The gods invoked are essentially the gods of pre-Zoroastrian Iran. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. The vast majority of Iranians are Muslims of the Ithnā ʿAsharī, or Twelver, Shiʿi branch, which is the official state religion. Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article. The two cornerstones of Iranian Shiʿism are the promise of the return of the divinely inspired 12th imam—Muḥammad al-Mahdī al-Ḥujjah, whom the Shiʿah believe to be the mahdi—and the veneration of his martyred forebears. Textual sources are both indigenous and foreign, the latter being primarily Greek, although for purposes of historical reconstruction the ancient Indian Vedic literature is indispensable. The earliest religious texts of the closely related Indo-Aryan speakers (principally the Rigveda) are indispensable for making historical reconstructions of the development of Iranian religion. Small communities of Christians, … About 90 percent of Iranians practice Shi'ism, the official religion of Iran. The royal inscriptions, especially those of Darius (522–486 bce) and his son Xerxes I (486–465 bce), for the most part eloquent pieces of propaganda, are rich in references to religion. The Kurds and Turkmen are predominantly Sunni Muslims, but Iran’s Arabs are both Sunni and Shiʿi. Summaries of the contents of the Sāsānian Avesta show that it was an enormous collection containing texts in Avestan as well as in—and predominantly so—Pahlavi, the language of Sāsānian Zoroastrianism. [3], Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of Religion Let us know if you have suggestions to improve this article (requires login). Small communities of Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians are also found throughout the country. The main problem with the Greek sources, the most important of which is Herodotus, is that the information they contain is not always very reliable, either because it is outright erroneous or because it is based on misunderstandings. Alternative Title: Persian religion Ancient Iranian religion, diverse beliefs and practices of the culturally and linguistically related group of ancient peoples who inhabited the Iranian plateau and its borderlands, as well as areas of Central Asia from the Black Sea to Khotan (modern Hotan, China). Mullahs staff the vast majority of local religious posts in Iran. The absence of the imam contributed indirectly to the development in modern Iran of a strong Shiʿi clergy whose penchant for status, particularly in the 20th century, led to a proliferation of titles and honorifics unique in the Islamic world. The honorific of grand ayatollah (āyat Allāh al-ʿuẓmāʾ) is conferred only upon those Shiʿi mujtahids whose level of insight and expertise in Islamic canon law has risen to the level of one who is worthy of being a marjaʿ-e taqlīd (Arabic marjaʿ al-taqlīd, “model of emulation”), the highest level of excellence in Iranian Shiʿism. Thus, unlike the other religions of the Middle East, the Iranian religions had no written texts in the ancient period. The Vedas and the Avesta have both served researchers as important resources in discovering early Aryan beliefs and ideas. The Rigveda, a collection of more than 1,000 hymns to various deities, can be dated to a period from approximately 1300 to 900 bce. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. Among these, members of the Bahāʾī faith—a religion founded in Iran—were the victims of the greatest persecution. This has increased the power of the ulama in Iran, and it has also enhanced their role as mediators to the divine in a way not seen in Sunni Islam or in earlier Shiʿism. In religion and culture, both the northern and southern Iranians had much in common with the ancient Indo-Aryan-speaking peoples of the Indian subcontinent, although there was much borrowing from Mesopotamia as well, especially in western Iran. Few clergymen are eventually recognized as mujtahids, and some are honoured by the term ayatollah (Arabic āyat Allāh, “sign of God”). A lively and informative new podcast for kids that the whole family will enjoy! The Gāthās contain expressions of Zarathustra’s religious vision which, in many ways, is a complicated reinterpretation of inherited Iranian religious ideas. Apart from the Achaemenian inscriptions, there is no secure evidence that religious compositions were reduced to writing until the late Arsacid or early Sāsānian periods. The Gathas, hymns of Zoroaster's Avesta, brought monotheistic ideas to Persia, while through the Yashts and Yasna, mentions are made to Polytheism and earlier creeds. The remains of Achaemenian architecture and art, by far the most important of the material sources, provide abundant evidence of imperial articulation of religious symbols and show a thorough dependence on Middle Eastern precedents. The Arabesque dome of the Māder-e Shah madrasah, Eṣfahān, Iran. Shia Islam has three main divisions which are Zaidis, Ismailis and Ithna Asharis (Twelvers or Imamis). Shia Muslims make up the largest religious group in Iran, comprising an estimated 93% share of the population. The ancient Iranians made references to a combination of several Aryans and non-Aryan tribes. Matters are quite otherwise in the case of the Avesta, which is the principal source of knowledge of ancient Iranian religions. By signing up for this email, you are agreeing to news, offers, and information from Encyclopaedia Britannica. The Yashts are collections of verses dedicated to the various deities. Unfortunately, there is little agreement as to when Zarathustra lived, though most scholars agree that he lived sometime between about 1200 and 600 bce. Christians are the most numerous group of these, Orthodox Armenians constituting the bulk. Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. Aryans, or ancient Iranians, worshiped natural elements such as the sun, sunlight and thunder, but they eventually shifted their attention mostly to a single god, whilst acknowledging others. It will also treat ancient Iranian religion, insofar as possible, apart from Zoroastrianism. A contender for this status is ordinarily referred to by the honorific hojatoleslām (Arabic ḥujjat al-Islām, “proof of Islam”).
An aspirant gains the higher status of mujtahid—a scholar competent to practice independent reasoning in legal judgment (Arabic ijtihād)—by first graduating from a recognized madrasah and obtaining the general recognition of his peers and then, most important, by gaining a substantial following among the Shiʿah. The main indigenous sources are the Achaemenian royal inscriptions in the Old Persian language (with Akkadian, Elamite, and Aramaic translations) and the Avesta, the Zoroastrian sacred scriptures, in a language called Avestan. Iranian religions are religions which originated in Greater Iran. The Assyrians are Nestorian, Protestant, and Roman Catholic, as are a few converts from other ethnic groups. There is no concept of ordination in Islam. Associate Professor of Indo-Iranian Philology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. In spite of the relatively recent date of the existing Avesta, it contains matter of great antiquity, of which the Gāthās (“Songs”) of the Prophet Zarathustra (also known by his Greek name, Zoroaster) and much of the Yashts are among the oldest.

All religious “literature” was oral, in both composition and transmission. Like the Bible, the Avesta is a collection of a variety of texts composed over what appears to be a considerable span of time by different authors, which has endured editing and redaction at several points during the history of its development. The main course of study in such an institution is Islamic jurisprudence (Arabic fiqh), but a student need not complete his madrasah studies to become a faqīh, or jurist. Updates? Please select which sections you would like to print: Corrections? Omissions? Modern understanding of ancient Iranian religion is impeded by the limitations of the available sources, which are inevitably of two sorts: textual and material. Popular protest and the Constitutional Revolution, Presidential term of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani: reconstruction and liberalization, First presidential term of Mohammad Khatami: reformist movement and conservative intervention, Second presidential term of Mohammad Khatami: continued intervention, First presidential term of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: conservatives return to power, Second presidential term of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: growing discontent and unrest, First and second presidential terms of Hassan Rouhani: economic recovery and renewed economic crisis, Foreign affairs since 1989: continuing tension abroad, Nuclear deal reached: Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Shiʿis of every level defer to clergymen on the basis of their reputation for learning and judicial acumen, and the trend has become strong in modern Shiʿism for every believer, in order to avoid sin, to follow the teachings of his or her chosen marjaʿ-e taqlīd. While Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians are recognized in the constitution of 1979 as official minorities, the revolutionary atmosphere in Iran was not conducive to equal treatment of non-Muslims. by Jonathan Z. Smith, The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran: Rural Revolt and Local Zoroastrianism by Patricia Crone (review), https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Iranian_religions&oldid=972924112, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, The early Islamic period saw the development of, Roshanniya Movement, a set of monotheistic teachings of, This page was last edited on 14 August 2020, at 13:46. [i] By contrast, most Arab states in the Middle East are predominantly Sunni. Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians are the most significant religious minorities. • Alessandro Bausani, Religion in Iran: From Zoroaster to Bahaullah, Bibliotheca Persica, 2000 The text that is now extant represents only a fragment of what remained in the 9th century of the late Sāsānian Avesta compiled under the direction of Khosrow I (531–579 ce). Religious toleration, one of the characteristics of Iran during the Pahlavi monarchy, came to an end with the Islamic revolution in 1979. To become a member of the Shiʿi ulama, a male Muslim need only attend a traditional Islamic college, or madrasah. The Twelvers are the largest group of Shia Muslims. In addition to the information they contain, they have the great advantage of being fixed in time and place. Religion. Unless otherwise indicated, all spellings of Iranian names and terms are given in reconstructed forms that often differ from the Avestan spellings of the Zoroastrian canon. The northern Iranians (referred to generally as Scythians [Saka] in Classical sources), who occupied the steppes, differed significantly from the southern Iranians. Shia Islam was established as the state religion during the Safavid dynasty of 1501. [1], Some religionists made syncretic teachings of Islam and local Zoroastrianism. This account will take the conquest of the Achaemenian dynasty by Alexander the Great as a somewhat arbitrary date for the close of the period of ancient Iranian religion, even though these influences have continued through later history and some forms of Iranian religion have persisted to the present day.

It does not seem possible to date the Yashts much more precisely, except to believe that their redaction (not necessarily composition) may have first taken place in the 5th century bce. Significant religious sites and sites containing religious artifacts of ancient Indo-Iranian peoples, including those of peoples of adjacent areas and modern Zoroastrians. Author of. Religion in Iran Sunni and Shi'i are the two largest branches of Islam, with the overwhelming majority of Iranians practicing Shi'i Islam. From at least the time of the rise of the Median empire, Iranian religion and culture has had a profound influence upon the Middle East, as also the Middle East upon Iran. The Kurds and Turkmen are predominantly Sunni Muslims, but Iran’s Arabs are both Sunni and Shiʿi. Get exclusive access to content from our 1768 First Edition with your subscription. The Shiʿi clergy have been the predominant political and social force in Iran since the 1979 revolution.