Christianity is spreading fast among young people in some of Iran’s most religiously conservative cities, causing concern among leading Islamic clerics, who blame foreign influence, according to Mohabat News.
One high profile cleric, Ayatollah Alavi Boroujerdi, said recently that “accurate reports indicate that the youth are becoming Christians in Qom [home to one of Iran’s most famous Islamic shrines] and attending house churches”. His concern is shared and, according to Mohabat, over the years repeatedly expressed by another influential cleric, Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi.
Last year he “expressed his deepest concern over the popularity of Christianity in the suburbs of Mashhad” – a place of pilgrimage for Shia Muslims – after which “the city’s religious and political officials immediately sent a vast number of Islamic teachers and preachers to Mashhad’s suburbs in order to turn the youth away from Christianity”, reports Mohabat.
Kiaa Aalipour, from advocacy organisation Article 18, told World Watch Monitor last week that the Iranian government “sees Christian converts as a constant threat to the Islamic identity of the Islamic Republic of Iran”.
“The Iranian regime is very fearful of the growth of Christianity in Iran,” he said. “If more and more Iranians convert to Christianity, the legitimacy of the Iranian regime, which is based on an Islamic theocracy, will be totally lost.”
Despite the efforts of Iran’s government to promote Islam among young people in cities like Mashhad and Qom, and a crackdown on newly converted Christians – many of whom have been harassed or arrested – many young Iranians continue to convert, saying they are willing to face the consequences.
Christians are thought to make up only around 0.6 per cent (around 500,000) of Iran’s roughly 80 million people, although precise numbers are difficult to determine. The country is eighth on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. At least 193 Christians were arrested or imprisoned in Iran in 2016 – many of them converts from Islam. In recent months, more than a dozen Christians have been sentenced to at least ten years in prison for “acting against national security”.