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The Republic of Iraq
Flag of Iran Emblem
Flag Emblem
Official languages Persian
Demonym Iranian
Government Islamic Republic
 -  estimate 82 million

Iran (Persian: ایران), officially known as the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in southwestern Asia and the abode of one of the oldest world civilizations. The country's capital and largest city is Tehran.

With the establishment of the Safavid dynasty, the first independent Shiite country was formed in Iran. The holy shrine of Imam al-Rida (a) and the shrines of the descendants of the Prophet (s), Shiite seminaries in different cities, important Shiite cities, outstanding Shiite scholars and religious authorities are among the elements of Iran's importance in the Shiite world.


Iran is a country in southwestern Asia with 1,648,195 km² land area. The country's population was about eighty one million in 2016. The capital of the country is Tehran at the southern foot of the Alborz Mountains. With 8755 km borderline, Iran is bounded by its fifteen neighboring countries:

Conversion to Islam

In 16/637, during the reign of the caliph Umar b. Khattab, Arab Muslims conquered Iran and overthrew the Sassanid empire. There are various opinions as to the main factors that led to the conversion of the Iranians to Islam. Some have suggested compulsion as the main factor, but others have highlighted the closeness between the Iranian and Islamic cultures. Yet, a third group have emphasized that Islam spread in Iran in a gradual process over time.

The Spread of Shiism

Several factors led to the spread of Shiism in Iran prior to the Safavid dynasty, such as the following:

  • Non-Shiite caliphs and rulers discriminated between Arabs and Iranians since the beginning of their rule over Iran, which caused widespread resentment towards them. However, when Imam Ali (a) came to power, he declared that there is no difference between Arabs and non-Arabs. He also abrogated the law that banned Iranians from Medina, the center of the caliphate. These actions inclined Iranians towards favoring the Imam (a) over the previous caliphs. Moreover, Imam al-Sajjad (a) freed many non-Arab slaves, most of whom were Iranians, and created a large circle of clients (mawali) in Medina, who loved Ahl al-Bayt (a).
  • Imam Ali (a) changed the capital of his caliphate from Medina to Kufa. This measure further inclined Iranians to Shiism.
  • The martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) was also another factor that drew Iranians closer to Shiism. Iranians were already dissatisfied by the Umayyads and naturally sympathized with Imam al-Husayn (a) and with Ahl al-Bayt (a) in general, who were likewise oppressed by the Umayyads. Iranians greatly supported the Abbasid revolt against the Umayyads, since the revolutionaries claimed that they sought to bring to power a leader from the family of the Prophet (s).
  • The presence of some of the students and companions of the Imams (a) in Iran and their activities acquainted the Iranians further with the school of Ahl al-Bayt (a), such that the majority of the population of several Iranian cities, including Qom, Ray, Sabziwar, and Ahvaz in the age of the Imams (a) were Shiite.
  • [[Imam al-Rida (a)|Imam al-Rida's (a) residence in Khorasan during the reign of al-Ma'mun al-Abbasi was also an important factor in the spread of Shiism in Iran. Al-Ma'mun decided to appoint Imam al-Rida (a) as heir apparent in order to win the support of Iranian and Arab Shiites against his brother al-Amin al-Abbasi.
  • Buyids were a ruling dynasty that had a significant role in the promotion of Shiism in Iran.

Important Shiite Dynasties

Alids of Tabaristan

The rule of the Zaydi Alids in Tabaristan in northern Iran was established in 250/864-5. Prior to the forth/tenth century, they were in conflict with Tahirids and Samanids; sometimes they were defeated, but then they would take back their lost lands. However, in the forth/tenth century and with the emergence of the Buyids, they lost their power. Although their rule lasted until the tenth/sixteenth century, they could never rule as an independent dynasty. At any rate, their rule resulted in the conversion of the inhabitants of northern Iran to Islam.


The Buyid dynasty (322-448/934-1056-7) was a Shiite dynasty that emerged in the beginning of the forth/tenth century in Northern Iran and extended its rule over a large part of Iran, Iraq, and Upper Mesopotamia to the northern borders of Syria. Although the Buyids conquered Baghdad and dethroned the Abbasid caliph al-Mustakfi bi-Allah, they did not topple the Abbasid dynasty for certain reasons. During the Buyid period, the ground was prepared more than ever for the promotion of the school of Ahl al-Bayt (a). Key Shiite sources such as al-Tahdhib, al-Istibsar, al-Kafi, and Man la yahduruh al-faqih were compiled in this time, and prominent scholars such as al-Shaykh al-Saduq, al-Shaykh al-Mufid, al-Shaykh al-Tusi, al-Sharif al-Murtada, and al-Sharif al-Radi were able to introduce Shiism to people.


The establishment of the Safavid dynasty was a watershed in the history of Shiism in Iran. Safavids made Shiism the religion of state and invited Shiite scholars from all over the Muslim world to Iran. These and similar measures made Shiism the dominant faith tradition in the country.

Islamic Republic

On February 11th, 1979, after several years of protests, the Islamic revolution succeeded in overthrowing the Pahlavi dynasty. In a referendum held two months later on March 30th and 31st, 98.2% of the Iranians voted for the Islamic Republic to be the form of their new state.

Important Religious Cities


Qom is probably the most important religious city and Shiite center in Iran. The immigration of members of Ash'ari family to Qom led to the development of the city, and since they had Shiite inclinations, Qom witnessed a strong Shiite presence ever since. The travel of Lady Fatima al-Ma'suma (a) to Qom and her burial therein and the immigration of other descendants of the Imams (a) afterwards made Qom a Shiite center. The establishment of the Shiite Islamic Seminary in Qom further increased the city's importance for Shiism, such that today this city can be regarded as the most important Shiite center in the world, from which the teachings of Ahl al-Bayt (a) are disseminated to the world.


Mashhad is a city in the northeast of Iran and the capital of Khorasan Razavi province. The holy shrine of Imam al-Rida (a) and the Shiite Seminary of Mashhad have made the city a major Shiite center in Iran.


Shiraz is the capital of Fars Province, located in the southwest of Iran. The Shiite significance of Shiraz is related to the shrine of Ahmad b. Musa (a) (known as Shahchiragh), the brother of Imam al-Rida (a), which is located in the city. Shiraz was the capital of Zandiyya dynasty and has many historical sites from that period. Hafiz and Sa'di, two epic Iranian poets, are buried in Shiraz.

Sacred Places

The Holy Shrine of Imam al-Rida (a)

When Imam al-Rida (a) was martyred, he was buried in the house of Humayd b. Qahtaba al-Ta'i (called al-Buq'a al-Haruniyya) in the village of Sanabad, around which the city of Mashhad was later established.

The Holy Shrine of Lady Fatima al-Ma'suma (a)

In 201/816, one year after the arrival of Imam al-Rida (a) in Merv, Fatima al-Ma'suma (a) decided to join her brother. On her way to Merv, when she arrived in Saveh, she became sick. Musa b. Khazraj, a noble member of the Ash'ari family in Qom, went to Saveh and invited her to Qom. She accepted the invitation and settled in the house of Musa b. Khazraj. After a short time, she passed away and was buried in a place called Bagh-i Babilan, where her holy shrine is currently located.

The Holy Shrine of Abd al-Azim al-Hasani

According to a report, Abd al-Azim al-Hasani passed away in Shawwal 15th, 252/October 29, 866 during the imamate of Imam al-Hadi (a). This prominent Shiite figure was buried in Ray, where his current shrine is located.

The Holy Shrine of Ahmad b. Musa

It is reported that after the martyrdom of Imam al-Rida (a), his brother Ahmad travelled to Shiraz and was martyred in a battle there. His grave was hidden for three-hundred years until it was discovered during the reign of Adud al-Dawla al-Daylami (r. 338-372/949-50 - 982-3) and according to another report, during the reign of Amir Muqarrib al-Din, a vizier of Atabak Abu Bakr (r. 653-658/1255-1260). His body was recognized based on the writing on his ring: "All honor belongs to God. Ahmad b. Musa."

Shiite Islamic Seminaries

The Islamic Seminary of Qom

The Islamic Seminary of Qom is one of the most important Shiite seminaries, which was established in the first half of the second century AH. (second half of eighth century) The immigration of the Ash'arite family to Qom prepared the ground for its establishment. During the third and fourth/ninth and tenth centuries, Qom Seminary became highly rigorous, but its rigor faded as the seminaries of Ray and Baghdad flourished in the fifth/eleventh century. During the Mongol invasion in 621/1224, Qom Seminary was destroyed to a great extent. However, with the immigration of Shaykh Abd al-Karim Ha'iri to Qom in 1340/1922, the seminary resumed its activity. When Ayatollah Burujirdi settled in Qom, the Islamic Seminary of Qom reached the same level of importance as the most credible Shiite seminary of the time in Najaf. With the Islamic Revolution of Iran, Qom Seminary was developed further, and today many students from all over the world study therein.

The Islamic Seminary of Isfahan

The Islamic Seminary of Isfahan was established when Shiism was proclaimed as the religion of state during the Safavid period and when Isfahan was made the capital. Prominent scholars such as Mirza Abd Allah Afandi, Shaykh Baha'i, Muhammad Baqir Sabziwari, Muhammad Taqi al-Majlisi, Aqa Jamal Khwansari, Aqa Husayn Khwansari, and Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani were among the graduates of this seminary.

The Islamic Seminary of Ray

This seminary was formed in the second half of the third/ninth century. Muhammad b. Ya'qub al-Kulayni, al-Shaykh al-Saduq, Ibn Qiba al-Razi, and Abu l-Futuh al-Razi are among the prominent scholars of this seminary.

The Islamic Seminary of Mashhad

After Qom Islamic Seminary, the Islamic Seminary of Mashhad is the most renowned center of traditional Shiite Islamic studies. Currently, more than forty courses of advanced Shiite jurisprudence and more than four-hundred intermediate courses (the sath level) are held in this seminary. This seminary is in charge of the administration of all the seminaries in the provinces of Khorasan Razavi, Southern Khorasan, and Northern Khorasan.

The Islamic Seminary of Tehran

This seminary was established during the reign of Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar. The Islamic Seminary of Tehran was the link between the main seminaries of the time: the seminaries of Najaf, Karbala, Isfahan, and other cities in Iran. The prominent scholars of this seminary include Muhammad Hasan Ashtiyani, Mulla Ali Kani, Shaykh Fadl Allah Nuri, Muhammad Taqi Amuli, Sayyid Ahmad Khwansari, Muhammad Mahdi Ilahi Qumshaʾi, and Abu l-Hasan Sha'rani. The seminary had a role in political and social movements such as Tobacco Protest, Constitutional Revolution, the protests against Reza Shah's anti-religious measures, the nationalization of oil industry, the 15 Khordad Uprising, and the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The latest marja' in this seminary was Ayatollah Mujtaba Tehrani.


  • The material for this article is mainly taken from ایران in Farsi WikiShia.