I belong to the Persian community found in Iran. Persian culture is one of the oldest cultures in the world. The Persian community is the largest ethnic community in Iran, making it the most dominant culture in Iran. The main language used by Persians is Farsi, which is a branch of both the Indo-Iranian languages and the Indo-European languages. The indigenous religion of the Persian culture is Zoroastrianism, which is monotheistic in nature. Zoroastrianism was pushed to the backburners during the invasion of Iran by the Arabs in 651 AD. The Arabs imposed the religion of Islam upon Persians during their more than twenty years conquest of Persia (present-day Iran). Currently, more than 90 percent of Persians are Muslims with a majority of the Muslims professing Shia Islam. As a matter of fact, Shia Islam is Iran’s national religion though some Iranians still practice Zoroastrianism and Sunni Islam. The history and influences of the Persian culture hugely impact social justice and the provision of health care in Iran as a whole.
The origins of the Persian culture can be traced to the 6th Century BC during the reign of King Cyrus the Great. King Cyrus the Great who established the Achaemenid Persian Empire in the 6th Century BC is deemed the father of present-day Iran (Mozaffari, 2014). Persian culture was not established by King Cyrus as the culture was already in existence before the 3rd millennium BCE (Mark, 2020). This was when the Aryan (Indo-Iranian) tribes migrated to the Aetolia region where present-day Iran is located. Regardless of who established the Persian culture, King Cyrus, the Great’s role in securing, promoting and fostering the growth and expansion of the Persian culture cannot be underestimated. Persian culture is a combination of several ancient cultures such as that of the Medes and of the Lydia who were assimilated by Persians during the reign of King Cyrus the Great. The Persian culture got its name from the territory of Peris where the Iranians first settled upon their migration into the Middle East regions of Asia. Mark (2020) argues that the Persian culture developed massively during the reign of King Cyrus and the Achaemenid civilization. Other civilizations such as the Greeks incorporated some of the practices of the Persians. Alexander the Great of King of Greece, who would later conquer Persia after the death of King Cyrus the Great, was also largely influenced by Persian culture and way of life.
Culture is an essential aspect of every community as it differentiates one society from the other. According to Mozaffari (2014), culture is the complex whole including beliefs, art, knowledge, morals, law, custom, and, any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. Every culture including the Persian culture is made whole by an amalgam of several divergent components and facets working together. The nativity of the Persian culture can be traced to the migration of the Indo-Iranian tribes from the Central Asian steppes north of the Caspian Sea to the Anatolia regions where present-day Iran is located (Mozaffari, 2014). The migration, which started around 2000BC, led to the birth of the Persian culture and society in general (Mozaffari, 2014). The Persian ethnic group is made up of the indigenous Iranian people who constitute and own the Persian Culture. The Persian ethnic group is the largest ethnic group in Iran with a population of more than 25 million people.
The main language used as a means of universal communication in the Persian culture is the Farsi language. The Farsi language traces its roots both to the medieval Indo-Iranian and Indo-European languages (Mozaffari, 2014). The Farsi language is a pluricentric language used in countries with a rich Persian culture such as Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan (Kramsch, 2013). The Farsi language is written in the Persian alphabet whose origin can be traced to the Arabic script (Kramsch, 2013). Due to the protracted interaction between the Arabs and the Persians during the medieval age, the Farsi language borrows largely from Arabic. According to the last Iran census done in 2016, there are more than 50 million indigenous speakers of the Farsi language (Kramsch, 2013). More than 100 million people in the Middle East communicate using the Farsi language (Kramsch, 2013). This makes Farsi one of the widely spoken languages in the Middle East.
Persian culture is largely shaped and influenced by religion. Before the conquest of Persia by the Arabs in 651 AD the Persian culture was influenced and based on Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism is an ancient monotheistic religion that developed in Persia between 1500-10000 BCE (Dabashi, 2015). The Persian prophet Zoroaster after whom the religion is named after was the founder of the religion (Mike, 2020). Zoroastrianism, which developed the concepts of good and evil, shaped and informed the development of the Persian culture in several intricate ways. Religion promoted the empowerment of Persian women a feature that is still dear to the Persian culture (Dabashi, 2015). During the Arab conquest of Persia in 651AD, the Arabs imposed their Islamic religion in Persia leading to a reduction in the influence of the indigenous Zoroastrianism. Present-day Persian culture is largely influenced by the prevalent Shia Islamic religion introduced to Persia by the Arabs. The teachings of Shia Islam more so on the role of women in society has greatly shaped the social and political culture of Persia. During the regime of President Mohammad Shah Pahlavi, his administration came up with reforms aimed at improving the societal role and place of the feminine gender in the Persian culture and Iran in general (Mark, 2020). The 1979 Iranian revolution that brought Khomeini Ayatollah in power led to unprecedented empowerment of women in Iran (Dabashi, 2015). Shia Islam plays a fundamental role not only in the harmonious existence of Iranians but also in the protection and safeguarding of the rich Persian culture.
Persian culture has a stratified social culture where individuals are grouped in social castes. As stated by Mark (2020), the social hierarchy of the post-modern Persian culture was largely informed and kept in place by Zoroastrianism. Under the traditional Persian culture, the king and the royal family formed the elite class of the society. The King appointed governors also known as the satraps who ruled provinces of the Persian Kingdom on behalf of the King. Thus, the satraps and their families formed the next social caste in Persian culture. Below the satraps where the members of the military class who comprised of the Persian military commanders and elite forces. The Persian elite force, Persian Immortals, were important in maintaining the social structure of the Persian culture. They maintained law and order by ensuring that every member of society remained in his social caste (Mark, 2020). The merchants, craftsmen, and artisans followed the military class and were responsible for generating wealth and tools for the Persian society. The last class was of peasants and slaves who were solely responsible for providing labor for the other social classes in the Persian culture. However, the Persian culture was against the inhumane treatment of slaves and emphasized on the reasonable payment of slaves for work done (Mark, 2020). The modern Persian culture still bears forms of societal stratification although they are not as pronounced as it was in ancient times. Women in Persian culture are deemed to be subordinates to men. This culture is slowly getting eroded as modernization and the global agitation for gender equality permeates Iran.
Persian culture promotes and is instrumental in the development of sports and culture in modern-day Iran. In Persian culture, athletic accomplishment and achievement is an integral element of personal development (Mark, 2020). Persian culture promoted the development of sports such as archery, boxing, fencing, horsemanship, hunting, polo, wrestling, and swimming (Mark, 2020). According to Dabashi (2015), Persian culture does not practice gender discrimination in matters of sport participation as both boys and girls are encouraged to play and remain physically fit. The Persian culture also encouraged the use of board games, dancing, and storytelling as a form of whiling away leisure time. For example, the globally famous games of chess and backgammon were originally developed in Persia (Mark, 2020). In the ancient world, the games and athletic activities formed an essential aspect of the Persian culture as they made the young boys and men physically fit and prepared for battle. In contemporary world games are still relevant and of the essence in the Persian culture but are largely used for leisure purposes.
Persian culture has several key historical moments that have shaped and continue to define the culture in present times. The major historical moment in the Persian culture can be traced back to the 651 AD Arabian conquest of Persia. Before the Arabs conquered Persia several other Kingdoms and nations had conquered Persian in the past. The Arabian conquest greatly transformed the Persian culture and the Persian people (Mozaffari, 2014). Before the Arab invasion of the Persian Kingdom, Persians were engaged in a brutal civil war that decimated the Kingdom’s human and material resources. Arabs, who were mostly Muslims, attacked Iran upon realizing the internal weaknesses of Persians. After two years of war, the Arabs defeated the Persians and executed their leader King Khosrow II officially leading to the fall of the Sasanian Empire of Persia (Mark, 2020). The two years led to the death of tens of thousands of the Persians who tried resisting the Arab invasion. Arabs imposed Islam as the official national religion to be used in the entire Persian Kingdom and banned Zoroastrianism. Arabs believed that the indigenous Persian religion of Zoroastrianism incited and indoctrinated the Persians to revolt against their rule (Mark, 2020). They then begun a campaign of burning Zoroastrian scriptures and killing its priests. The anti-Zoroastrianism campaign resulted in the death of thousands of priests and those who believed in the indigenous Persian religion (Mark, 2020). Moreover, it completely led to the decline of Zoroastrianism. The Arab conquest also led to the imposition of Arabian culture among the Persians and this intern shaped Persian culture. For example, the Persian language, Farsi, is heavily influenced by Arabic.
Persian culture has also been shaped by events that took place in the recent past in Iran such as the Iranian revolution. The Iranian revolution of 1979 massively shaped and changed the Persian culture in many intricate ways. The Iranian revolution was a people-led initiative that culminated in the defenestration of Shah Mohammed Pahlavi from power and his replacement with Khomeini Ayatollah (Dabashi, 2015). The 1979 revolution led to the official end of the royal rule, which had been an integral part of the Persian culture for thousands of years. Dabashi (2015) enumerates how Shah Mohammed Pahlavi could trace his ancestral lineage to the father of Iran King Cyrus the Great. His defenestration meant that Iranian people had for the first time since the establishment of the Persian Kingdom rebelled against the social hierarchy a key element of the Persian culture. The Iran revolution of 1979 also led to the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic republic by Khomeini Ayatollah (Dabashi, 2015). The creation of the Islamic republic resulted in the Persian culture being heavily influenced by strict Islamic moral codes that were nonexistent previously. The Islamic revolution also reversed the gains the Persian culture had made more so in gender equality during the Shah Pahlavi administration (Dabashi, 2015). After the revolution, Iranian women were relegated to the backburners of society more so in matters of politics and economics. During the Iran revolution, thousands of lives were lost as the Shah Pahlavi’s administration resorted to force to deal with revolutionary politics. Moreover, corruption and nepotism became rampant in Iran leading to increased economic and political alienation of the masses. To make matters worse the revolutionary government of Khomeini Ayatollah did nothing to improve social justice in Iran (Dabashi, 2015). The Khomeini government did little to tackle issues of government brutality and corruption that continue to plaque and water down the once strong Persian culture.
Modern Persian Culture
The modern Persian Culture though still strong is still faced by challenges such as social justice, equality, and fairness. Social justice is an important element of any society as it ensures everyone in society regardless of social status or economic ability is treated equally and with human dignity (Lob, 2018). Social justice and fairness are fundamental aspects of Persian culture. However, in modern Iran, the concepts of social justice and fairness are challenged by a largely autocratic government caring only for the interests of the ruling elite (Lob, 2018). The majority of the people in Iran, both Persians and members of other ethnic groups, feel disenfranchised by the current regime as evils such as corruption and nepotism are still prevalent in the upper echelons of power in Iran (Lob, 2018). Moreover, the largely autocratic Iranian government suppresses and treats as dissidents any brave voices trying to agitate for change in the country (Lob, 2018). This has led to a state of despondency where most people do not care about social justice nor equality and this is negatively affecting Persian culture.
The issue of social justice and effects on health can be seen in the quality of health care in Iran. Though Iran boasts of some of the best health care facilities and services in the world the provision of health services is not equitable (Lob, 2018). Not every Iranian can access quality and affordable health care services that is a basic right in modern democracies. This is largely due to the existence of numerous health disparities in Iran. The health disparities affecting the provision of quality healthcare in Iran can be traced to the numerous social inequalities that plague the nation. The quality of health available to the poor in Iran is low compared to the high-quality health services available for the rich and powerful in the nation (Lob, 2018). This has resulted in high mortality rates among the poor compared to any other economic group in Iran. In addition, health disparities in Iran are also fueled by ethnicity. Individuals who hail from minority ethnic communities in Iran such as the Baloch receive poor health services compared to individuals from other communities. According to Lob (2018), the minority communities in Iran lack proper political representation compared to other communities. Hence, they access poor public services. The lack of proper political representation of the minority communities in Iran is a big problem as it also affects the quality of education and the number of economic opportunities they get as a community.
That Persian culture can be traced back to the Achaemenid Empire makes it one of the oldest cultures in the world. Though the Persian culture has gone through numerous transformations throughout the course of history it still remains relevant in the modern world. Persian culture faces challenges revolving around social justice and equality that could render the culture non-effective to the needs of modern-day Persians. The Iranian government should enforce social equality, equity, and justice to ensure that the Persian culture remains relevant to the needs of the ordinary people in Iran.
Dabashi, H. (2015). Matthew Arnold, Philosophical Pessimism, and the Rise of Iranian Epic Nationalism. In Persophilia: Persian Culture on the Global Scene (pp. 148–159). Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press. www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvjghv3x
Kramsch, Claire. (2013). “Culture in foreign language teaching.” Iranian Journal of Language Teaching Research 1.1: 57-78. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1127430.pdf
Lob, E. (2018). Regime Resilience, Social Welfare, and Economic Development in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Bustan: The Middle East Book Review, 9(2), 111–131. https://doi.org/10.5325/bustan.9.2.0111
Mark, J. J. (2020, April 13). Ancient Persian Culture. https://www.ancient.eu/Ancient_Persian_Culture/
Mozaffari, A. (2014). Forming national identity in Iran: the idea of homeland derived from ancient Persian and Islamic imaginations of place. London: I.B. Tauris.