Iranian Christianity Grows

This comes as a bit of asurprise, but perhaps we should have anticipated this.  I saw a statistic a while back that may ormay not be true that claimed that attendance of the mosques in Iran haddropped to around three percent. In short, the transition of the mullahs in Iranto political life and state support has left the religiosity of the populationwithout a place to go.

Perhaps there is a greater lessonhere.  The separation of the church andthe state may be necessary because the customers need to know that one isindependent from the other in order to attempt to trust either.  How can you trust a mullah who is obligatedto provide information to the secret police? Thus actual independence serves the religious regime well as discontent withthe secular drives customers to their doorstep.

Now we have evidence that thestrongly religious are going elsewhere and that is mostly to Christianity.  As this item observes, the phenomenon is notexclusive to Iran but hasparticularly noted in China.  The Falun Gong was merely a public expressionof all this.  The government reaction in Chinato this was hardly a surprise when one recalls that the very first Christian likemovement in the early nineteenth century started a revolution that split thecountry in half and took twenty years of war to end.

The withdrawal of support for themosques informs us that the Mullahs now have no place to go.  Their collapse is likely to be total andpossibly near fatal and it will need state protection to prevent resurgentreligions to emerge strongly.

In the meantime, the emergent Christiancommunity is building a mythos of courage and faith in the underground and weknow were that leads.

Iran’s Christians

Posted by Lisa Daftari on Jan 28th, 2011 and filedunder Daily MailerFrontPage.

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

Daily pressures from the Islamic Republic and their Revolutionary Guardtentacles have created a reactionary movement among the Iranian people, who areturning to various practices to distract them from harsh governmentalrestrictions.  Similar to parallel movements in other countries with hardline Sharia-practising governments, Iranians are opting to experiment withdifferent ideologies and religions to find release.

This new trend of religion surfing and underground worship has greatlyagitated the Iranian regime, which does not have thebest track record for practicing what it preaches.  Fora government that has often claimed that it has tolerance fordifferent religions, and that even has provisions in its Constitutionprotecting minority groups, the recent crackdowns on Iranian Christiansdemonstrate the inability of the Islamic Republic to make space for differingideologies.

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

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

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

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

Christians in the West are drawn to home churchesthat create a deeper sense of community and intimacy, but IranianChristians, who have felt governmentvigilance on their community, opt tomeet at these houses instead of churches in an effort to avoid the authorities.
Armenians and Assyrian Christians have certain rights and arerecognized under the Iranian Constitution, but converting, or morespecifically, the act of turning from Islam, is punishable by death. To leavethe Islamic faith or to attempt to convert others away from the faith warrantscapital punishment under Sharia Law. Under this law, a Muslim who becomesChristian is called a mortad, meaning one who leaves Islam. If the convertattempts to convert others, he is called a mortad harbi, or a convert who iswaging war against Islam. Killing such a person is deemed a good deed and isthe obligation of all Muslims, both according to the fatwa and reinforced inthe Islamic Republic’s penal code.

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

Though the Iranian constitution grants protectionto religious minorities born into religions such as Christians,Zoroastrians and Jews, namely religions who have a sacred scripture, over thelast year and a half, individuals in these minority communities have reportedincreased pressure and clashes with governmentofficials and RevolutionaryGuards as their influence continues to mount throughout the country.

Inherent to Iran’stheocratic social code is the unfair treatment ofall religiousminorities, regardless of their recognition in theConstitution. Armenians, Jews and Zoroastrians are considered half citizens.This means that if a member of any one of these minorities wants totestify in court, his testimony is equivalent to half that of a Muslimman.  When speaking about minority women, their worth is 1/4 that of aMuslim man.  If a Christian or any other religious minorityis wet and a Muslim man touches him, he has to go wash as he is nowconsidered najess (impure).

Historically, the Armenian and Assyrian Christian communitiesflourished for centuries in Iran,but from the onset of the Islamic Revolution, religiouspersecution andsocial marginalization set off a mass exodus in culturalandreligious minority groups.

Under the Pahlavi dynasty, the Armenian community thrived, as a resultof the modernization efforts of Reza Shah from 1924 to 1941 and Mohammad RezaShah from 1941 to 1979. The Armenians advanced and established themselvesin the arts, sciences, economy and entrepreneurship. They settled in Tehran, Tabriz and Isfahan and had a growingpopulation of about 3,000,000.

They were politically independent with their own senator and member ofparliament.  They had churches, schools, cultural centers and librariesthat catered to their community.

Armenian books, newspapers and other literature was published andfreely circulated throughout Iran.

The history of religion within Iran, clearly parallels theirpolitical timeline.  After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iraniansconnected again with Islam. This was particularly the trend a couple of yearslater when Iran entered abloody religiouswar of Shiite versus Sunni with neighboring Iraq.Naturally, Iranians became increasingly patriotic, rallying around the flag oftheir new Islamic country.

The Islamic Revolution and the years following brought a sudden end toa thriving era for the Armenians. Facing religious pressure,increased religiouspropaganda surrounding the Iran-Iraq War and subsequenteconomic struggles induced a sudden emigration of more than 1,000,000 Armeniansfrom Iran who settled inEurope, North America and Australia.

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