Iran, Middle East
Political Leader: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Religions: Islam 99%, Bahai .5%, Christianity 0.3%, Other 0.2%
Persecution Ranking: No. 3
Number of Terrorist Groups: 17
Acts of Terrorism: 139; Casualties: 87
Percent of Corruption: 73%
% of People in Poverty: 40%
Formerly known internationally as Persia, Iran is a Southwest Asian country located in the geographical territories of the Middle East and Southern Asia. It is the 18th largest country in the world in terms of area at 1,648,000 square kilometers. Iran consists of rugged, mountainous rims surrounding high interior basins. The main mountain chain is the Zagros Mountains, a series of parallel ridges interspersed with plains that bisect the country from northwest to southeast. Iran is about the size of United Kingdom, France, Spain and Germany combined. Iran borders Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to the north; Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east; and Turkey and Iraq to the west. It is considered a key country because it borders the Persian Gulf, an important oil-producing area, Gulf of Oman and the Caspian Sea. Because of its geographically central location, Iran also has close proximity to Europe. Iran was one of the first countries to be occupied by the early Islamic armies in the seventh century. Persia, as it was internationally called until 1935, was one of the greatest empires of the ancient world and has since maintained a distinct cultural identity within the Islamic world because of its continued adherence to the Shi’a interpretation of Islam, and Iran retaining its own language.
The U.S. State Department has called Iran the world’s “most active state sponsor of terrorism.” According to news reports in August 2007, U.S. officials believe Iran continues to provide funding, weapons, training and havens to numerous terrorist groups based in the Middle East and elsewhere, posing a security concern to the international community. Iran’s declarations that it has successfully enriched uranium and developed new missile technology have heightened alarm in the United States and a growing number of other states. The United States has accused Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, as well as helping Shiite militias in Iraq that target U.S. troops—claims Iran denies. But Iran has faced growing sanctions through the United Nations Security Council as well as international financial bodies because of concern over its motives. The U.S. State Department considers Hezbollah an Iranian terrorist group. Hezbollah, or Party of God, was formed in the early 1980s in Lebanon after Israel’s invasion to try to root out militant factions. Hezbollah became synonymous with suicide attacks, led by a 1983 blast at U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans. Later, Hezbollah battled Israel in southern Lebanon before the Israeli withdrawal in 2000.
Islam is the official religion in Iran, and all laws and regulations must be consistent with the official interpretation of Shari’a law. There are established churches in Iran including Armenian, Chaldean and Latin-rite Catholic, Armenian, Assyrian and Russian Orthodox as well as Anglicans, Pentecostals and Presbyterians. While estimates for its size vary, the Armenians form the biggest group with approximately 150,000 adherents. Protestants are estimated to number around 50,000, and Catholics 7,000. The United Nations Special Representative estimates that 10,000 to 15,000 indigenous Christians emigrate every year. Every year since 1999 the U.S. Secretary of State has designated Iran as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act, for its particularly egregious violations of religious freedom.
Challenges for Christians:
Iran is ranked No. 3 among nations that are the worst persecutors of Christians based on Open Doors 2007 “World Watch List.” Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Christians in Iran have faced several hardships. Since the beginning of 2004 when conservative parties won the elections, religious freedom has deteriorated considerably. The situation grew worse after hard-line conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005. Ahmadinejad hailed his election triumph as a new Islamic revolution that could spread throughout the world and pledged to restore an ‘’Islamic government’’ in Iran, implying that the previous administrations were not sufficiently Islamic. Since 2005's election, many Christians have not only been rounded up for harassment, but many have been arrested and beaten. One house church pastor was killed in November 2005.
Although Christians belong to one of the officially recognized religious minorities who are guaranteed religious freedom, they reported imprisonment, harassment and discrimination because of their faith this year. Various Christian groups known to use literature and other means to spread their faith among the majority Shi’ite Muslim population were targeted over the past year. In at least eight known incidents, Muslims who had converted to Christianity were arrested and held in custody for several weeks before being released. In most cases, they were forced to pay large bail amounts and were told their cases remain open for possible criminal prosecution. Under Iran's strict apostasy laws, any Muslim who leaves Islam faces the death penalty. On the positive side, a former army colonel, who had converted to Christianity and was falsely accused of hiding his faith, was released after two years in jail.
- Pray for Iran to stop providing funding, weapons, training and havens to numerous terrorist groups.
- Pray for God to expose the plans of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah. Pray that God would defeat the demonic forces that are behind terrorists.
- Pray for the salvation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and leaders of terrorist groups.
- Pray for the political situation to change in Iran and for God to intervene on behalf of those who are being devastated by terrorism and radial world religions. Also, pray for those being used as puppets to do the will of demonic forces in Iran.
- Since the country believes apostasy is a crime, pray specifically for Muslims who convert to Christianity as they potentially face the death penalty. Ask that God would protect Muslim background believers in Iran. Pray that they will stand strong against tremendous pressure to return to Islam.
Sources: Barnabus Fund, Middle East Concern, Open Doors, Council on Foreign Relations, the Associated Press, International Religious Freedom Report 2007, The World Factbook