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-  Population
-  Language
-  Religion










About 51 per cent of Iranians are ethnic Persian. Other groups include Azerbaijani, who account for 24 per cent; the Gilaki and Mazandarani, who together make up 8 per cent; Kurds, 7 per cent; Arabs, 3 per cent; Lur, 2 per cent; Baloch, 2 per cent; and Turkmen, 2 per cent. Nomadic life has always played a role in traditional Iranian society, and more than 10 per cent of the population is nomadic or semi-nomadic, including the Lur, Bakhtiari, Shahsevan, and Qashqa'i.

There are higher concentrations of people in the north and west. Tehran is the capital and the largest city. Other large cities include Meshed, Tabriz, Esfahan, and Shiraz. While urbanization was the trend during the 1970s, the opposite was encouraged in the 1980s.



Modern Persian is the official language of Iran. An ancient literary language, Persian was written in the Pahlavi script before the Arab conquest in the 7th century. The official language is Persian (Farsi), but there are many other languages and Persian dialects spoken by the various ethnic groups in the country. Azerbaijani, Turkmen, Kurdish, Luri, Armenian and Arabic are among the major languages spoken. Azeri is the most widely spoken language after Persian, as it is the language of both the Azerbaijani and Turkmen. All school instruction is in Persian.



Islam is the state religion. Before Islam, Persians were Zoroastrian. About 95 per cent of the population is Shiite Muslim now, with about 4 per cent belonging to the Sunni branch of Islam. Shi’a doctrine adds a strong nationalist element to the religious principles of Islam. Iran has the largest Shi’a Muslim population in the world. Since the 1979 revolution, a strongly conservative interpretation of Islam has been carried out by the clergy, called the mullayan, or mullahs.

Persons belonging to religions other than Islam are allowed to maintain their beliefs, but they are nonetheless subject to the civil law, which is based on Islamic principles. There are about 150,000 Christians and a smaller number of Jews in Iran. Zoroastrianism, the original Persian religion displaced by Islam in the 7th century, is also officially recognized and has about 90,000 followers in Iran. With the exception of the Baha’i, each minority group has representation in the legislature, called the Majlis. The Baha’i faith, which originated in Iran and has about 350,000 followers in Iran, is outlawed because it is considered to be a heretical branch of Islam.

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