On 30 November millions across Iran gathered together to mourn the death of Imam Reza, Shia Islam’s eighth Imam. On this national holiday, millions of black-clad mourners took part in processions, or went on pilgrimage to the Imam’s colossal shrine in Mashhad, eastern Iran. But the scale of popular participation paints a misleading picture of religious commitment in Iran.
There is often a lot of enthusiasm shown across Iran on national holidays such as this. Mourners from various social classes and age groups come together in mosques and religious sites nationwide to observe the rituals. Eulogies are given and sermons delivered in tribute to the religious figure or festival being commemorated.
But outside of national holidays, the enthusiasm for the national religion is far less remarkable. Evidence suggests that mosque attendance is falling fast in Iran and that the majority of families would now more accurately be described as nominal, rather than devout.
Today, thanks to the brave witness of believers, the Gospel being shared via TV and the Internet, and significant imports of Bibles in Persian, vast numbers of Iranians are turning their backs on mourning. Instead they are choosing the joy of following Jesus, who died but was raised on the third day for our salvation.