The religion held by the majority of the Iranian population is Shia Muslim (89%). Sunni Muslims in Iran constitute about 9% of the population and the remaining 2% of Iranians are from ‘other’ religions – primarily Zoroastrian, Christian and Jewish.
What makes the religious beliefs in Iran so interesting is that although almost 90% of Iranians are Shia Muslims, globally the percentage of Shia Muslims is only 10%.
The religious beliefs of Shia Muslims in Iran primarily share the core beliefs of Sunni Muslims in Iran. However, some of the key differences are as follows:
* When the Prophet Muhammad died in 632, there was no clear indication as to whom he wished to succeed as Islamic Leader. The majority group (subsequently known as Sunni Muslims) believed it should be Abu Bakr – the father of the Prophet Muhammad’s wife Aisha and the first male convert to Islam. The second group believed the Prophet’s cousin and son in law – Ali, was the only legitimate successor (subsequently becoming the Shia group).
* In Iran, the Shia religion upholds that the spiritual leadership passed from Ali, through to eleven of his descendents. The twelfth Imam is believed to have ascended into a supernatural state and that he will not return to earth until the day of judgement. Belief in the twelfth Imam in Iran has resulted in them being refereed to as the ‘Ithna-Ashari’ sect. Most Shia’s in Lebanon, Iran and Bahrain also follow this religious direction, although it is not shared by all other Shia’s.
Zoroastrianism is the oldest revealed religion both globally and within Iran and it predates the Islamic religion. There is no official agreement over the time period in which the Prophet Zoroaster lived, but many people believe that it was at least 1,000 years before Christ.
Zoroastrianism believes in two opposing states – that of goodness and light and that of evil and darkness. They believe that the two states are in constant struggle and that the world exists as a stage only for the battles to take place. There is a strong ethical and moral basis within the religion therefore, with individuals striving towards ‘goodness’. The religion shares the same belief with Islam that all individuals will be subject to judgement upon death and acceptance into Paradise will be dependant on behaviours during the individual’s worldly existence.
Due to the predominant religion within Iran, numbers of individuals following the Zoroastrian religion have continued to fall and it is estimated that only 45,000 individuals following this religion now exist in Iran.