Iran President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday mosques would reopen across one third of the country within 24-hours, after they were shuttered early in March as the Middle East’s deadliest Chinese coronavirus outbreak took hold.
Rouhani said 132 counties would “reopen their mosques as of tomorrow,” the semi–official Tasnim news agency reported.
“Social distancing is more important than collective prayer,” Rouhani added, arguing Islam considers safety obligatory, while praying in mosques is only “recommended”.
The targeted counties are “low-risk”, Rouhani said in a televised meeting of the country’s virus taskforce.
The ministry said the trajectory of infections has started a “gradual” downward trend in Iran, where the death toll is 6,156 and total number of diagnosed cases has reached 96,448.
The Islamic republic has tried to contain the spread of the virus by denying public entry to universities, cinemas, stadiums and other public spaces since March as the full scale of the crisis gradually emerged.
Iran’s parliament heard Wednesday the fatality rate from the coronavirus pandemic is likely nearly double officially reported figures. https://t.co/Mm50gzNV5e
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) April 16, 2020
But it has allowed a phased reopening of its economy since April 11, arguing the sanctions-hit country cannot afford to remain closed for business.
Only “high-risk” businesses like gyms and barbershops remain closed, with Rouhani adding “We will continue the reopenings calmly and gradually.”
Iran’s mosques will hope to avoid the dramatic scenes sometimes evident at the start of the epidemic where some Muslim faithful demanded the right to continue worshipping practices at holy shrines that included kissing, touching and in some cases licking sacred public objects.
When state TV initially announced the shrines’ closure, mass protests followed.
“We are here to say that Tehran is damn wrong to do that!” one Shiite cleric shouted at the shrine in Mashhad, according to an 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 is often at odds with state control in Iran.
Earlier in March online videos emerged showing the faithful licking and kissing shrines to show they had no fear of coronavirus infection.
While the city of Qom is the epicentre of #CoronaVirus in Iran, authorities refuse to close down religious shrines there.
These pro-regime people are licking the shrines & encouraging people to visit them.
Iran's authorities are endangering lives of Iranians & the world pic.twitter.com/s9o6zYhzNQ
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) February 29, 2020
Touching and kissing surfaces in shrines is a common practice for Muslim pilgrims, and religious hardliners argue holy sites are “a place for healing” the government has no right to close down.
Iran on Saturday reported its lowest daily toll of new infections since March 10, although experts and officials both in Iran and abroad have cast doubts over the country’s COVID-19 figures, saying the real number of cases could be much higher than reported.