Iran defies global suicide statistics
Globally, men commit suicide at higher rates than women. The statistics show that men are more than three to five times more likely to succeed at killing themselves than women. But in Iran, women commit suicide more often than men. Only China compares with Iran in this grim statistic.
You may think these numbers show the despair of women in Iran, and you would be right—but they do not show its full depth. Across the world—including China—when women do commit suicide, their number one method is some form of poison, either drugs or pesticides; in Iran, the number one method of suicide is self-immolation (burning). Half of all suicides in Iran happen through burning, and for every five of these desperate acts, four are committed by women.
These Iranian women really want to take their lives in a horrendous way. They don’t want to take poison as the easier way out; they want to die with great pain. It is to the point now where suicide by self-immolation happens more frequently in Iran than in Hindu cultures, which see fire as a purifier. This trend in Iran is considered by global health organizations as a significant public health problem.
What has caused Persian women to have such despair?
According to the studies, the top motivating factors for self-immolation among women in Iran are marital conflict and conflict with other family members.
In Islam, women have no value. Millions of Persian woman endure marriages where their husband beats them up. Sharia and government law approve of husbands beating their wives. Many married women are just the maid, the cook, and sex slave. The husband often doesn’t love them.
He might even be married to other younger women. What the wives like doesn’t matter, and they have no real path for speaking up. Many feel their only escape is death.
Why do women stay in these marriages?
A woman in Iran usually cannot get a divorce. The courts are against them obtaining a legal divorce. They could perhaps just leave—and some do—but, please tell me, where would they go? A divorced woman in Islamic society is considered a curse. The divorced woman opens herself to be approached for prostitution (called a “temporary marriage” in Shariah law). Any and every man can offer her some money one night at a time, creating yet another form of horrific enslavement.
Also, if the woman leaves or divorces her husband, she loses her children, who always go to the husband. So women generally just suffer in these relationships or they kill themselves with great pain and self-hatred.
There is a better answer:
Throughout history, the oppressed have always responded to Jesus best. In Iran, the most oppressed are the women.
Christ is so appealing to these dear souls who have been devalued by their husbands and society that they fall in love with Him. Suddenly they come to Christ, and they realize they are valuable and God is calling them to serve. Their commitment is tremendously high because they know where they come from, and now they are daughters of the King. This correct assessment of their self-worth brings such healing.
So when a woman comes to Christ, they become a great light. The husband notices, “You have changed.” And they have. Before they were hopeless and the husband was unkind or even cruel—the least the wives felt they could do before was be angry, answer back, and hurt their husbands in return. Now they have responded to a Greater Love, and they begin returning grace and kindness for the abuse thrown at them. It shocks everyone.
Once transformed themselves, these women are bringing healing to husbands and kids. Once transformed, these women become agents of transformation for the rest of their family and friends.
Our new initiative: Flourish
As you would guess, then, a majority of our leaders in the underground Church in Iran are women—and they are very good leaders. We want to continue reaching out to these dear sisters and equip them and develop them for the ministry God is giving them. Called “Flourish,” our new initiative is more than television programs, though it is that in part; this initiative is a call to women to be equipped and raise a new generation of leaders. It is a call to flourish in a society that expects them to wilt and burn.
Would you pray for this new initiative? My soul longs to see many, many Persian women discover their true worth as daughters of our gracious King. I pray that many will hear the call of Jesus, and know that His life is worth living. I pray that they will flourish and transform Iran into a Christian nation in this generation.
Ahmadi, Alireza. “Suicide by Self-Immolation: Comprehensive Overview, Experiences and Suggestions.” Journal of Burn Care & Research: Official Publication of the American Burn Association 28, no. 1 (February 2007)
Vijayakumar, Lakshmi. “Suicide in Women.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry 57, no. Suppl 2 (July 2015)
It used to take me weeks or months working with Persians who were interested in Christianity to convince them to choose Christ. For the older generations, the spirit of Islam lay heavy on them, a blindfold on their minds that prevented them from grasping the Gospel, truth, or often even logic. Fear of Islam and fear of the government would paralyze them.
But young people in Iran are now so open to Christ. The generation in their early twenties and younger often call or write to say, “I was watching your satellite TV program, and something in me said I need Jesus, and I’m ready.” No questions about Islam and Christianity. No fear of Islam or the government. Just, they are ready to choose Christ.
Why is this happening now? What is the change? Let me offer five reasons based on the regular testimony we receive from Iran’s young people.
- The depth of hopelessness is immense.
Young people under 25 look at their older siblings who have worked so hard to earn bachelor degrees, master degrees, and even PhDs and see that they are miserable. War and decades of harsh rule and sanctions have caused those in their thirties to early forties to name themselves the “Burnt Generation.” They can’t find jobs, they can’t afford to get married, and they have no future. So the younger generation says that even if we work hard, that’s our future. Life is empty.
- Sex and drugs have become normalized in the youth culture.
With no future or greater purpose to live for, young people even as young as 12 and 13 fill the void with promiscuous sex and drugs. In the larger cities, this destructive lifestyle has become so normalized among the youth that if a young person avoids these “fixes” for their hopelessness, they are considered weird and are ostracized.
- The spirit of fear has lifted from them.
While it is true that the Islamic government of Iran forbids such partying, the news media regularly report arrests of young people taking part in these activities. Unlike their parents and older siblings, who fear the consequences of such actions, the younger Persians assume that partying is the only pleasure they have.
They don’t care what the consequences are; they are not really afraid of the government. They say, “Kill me, kill me. I’m dead anyway.”
They aren’t afraid of Islam or Allah. They have rejected all religions and wanted secularism; they want to be like Americans.
- They discover that Christianity has a loving and forgiving God.
Yes, the drive toward secularism can become a challenge for sharing the Gospel. But these young people reject all religions because they assume that Christianity is just like Islam—or worse. So from just one broadcast on our Iran Alive satellite network, Network 7, they begin to see that Christianity is not what they thought before. The program speaks to what is in their hearts: that if there is a God, He is a loving and forgiving God.
Suddenly, they realize this Jesus is exactly what they need. They want Him, and they taste the hope He can give them. Now their lack of fear for the government and their understanding that they were “dead” in their life before Jesus becomes a huge positive for following Jesus. They are ready to live and die for Christ. The depth of their commitment frequently brings me to tears when we talk. We have to remind them to be careful so they can live and minister as long as they can!
As disciples, these young believers are ready to listen and be corrected. Unlike their parents, who would be offended by direct correction, the young people love straight talk. They become soldiers for Jesus, ready to run for the Lord.
- Jesus is moving in Iran, testifying about Himself through dreams and visions.
More than anything else, young people are choosing Christ because He is choosing them. We regularly receive testimonies from those to whom Jesus has appeared in a dream or vision. God is moving in Iran, according to His promise Jeremiah 49:38, “I will set my throne in Elam (Iran).”
This generation is so ready, so desperate. Give them a vision, give them a goal, and they will run with it.
We have in this current time an amazing opportunity to reach out and raise an entire generation of soldiers for Christ. I am grieved because time is passing, and we are merely harvesting the edges of a vast, ripe field. Many contact us weekly, and we cannot disciple them all in a meaningful way due to limited resources. We have to take in a few, and leave the rest outside the door.
Would you consider praying and thanking God for these young people? Would you consider joining in our efforts to give the youth in Iran hope in Christ and to transform Iran in this generation? You can find out more about our ministry through this link.
I recently was amazed by the deep faith of a lady in Iran who allowed Jesus to help her love the woman who stole her husband. She might be unique in her devotion to love her enemy, but she is not alone in her suffering. Many women in Iran are trapped by marriage laws that turn their homes into prisons.
Before the revolution in 1979, the minimum age for marriage was 18 for women and 20 for men. Restrictions against polygamy meant men with special circumstances had to get judicial permission to take a second wife—or face jail time. The first wife also had to give her husband legal written permission before he could take another wife.
What does the law in Iran say now regarding marriage?
After the revolution, these protective laws were largely repealed or set aside. The minimum age for marriage fell to 13 (sometimes 9) for girls and 15 for boys. The religious regime, in accordance with the Quran, also abandoned restrictions on polygamy.
A man now has a legal and religious right to permanent marriage with up to four wives. He has no need to establish cause for taking another wife or solicit judicial or spousal permission. Therefore, even the requirement that a man establish financial ability to maintain his wives has no review or oversight. He alone can decide what is right for himself.
In addition to these permanent marriages, since Iran is a Shiite state, a man can contractually enter an unlimited number of temporary marriages (called Sigheh). The length of these temporary marriages can be from 15 minutes to 99 years. Yes, many view this as merely legalized prostitution sanctioned and supported by Islamic law.
In contrast, a wife must obey her husband in everything, and since his marital desire may arise at any time, she may not even leave the home without his permission. If a couple does divorce, the custody of her children is automatically given to her husband. I know many women who are suffering from physical and emotional abuse and have to endure and even quietly serve their abusive husbands because they do not want to be separated from their beloved children—the only source of meaning and joy in their lives. These laws reduce women to property and enslave them sexually while giving men free rein to sidestep moral obligations of faithfulness and love within a relationship.
What does the God of the Bible say?
Although these women are trapped in loveless and abusive marriages with no legal recourse, they are not unloved. Jesus loves them. And as each woman begins to understand that only Jesus’s love and presence can truly fill her heart—and as she receives that love—she is able to endure the rejection and even forgive her husband. We have many testimonies where the wife’s forgiveness and a heart filled with the joy of Jesus have caused the husband to take notice and also seek salvation in Jesus. The love revolution that begins in the hearts of these rejected women plays a significant part in transforming Iran into a Christian nation in this generation.
Did you know that Iran Alive takes special care to broadcast several satellite television programs addressed specifically to women so that they can hear the Gospel within the safety—and sometimes the prison—of their own homes? Please keep praying for the millions of Persian women who do not yet know the love of Jesus.
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