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Regardless of your political leanings, geographical location or religious background, it is difficult to be unaware of the recent historic nuclear agreement between Iran and the group of six nations led by the United States, intended on preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It is even more unlikely that you do not have strong opinions related to this unprecedented event and its potential repercussions throughout the Middle East and around the world.

If you read our previous post, you would have noted that Iran is home to the fastest growing evangelical population on the planet.[1] This is based on the extensive research of Operation World, an independent organization, which comprehensively studies trends and reports statistics related to the spread of Christianity in every country.

As is the case in many countries where the Church is most persecuted, people are responding the Gospel at incredible rates. Iran is no exception.

The people of Iran are responding to the Gospel unlike any other time in history. Simultaneously, the Iranian government continues to be one of the most brutal regimes in the world today, ranking 7th on the Open Doors dubious Christian Persecution Watch List.[2] Iran is one of only 11 countries in the world designated with the Extreme Persecution label by this highly respected organization.

With the present dichotomy of one of the world’s most brutal regimes combined with the population’s historic response to the Gospel and increasing rejection of Islam, how does Iranian President Hassan Rouhani assure his citizens that his actions are noble, while saving face with the hardline conservatives of the Islamic faith who view any deal with infidels to be blasphemous and a sign of weakness?

The answer lies in ancient history.

Unlike his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was extremely vocal about his fanatical Islamic theological views and hatred for the West, Hassan Rouhani is a proven diplomat, with experience as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator with the International Atomic Energy Agency.[3] Savvy in communications and public relations, Rouhani is masterful at crafting his message to any audience with great persuasive success. In this case, an understanding of every Iranian’s value of culture and history laid the foundation for the justification of his actions, effectively satiating both citizens and hardliners alike.

Rather than defending his compromise on the nuclear agreement with the six Western nations Rouhani positioned himself as a hero by equating his decision with that of one made nearly 1,400 years prior by an Iranian legendary figure, Imam Hasan ibn Ali.

Hassan Rouhani made a speech in Tehran while final details of the nuclear agreement were being laid into place, in which he said, “Imam Hasan made an important decision during difficult circumstances that could have destroyed the Muslim community and led to a long period of bloodshed.”

The “important decision during difficult circumstances” was in reference to Imam Hasan’s willing abdication of his position as Shi’ism’s second imam in order to prevent a war between the Sunni and Shiite sects in the year 661.[4]

After the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632, a bitter division surfaced regarding the prophet’s rightful successor and leader of the Islamic faith, or caliph. Those holding the position that caliph should be chosen from Muhammad’s closest and most trusted inner circle became known as the Sunnis. Members of the opposition, who believed that this position should only be reserved for a member of the prophet’s bloodline, became known as the Shi’ites.[5]

Imam Hasan’s position as a Shi’ite overseeing the Islamic faith greatly angered Sunnis, who threatened war, which would have led to the deaths of thousands of Muslims. His decision to step down was seen as great act of heroism, rather than weakness and modern Iranians share great admiration for the man who average citizens see as wise and merciful, while hardliners view as shrewd and resourceful.

With one statement, President Hassan Rouhani managed to assuage many of his doubters and harshest critics, while comparing himself and his actions with one of the greatest people and pivotal moments in Persian history.

In light of this, what should our response be to Iran, its leader and its people?

We should be on our knees in prayer for the Lord to continue to move through this country in the incredible manner that he has, drawing countless thousands and perhaps millions to Himself. Our intention is to continue to reach into the country via 24/7 Satellite TV with the hope of Christ and answer calls and emails from desperate and broken people who long to have a relationship with the One who created them and deeply loves them.

Join us in praying for Iran to be transformed by the hope of Christ, including President Hassan Rouhani, Ayatollah Khamenei and the other clerics and government officials who are persecuting those who have chosen to follow Jesus.

 

[1] Mandryk, Jason, and Molly Wall. Pray for the World: Abridged from Operation World, 7th Edition, by Jason Mandryk ; Advising Editor: Molly Wall ; Foreword by Patrick Johnstone. 294.

[2] Christian Persecution World Watch List. (2014, December 15). Retrieved July 16, 2015, from http://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list/.

[3] Hassan Rouhani. (2015). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 16, 2015, from http://www.britannica.com/biography/Hassan-Rouhani.

[4] Momen, Moojan. An Introduction to Shiọi Islam: The History and Doctrines of Twelver Shi Ism. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985. 14, 26-27.

[5] Sunnis and Shia: Islam’s Ancient Schism. (2014, June 20). Retrieved July 16, 2015, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-16047709.