Iran is home to a Christian community, which is reportedly growing despite facing persecution. Indeed, Open Doors estimates that at least 450,000 Christians live in Iran. Of this estimate, about 370,000 are “new” Christians from a Muslim background. Among this community are many young people who have grown up knowing that their faith labels them a vulnerable minority in their home country. Here are some reflections from Iranian Christians on the situation facing Iranian youth today.
In many ways they have the same interests as youth in the West. The big difference is the future. Due to the economic situation and the lack of employment prospect, many young Iranians dream of leaving the country. They have nothing to look forward to and just want to leave.
Ihsan, an Iranian Christian leader, says: “Emigration is like a disease: if they do not do well in school they think it is better to leave. Family life is not very stable and they think leaving is the answer”.
An Iranian teenager, Salman, saw how the group of youth in his fellowship became much smaller, because of people moving abroad. “Almost 75% of the youth in our church have left,” his pastor illustrates the statement. At school Salman is the only Christian in class. “The others are Muslims, but generally only in name. It seems that they wish they were Christian too. At school I have some freedom. I don’t have to follow the lessons on Islam. During that time, I can have separate teaching on Christianity.” Unlike some, he hardly has any problems at school. “I know well those I trust, and can even give some New Testaments and Bibles to students who are interested.”
Ramin works with the youth and says: “I don’t feel that the challenges they face are vastly different to those elsewhere in the world. Iranian youth have the same questions about faith, relationships and life. The main difference is that many dream of leaving the country. And the best form of communication with this age group is via electronic media, CD’s and DVD’s. Sometimes it is a challenge for youth to access the websites they want. Some of them are filtered.” Students and young adults have difficulties in finding employment, and many consider leaving Iran.
Ramin makes the following observation regarding Iranian students: “For those who become believers, their main challenges come from their family, not the authorities, as they are fearful of what the repercussions could be for the wider family. They need to be careful, and sometimes they do suffer at the hands of relatives or are arrested if they become too outspoken.”
Open Doors offers the following policy recommendations for consideration and implementation by the UK and international community actors able to encourage Iran to:
Release those detained for the peaceful exercise of their religious beliefs
Cease other forms of harassment of members of religious minorities – including discrimination in employment, house searches and intimidating surveillance of individuals and religious buildings
Legally and practically protecting the right to have or adopt a religion or belief of one’s choice
Take all necessary steps to ensure that national legislation provides for all the rights related to religious freedom, as enshrined in article 18 of the ICCPR, to which Iran is a State Party. This includes, but is not limited to, Iran’s Penal Code and Personal Status Legislation