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Thousands Attend Ramadhan Gatherings In Iran Amid Coronavirus Fears

Thousands of Iranians participated in religious gatherings on Tuesday evening to mark an important Shiite ceremony. May 12, 2020.

For the first time since March thousands of Iranians in the capital Tehran and 400 other cities throughout Iran gathered in mosques and open-air spaces on Tuesday evening for three-night long ceremonies amid coronavirus fears.

Iranian news agencies have published pictures of the mask-wearing faithful listening to prayers and praying in mosques or in their cars in open spaces. Photos also show disinfection of the venues, marking safe distances on the floors to keep participants apart, and health workers taking participants' temperature before attending the ceremonies.

Open-air religious ceremony in Tehran, May 12.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Sunday told the members of the National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce and governors of the 31 Iranian provinces that he was leaving the decision about opening the places of prayer to the Taskforce but also pointed out that prayers, particularly during the Nights of Qadr, are among people's "basic and inexorable needs".

Health Minister Saeed Namaki who said the decision to allow the ceremonies had been taken in response to the "concerns" of the Supreme Leader, cautioned the participants in the ceremonies to observe all safety measures. He also advised the ceremonies to be held in open spaces and told high-risk groups such as the elderly and those with other health conditions to stay away from the gatherings.

Open-air religious ceremony in Tehran, May 12.

"The biggest strategic mistake is to think that coronavirus is finished," he warned on the state-run television while announcing the decision to allow the gatherings to take place from midnight for two hours only during the three nights.

In Tehran where the epidemic is still raging, the ceremonies have been limited to only four places while they have been completely banned in Khuzestan Province which has turned into a new hotspot in recent weeks.

For Iranian Shiites the three nights from the 19th to the 21st of Ramadhan mark the sword attack on Imam Ali, the first of the Shiite Imams, during prayer in a mosque and his passing three days later.

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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.