Country Listing

Iran Table of Contents


The Persian-speaking People

The Persians constitute the largest ethnic component in Iran. They predominate in the major urban areas of central and eastern Iran--in the cities of Tehran, Esfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Arak, Kashan, Kerman, Qom, and Yazd--and in the villages of the Central Plateau. An estimated 50 to 60 percent of the population speaks Persian as a first language.

In music, poetry, and art the Persians consider themselves--and are generally considered by other groups--as the leaders of the country. This feeling is strengthened by a consciousness of a heroic past and a rich literary heritage. Both before the Revolution and since, Persians have filled the majority of government positions.

The vast majority of Persians are Shia Muslims (see Shia Islam in Iran , this ch.). The Shia religion serves as a source of unity among Persians and other Iranian Shias. Since at least the beginning of the nineteenth century, Persians have dominated the higher ranks of the Shia clergy and have provided important clerical revolutionary leaders such as ayatollahs Khomeini and Hosain Ali Montazeri. Fewer than 500,000 Persians are followers of other faiths. These include Bahais, Jews, or members of the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian faith.

Data as of December 1987