TEHRAN (AFP) – In spite of their fears over the coronavirus, hundreds of Iranians took advantage of the temporary opening of mosques yesterday to pray at one of the holiest times of year.
The mask-clad faithful for the most part adhered to social distancing guidelines as they sat in designated areas of Reihanat al-Hussein mosque, in west Tehran.
Clutching their own prayer mats and Al-Quran, they showed up with their families, including a couple with a baby, and appeared to be in high spirits.
Worshippers spilled out into grounds outside the mosque were disinfected by a sanitary worker in a hazmat suit who sprayed them as he walked among them.
But some of the gaps between those seated at the back appeared to be too close for comfort, and the Basij militia were on hand to ensure they kept apart.
“Of course, everybody is worried about the disease, even my own family,” said one of the worshippers who gave his name only as Mahmoudi.
“When I decided to come they were concerned about me and I promised them to respect the directives,” he said.
“So I came and saw that everyone is respecting the (social) distancing, otherwise, I wouldn’t have stayed and I’d have gone back home.”
Iran reopened the mosques for two hours from midnight for Laylat al-Qadr, a high point during the fasting month of Ramadhan that marks when Al-Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
The Islamic republic shut its mosques and shrines in March as part of its efforts to contain the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of COVID-19.
The first cases emerged in the city of Qom on February 19 and spread rapidly to all 31 of the country’s provinces.
It has gone on to claim nearly 6,800 lives in Iran.
President Hassan Rouhani, whose government has faced criticism for being slow to react to the crisis, praised worshippers for abiding by health guidelines.
“There were concerns about how people would follow health guidelines if mosques were opened, but last night, you found that it was a special ceremony,” he said yesterday.
“Wherever people participated, they followed all the instructions,” he said in televised remarks.
Health Minister Saeed Namaki sounded a note of caution on Tuesday as he announced the special reopening for three out of the next five nights.
And yesterday he admitted it had been a “difficult and risky decision… criticised by some of my colleagues”.
“Everywhere people observed the instructions, except in one county where, contrary to our protocols, tea was offered to the participants,” he said.
Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said another 50 people died of coronavirus and 1,958 were infected in the previous 24 hours, taking the overall tolls to 6,783 dead and 112,725 infected.