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Iran, Islam in

Islam arrived in Iran in 637 as Arab Muslim conquests spread into Persia. Zoroastrian beliefs, rooted in the idea of a never-ending struggle between the forces of good and evil, were replaced by Islamic monotheism. The majority of Iranians embraced Islam and many Zoroastrians fled to India, but traces of Zoroastrianism remained. For the first millennium after the arrival of Islam, Sunni Islam prevailed. The rise of the Safavid dynasty in 1501 led to the predominance of Twelver Shiism and the emergence of religious scholars as an important social force. Shii clerics increased their power significantly in the Qajar era (ca. 1785 – 1925 ). By the end of the nineteenth century, they had become key actors in the country's social movements and institutions. Clerics and the bazaari (merchant) class played a leading role in the 1905 – 11 Constitutional Revolution, protesting tobacco concessions to Western companies and demanding a constitution and accountability of the ruler. The Pahlavi dynasty (r. 1925 – 79 ) downplayed religion in favor of modernization, westernization, and secular, Iranian nationalism, policies that eventually led to the dynasty's overthrow and replacement by an Islamic republic headed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini . Khomeini called for rule by jurists (vilayat-i faqih) and implementation of Islamic law in all areas of life. Clerics generally have been united on cultural issues but divided on economic matters such as property ownership, nationalization of trade, land reform, and trade with the West. The election of Mohammad Khatami as president in 1997 evidenced a growing tendency to encourage cultural, economic, and scholarly exchanges between Iran and the West. Women are active in professional capacities and as elected representatives, appointed government officials, and judges, making Iran one of the most progressive Muslim countries with respect to women's rights.

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