Iran Religious Diversity (Jews and Christians)
Everyone knows the story of Cyrus the Great and the Jews of Babylon. The Jewish population has always praised this king, Darius, and Xerxes. Xerxes wife Ester was Jewish and was buried with his uncle Mordecai in Hamedan.
Many Jews lived in Iran during the Achaemenid, Seleucid, and Parthian ages and were considered Iranians or Persians. The time of the Achaemenid and Parthians was the time of freedom of religion in Iran.
They did not impose any religion upon anyone. But the Zoroastrian Magi (like their Islamic contemporaries) sought power and supremacy. As a result, many followers of other beliefs, as we mentioned earlier, Manichaean, Jews, Christians, and Buddhists, were persecuted and even killed.
With the arrival of Islam in Iran, they gave all religious minorities some rights. They could both remain in their religion and be separate from the Muslim majority. However, in many periods of Iranian history, especially the Safavid, the general situation of the Jews was not very interesting.
This unsettled situation continued until the time of Reza Shah and the formation of the Jewish government in the currently occupied territories. Although Reza Shah did not have any particular problems with the Jews, he considered their activities for Israel to be in complete contradiction with nationalism and, as a result, put pressure on them.
Despite the participation of many Jews in the revolution, the line between Iranian Jews and the ones in Israel became very critical. Due to the activities of the Mossad and the Islamic Republic’s disapproval of Israel.
From the beginning, the Jews in Iran were a minority separated from other Iranians due to the nature of Judaism, which defines Judaism as a non-universal religion (also Zoroastrianism, which was only for Iranians to follow).
However, in the heart of society and away from political tensions, if we look closely at cities with Jewish populations such as Shiraz, Hamedan, and Tehran, we see them like any other Iranian who performs their religious practices and socialize with their Muslim friends.
Since Christianity, like Islam, is universal and invites everyone, regardless of the country in which they were born, most people in the world are Christians.
Four centuries after Christ, the Roman Empire chose this religion as its official religion. Because there was often war and conflict between Iran and Rome, the Christianization of any Iranian, apart from being an apostate, was stigmatized as an active spy for the Romans.
Armenia was one of the oldest and most important states of Iran, was permanently separated from Iran in 1813 in the war with Russia. Armenia was the first state of Iran to convert to Christianity.
During the time of Khosrow II (Parviz), Christians influenced the court and comfort and peace of mind in their daily lives because they were both of Khosrow Parviz’s wives (one after another), Maryam and Shirin were Christians. For the same reason, the Magi ousted him from the throne with many conspiracies.
Most churches, or at least the infrastructure and their remnants, belong to the same century AD in north-western Iran.
With the arrival of Islam in Iran, the same rights that existed for Jews and other minorities were granted to them. However, the freedom of Iranian Christians was greater than that of Jews for the same reason that they did not separate themselves from Iranian society. At least among the people, relations between Muslims and Christians were better than with the Jews.
During the reign of Shah Abbas I, the greatest change in the Christian community took place after the officialization of Islam and the Shiite sect in Iran. Shah Abbas, who valued Iranian trade and considered it one of the main causes of the Iranian recession, brought many Armenians (Iranian Christians) to Isfahan from north-western Iran and repaired their churches.
To miss their earlier home, he assigned them a neighborhood in Isfahan with the same name, Jolfa, and left many of the economic affairs of that time in their hands. This neighborhood still retains its uniqueness today.
The Iranian Christian community brought many geniuses to their country in the fields of sports, literature, filmmaking, and especially music.
After Islam gradually took over the entire Sassanid Empire, the Zoroastrians of Iran also became religious minorities. However, at the very beginning of the Arab invasion, many of them went to India and created the Persians of India. They also took the mythical fire of Bahram with them.
Most Zoroastrians settled in certain cities. While the Islamic State granted them rights, because they considered themselves genuine Iranians and had a long-standing enmity with the Arabs, the government’s austerity measures escalated.
Especially at the time of the emergence of the Shu’ubiyya movement, which later on leads to some sort of nationalism in Iran with the meaning of fanatical patriotism. During the Pahlavi era, attention was paid to ancient Iran, and precisely for this reason, the elements that represented ancient Iran in any form were constantly used.
Since the Islamic Revolution had a very difficult time with Pahlavi, this mere nationalism, that is, dealing with ancient Iran, which was tied to the Zoroastrian kings and the Aryan race, was strongly condemned.
Over the years and the establishment of the Islamic Republic, its sensitivities diminished and the Zoroastrians became more active.
All religious minorities are represented in the Islamic Consultative Assembly of Iran. In the Iran-Iraq War, both Zoroastrian and Christian followers served in the Iranian army to defend Iran, and many were martyred.
If we put politics and the hierarchy of religious rules aside, the followers of any religion, whether Christian or Zoroastrian, Jewish or Muslim, have suffered a lot throughout the turbulent history of Iran. They all experienced the same turn points and, where necessary, united under the banner of their homeland.
Iranian celebrities are respected by all Iranians. The culture built within the borders of Iran, the native Persian language that is one of the richest literary sources in the world is for all Iranians regardless of religion.
The same commonalities make human beings not only possible but also beautiful. If such a thing happened in the whole world, there would be no need for war or demarcation. We all lived together.