Due to Iran’s rich culture and historical background, the Iranians enjoy several ancient customs in which religion has always had a specific place. Most of these customs are a mixture of national and religious customs some of which are given below:
1 Hospitality is a salient characteristic of the Iranian culture. The hospitality of Iranian people is well known to all. Iranians believe that guest is “God’s friend” and according to Islamic teachings, they respect the guest.
2 Respecting the elderly is another characteristic of Iranian culture. According respect to the elderly is essential in Iran in a manner that in public places such as metro and bus young people give their seats to the elderly. The children also respect their parents and sit politely in front of them. Moreover after marriage they always visit their parents.
3 Greeting each other is customary among the Iranians. From the beginning, parents teach their children to greet the elderly.
4 Iranians also respect the dead, pray for their forgiveness by paying visit to their graves on Thursdays. They also hold funeral services for the dead as they commemorate the birth and death anniversaries of the diseased religious figures. The most important ceremonies are “Ashura” and Moharam days, which are held all over the country to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussain.
5 The descendants of Prophet Muhammad have specific status in Iran. They are called “Seyyed” and some of them wear green caps as a sign symbol of being a descendant of Prophet Muhammad and infallible Imams.
6 Religious figures are also respected by people and learning religious sciences and reaching high positions in religious teachings is considered an important value.
7 The Iranian honor those who render services or make a sacrifice. Families of martyrs and the veterans of war and revolution are also respected by people.
8 Another extremely significant custom of Iran is helping the poor, which is religiously recommended. Taking care of orphans is an important religious deed with worldly and heavenly rewards. Not only the people do this but also the governmental and private organizations have been established to carry out this charitable act which itself shows importance of helping the poor and the orphan.
9 In addition, at the time of natural disasters like flood and earthquake, the Iranians help the victims and according to the holy Quran, consider it a religious and social duty.
10 To Iranians, neighbors are so dear and sometimes closer than relatives. According to Islamic teachings and the recommendations of the Prophet (peace be upon him), people respect their neighbors. However this custom has been to some extent undermined due to modern life and cultural invasion by satellite and Internet.
Traveling has its own customs in Iran. For instance, when a passenger is seen off, he kisses the Quran and passes beneath it.
According to Iranian beliefs, this act protects the passenger from dangers and threats. Another custom is pouring water behind the passenger because water is the symbol of limpidity. In fact the path of the passenger is sprinkled with water for his health and quick return. Returning from a journey, the passenger brings souvenir for friends and relatives. This act also is rooted in religious beliefs; because it is recommended by Imams (peace be upon them) that the passenger brings souvenir even if it is not expensive one.
Beside these customs, which have some religious aspects, there are some other customs, which are totally religious. Immolation is among these customs. In order to prevent accidents, Iranians immolate a sheep and distribute the meat among relatives and neighbors and also the poor.
Offering different prayers and reciting some verses from the holy Quran and travel prayers to prevent accidents are also some other religious beliefs of the Iranians.
Giving alms is very customary in Iran. People give alms everyday before starting daily activities because they believe that alms giving can prevent accidents, increase daily earning and prolong life…They also give alms at the beginning of every month and also when traveling.
Endowment is an action in which everyone can put some of his wealth at public disposal. Here they endow properties, lands, building and gardens… and put the income of these belonging at leader’s disposal to be spent in religious affairs or Muslims’ interest.
Holding “religious maturity ceremonies” for teenagers who become mature is another custom which is held for those teenagers who have religiously become mature and accountable and they must offer daily prayers (namaz) and observe fast as well as other religious rites and rituals. The children who have are not mature hold a half-day fast to practice and prepare themselves for the future. In this way of fasting, parents teach their children to refrain from eating or drinking after dawn while they eat something at noon and and again it’s repeated until evening call for prayer after teh sunset. Finally they give them a gift as a reward to encourage them. It should be mentioned that, during Ramadan all fast food stores and restaurants are closed until evening call for prayer, but inter-city restaurants are open for passengers who don’t have to fast.
The Iranians are sensitive toward religious ceremonies and hold these ceremonies on specifics days.
They are also sensitive toward scared places, the burials of the descendents of the holy Imams and mosques, and do not speak loudly in these holy shrines. Iranians believe that they should not speak about worldly subjects in these places instead they should remember God and thank him.
Iran is completely a religious country with many mosques, religious schools, seminaries and historical-Islamic monuments. Holy shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad and Hazrat Masumeh, a daughter of Imam Musa Kazem, are the most important Islamic places of Iran. In addition to cities, most villages have mosques and prayer leaders. Iranians gather in mosques at noon for saying their prayers At the time of daily prayers, one can hear the call for prayers all around the city. Friday prayer is also significant among Iranians. Islamic hijab can be seen in all aspects.
Selling alcoholic drinks is illegal in Iran and there’s no public liquor center selling these drinks.
Nowruz (New Year Festival) has specific customs in Iran. Some of them are as follows: Arranging a table with seven items whose names start with the Persian letter “s” called “Haftsin”. Giving gifts and to relatives and friends is another custom. In some tribes, there’s a custom called “Nowruzaneh” which means Nowruz gift. This gift usually consists of sweets which is sent to others on the morning of Nowruz. During these days, people wear new clothes and visit each other. Especially the children visit parents and pay visit to the tombs of their diseased dear ones.
“Nowruz greenery” is an ancient sign of Nowruz. Before the new year, people grow greeneries, put them on the new year table (Haftsin) and keep it until 13th day of the first month of the new year.
One of the characteristics of the Iranian society is the existence of different cultures and ethnic groups. Some Iranologists and tourists believe that this cultural diversity has made Iran more attractive. Northern, southern, central, eastern and western parts of Iran have their own specific subcultures due to Iran’s vastness. Climatic features influence these cultures to a great extant. Each part of Iran has its specific subculture and because of recent communications between people, some subcultures have been influenced by others.
Ethnic group of Kurds, Lurs, Arabs, Turkomans, Azeris, Bakhtiariz and Balouchis live in full peaceful coexistence. Due to geographical situation, Iran has always been a bridge between the East and the West; while different ethnic communities have crossed this region. Different nations have settled in Iran with different characteristics. Before the Aryan’s arrival and their settlement in Iran, some indigenous ethnic communities lived here. Iran’s ethnic communities are as follows:
1) Persian (Fars) : More than 65% of Iranian population are Persian (Pars). The Persians are descendents of Muslim or Aryans, who settled in the central plateau during the second millennium BC and called Iran as Pars (Persia).
2) Azaris: The Azari Turks are demographically the largest minority of Iran. Although most of them live in provinces of East Azarbaijan, West Azarbaijan, Zanjan and Hamedan, some others live in other provinces and are also scattered all around the country.
3) Kurds: The Kurds are scattered in a vast area of the Middle East, from east of turkey to northeastern Iraq and from some parts of Syria to the west and northeast of Iran. Kurds are the oldest ethnic communities in this geographical region and have been living here from the second millennium A.D.
4) Lurs: They are descendants of Aryans mixed with Kashi or Kasit race. In the course of history, some Arab and Turk groups were intermingled with Lurs but generally speaking, they are a pure race. Constituting 2% of Iran’s total population inhabit in Lurestan and Hamedan.
5) Arabs: Most of Iranian Arab populati0n live in Khuzestan and Persian Gulf islands. Arabs living on southern coastal areas, have many characteristics common with the Fars population, and besides the Persian language, they also speak Arabic as well.
6) Qashqais: Most of the Qashqais live in the Fars province, while they migrate during summer and winter to different regions. Similar to many other ethnic minorities, the Qashqais are of Turkish origin.
7) Turkomans: Having common roots with the Turkish ethnic community, the Turkomans constitute a small population of Iran. They live in Turkoman Sahra (a plain in eastern Mazandaran and north of Khorasan with Turkmenistan as neighboring Republic).
8) Bakhtiaris: The Bakhtiaris are settled in Chaharmahal-o-Bakhtiari and some parts of Khuzestan. As one of the oldest ethnic communities, the Bakhtiaris have been among the strongest and most influential ethnic communities in Iranians history.
9) Balouchis: The Baluchis are among few ethnic communities that have preserved their semi-Bedouin lifestyle. Perhaps it is because of the very dry climatic pattern of their geographic area. Balouchis are settled in vast thinly populated deserts covering southeastern extremity of Iran and remote places of West Pakistan. They have famous camel races.
Advent of Islam and Shiism
Iran is among the countries where Islam entered during the early days of the 1st century hegira. This period was contemporary to the last days of Sassanid dynasty. The Iranians welcomed Islam warmly and Islamic teachings became people’s culture, while Islam rendered invaluable services to the Iranians over centuries.
It is about 14 centuries that majority of Iranians have given up other religious and embraced to Islam. Over the centuries, millions of Iranians have lived with this religion. The advent of Shiism in Iran coincided with that of Islam, which became Iran’s official religion. In two historical stages, Shiism was announced as Iran’s formal religion. First Sultan Mohammad Khodabandeh embraced Shiism in 7th century hegira and announced it as state religion and minted coins in Imam’s names.
Up to the 10th century hegira, the political situation of Iran’s Shias was similar to that of previous periods (Ayyubian and Siljukids), i.e., after Sultan Mohammad Khodabandeh, they were under pressure and the Sunnis took the rein of power and changed the formal religion. But at the beginning of the said century, king Ismail I founded the Safavid Dynasty and announced Shiism as state religion for the second time. From this time on, majority of Iranians became Shia. Iran was the best place for Islam and this religion was well established in Iran more than any other place. With the passage of time, and due to the roots of this religion in Iranians’ hearts, the Safavids could take the rein of power and promote Shiism. The reason for the Iranians to embrace Islam and Shiism was that the Iranians found Islam compatible with their lifestyle and culture. They were intelligent people with a rich background of culture and civilization and since they realized the teachings of Islam in the prophet’s family and got the answer to their questions by Imams, they paid more attention to Islam than other nations. What attracted the Iranians towards Islam was their interest in justice and Islamic quality.
Iran was the best place for migration of Shias from other countries, because some of other countries despite having a vast territory were biased towards Shias. The hostility in some areas was so strong that the rulers got the sign of a group of pseudo-clerics excommunicating the Shias and permitting their killing. In those territories the Shias were fired from governmental organizations and their rites and rituals were banned. They also prohibited religious affairs in Damascus and other places where Shias were in minority.
All these acts in other Islamic countries and the pressures on Shias, caused them to migrate to Iran. So Iran became the center of Shiism and many ethnic communities came to Iran, while all of them are Shias.
Demographic combination of religions and religious schools of thought
Iran’s population is about 70 million while 98.8% of them are Muslim. Followers of other religions are as follows: 0.7% Christian, 0.3% Jew, 0.1% Zoroastrian, and 0.1% other religions.
There are two Christian minorities living in Iran since the pre-Islamic era.
1) Armenians: Iranian Armenians live in Azabaijan, Isfahan, Tehran, Khuzestan and other places. They are considered the greatest population of Christian minority in Iran. According to Iran’s constitution, they have two representatives in the Iranian parliament, elected from amongst Armenians of north and south. The Armenian prelacy in Iran, has three areas: Tehran and north; south and Isfahan; and Azarbaijan.
2) Assyrians: Assyrians or Kaledanians are the descendants of the ancient Kaledonians, who have been living in Iran since 2500 years ago. During the period of Ashkanian and Sassanid, they converted to Christianity and one of its old religious groups namely Nasturi. Assyrians with 25,000 population, have one representative the parliament. The Iranian Assyrian community has two associations which conduct their artistic, sports, social and political activities. These associations are: Tehran Assyrian Association; and the Orumyeh Assyrian Association.
In addition to above-mentioned groups, Catholicism and Protestantism are other Christian groups living in Iran.
About 27 centuries ago, during the period of Achaemenian Cyrus, the Jews arrived in Iran, fleeing persecution in other places. They settled in Shush, Nahavand, Hamedan, Isfahan and Shiraz; after the occupation of Palestine by the Zionist regime, some of Iranian Jews migrated to the occupied lands. Most of Iranian Jews are engaged in economic-commercial activities, just like other Iranians.
Jews in Persia
Iranian Jews are among the oldest inhabitants of the country. The origin of Jewish Diaspora in Iran is closely connected with various historical events.
At the time of Assyrian Emperor, Tiglath-Pileser III (727 BCE), thousands of Jews were brought from Palestine and forced to settle in Media to the northwest of Iran. According to the annals of another Assyrian Emperor Sargon II, in 721 BCE, Jewish inhabitants of Ashdod and Samaria were resettled in Media after their failed attempt against Assyrian dominance. The records indicate that 27,290 Jews were forced to settle in Ecbatana (Hamedan) and Susa, in the west and southwest Iran, wrote Cais-Soas.
The next wave of the Jewish settlers arrived to escape persecution from Assyrian Emperor Nabuchadadnezzar II. Many were settled in Isfahan around 680 BCE.
The conquest of Babylon by Cyrus the Great–the founder of the second Iranian dynasty– the Achaemenids, also brought many Jews into the mainland. In 539 BCE, King Cyrus entered Babylon with little resistance. The temple of Marduk, their major deity, was restored. The Jewish slaves in Babylon were freed and permitted to go home.
The kind treatment Iranians accorded their conquered subjects was part of the imperial doctrine led by Cyrus the Great which was influenced by his Zoroastrian faith. The policies of the central administration encouraged autonomy in internal affairs with little intervention from the Iranians. For instance, the Satrap (Governor General) of Judah, which constituted the Fifth Satrapy, had his own local governor in Samaria with the right of supervision over the deputy in Judah.
From 516 BCE, there was no Iranian deputy in Judah. At first, Shabazzar from the ancient Davidic House was the regional leader in Beit-ul-Moqaddas. He was followed by Zerubbabel another Jewish aristocrat. In the 5th to 4th century BCE, the rulers of Judah where also appointed among the local residents. In 458 BCE, the Jew Ezra is appointed the deputy of Judah. The same Ezra had served up to this time as a scribe in the central administration in Susa, the second imperial capital of the Achaemenid dynasty.
Correspondence left by Ezra and his successor Nehemiah, who likewise had been in Susa prior to this, indicates a strong Jewish community, united around the local temple and headed by the high priest. This community had its own organs of self-administration, in whose affairs the Iranians did not intervene.
Gradually, the high priest became the governor of Judah. Semi-autonomous temple communities were not exclusive to the Jews. They existed throughout the Persian Empire. Cyprus, Cilicia, Lycia and other Phoenician cities and principalities in Asia Minor had their own local rulers. Even such remote tribes as the Arabs, Colchians, Ethiopians, Sakai, etc. were governed by their own local chiefs. All kept their religion with little interference from the Achaemenian administration.
Iranians occupied the highest positions in the state apparatus. At the same time, they extensively utilized cultural, legal and administrative traditions of the conquered nations. In the Murashu family documents (ancient Babylonia) of the 23 high royal officers, only eight have Iranian names. Various ethnic and religious minorities followed their own legal code in personal matters such as marriage and family law. For example, Jewish settlers of Elephantine (Egypt) under Iranian administration remained monogamous and the husbands did not have the right to take a second wife. Monetary and property disputes were settled and decided by the special “court of the Jews.”
The conquered people were also given land in exchange for taxes and military service. Among these settlers were all groups such as Babylonians, Aramaeans, Jews, Indians and Sakai, etc. In Susa itself, besides the local population and the Iranians, there were large number of Babylonians, Egyptians, Jews and Greeks. There were no restrictions with respect to religious freedom and practices. Hundreds of objects regarded sacred by various ethnic and religious groups are discovered both in Susa and Persepolis.
In the Fortification texts discovered at Persepolis, many foreign deities are mentioned. These cults and their priests received rations and wages for maintenance. In 500 BCE, the priest Ururu, having received 80 bar of grain from the storehouse, exchanged it for eight yearling sheep, of which two were used for sacrifices to the god Adad.
The Iranian religion was against offering of livestock for sacrifices and Prophet Zarathushtra (Zoroaster) banned the practice. However, others were not prevented from practicing such primitive rituals.
In short, freedom of religion, movement, occupation and marriage were guaranteed under the Achaemenian Empire.
Tolerance and Freedom
In the ancient Near Eastern religions, there is a complete absence of the concept of false faith or any form of heresy. Nor there seems to be any notion of racial hatred or any feeling of the superiority of one people over another. Nations conquered would be treated as such, not because of their ethnic makeup or religion. Even captive Jews brought into Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II, retained their faith in Yahweh and practiced their rituals and prospered economically.
Zoroastrian religion was also geared to tolerance, for it made a place for foreign gods as helpers of Ahura Mazda. One Aramaic inscription of the time speaks of a marriage between the Babylonian god Bel and the Iranian goddess Dayna-Mazdayasnish. In this document. Bel appeals to his spouse with the words: “You are my sister; you are very wise and more beautiful than the other goddesses.”
Iranian conquest is greeted with enthusiasm and Iranians are praised and mentioned in the books of Daniel, Ezra and Ezekiel. The Book of Esther tells of the fate of the Jewish Diaspora under Xerxes (486-465 BCE).
According to Jewish textual references, Esther the niece of Mordecai, an assistant to the Iranian emperor, takes the place of Queen Vashti, who is banned, from the palace by the emperor’s order. The Jewish population of Susa is not liked by some and the emperor is persuaded to order their total eradication. Esther intervenes with several Iranian noblemen who pretend to be Jews. The decree is reversed and all are saved. Though the account is not supported by historical evidence, the writer is very accurate in his description of the Iranian court life and costumes. This occasion is still celebrated by all Jews as Purim Festival.
Purim, which means ’lots’, is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people of the ancient Persian Empire from Haman’s plot to annihilate them, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther (Megillat Esther). According to the story, Haman cast lots to determine the day upon which to exterminate the Jews, Wikipedia wrote.
Purim Festival is celebrated annually according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (Adar II in leap years), the day following the victory of the Jews over their enemies. As with all Jewish holidays, Purim begins at sundown on the previous day.
In cities that were protected by a surrounding wall at the time of Joshua, including Shushan (Susa) and Beit-ul-Moqaddas, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, known as Shushan Purim. Purim is characterized by public recitation of the Book of Esther, giving mutual gifts of food and drink, giving charity to the poor and a celebratory meal.
Jewish exiles from the Kingdom of Judah, who had been living in Babylonian captivity (6th century BCE), found themselves under Persian rule after Babylonia was in turn conquered by the Persian Empire.
According to the Book of Esther, Haman, royal vizier to King Ahasuerus planned to kill the Jews, but his plans were foiled by Esther, who was made queen after his previous queen Vashti was dismissed.
The Jews were delivered from being the victims of an evil decree against them and were instead allowed by the king to destroy their enemies. The day after the battle was designated as a day of feasting and rejoicing.
Source: Iran Daily
The Zoroastrians are among the oldest Iranian communities. Prophet Zoroaster lived about a millennium BC. The Zoroastrians have a 3000-year historical background. Today the Zoroastrians constitute about 0.1% (near 20,000) of the total population of Iran who coexist with the Iranian Muslims in Tehran, Kerman, Shiraz and Yazd and freely practice their rites and rituals.
Demographic combination of followers of Islamic of thought
According to the Article 12 of Iran’s constitution, Islam and Twelver Shiism are the formal religion of Iran. Other religious schools of thought including Hanafi, Shafii, Maleki, Hanbali and Zaidi are formal Islamic schools of thought and their followers freely practice their rituals. About 91% of Iranian Muslims are Shias, while the remaining 8% are Sunnis and the rest are other religious minorities. Most of Sunnites are followers of Shafii (59%) and Hanafite” (49%) schools of thought.
Big powers fearing the unity among one billion Muslims all around the world, sow the seeds of discord among Muslims to make divide them. The policy of divide and rule has been in force since long time back and is still going on. History bears testimony that whenever Muslims are disunited, they are hit hard by the enemies.
From Islamic point of view, Muslims are brother as the holy Prophet invited them to brotherhood and friendship and prevented from discord. During the leadership of the late Grand Ayatollah Boroujerdi of Iran, his relationships with Shaikh Shaltut of Egypt developed strongly and resulted in the establishment of Dar-ul-Taqrib and other mutual cooperation.
Next to him, Imam Khomeini put forth the idea of Islamic unity among Islamic religious schools of thought from viewpoint of Shiism. He emphasized on the unity between Shiites and Sunnites. From Imam’s point of view, unity among Muslims could be achieved around tawhid (monotheism), the holy Quran and the precept (sunnah) of the holy Prophet. This could be the secret of victory and revival of Islamic civilization in today’s world. In introducing the factors of Islamic unity, he has emphasized on some common elements among all the Muslims: belief in monotheism, Islam, the holy Quran, the precept of the holy Prophet, Muslim brotherhood, following the leadership and abiding by the Sharia.