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Why some Iranians are opposed to closing religious shrines to fight coronavirus

The Iranian government's decision to close religious shrines in Qom, Mashhad and Greater Tehran to combat the spread of COVID-19 has caused an outcry among some who oppose the move for reasons of tradition or religion.

Religious sites in Iran have never before been closed — even during the war with Iraq — yet with the spread of the novel coronavirus across the country, infecting tens of thousands and killing hundreds every week, things have changed. The decision by Iran’s Interior Ministry to close all the shrines in Qom, Mashhad and Tehran has stirred mixed feelings among Iranians, assuring some while infuriating others.

To some Iranians, the closure of the shrines is a grim act that will never be forgotten. The spiritual attachment Iranians have with Ali ibn Musa al-Reza, the eighth Shiite imam buried in Mashhad, and his sister Fatima Masuma, whose tomb is in Qom, goes beyond religiosity. This bond is part of a culture that has been engraved in the Iranian collective identity — and perhaps that’s one of the reasons why a decision to close these places took time to be adopted.

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