The Persian world consists of peoples who are ethnically, linguistically, and historically related to the Persian or Iranian people. It is a vast region in Asia, extending from Azerbaijan and Iran in the West through Afghanistan (where 80% speak Dari, a Persian dialect), Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in the northeast. Iran is the heartland of the Persian world, where an estimated 65-79 percent are Persian. Significant numbers of Persians also live outside of the region in the West.
The Persians are an ancient civilization; the city of Susa was founded in 4,400 BC! Unlike most other peoples in the Middle East that were conquered by Arabs, Persians were never Arabized. Persians are justly proud of their long and ancient history. They have retained their language and rich culture for thousands of years.
The region’s geography is extremely varied, with deserts in the south, vast agricultural plains and dramatic mountain ranges in the north and east. It is a region of spectacular natural beauty and moderate to very cold climates and often sparse populations (except Iran).
Since Islamists took control of the 1979 secular revolution that overthrew the Shah, Iran has been under the control of radical Shia Muslims who govern the country and dominate the region with a peculiar brand of Islamic Messianic fundamentalism.
The nations surrounding Iran that have large blocks of Persian peoples are all struggling for their identity following the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991.
Some of these countries, like Afghanistan, turn to Islam to find their identity, but others are seeking to forge new national secular identities around culture and language, such as in Tajikistan.
Few of the countries are stable, and none are thriving economically. Many in the Persian world live in challenging conditions and have limited political or religious freedom.
The vast majority of Iranians are Shia Muslims (90-95%), but in the larger Persian world the Shia-Sunni mix varies, with some countries being almost entirely Sunni.
The flavor of Islam in each region varies, with Iran’s Shia fundamentalism being among the most militant and restrictive. The regime in control of Iran is a theocratic dictatorship, in which the religious elite try to control the political, social and, economic lives of their people.
In the former Soviet parts of the Persian world, peoples who were Muslim before the Soviet era again view themselves as Muslims, even though they are often completely non-practicing.
The two things that set the Persian World apart from other Muslim regions are the strong presence of Shia Muslims (in Iran and Azerbaijan) and, in the former Soviet states, the varied opinions that people have about what it means to be Muslim, in societies where secular and Islamic values are in conflict.
God is at work in the Persian World! In Iran, though the small visible Christian minority is in decline, the number of Muslims turning to Christ is increasing rapidly. Many say that Persian people are more responsive to the Gospel today than any other ethnic group in the world.
However, in some countries in the region, there are almost no known believers nor any movements to Christ. In others there are slowly developing fledgling house church movements. Foreign workers often have a hard time gaining access, though increasing efforts in internet and satellite TV outreach are bearing fruit.
The extent and intensity of persecution in the region varies. The areas where the church is growing the fastest experience extensive and even severe persecution (like in Iran).
Tragically, in other places, persecution is so strong that even establishing house churches looks humanly impossible. Every country in the region is on Open Doors’ list of the top 50 countries with serious persecution.
What is the Persian World Like?
What are the greatest struggles in the Persian world?