A scene from anti-regime protests in September 2022, challenging compulsory hijab.

Government Study Shows Iranians Less Religious Than Before

Saturday, 02/24/2024

A study by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance reveals a significant decline in adherence to religious values, despite extensive ideological propaganda by the government in Iran.

The confidential study, conducted by the Ministry's Research Center for Culture, Art and Communication and leaked to foreign-based Persian media outlets, highlights that approximately 73 percent of Iranians advocate for the separation of religion from state, indicating an unprecedented demand for a secular government.

Contrary to the 22.5 percent advocating for a religious government, a sharp increase in secularism is evident, with demands for secular governance rising from less than 31 percent in 2015.

The significant change seems to have taken place since large anti-regime protests in 2022 and 2023 when the "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement began, representing the most serious challenge to the Islamic Republic in 45 years.

With participation from over 15,800 Iranians aged 18 and above across all 31 provinces, this is the fourth such study, following similar ones in 2000, 2003, and 2015.

Although the population's departure from the government's ideological values is shocking enough for the government, most of those taking part in the study have reiterated that Iranians are likely to be even less religious in the coming years.

Iranians in Brussels rally to support compatriots back home. February 20, 2023

Moreover, nearly 62 percent of participants believe that ideological inquiries should not be part of employment exams, underscoring the societal polarization around religious and ideological matters under the clerical regime.

In one of the most important findings of the study, 85 percent said Iranians have become less religious compared to 5 years ago. Only 7 percent said they have become more religious and around 8 percent said they can see no difference in this regard between now and 5 years ago.

Looking ahead, over 81 percent anticipate a continued decline in religious observance over the next five years, reflecting shifting societal attitudes towards religious practices. Only 9 percent said they are likely to be more religious and around 10 percent said there will be no difference.

Regarding the compulsory hijab, attitudes have shifted markedly since 2015, with a substantial portion expressing tolerance towards women who defy the mandate. Only a minority now support strict enforcement of hijab rules. Around 38 percent said they do not mind if women defy the compulsory hijab, 46 percent said they oppose women who do not wear hijab but will not object to them.

The change since 2015 is significant. Some 10.6 percent had said in 2015 that they do not mind violation of compulsory hijab. Meanwhile, 34.4 percent said compulsory hijab rules should not be imposed on women who do not like it. The figure was 15.7 in 2015. On the other hand, 7.9 percent said they absolutely agree that women must be made to wear hijab whether they like it or not. The figure was 18.6 percent in 2015.

Only 11 percent of those who answered the questionnaire said they always take part in congregational prayers while 45 percent said they had never attended Friday prayers. As opposed to 13 percent who said they always read the holy Koran, 19 percent said they never read it.

The figures show why the Iranian government was reluctant to publish the results of the study although several journalists during the past week called on the government to make it available to the public. The reluctance of the Iranian government underscores its discomfort with the findings, which contradict its narrative of promoting piety. Instead, the data suggests a decline in adherence to religious values under clerical rule.

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