Christianity existed in the region by the end of the 5th century, though Zoroastrianism (and later Islam) remained the official religion of Iran. Islam granted dhimmis, or ‘tolerated unbelievers’, and while certain rights varied, they were always regarded as inferior to Muslim nationals. For Muslims, conversion from Islam to Christianity (or any other religion) is regarded as apostasy, both a crime and a sin. Catholic religious orders arrived in the 17th century, while the first Western missionaries arrived in 19th century. Iran saw these influences as threats to Islam, an issue that came to the fore after the 1979 Revolution. Since then, Christians have faced waves of persecution. However, the continued dissemination of bibles (and new Farsi translations) has led to dialogue and ethical engagement with Christianity. The proliferation of bibles is attributed to the house church movement, which began to grow in the late 1990’s and is conducive to the willingness of Iranians to explore Christian faith and commit to following Christ. Whichever way one looks at it, for the time being at least, despite all efforts to destroy it, Persian-speaking Christianity survives in Iran, demonstrating resilience, creativity and determination that in many ways defies Western understanding.
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