by Andrew Harrod
“God is moving powerfully inside of Iran”
“Islam is dead,” the “mosques are empty,” and “no one follows Islam inside of Iran,” an unidentified Iranian church leader stated in the 2019 film Sheep Among Wolves Volume II. The film marks a widely observed trend in recent decades of Iranians abandoning the cruel theocratic faith of Iran’s 1979-established Islamic Republic for Christianity.
“God is moving powerfully inside of Iran,” the church leader stated as the documentary examined how “Muslim-background Iranians are leading a quiet but mass exodus out of Islam.” Christian evangelists, who reach Iranians via means such as television broadcasting, have for several years reported on Iranians leaving Islam for Christianity. Other media reports have noted that Iranians “are leaving the mosques in droves” as atheists.
Estimates vary about Christianity’s Iranian revival, with some suggesting in 2019 that “70 percent of Iran’s people have rejected Islam.” Like others, Open Doors, an aid organization for Christians persecuted worldwide, cited at least 500,000 Iranian Christians that same year, compared to 500 known evangelical Christians in 1979, while some sources claimed one million covert believers. In a 2016 Christian Broadcasting Network interview, Iranian house church pastor Rahman Salehsafari, an evangelist among Iranians both in Iran and globally via Skype, stated that 100,000 Iranian Christians in 1994 had become three million.
Mark Bradley, a writer about Iranian Christianity, claimed in 2019 that more Iranians had become Christians in the past 25 years than the past 13 centuries combined. Iran has one of the world’s fastest-growing Christian communities, where demand outstrips Bible supply. David Yeghnazar, the executive director of the nonprofit Elam Ministries for Iranian Christians, argued in 2018 that “Iranians have become the most open people to the gospel.”
Iranians often note the role of dreams in conversions from Islam to Christianity. Dabrina Bet Tamraz, the daughter of Iranian parents imprisoned for their Christian evangelism, discussed this factor during a February 5 Family Research Council (FRC) event in Washington, DC. “Have you seen the white man, have you seen Jesus,” these Iranian Muslim converts to Christianity often ask each other.
Reza Safa, an Iranian Muslim convert to Christianity and evangelical pastor, predicted in 2019 that Iran would become the first majority-Muslim country to convert to Christianity, given the evangel’s wildfire spread despite harsh repression. Iranian-American evangelist Hormoz Shariat in 2016 declared that “Islam is experiencing its greatest defeat in its history in Iran today.” Most young Iranians “have been raised in a family where Islam was rejected and even ridiculed, or at least it was a non-issue.”
The “explosive growth of Christianity in Iran has been driven by the almost palpable spiritual hunger and disillusionment with the Islamic regime,” Open Doors has noted, similar to Iranian-American Texas church pastor Afshin Ziafat. “Ironically, because the Islamic Republic in Iran has tied religion and state so closely together, the people’s disappointment with the government has led to great skepticism of Islam,” he has written. For example, “Islam treats women as a second-class citizen,” Maryam Rostampour noted at FRC while discussing her traumatic Iranian imprisonment for her Christian faith.
Voice of the Martyrs Radio show host Todd Nettleton has heard similar irony from Iranian Christians who have told him that
over the past 20 years that the greatest missionary in the history of Iran—a history that predates Daniel in the Lions’ Den—is the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ended 2,500 years of Persian monarchy in Iran.Sheep Among Wolves Volume II producers, who denounced that in Islam Satan “has built this entire demonic religion around obedience to a false god,” a “great counterfeit,” reached the same conclusion. “The best evangelist for Jesus was the Ayatollah Khomeini,” as the “ayatollahs brought the true face of Islam to light and people discovered it was a lie.” After four decades under the ayatollah’s Islamic law “utopia,” Iranians “had the worst devastation in the 5,000-year history of Iran.”
International political commentator David Goldman observed in a 2018 interview that many Iranians “see their country falling apart around them.” “Iran is going through really a set of catastrophic events economically, environmentally, and socially.” Accordingly, “Iran is one of the least religious countries in the world as measured by mosque attendance.”
Goldman compared Iran with the declining Soviet Union in 1980s, where “there were really no Communists outside the Central Committee.” As he wrote in 2015, Iran’s “theocratic elite has no more support at the grass roots than did the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the 1980s.” Before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, he stated in his interview, “you found fewer communists in Russia than, say, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.”
Iranians’ “deep and intractable national anomie, a loss of personal sense of purpose,” resulted in stunning infertility, Goldman wrote:
Iran’s fertility decline from about seven children per female in 1979 to just 1.6 in 2012 remains a conundrum to demographers. Never before in recorded history has the birth rate of a big country fallen so fast and so far. Iran’s population is aging faster than that of any other country in the world. In 2050, 30% of its people will be over 60, the same ratio as in the United States but with a tenth of America’s per capita GDP.Another sign of Iranian despair is drug abuse in a country where alcohol and drugs are actually readily available, notwithstanding Islamic strictures. The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported in 2017 that “Iran is confronting the gravest addiction crisis in the world.” Officially 2.8 million people regularly consume drugs amidst Iran’s population of 80 million, but the real figure could be higher.
Iranian agony and Christianity’s message of hope are jeopardizing Iran’s Islamic Republic amidst a historically urbane population not well-disposed towards theocracy. That Iranian literacy rates have improved under the Islamic Republic and now exceed 85 percent only weakens blind faith. For the Islamic Republic, only severe repression can maintain power and forestall the dramatic political changes that an Iranian regime change would bring, as a forthcoming article will analyze.
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