• Lebanon!

    Lebanon: House in Byblos. Go Now!

    Lebanon
    This country is home to a wide range of people from conservative Muslims and Christians to liberals who embrace the changing world. Explore Lebanon!

  • Bangladesh!

    Bangladesh: Traditional houses. Go Now!

    Bangladesh
    This low-lying country has historic ties to India and Pakistan, but today maintains a wholly unique culture. Explore Bangladesh!

  • Indonesia!

    Indonesia: Lombok. Go Now!

    Indonesia
    This archipelago nation is culturally diverse from big cities to isolated islands. Begin Your Journey!

  • Mongolia!

    Mongolia: Desert. Go Now!

    Mongolia
    This vast country has a culture that spans past and present... a nomadic life shifting to a modern & sedentary society. Begin Your Journey!

  • Kyrgyzstan!

    Kyrgyzstan: Tian Shan Mountains. Go Now!

    Kyrgyzstan
    The mountains, including the Tian Shan Mountains (pictured), give Kyrgyzstan a unique culture, partially formed from this isolation from the mountains. Go Now!

Ethnicity, Language, & Religion of Iran

WARNING: International disputes with Iran are ongoing, please read this travel warning before going!

Ethnicity

Most of the people in Iran are ethnic Persians, which is a distinct ethnic group only distantly related to the Arabs and other people of the Middle East today. Outside minor Persian groups, the closest relatives to the Persians are the Turkic people of Central Asia and Azerbaijan. Beyond the majority, there are also large numbers of Azerbaijanis, which is a Turkic group, and the Kurds, who are most closely related to the Persians, but are truly a combination of ethnicities. There are dozens of other minorities in the country, none of whom make up a substantial percentage of the population.

Language

Persian, more commonly referred to as Farsi, is the only official language in Iran as it is spoken natively by most ethnic Persians, which is a bit over half the people. Farsi is a fairly unique language as it is in the Iranian language family, primarily consists of languages spoken in small numbers. Tajik and Dari are arguably the same language, but if not are mutually intelligible and Persian's closest relative. Persian is written in the Arabic script.

Azerbaijani and other Turkic languages are also commonly spoken among minority groups in Iran. Azerbaijani is one of the most widely spoken languages in the country next to Persian, but there are also significant numbers of native Kurdish, Balochi, and Arabic speakers. English is a widely taught second language in Iran and many people, especially young people, speak at least a minimal amount of English.

Religion

Muslim is the official religion of Iran and nearly 90% of the people are Shia Muslim. Another 9% of the people are Sunnis. The final percent or two consists of various groups, including Christians, Zoroastrians, and Baha'is.

Islam (the name of the religion, whose followers are called Muslims) is a monotheistic religion, whose holy book is called the Qur'an. The Qur'an is believed to be the word of God spoken through the prophet Muhammad from 609-632 CE (Common Era is preferred over AD (Anno Domini or "year of the Lord") since the Islamic world doesn't believe Jesus was the messiah). Islam believes Muhammad was the last prophet sent to earth by God, the last in a long line of prophets, which includes Moses, Abraham, and Jesus among others.

Muslims follow five pillars of their faith: testimony, prayer, alms-giving, fasting, and pilgrimage. These pillars, and other tenants of their faith, can give great structure to their lives as some foods, like pork, are forbidden and every Muslim is expected to pray five times a day. However, the level of participation in each of these pillars and to what degree Islam influences an individual's life varies from person to person and community to community. Iran is conservative in how they practice Islam as their laws and government are based on Islamic laws, not laws created by man, known as "sharia law").

Most Muslims are Sunni, which is the branch of Islam that closely follows the teachings of Muhammad and accepts Abu Bakr as the first Caliph (a ruler of an Islamic community); the Sunni Muslims are sometimes referred to Orthodox. However, Iran is almost entirely Shia, who are Muslims who believe only God can chose who heads the Islamic community and believed it was Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law who was first chosen; Ali became the first Imam (according to Shia Muslims, this term only refers to the leaders of the faith, to Sunni Muslims Imam is often times used in reference to the prayer leader in mosques).

This page was last updated: May, 2014