Religious minorities in Iran are free to perform their religious duties and Iran is home to a significant number of Christians and Jews.

Iran PressIran news: The narrow, winding lanes of the Jolfa neighborhood in Iran’s central Isfahan province, along the southern bank of Zayandeh-Rud River, are still basking in the ambiance of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

The largest quarter of Armenian Christians in Iran, who make up the bulk of the country’s Christian population, is situated in the heart of Iran’s cultural capital and comes alive around Christmas every year, the Anadolu Agency reported. 

Like many of his friends, for 34-year-old theater artist Kaveh Moallemi, a visit to Vanak Church, also known as the Holy Savior Cathedral, is an integral part of the annual Christmas festivities.

The 17th-century cathedral has long been a prime tourist attraction in Jolfa, which Moallemi refers to as a “mini country” of minority Christians in Iran.

“As an Iranian Christian, I feel at home in Jolfa,” he told Anadolu Agency. “To listen to church bells, go for prayer meetings, attend cultural events and mix with fellow Christians -- it can’t get any better.”

In the capital of Tehran, there are also a few popular meeting points for the city’s small number of Christians, most notably St. Vartan Church on Dah Metri Aramaneh Street and St. Sarkis Church on Villa Avenue -- not far from the city’s busy nerve center.

Mirzaye Shirazi Street and Nejatollahi Street, in the vicinity of the churches, witness a large rush of shoppers for Christmas, looking for Santa Claus dolls, artificial pine trees, colorful lights and pastries.

Around 300,000 to 370,000 Christians live in Iran, mostly of Armenian background, as well as Assyrians, Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals, who are scattered across major Iranian cities like Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz.

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Christians in Iran

Most Christians in Iran are financially well-off owing to their presence in important businesses, most famously in food and confectionaries. They own and run many shops in central Tehran and other cities.

Many attribute it to the fact that all government jobs are not open to religious minorities like Christians in Iran, while some believe it is because Armenian Christians have traditionally been associated with business and trade.

“The question of freedom or religious tolerance vis-a-vis religious minorities in Iran has no easy answers, but the overall picture is not very grim,” a member of the Iranian Christian Association based in Tehran told Anadolu Agency. He chose not to be identified for this piece.

He said government jobs are “fewer” for Christians but they have seats reserved in parliament -- two for Armenian Christians and one for Assyrian Christians, voted by their respective community constituents.

Christian students, he elaborated, are free to apply for school and university admissions in Iran, as well as higher education scholarships. They also run their community-based schools, even though the curriculum is decided by the government.

The Christian Broadcast Network, a US-based conservative evangelical television station, in a 2018 report claimed that Christianity was “growing faster” in Iran “than any other country,” pointing to the phenomenon of religious conversions in Iran that is banned by law.

The Supreme Court, in a path-breaking ruling in November, said preaching Christianity through houses or churches does not constitute a crime.

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Jews in Iran

A tiny minority of Jews also resides here, even though with little visibility in public spaces.

Quite remarkably, a popular synagogue in Tehran’s Yusuf Abad neighborhood, close to the city’s busiest intersection, functions without any security cover.

Siyamak More Sedgh, an Iranian Jewish politician and two-time member of parliament, cites it to make his point about religious tolerance in Iran.

“There are few countries where synagogues don’t require any form of protection and Iran is one of them,” Sedgh told Anadolu Agency, adding that there is “no record of organized crime” against religious minorities in the country where Islam is the state religion.

There are around 12,000 to 15,000 Jews in Iran, according to conservative estimates. Prior to the 1979 revolution, Iranian Jews numbered 150,000, many of whom fled abroad after the last monarch Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was deposed.

Today, Iranian Jews, a minuscule minority in a country of 80 million, share a good rapport with reformists and conservatives. They have one reserved seat in parliament, which Sedgh held between 2008 and 2020.

What has helped them integrate into the predominantly Muslim Iranian society is the fact that they see themselves are Iranian first.

Muslim nations have always respected followers of other faiths

Sedgh, who also heads Dr. Sapir Hospital and Charity Center, a Jewish charitable institution in Tehran, said the difference between Europeans and Muslims is that Muslim nations “have always respected followers of other faiths.”

“In Europe, the concept of religious tolerance became trendy when people turned their backs on religion and embraced laicism,” he said.


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