Introduction / History Arabs live throughout the world, but they are especially concentrated in a vast area extending from western Morocco to eastern Iraq. About one million Arabs have spilled across the Iraqi-Iranian border to live in Iran (which is predominantly Persian). Mostly, they inhabit the province of Khuzestan, in the southwestern corner of Iran, though some have moved to other parts of the country. Like nearly all Arabs, Iranian Arabs speak Arabic, a Semitic language. They speak either the Gulf Arabic dialect or the somewhat similar Mesopotamian Arabic dialect.
Arabs are believed to be descended from Abraham's son Ishmael. Until the seventh century A.D., they lived almost entirely in the Arabian Peninsula. In that century, the prophet Mohammed founded the religion of Islam, and the Arabs began a process of conquest that would spread them, their language, and their culture across much of Africa and Asia. As they migrated, many Arabs settled in present-day Iran.
What are their lives like? Iranian Arabs have remained culturally isolated from most other Iranians. They have a great variety of lifestyles. Some live in cities, some in villages. Some are poor farmers; others are wealthy businessmen.
Although they remain devoted Muslims, in cities such as Khorramshahr and Abadan and in large towns there has been a gradual decline of traditional practices among Iranian Arabs. For example, those living in cities generally give women a greater degree of freedom than those in rural areas. Urban Arabs also arrange marriages less frequently. Iranian Arabs in urban areas may be employed as bureaucrats, technicians, and industrialists. In contrast, the Iranian Arab living in rural areas continue to practice a traditional lifestyle, resisting change in any form. Their daily lives are governed by values and rules of conduct that are centuries old. Villagers are loyal to their communities, have high standards of hospitality, and tend to place great emphasis on family honor. Most rural Iranian Arabs earn a living through farming. Their major crops include cereals, grains, and vegetables.
In villages, marriages are arranged by the parents. Most often, girls wed between the ages of 14 and 19, while boys usually marry at an older age. Traditionally, Arabs have preferred their children to marry a cousin. Since Islamic law discourages any type of interaction between the sexes, many couples meet for the first time on their wedding day.
Iranian Arab children are treated quite differently according to sex. Boys are pampered and granted their every wish by their mothers. Girls are not treated as tenderly. In villages, when a boy becomes old enough, he goes to work in the fields with his father; a girl stays at home and helps her mother cook and care for the younger children.
What are their beliefs? Most Iranians are Shi'ite Muslims, including the Iranian Arabs. Islam, a religion based on works, has five key "pillars." First, all Muslims must profess that there is only one God and that Mohammed was his prophet. Second, Muslims are required to pray facing Mecca, Islam's holiest city. Third, they must give alms to the poor. Fourth, all Muslims are required to participate in ceremonial fasting, especially during the month of Ramadan. Finally, Muslims are required to make at least one pilgrimage to Mecca, if possible.
What are their needs? Iranian Arabs have great spiritual needs. Their country is completely closed to the Gospel. No form of Christian witness is allowed, and Muslim converts to Christianity are mercilessly persecuted. Few foreigners and virtually no Christians are allowed to enter Iran. Consequently, there are few Christians among the Iranian Arabs. Almost no Christian materials are available in either of their dialects. Prayer and intercession are the keys to breaking bondages in their lives so they will be open to the message of the Gospel.
Prayer Points * Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies presently working among Iranian Arabs.
* Pray that Iranian Arabs would see the Jesus film and hear Christian radio.
* Pray that God will give Iranian Arab believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask the Lord to give favor and boldness to Christian businessmen who work with Iranian Arab businessmen.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a growing Iranian Arab church for the glory of His name!