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Iran Prosecutor-General Urges President To Cancel Ban On Congregations In Mosques

IRAN -- Iranian worshippers attend the Friday prayers in Qarchak Jamee Mosque while maintaining social distancing, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tehran province, June 12, 2020

Iran's Prosecutor-General Mohammad-Javad Montazeri is urging President Hassan Rouhani to cancel the ban on holding mourning ceremonies of the Islamic month of Muharram in mosques and Tekyehs, places designed specifically for such ceremonies during the mourning month.

Fars News Agency reported on Sunday that Montazeri has said that the ban on holding mourning ceremonies in mosques, tekyehs and other enclosed spaces was an "abruptly announced decision by a Health Ministry deputy,” rather than a measure adopted by the National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce.

"You are requested to order the ceremonies to be permitted in mosques and tekyehs with the same health protocols that have been approved," he wrote to Rouhani, according to Fars.

During the lunar Islamic month of Muharram, Shiites worldwide mourn the anniversary of the slaying of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and the third Imam of Shiites. Husayn and his 72 companions were killed in 680 in the battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq against the forces of Yazid who had succeeded to the Umayyid throne.

The day of the slaying of Imam Husayn – known as Ashura -- will fall on August 28 this year.

Critics of the Health Ministry decision, which was announced only a few days before the start of the mourning month, "was a great shock to mourners and mourning groups" who had been allowed to hold their ceremonies indoors in places with high ceilings including mosques and tekyehs, per Fars.

Despite Montazeri’s claims, the Center for Management of Mosques said in a statement that the decision to ban the ceremonies in mosques had been adopted after "the change in the approach of the National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce" in a joint meeting with "the related authorities.” The statement also pointed out that, despite being critical of the manner of the announcement of the new measure, the Center expected everyone to observe the ban.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has advised that the decisions of the Coronavirus Combat Taskforce must be obeyed.

Some mourning groups say health authorities have imposed "too-strict" measures, including a ban on mourners' processions in the streets, that seriously restrict the possibility and quality of the month-long ceremonies. More hardline groups have even advocated for "clandestine motives" for enforcing the measures.

Health authorities have repeatedly warned about the spread of the virus and a third wave of the pandemic during the mourning month.