Photo Source: Bethany World Prayer Center
Map Source: Bethany World Prayer Center
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The Islamic Republic of Iran is home to more than 80 million people divided into about 100 distinct ethnic groups. The largest percentage of people is Persian. They descended from the original Indo-Europeans who entered the country from Central Asia in the second millennium B.C. The remainder of the population consists of ethnic groups such as the Azeri, Gilaki, Mazandarani, and Kurds. Other groups include the Arab, Lur, Baluchi, and Turkmen. Numerous other groups compose a minute percentage of the total population.
In the mid-eleventh century, Iran was conquered by the Seljuk Turks under Togrul Beg. During the next four centuries, it was successively dominated by the Seljuks, the Mongols under Genghis Khan, Tamerlane and his Mongol hordes, and the Turkmen, resulting in a melting pot of ethnic groups. Like most Iranians, the Astiani speak an Indo-Iranian language (also called Ashtiani), but most are also fluent in Farsi (Persian).
The origins of the Astiani are unclear. However, they are known to live mainly as herdsmen in the Tafres area and to be closely related to the Vafsi.
More than half of Iran is either rugged terrain or wasteland, most of which is uninhabitable salt deserts. About one-tenth of the country is suitable for farming, and another one-fourth is suitable for grazing. Nearly one-third of the agricultural land area is irrigated, mostly in the hilly margins between desert and mountains.
Health conditions outside the capital are poor. Many small towns and rural areas suffer from unsanitary conditions and a shortage of medical personnel and facilities. Contagious diseases such as scarlet fever, whooping cough, pulmonary tuberculosis, and typhoid fever are prevalent. The infant mortality rate is a serious problem; it is very high by both international and Middle Eastern standards. Life expectancy is about 65 years for both sexes.
Some rural children never attend school because of either parental objections or a lack of facilities. The secondary school system is relatively undeveloped, and it serves mainly to prepare small numbers of students for university-level education.
The culture of Iran is heavily influenced by the Islamic religion, as is evident in the art, literature, and social structure of the country. After the 1979 revolution, the Shi'ite clergy led a drive for renewed Muslim practices. Women were ordered to return to more traditional roles, movie theaters were closed, and radio stations were prohibited from broadcasting music. The segregation of men and women at social functions was re-instituted. Many women again wore the traditional chador, a long black cloth that is draped over the head and body.
The border of Iran is inhabited by ethnic minorities, who at times have been perceived to hold greater allegiance to their individual ethnic groups than to the national government. Arabs can be found in the southwest. The Baluchi in the southeast, the Turkmen in the northeast, and the Kurds in the west are all Sunni Muslims. Although they are Shi'ites, the Azeri have come into conflict with the politically active Iranian Shi'ite clergy. However, at other times, they have found common cause with them.
The official religion of Iran is the Shi'ite branch of Islam, which is followed by the great majority of the population. Some of the most sacred Shi'ite places are in Iran; the city of Qom, south of Teheran, is a noted place of pilgrimage.
The Astiani do not have any Christian resources available to them in their own language. The nation of Iran remains closed to traditional missionary work. Only sustained prayer can open the doors of this Muslim nation to the Gospel.
* Pray that the doors of Iran will soon be opened to the preaching of the Gospel.
* Pray for the hearts of the Astiani to be softened towards the Gospel message.
* Ask the Lord to greatly multiply the efforts of the few Astiani believers as they share Christ with others.
* Ask God to raise prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Pray that many Christian fellowships will soon be planted among the Astiani.