This month of the lunar calendar is of paramount importance among Shia Muslims since it features the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussein (AS), the third Shia Imam and grandson of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
The religious icon was martyred along with 72 of his companions in the Battle of Karbala, in southern Iraq, on the tenth day of the month in 680 A.D. after fighting courageously for justice against thousands of soldiers of the tyrant of the time, the Umayyad caliph, Yazid I. The battle symbolizes the humanity’s struggle against injustice, tyranny, and oppression, the cause for which Imam Hussein made the sacrifice.
Across Iran, Muharram mostly witnesses funeral marches throughout cities, mourning rituals inside mosques and religious centers besides distribution of votive food.
This year, though, given the outbreak of the virus across the world that has claimed upwards of 19,970 lives across Iran so far, the National Headquarters for Fighting Coronavirus has been trusted with devising the protocols that are expected to govern the rituals.
On July 31, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei delivered a televised address, considering the principles that are devised by the headquarters to be the “standard” that people should commit to while marking Muharram.
“This is because this is a very important issue. Because if even this level of observance and control [that is on the ground] is relaxed too, a great catastrophe will occur,” Ayatollah Khamenei noted.
The Leader also urged observance of relevant precautions concerning preparation and distribution of the votive food portions.
No mourning in unventilated closed spaces
The rituals are to begin this year on Saturday, with Nader Tavakkoli, an official with the headquarters, advising strongly against conducting any mourning ceremonies inside unventilated closed spaces.
The ceremonies have to be held in open space, with mourners standing reasonably apart from each other and wearing masks.
Tavakkoli, meanwhile, advised that mourning rituals be limited in duration as a means of reducing the risk of the virus’ spread among the attendants.
‘Iran to set an example for future’
Ali Rabi’ei, spokesman for the Iranian Administration, also urged all to hold this year’s ceremonies in such a way that they would set an example for the future.
He noted that minding the health protocols does not take anything away from how dear Imam Hussein is to Iranians’ hearts, reminding how the nation would insist on observing the ceremonies even during Iraq’s 1980-88 imposed war on the Islamic Republic.
“We are duty-bound to protect lives in order to be able to sustain the movement of ‘Dear Hussein’ [among ourselves],” he said.
Precautions in Mashhad, Qom
In the holy city of Mashhad that hosts the holy shrine of Imam Reza (PBUH), the eighth Shia Imam, people are required to hold Muharram’s rituals across open spaces inside the shrine complex.
The Provincial Government’s Office in the north-central Qom Province also issued certain warnings in order to further raise public awareness against potential spread of the virus.
The office said although the trend of infections has somewhat stabilized in the province, it not only should not relax its anti-virus restrictions, but also has to intensify them throughout Muharram.
It also cautioned that mourning circles, known as Hey’at, which could be found in violation of the health protocols would be duly dealt with.
The Islamic Republic’s decision to make changes in the way it observes the holy month this year has been received well across the world.
Recently, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said he had taken note of how sources of religious emulation in Iran had issued religious decrees obligating changes in the upcoming ceremonies and observance of health protocols.
He said he expected the Pakistani Shias to follow the example, and hoped that Muharram’s rituals regain their former quality once the virus’ risk was over.