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'Eulogist of Imams' Holds 'Drive-In' Ramadan Ceremony In Iran

A "eulogist of Imams" holding a "drive-in" Ramadhan ceremony at the parking lot of a Tehran leisure complex. April 29, 2020.

The Iranian government's ban on holding religious gatherings due to coronavirus epidemic has inspired a "eulogist of Imams" to hold his ceremonies as a drive-in event during the month of Ramadan.

Since mid-March Iranian authorities have closed the mosques and shrines to the public and despite much pressure from the religious establishment have yet not allowed them to reopen. The government says it is considering allowing religious gatherings in coronavirus-free cities and towns in a fortnight.

Participants in the "drive-in" Ramadan ceremony during the month of Ramadhan at Eram Park, a leisure complex in the west of Tehran, can watch Saeed Haddadian sing his gloomy songs about the tragedies that befell the Shiite Imams and weep in their cars.

Haj Saeed is a member of a religious class known as maddahs -- a loanword from Arabic that means those who sing the praises of someone, the twelve Shiite Imams in the Iranian context. Their dramatic songs often include stories of the disasters and tragedies that befell the Imams and their martyrdom.

The audiences usually weep loud during the performances of maddahs. Many Shiites believe crying for the Prophet of Islam and the twelve Imams is an act of piety and they will be rewarded by God for their devotion.

A "eulogist of Imams" holding a "drive-in" Ramadhan ceremony at the parking lot of a Tehran leisure complex. April 29, 2020.
A "eulogist of Imams" holding a "drive-in" Ramadhan ceremony at the parking lot of a Tehran leisure complex. April 29, 2020.

The songs of maddahs have increasingly become politically charged in the past couple of decades. They attack political rivals by drawing thinly veiled parallels between their rivals and the enemies of the Imams in the songs.

Attacks against Sunni sanctities are not too uncommon in the ceremonies held by maddahs.

Unlike clerics, maddahs do not study in seminaries or hold a clerical rank but since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 they have risen high in social standing and now form a very influential class in the service of the hardliner clerical and the religious establishment.

At religious occasions some maddahs who are blessed by the Iranian Supreme Leader, even perform in in the gathering hall of his residence. Some critics of Khamenei claim that he supports the group of non-clerical religious influencers to use them against those who dare to oppose him. Khamenei himself has not held any public audience since the coronavirus epidemic began and even cancelled his annual speech in Mashhad on the occasion of the Iranian New Year on March 21.

The fees that some maddahs charge for their performances are outrageously high. Benefiting from their relations with influential politicians and statesmen, many maddahs and their families have also acquired great wealth. Influential hardline maddahs often enjoy so much protection that they can insult others including high-ranking officials of the rival camp without any fear of prosecution.

The government of President Hassan Rouhani, which is often targeted in the ceremonies of maddahs, two days ago shut down an illegal month-long ceremony by Mansour Arzi, a very influential maddah known to be close to Khamenei, outside Arg Mosque in the Tehran bazaar after three nights.

Rerefering to the termination of the ceremonies held at Arg Mosque, the governor of Tehran on Saturday said everyone has to abide by the regulations announced by the National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce, so religious gatherings are still not allowed.

According to social media users three relatives of Arzi have died of coronavirus recently.

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.