Devout Muslim Shiite followers in Iran fought their way into two major shrines closed over coronavirus fears, Iranian state media reported Tuesday, as they demanded the right to continue worshipping practices that include kissing, touching and in some cases licking sacred public objects.
As the Islamic Republic pressed on with its struggle to control the Mideast’s worst Chinese coronavirus outbreak, angry crowds stormed into the courtyards of Mashhad’s Imam Reza shrine and Qom’s Fatima Masumeh shrine.
The faithful typically pray there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, touching and kissing the shrine. That’s worried health officials, who for weeks ordered Iran’s Shiite clergy to shutter them.
Earlier on Monday, the state TV had announced the shrines’ closure, sparking the mass protests.
“We are here to say that Tehran is damn wrong to do that!” one Shiite cleric shouted at the shrine in Mashhad, according to online video. Others joined him in chanting: “The health minister is damn wrong to do that, the president is damn wrong to do that!”
As Breitbart News reported, strict Muslim religious observance has clashed before with state control in Iran.
Earlier this month online videos emerged showing the faithful licking and kissing shrines to show they have no fear of infection during the country’s escalating coronavirus outbreak.
Touching and kissing surfaces in shrines is a common practice for Muslim pilgrims, and religious hardliners argue the holy sites of Qom are “a place for healing” that the government has no right to close down.
Iran’s shrines draw Shiites from all over the Mideast for pilgrimages, likely contributing to the spread of the virus across the region. Saudi Arabia earlier closed off Islam’s holiest sites over fear of the virus spreading.
President Hassan Rouhani said despite the closures, “our soul is closer to the saints more than at any time.”
Iran warned Monday the coronavirus pandemic could overwhelm local health facilities as the death toll topped 700 and another senior lawmaker died from the disease, as Breitbart News reported.
AP contributed to this report