theocratic police state with scant regard for human rights. Iran is extensively re-arming, engaged in diplomatic activity to regain regional superpower status in the Middle East, and vying with Turkey for influence in the Muslim Central Asian States.
Shi’a Islam is the state religion and 93% of Iranians follow this. Sunni Islam is respected and is largely followed by the Turkoman, Kurd and Baluch populations. All other deviations or defections from Islam are severely handled. Constitutionally the rights of Jews, Zoroastrians and Christians are guaranteed, but closely monitored. All Christian proselytism is forbidden. Persecution index 9th in the world.
1 The Islamic Revolution promised so much but has delivered little. The theocratic tyranny of the ayatollahs has proved more cruel and corrupt than the system it replaced in 1979. Twenty years of anti-Western, anti-Christian propaganda has opened many Muslims to seek for alternatives to Islam. Iranians are more open to the gospel than ever before.
2 There may have been only 500 Muslim-background believers (MBBs) in 1979, but that number has multiplied in 20 years. Estimates range from 4,000 to 20,000 with half in Iran itself. Some claim that there are thousands of secret believers, but persecution of ‘apostates’ from Islam is too severe to uncover the true situation.
1 The Islamic revolution has lost its glitter. The legacy of bloodshed, cruelty, injustice, extremism and economic deprivation has discredited the conservative religious leaders and the Islam they promote. These leaders react with repression, restrictions and abuse of human rights because they control the police and army and manipulate the justice system. Pray for political change and a government that is truly accountable to their people and which respects human rights.
2 Iranians battle daily to survive in economic recession, political tyranny and, above all, the demonic system underlying it all. Pray that these shackles may be shattered and many Iranians find true liberty in believing in the Risen Lord Jesus. Pray that this land may open up again for the proclamation of the gospel.
3 Discrimination in jobs, housing and education is a daily reality to all Jews and Christians, but so is open and severe persecution for followers of the Baha’i religion, for all who use the Persian language for worship or witness and for all MBBs. The Bible Society, all Christian bookstores, conferences, camps, printing of literature and church newsletters, and production of videos are banned. Pray for true religious freedom to come to Iran.
4 The majority of the wider Christian community is from the traditionally Christian Armenian and Assyrian communities which are isolated cultural and language islands in a Muslim sea. Their existence has been tolerated, but fear, job discrimination, uncertainty, arbitrary arrests, interrogations, enforcement of Islamic dress for women, and Islamic religious education for children have provoked the emigration of a large proportion of these communities. Pray for a work of the Holy Spirit in these churches that the lives of Christians might radiate the glory of Jesus.
5 Protestant Churches were generally small and struggling before the revolution. The traumatic changes and suffering that followed gave them a brief period of renewal, outreach, literature distribution and many converts. Barriers between Presbyterians, Anglicans and Pentecostals were broken down. The 1990s were a time of severe persecution. Spies infiltrated congregations, and church buildings were seized or closed. Seven Christian leaders were martyred and others have had to flee for their lives. Pray for:
c) Adequate income for Christians who are increasingly impoverished. Emigration is a solution, both for pressured Christians and the Muslim persecutors, but their vital witness in needy Iran is lost. Pray that believers may break through this economic pressure and resist the temptation to leave.
d) Supernatural deliverances and fruitfulness for all MBBs. Many are forced to meet together secretly or are unable to gather with other believers. Any underground church meetings are actively sought out and worshippers punished.
e) Churches outside Tehran which have suffered more. In cities such as Shiraz and Isfahan the witness has been decimated. Pray for new light to shine in every city of the land. There are 178 towns and cities but just a handful of local churches. Pray for leaders with vision and courage for planting new groups to be raised up.
b) The ministry of Iranian Christians International, ELAM (Elam Ministries, UK) and Persian World Outreach, each with a significant contribution to coordinating fellowship, some support for the persecuted in Iran and literature and Bible ministries.
c) Training of Iranian Christian workers most are trained at ELAM’s residential college in the UK, a few at NEST in Lebanon and a number are involved in non-residential courses in Iran and California. There are hundreds also studying via correspondence courses.
7 Missions are not free to minister in the land but some tentmaking opportunities arise and tourism is actively encouraged. Pray for both Iranians and expatriates working among Iranians in Europe, North America and Australia. Pray that the door to Iran and its unevangelized millions may open once more. Pray also that agencies around the world may pray, plan and network together with Iranian believers in preparation for that day.
a) The Zoroastrians or Parsees are followers of the ancient Persian religion and are prominent in the Bible Cyrus and the three wise men being examples. They have their own distinct language derived from Persian. Communities of Parsees live in many South Asian, Middle Eastern and Western countries. Only 30 believers are known worldwide. Parsee numbers are probably much higher than those given officially. There may be up to two million in Iran all totally unreached.
b) The Baha’i, a syncretistic religion that has spread worldwide since the 19th Century, are the most severely persecuted religious minority in Iran. They were outlawed, deprived of public service jobs and many maltreated or imprisoned. Very little Christian love and witness has been shared with the Baha’i in Iran or among the 6 million worldwide. Pray that in their extremity they may find refuge in the Lord Jesus.
c) The Persian-speaking Jews are descendants of those exiled to Babylon 2,700 years ago. Due to pressure and harassment they are declining through emigration. A number have become active, witnessing Christians.
9 Unreached peoples all the peoples are unreached. Iran contains some of the largest totally unreached peoples in the world; only in eight of the 70 ethnic groups are there known groups of believers. Pray specifically for:
a) The partly nomadic Iranic Luri and Bakhtiari and the Turkic Qashqai who live in the Zagros Mountains. Only now are the first attempts being made to reach them and only a handful of believers are known. Pray down the barriers that these major peoples might hear the gospel. Many are illiterate.
b) The various Kurdish peoples of NW and NE Iran. They have lived through political, economic and ecological disasters in the 20th Century that have impoverished them, but their greatest poverty is lack of a knowledge of the gospel.
c) The Turkic Azeri, Khorasani Turks and Turkmen in the north. They are closely related, but scarcely have had any positive contacts with Christianity. Pray for workers to be able to reach them, the Scriptures to be translated and for churches to be planted among them. The Azeri Bible is in preparation (ELAM).
a) Bibles are in very short supply. The Bible Society and all Christian literature distribution outlets closed in 1988 and banned supplies have dwindled away even for Christians, but a steady trickle of Bibles continues to enter the country. Some reckon that 10 million Bibles would be gladly received were there opportunity. A new translation of the Persian NT was published in 2001; the Bible is to be completed in 2006 (ELAM). Pray for innovative and effective ways of distributing God’s Word and for a deep impact to be made through it. Pray also for translation teams to be raised up for the many large and smaller languages without the Scriptures.
b) Christian literature, when available, is much sought after. Pray for the impact of literature already distributed and that all the harsh banning of Christian literature ministries may be ended. Much has to be done from outside Iran to publish and distribute literature Eternal Life Agape Ministries and ELAM are major components in this ministry.
c) Christian radio has become a key ministry. Millions listen despite government restrictions and thousands of response letters are received. Radio Voice of Christ, IBRA, ELAM and others prepare daily programmes in Persian and Azeri. TWR and FEBA cooperate in providing 2.5 hours of broadcasting daily in Persian. ELAM envisions preparing programmes also in Gilaki and Turkmen.
d) Christian TV, video and film ministries. There is a large black market for banned secular and religious tapes and over seven million have access through illegal satellite dishes. Both Christian Persian-language films (ELAM) and the JESUS film have been shown a number of times. The JESUS film was available in 12 Iranian languages in 2000 with a further five in production. Pray for ongoing impact through these ministries.
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