The official religion of Iran is Islam with more than 90 per cent of the population practicing Twelver Shiism. The dominance of Islam in Iran is apparent from the countless number of mosques in cities and villages. Sunnis, most of whom are Baluch, Kurd and Turkmen, are the second largest religious group in Iran and live in the provinces near Iranian borders. Other religious minorities that constitute less than one percent of the population, include Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians. According to the Statistical Center of Iran, Christians live in all 31 provinces. They constitute 0.26 per cent of the population of Tehran. Iran is home to the largest population of Jews in the Muslim world. The majority of Jewish population live in Fars province while Zoroastrians mostly live in Yazd, Tehran and Kerman although they are more or less present all around the country. Before the rise of Islam, Zoroastrianism was by far the largest religion in Iran as it is evident from the historic remnants of that period. But gradually Islam replaced Zoroastrianism as more and more people converted to Islam in the wake of Muslim conquest of Persia (633–654 A.D).
The constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran has recognized the civil rights of religious minorities. They are all represented in Iranian parliament and have the freedom to practice their religious rites.
Iranian women observe a dress code known as hijab. This code entered Iranian constitution after the Islamic Revolution and requires women to cover their body and hair in public. Women wear a scarf or a shawl to cover their head. Women working in administrative offices and female students in some of the universities should wear a specific headcover known as “maghnae”. Other than that, men and women have the freedom to choose their garments and their color. They wear the latest trendy outfits and clothes for different occasions. Women usually wear robes or manteaux with scarves or shawls while men often wear pants (they never wear short pants in public) and shirts. This is of course the dress code of a typical resident of the capital. Tehran cradles many Iranian ethnicities and some of them wear their traditional clothes. Also, some women wear chador in public and all women wear chadors in holy places like mosques or shrines. Usually there is a stall at the entrance of these places that distributes colorful chadors.
Iran is a country of multiple ethnicities and nomadic tribes, each of which has its own traditional clothes, different according to their geographical origin, culture and beliefs. Each of these traditional clothes have its specific history: colorful Turkmen scarves, “Chugha” and felt hats of Bakhtiary men, Gilaki corrugated skirts and Baluchi vests decorated by delicate needle-work.
Food and Drink
Family meals are very popular among Iranians. They gather around a table or sit on the ground sitting around a special linen called Sofreh. Every culinary taste is included in the broad variety of Iranian cuisine. Many of Halal Iranian local dishes and drinks are widely known around the globe; the most popular being Chelo Kabab and the strangest that is Kale-pacheh (a meal made by sheep’s feet, head, tongue, stomach and brain!). Fesenjun (a stew made of walnut, pomegranate paste and duck meat), Kufteh Tabrizi (huge meat balls), Tahchin (brewed rice cooked with saffron and chicken), Dolmeh (stuffed grape leaves) and Aash (a thick soup made of stock and plenty of vegetables and meat) are some other example of the bountiful list of delectable Iranian dishes. Sea food is also very popular considering that the country’s north and south end meet the blue waters of the Caspian Sea and the warm oceanic coasts of the Persian Gulf. Rise and bread are considered staples among Iranians. As for drinks, Dugh which is made from yoghurt is one of the most popular drinks. Iranians also consume large quantities of herbal drinks among which black tea has a deity-like status, brewed on a Samovar and sipped multiple times per day with sugar cubes especially after three daily meals.
Languages and Dialects
The population of Iran is constituted by many ethnicities gathered under the same flag. These include Persians, Azeri Turks, Kurds, Baloches, Sistanies, Tats, Khalajs, Jews, Bakhtiaries, Mazanderanies, Gilakis, Qashghayis, Arabs, Laks, Turkmens, Assyrians, Mandaeans, Georgians, Lors and Armenians. Due to this considarable diversity of ethnic groups, there are more than 75 languages and dialects spoken in Iran. The largest language groups are Farsi, Azeri Turkish, Kurdish, Turkmen Turkish, Gilaki, Mazanderani, Khalaji, Taleshi, Lori, Bakhtiari, Arabic, Baluchi, Laki, Deilami, Tati, Armenian, Assyrian, Mandaic, Georgian, Hebrew, Kaldani and etc.
“Guest is a blessing of God”. This widely popular proverb implies that Iranians consider a guest as God’s companion; a perfect evidence of the extent of Iranian warmth and hospitality which serves as the country’s signature in global tourism. Hospitality means the respectful and courteous reception of a guest by the host. This rule of etiquette has been innately present among Iranians from the antiquity and serves as one of the tourist attractions of the country. Just ask any traveler to Iran about it and they will tell you about the smile on people’s face, their kindness towards the tourists and their spectacular hospitality.