In response to mandatory closures at Iran’s holy shrines where worshipers have been congregating and kissing relics despite the country’s accelerated spread of coronavirus, a religious cleric encouraged more gathering, referring to the World Health Organization as “infidels” and “Jews,” according to a video posted on social media.
“Authorities have ordered the shrine’s closure. Well, that’s just what they’re saying. But we’re only accountable to God. We have to respond during doomsday. Who cares about which authority ordered what! We don’t care about the World Health Organization. They’re infidels; They’re Jews,” the imam said to a room full of worshipers.
“I hope people will continue gathering here. Everyone has faith,” he said.
The video comes from the religious city of Qom, Iran’s holiest city and also where the deadly coronavirus has most seriously spread in recent weeks.
Reports indicate that worshipers, encouraged by their religious leaders, have been continuing to attend services, visit shrines and have refused to practice self-quarantine.
In grappling to break the quick spread of the coronavirus which so far has infected more than 16,000, including almost 1200 new confirmed cases in the past 24 hours, according to the health ministry.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a religious ruling Tuesday outlawing “unnecessary” travel within the country.
The video was posted by Iranian political activist and journalist Masih Alinejad on her Twitter account.
“This cleric from Iran and many like him are the reason why #CoronaVirus pandemic claimed thousands of lives in the country and in the world. He’s angry that a shrine in Qom (epicenter of the virus in Iran) was closed down,” Alinejad tweeted.
Monday night, crowds disregarded the forced closures at popular shrines in Iranian cities of Mashad and Qom and pushed their way in, to which Iranian police responded to disperse the crowds.
“This incident underscores the existing oxymoron that is the Iranian regime. On the one hand they want to be modern and tell the world that they have everything it takes to be included in the global community. On the other hand, this sentiment of conspiracies and alienating themselves from international bodies exists,” Mahsoud Tehrani, a political activist from Mashad said.
“Here you have a regime that is trying to say coronavirus is so bad we can’t fight it under the current sanctions. In the same breath, they have those among them who say, we won’t be told what to do. We will continue to go to our shrines, cutting themselves off from the rest of the world using the two common enemies that have always been used- America and the Zionists,” Tehrani said.
“Even during an unprecedented pandemic, as countless Iranians are falling victim to the coronavirus, some leaders in Iran are engaging in brazen antisemitism,” Siamak Kordestani, Assistant Director at the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles Regional Office said.
“The international community must hold Iran’s leaders accountable,” Kordestani said.
The global spread of the virus will now coincide with pilgrimage holidays where large groups of worshipers usually travel to shrines and holy places to pray, including Passover, Easter and the holy month of Ramadan which begins at the end of April.