The Persian-speaking People
The Persians constitute the largest ethnic component in Iran.
They predominate in the major urban areas of central and eastern
Iran--in the cities of Tehran, Esfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz, Arak,
Kashan, Kerman, Qom, and Yazd--and in the villages of the Central
Plateau. An estimated 50 to 60 percent of the population speaks
Persian as a first language.
In music, poetry, and art the Persians consider themselves--and
are generally considered by other groups--as the leaders of the
country. This feeling is strengthened by a consciousness of a
heroic past and a rich literary heritage. Both before the Revolution
and since, Persians have filled the majority of government positions.
The vast majority of Persians are Shia Muslims (see Shia Islam
in Iran , this ch.). The Shia religion serves as a source of unity
among Persians and other Iranian Shias. Since at least the beginning
of the nineteenth century, Persians have dominated the higher
ranks of the Shia clergy and have provided important clerical
revolutionary leaders such as ayatollahs Khomeini and Hosain Ali
Montazeri. Fewer than 500,000 Persians are followers of other
faiths. These include Bahais, Jews, or members of the pre-Islamic
Data as of December 1987