Why is Iran not an Arab country
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Why Is Iran Not An Arab Country?

Why is Iran not an Arab country?

Iran is often incorrectly referred to as an Arabic nation but it’s not.  Iran is actually excluded from the Arab League.  Considering its Muslim majority, Arabic-like language, and Middle East location, assuming Iran is an Arab country is an understandable mistake.

Ancestry And Ethnicity

“Iran” actually means “land of the Aryans.”  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Arab” is defined as “one whose native language is Arabic”.  Arab historically included the “nomadic Semitic inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula.”  Modern day use includes Arabic-speaking individuals from Mauritania to southwestern Iran.

Iranians, with the exception of minority groups such as Arabs, are Persian.  Persia was born when King Cyrus the Great, who freed Babylon in 528 B.C., and instituted the first human rights charter, the Cyrus Cylinder.  The histories of Arabs and Persians remained separate until the seventh century when they merged upon the Islamic conquest of Persia.

Cyrus Cylinder/Image: Pinterest


Today only a small group of Zoroastrians live in Iran.  Ancient Persians were Zoroastrians.  Zoroastrians are a faith that is centered around the teachings of Zoroaster, a prophet who believed in a supreme being named Ahura Mazda.

Hence, today some Iranian celebrations, like such as Yaldâ, Châhârshanbe Suri, and Nowruz harken back to this religion.  During Persia’s Sasanian Empire, though, the Islamic conquest forced a slow decline and later displacement of Zoroastrianism. Additionally, Muslim-majority countries generally accept the Sunni sect of Islam while Iran, like a few other nations, is mainly of the Shia branch.  This serves as another divisive aspect.

Fravahar, the ancient symbol of Zoroastrianism, above the Fire Temple in Yazd | Image: YouTube


Based solely on their scripts, one might erroneously assume Arabic and Persian are related.  A brief review of the language families indicates that Persian is actually an Indo-European language.  Arabic, however, is a Semitic language.


Before the Islamic conquest, both Old and Middle Persian were originally written in the scripts of Aramaic, Avestan, Old Persian Cuneiform and Pahlavi.  It was not until the ninth century that the Tahirid Dynasty replaced Pahlavi with the Arabic script.  The present-day alphabet has 32 letters.

Their alphabet includes four letters that do not exist in Arabic.  They are ch, g (as in golf), p, and zhe (like the letter j in déjà vu).  While the modern Persian language does include some words borrowed from Arabic–similar to how English includes words borrowed from French–calling Arabic and Persian mutually intelligible, let alone the same, is incorrect.

Image: Wikimedia Commons


In summary, regardless of the introduction of Islam, the country of Iran still retains its own identity, language and traditions thus differentiating it from the nearby Arab countries.