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Amidst Coronavirus Charity Donations Drop In Iran

IRAN -- Iranian bank notes are seen in a charity box in the center of the capital Tehran, April 23, 2019

The Director-General of the state-run Endowment (Awqaf) Organization in Golestan province, Ruhollah Soleimani Fard, says that the coronavirus epidemic has sharply reduced donations to the imamzadehs, or mausoleums, attributed to the descendants of the Twelver-Shi'ite Imams.

Translated as an offspring of an Imam, imamzadehs are the shrine-tombs of the descendants of Shi'ites Imams.

Available data shows that the number of tombs or imamzadehs in Iran before the Islamic Revolution in 1979 was limited to 1500.

Yet, as of 2020, more than 11,000 imamzadehs have been identified and "officially registered."

In his press conference on Tuesday, Fard proudly declared that the Golestan province has been a pioneer in the "field of endowments" since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and is ranked fifth in the country.

However, he admitted that the coronavirus epidemic had affected the Endowment income, and people's donations to the imamzadehs have dropped up to 70 percent.

In early June, all Twelver-Shi'ites' shrines closed for about two months before reopening following a decision by the Coronavirus Combat Operations Headquarters, one of Iran's most controversial issues since the coronavirus outbreak began in the nation in February.

In mid-March, following criticism of the government's "slow response" to the pandemic, Iran closed key holy shrines, including the Imam Reza shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad and the Fatima Masumeh shrine in Qom, the latter of which being where the first cases of coronavirus were reported in February,

After a 70-day closure, 226 clerics and eulogists wrote a letter to the Coronavirus Combat Operations Headquarters demanding the reopening of all imamzadehs and other shrines in the country.

One of the lecturers of Shi'ite jurisprudence in the seminary of Qom, Abbas Rafati Naeini, also wrote a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asking him to apologize to the people for closing down "holy sites'" and to reconsider the continuation of the closure of shrines and the cessation of religious ceremonies.

The shrines were reopened on May 25 amid a gradual easing of restrictions that were put in place to contain the pandemic.

Imamzadehs in Iran are managed by the state-run Awqaf (Endowment) Organization, a tax-exempt financial empire that collects millions of dollars of people's alms and charity donations to the shrines.

The number of imamzadehs in Iran has increased sevenfold over the last three decades, meaning that an average of 300 new shrines have been identified annually in Iran over the past years.