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.”


Lebanon finds four bodies after deadly sea crossing

Updated 21 September 2020

Lebanon finds four bodies after deadly sea crossing

  • UN peacekeepers retrieved one body and rescued 36 people from a boat in trouble in international waters off the Lebanese coast
  • Families of the survivors said the boat had been adrift without food or water for around a week
BEIRUT: Lebanon has retrieved the bodies of four people including a child after they tried to flee the crisis-hit country by sea on an overloaded dinghy, the civil defense said Monday.
A week ago, UN peacekeepers retrieved one body and rescued 36 people from a boat in trouble in international waters off the Lebanese coast.
Families of the survivors said the boat had been adrift without food or water for around a week, during which time several passengers had died or jumped overboard to find help.
The bodies are presumed to be from the same ill-fated crossing.
Since Friday, “we have retrieved four bodies — belonging to two Lebanese, one of whom was a child, a young Indian man and a Syrian man,” Samir Yazbek, the head of the civil defense’s sea rescue unit, told AFP.
The bodies were found in four separate locations off the north and south coasts of the country, and the search was ongoing, he added.
The UN refugee agency said last week that 25 Syrians, eight Lebanese and three people of other nationalities had been rescued from the boat.
It is unclear how many men, women and children originally clambered aboard the dinghy, and therefore how many are still missing.
On Saturday, the navy said it would step up its searches within and outside Lebanon’s territorial waters to find any other victims.
Relatives of those who went missing from the impoverished north Lebanese city of Tripoli say the people smuggler involved in the crossing has dropped off the radar since the tragedy.
They have filed three legal complaints against the man, who they say is a well-known figure in the community.
A military source on Saturday said a person acting as an intermediary between passengers and the boat owner had been arrested.
In recent weeks, dozens of Lebanese and Syrians have tried to make the perilous sea journey from Lebanon to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, authorities on both sides say.
The Republic of Cyprus, a European Union member, lies just 160 kilometers (100 miles) away.
Lebanon is in the throes of its worst economic crisis in decades, compounded since February by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It is also reeling from a monster blast at Beirut’s port last month that killed more than 190 people, ravaged large parts of the capital and reignited public anger against the political class.