Survey Reveals Increasing Religious Diversity in Iran Despite Persecution

As per a recent survey held by a European research organization, the Iranian regime’s policy of discrimination and, in some cases, persecution of non-Shia Muslim groups may be having the effect of driving Iranians to other religions. It would look like the spiritual gap between Iran’s Shia ayatollahs and the citizens they rule, is growing with a number of Iranians increasingly leaving religion or experimenting with alternatives to Shiism.

Resident Zoroastrians, Christians and Baha’is in the country have shown a soaring interest, even as leaders of alternative forms of Islam speak of popular revivals and a change in loyalty, as Iranians turn to other religions because they no longer find satisfaction in the official faith.

Official numbers from the Iranian government indicate that 99.5% of the 82 million people in the country are Muslim, but the numbers are not reliable. A poll of over 50,000 Iranians conducted by a Dutch research group, the Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in Iran (GAMAAN), found Iran in religious flux.

Nearly half of the respondents said they had lost or changed their religion, with only about a third (33.2 percent) identifying as Shia. Moreover, 22.2% identified as having no religion at all. There was also a significant portion of the population identifying as Zoroastrian (7.7%), Sunni (5%), and Christian (1.5%).

While this is a relatively small sample size, if these numbers are anything close to the truth, Iran seems to be much more diverse than its official census shows. This is good news for those advocating human rights and religious freedom, especially for the Sufis, adherents to a mystical form of Islam, who have been targets of harassment and arbitrary arrests by the Iranian regime.

These numbers indicate Iran swinging toward secularization, or the idea that the government should not be tied to any particular religion. 68% of those surveyed believed that religious prescriptions should be excluded from state legislation, while 71% believed that religious institutions, irrespective of their faith, should not receive government support. Furthermore, 41% thought that all religions should have a right to public proselytizing as opposed to 4% who believed that such a right should only be reserved for Muslims. However, 43% thought that public proselytizing should be banned for all religions.

These numbers need to be interpreted carefully, but as access to the Iranian public becomes easier with widespread internet access and the increasing number of Iranians on social media, studies such as these, over the coming months and years, would be able to provide a better picture as regards the religious situation within the country.

That such large numbers of Iranians (based on the GAMAAN survey) believe that the country would do better without the effects of a religious government, presents a hopeful picture for unrecognized religious minorities, who have long lived under the oppression of the Shia government. A secular government would, almost certainly, be more likely to recognize the freedom of other religions to exist alongside Shia Islam or would, at the very least, be more disinterested in persecuting religious minorities within the country.

Zoroastrianism witnessed an unexpected revival in the Kurdish region, after the extremist Islamic State group occupied vast swathes of northern Iraq, imposing a brutal doctrine of Islam and persecuting religious minorities. Although the regional Kurdish government officially recognised Zoroastrianism in 2015, converts from Islam remain registered as Muslims at the central Iraqi government,

Zoroastrians are the oldest remaining religious community in Iran. Prior to the Muslim conquest of Persia, Zoroastrianism was the primary religion of the Persian Empire. According to the country’s official census, there were 25,271 Zoroastrians within the country as of 2011.


Truly interesting article. It totally dispells the myths propagated the mainstream press.

Thanks, and please publish more!

Leave a Reply