Iran has cancelled Friday Prayers for a second week across major cities amid the growing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak which has claimed 92 lives so far.
Mohammad-Javad Haj Ali-Akbar, Chairman of the Friday Prayers Policy-Making Council, on Wednesday made the cancellation announcement and said the decision was made in compliance with the Coronavirus Combat Task Force.
The Council draws guidelines for the sermons delivered in more than 600 locations across the country after the prayers every week. The members of the Council are appointed by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
According to Haj Ali-Akbar prayers are cancelled in all province capitals but in other cities a committee consisting of the representative of the Supreme Leader, governor and the director-general of the city will make a decision whether to allow the prayers to be held or not.
Some influential clerics such as Ahmad Alam ol-Hoda, Friday Prayer Leader of Mashhad, and Mohammad Saeedi, Custodian of Masoumeh Shrine in Qom, had strongly opposed cancellation of communal prayers and closing shrines.
Mashhad and Qom are both very conservative cities and their Friday prayer leaders are both known for their fundamentalist views and staunch support for Khamenei. Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, is home to the Shrine of the Eighth Imam of Shiites and Qom, known as Iran’s religious capital, is home to the Shrine of Masoumeh, the Eighth Imam’s sister.
Last week Alam ol-Hoda said he had obeyed the government decision not to hold the Friday congregation due to coronavirus but considered the decision “unjustifiable”.
Hardliner clerics also opposed isolating Qom, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the country. Political figures and some lawmakers have criticized the decision not to quarantine the city and maintain that the outbreak could be contained and would not spread to other cities if this step had been taken.
A coronavirus outbreak in Qom which was first reported on February 19 has now been confirmed in 30 of Iran’s 31 provinces and infected 2922 according to official announcements.