Iran: Revolt or Revival?

“Zan, Zendegi, Azadi!” These are the Farsi words being shouted in protests across Iran. They’re calling out “Woman, Life, Freedom,” in response to the arrest and subsequent death of Mahsa Amini on September 16, 2022.

Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman, was visiting her younger brother in Iran’s capital of Tehran when she was arrested by the morality police for incorrectly wearing her hijab, the headscarf women are mandated to wear in public to cover their hair. She was taken into custody for “re-education,” but her family never saw her alive again.

Authorities claim Amini had a heart attack, but her family and others arrested with her insist she died from injuries inflicted by her captors. Mahsa Amini’s death has lit a powder keg of resentment that’s been building in the people of Iran for over 30 years toward the Islamic regime, but it’s also opened a door of opportunity for the gospel.

History of Protests

Protests are nothing new in Iran. In 1979, the Islamic Revolution overthrew Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the ruling monarch at the time. An Islamic Republic was birthed, led by Ayatollah Khomeini. However, since the time of the revolution, the regime has failed to deliver on promises of economic development and freedom. Frustrations among the people have led to uprisings in 2009, 2017, and 2019, just to name a few.

Mahsa Amini’s death has lit a powder keg of resentment that’s been building in the people of Iran for over 30 years toward the Islamic regime, but it’s also opened a door of opportunity for the gospel.

 These recent protests have been met with a familiar reaction from the Iranian government. Police have intervened with force, killing many. The government has imposed an internet blackout along with nationwide restrictions on social media to cover up what’s happening in the country. But this uprising is also different in some significant ways.

1. Scale

The protests have been widespread. They’ve spanned the urban middle class and the rural working poor. They haven’t occurred solely in major cities but also in distant villages. Protests have even taken place in the Islamic holy cities of Mashad and Qom.

2. Women

The protests have been led primarily by women and even young schoolgirls. They’re advocating for women’s rights, against the morality police, and even calling for regime change.

3. Courage

The protestors sense they have nothing to lose. Many have said they’re willing to die for change to come to their country. Women have burned their headscarves and cut their hair publicly as an emblem of resistance.

4. Global

People have taken to the streets all over the world protesting the human rights violations of the Islamic regime toward their people. Female politicians and celebrities have posted videos of cutting their hair in solidarity with the women of Iran.

5. Reaction

The government seems to be reacting much stronger than ever before. They’re not only shooting live ammunition into the crowds of protestors but even going as far as attacking a primary school with tear gas.

Revolution and Revival

In Iran, such oppression is nothing new for the church. There’s a long history of harassment, persecution, and even martyrdom for Christians in Iran. But the gospel has spread despite this. To use the words of Paul, “a wide door for effective work has opened” and “there are many adversaries” (1 Cor. 16:9). In fact, more Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 1,300 years since Islam came to Iran. But this could be the beginning of an even greater revival.

More Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 1,300 years since Islam came to Iran. But this could be the beginning of an even greater revival.

Since the Islamic Republic in Iran has tied religion and state so closely together, the people’s disappointment with the government has led to great skepticism of Islam. Consequently, Iranians have become increasingly open to the gospel.

Farshid Fathi is an Iranian Christian leader who spent five years in prison for his work with the underground church. He says his prayer isn’t merely freedom for women and the oppressed, but that even those who’ve committed these acts of oppression would find forgiveness in Christ. Instead of inspiring hate toward the Ayatollah, he’s encouraging Christians to spread hope, life, and forgiveness.

Farshid notes that the Islamic Revolution began in 1979 with cries of “Death to the Shah,” but this revolt is starting with cries for women and life and freedom. If you sow death, he says, then you reap death. But if you sow life, you get life. In the past, Farshid Fathi used to only hope for freedom and revival in Iran. But now he has faith for it—he believes the Lord is bringing it about.

Standing with Iranians

This is a time for the church in Iran to mobilize and engage hurting people with the gospel. It’s also a time for us to stand with them. Here are three things we can do together.

1. Pray for Iran

Pray for comfort for Iranians both within the country and around the world as they grieve what’s happening in their nation. Pray for an end to the injustice and oppression perpetrated by the Islamic regime. Pray for the church to boldly declare hope, life, and true freedom found only in Christ. Pray for a day when the underground church would be free to openly spread the gospel in the nation. Consider joining the day of prayer for Iran scheduled for this Sunday, October 23.

2. Promote Freedom

Seek opportunities to advocate for the cause of freedom in Iran. Reach out to Iranians you know to encourage them and pray with them. Consider attending protests in your city to speak out for the sake of the Iranian people. Christians in Iran are increasingly convinced that their country will be free one day, and the Iranian people will remember whether we stood with them in their time of crisis.

3. Proclaim Life

Where there is evil, darkness, and hate, the message of the gospel shines brighter. Christians should proclaim the message of life, forgiveness, and acceptance in Christ—a message especially powerful for Muslim women. In a land that forces obedience to a set of rules, Christians in Iran are spreading the good news of a relationship with God that comes through faith in Jesus. It’s this message that brings true life and freedom wherever we are.

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