Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilisations and has a long cultural history. Officially it is called the Islamic Republic of Iran. The terms Iran and Persia can be used interchangeably in different contexts. Persia is often mentioned in the Old Testament. I
ran is the second largest country in the Middle East and borders five other countries. Iran is the only nation to have a Shi’ite Muslim government, other Islamic countries follow the Sunni branch of Islam. The economy is heavily dependent on hydrocarbon exports and dominated by the oil industry.
The population of about 83 million is predominantly urban and young. Two thirds of people are under the age of 25 and are generally well-educated. Competition for university places is fierce, especially for medicine and engineering which are considered high-status professions.
Iranians consider Nowruz, meaning ‘New Day’ to be their biggest celebration of the year. It is the first day of the new year and is traditionally celebrated according to the astrological beginning of Spring, usually the 21st of March.
In recent years, Iranians migrating to Australia have often been well-educated individuals who have experienced frustration with the Islamic Republic for their suppression of free thought. The Iranian community within NSW is small and tight-knit. Even though Iranian Muslims have left their own country, they are unlikely to want to hear criticism of their religion, their people or their cultural heritage.
Individuals may be genuinely interested in learning about the Christian faith. However, this can pose a threat to the safety of the relatives remaining in Iran if a family member living in Australia converts from Islam to Christianity.
An Iranian family is more private than in many other cultures. Family members and close friends provide emotional, physical and financial support to each other. A woman’s independence and freedom vary significantly and are dependent on the attitude of her husband or most significant male figure. In recent years, many men believe in more freedom for women and consider women as equals. In modern Iran, husbands and wives work together and have an equal share in their life decision-making situations.
Persian (or Farsi) is spoken as the native language by more than 50 percent of the population.
Officially 98 percent of the population identify as Muslims and adhere to strict Islamic practises such as praying five times a day and fasting during Ramadan. However, less than 50 per cent of Muslim people in Iran actually carry out these practices. Ramadan is the Arabic word for the ninth month of the year and its timing changes according to the cycles of the moon. The month-long period of abstinence and prayer is an opportunity for increased devotion and self-reflection.
Christians in Iran have experienced arrest, social rejection, discrimination in employment and even murder.
Unlike Australians, Iranians like to talk about religion and politics. Muslims hold the Quran with the highest respect and are interested in discussing spiritual matters. Muslims from Iran often have misunderstandings about Christian teachings such as the reliability of the scriptures and the centrality of Christ.
Guests are made very welcome in the home and are lavished with hospitality. Iranians consider it as more honouring to be the host rather than being invited to someone’s house. It is considered impolite to ‘drop in’ and only stay for a short visit. The investment of time and relationships are important and demonstrate a level of care and concern for Iranian people. Greetings are very important and are usually accompanied by a handshake. Friends and relatives sometimes give a kiss on the cheek. Only close friends and children are addressed by their first name. If you are a woman visiting a home, check that it is appropriate to be in the house when the husband is also home. To avoid offence, wear conservative clothing and expect to remove your shoes before entering the house. When you invite Iranians to your home, check if you need to serve food that is halal.
Be careful about being too complimentary with your Iranian neighbour. Some Iranians believe that flattery and praise can put them in danger from the “evil eye.” This can be important when there is a new baby.