Virus-hit Iran reopens mosques for holy Ramadan nights

Iranians wearing face masks against the Covid-19 coronavirus attend Laylat Al-Qadr prayers, one of the holiest nights during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, outside a mosque in the Tehran, on May 13, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 13 May 2020

Virus-hit Iran reopens mosques for holy Ramadan nights

  • Iran reopened the mosques for 2 hours from midnight for Laylat Al-Qadr

TEHAN: In spite of their fears over the coronavirus, hundreds of pious Iranians took advantage of the temporary opening of mosques Wednesday to pray at one of the holiest times of year.
The mask-clad faithful for the most part adhered to social distancing guidelines as they sat in designated areas of Reihanat Al-Hussein mosque, in west Tehran.
Clutching their own prayer mats and Qur'ans, they showed up with their families, including a couple with a baby, and appeared to be in high spirits.
Worshippers spilled out into grounds outside the mosque were disinfected by a sanitary worker in a hazmat suit who sprayed them as he walked among them.
But some of the gaps between those seated at the back appeared to be too close for comfort, and the Basij militia were on hand to ensure they kept apart.
“Of course, everybody is worried about the disease, even my own family,” said one of the worshippers who gave his name only as Mahmoudi.
“When I decided to come they were concerned about me and I promised them to respect the directives,” he said.
“So I came and saw that everyone is respecting the (social) distancing, otherwise, I wouldn’t have stayed and I’d have gone back home.”
Iran reopened the mosques for two hours from midnight for Laylat Al-Qadr, a high point during the fasting month of Ramadan that marks when the Qur'an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad.
The Islamic republic shut its mosques and shrines in March as part of its efforts to contain the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak of COVID-19.
The first cases emerged in the Shiite holy city of Qom on February 19 and spread rapidly to all 31 of the country’s provinces.
It has gone on to claim nearly 6,800 lives in Iran.
President Hassan Rouhani, whose government has faced criticism for being slow to react to the crisis, praised worshippers for abiding by health guidelines.
“There were concerns about how people would follow health guidelines if mosques were opened, but last night, you found that it was a special ceremony,” he said.
“Wherever people participated, they followed all the instructions,” he said in televised remarks.
Health Minister Saeed Namaki had sounded a note of caution on Tuesday as he announced the special reopening for three out of the next five nights.
And on Wednesday he admitted it had been a “difficult and risky decision... criticized by some of my colleagues.”
“Everywhere people observed the instructions, except in one county where, contrary to our protocols, tea was offered to the participants,” he said.
The Qadr ceremony lasts three nights because the exact time of the revelation of the words of God is unknown.
Those at the first gathering overnight at Tehran’s Al-Hussein mosque appeared to be exalted at the chance to finally pray after being shut out for more than two months.
“We have brought masks and gloves and everything. I think that if we follow the security and health protocols, then nothing will happen to us and we will be able to continue with this ceremony,” said Masoumeh, a housewife.
For Amir Hosein, a private sector worker, it was a chance not to be missed.
“These nights are special for people and I think the government wasn’t able to cancel these ceremonies because we go out and pray together: that is the whole joy of this ceremony.”


Turkey urges Baghdad to cooperate as operations against Kurdish militants to continue

Updated 20 min 49 sec ago

Turkey urges Baghdad to cooperate as operations against Kurdish militants to continue

  • In June, Ankara launched a new ground offensive, dubbed Operation Claw Tiger, that saw Turkish troops advance deeper into Iraq
  • The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984

ANKARA: Turkey will continue its cross-border operations against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq if Baghdad continues to overlook the militants’ presence in the region, the foreign ministry said on Thursday, urging Iraqi authorities to cooperate with Ankara.
Turkey has regularly attacked Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)militants, both in its mainly Kurdish southeast and in northern Iraq, where the group is based. In June, Ankara launched a new ground offensive, dubbed Operation Claw Tiger, that saw Turkish troops advance deeper into Iraq.
On Tuesday, a Turkish air strike in northern Iraq killed two members of Iraq’s border guard and their driver, Iraq’s military said, calling the attack a “flagrant aggression.”
Iraq’s foreign ministry then said Baghdad canceled a visit by Turkey’s defense minister to the country, and summoned the Turkish ambassador to inform him of “Iraq’s confirmed rejection of his country’s attacks and violations.”
In a statement early on Thursday, Turkey’s foreign ministry said PKK presence also threatened Iraq and that it was Baghdad’s responsibility to take measures against the militants, but that Ankara will defend its borders if the PKK’s presence is allowed.
“Our country is ready to cooperate with Iraq on this issue. However, in the event PKK presence in Iraq is overlooked, our country is determined to take the measures it deems necessary for its border security no matter where it may be,” the ministry said. “We call on Iraq to take the necessary steps for this.”
The PKK, designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict, focused in southeast Turkey.