A somber and an uncharacteristically quiet Ramadan devoid of activities has knocked the doors in Iran last Saturday.
With mosques and shrines closed and no hustle and bustle in the main markets of Tehran, the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic has taken away the traditional gleam from the holy month.
The month of Ramadan in Iran has always been synonymous with preparing special delicacies, congregational prayers, joining friends and strangers for a game of carom in community parks, and special Ramadan mass gatherings in the towns.
Although the government has eased restrictions for low-risk businesses earlier this week and lifted the ban on inter-city travel after a significant drop in new infections, the social distancing norms are keeping people away from arranging any festivity.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei earlier this month suggested barring gatherings during Ramadan in compliance with health advisories.
Endorsing his suggestion, President Hassan Rouhani said that mosques and holy sites will remain closed until May 4. But the government sources said the period will be further extended, even though the infection curve has flattened.
While the pandemic has thrown life out of gear in Iran, it has forced people to do observe fast while staying at home, which they had never done before.
“It is surreal. Who had imagined that a day will come when the mosques would be locked in the month of Ramadan, the month of divine mercy, “Mostafa Bozorgi, a university lecturer and religious preacher, told Anadolu Agency.
He said the best worship in these difficult times is to stay at home and observe social distancing norms as directed by the authorities.
In Iran, the revered shrines in the cities of Qom and Mashhad used to witness tremendous rush in the month of Ramadan. All these shrines have been closed this time to stem the spread of the virus.
For the past six weeks, weekly Friday congregational prayers have not been held in Iran. The prayer leaders are giving pre-recorded sermons through state TV.
For Sohrab Saeedi, a shopkeeper in Tehran’s main market, it is an unusual way to welcome Ramadan with fewer footfalls in the otherwise bustling place. The month of Ramadan for him meant a surge in sales, but this time fewer people are courageous enough to visit markets out of fear of the virus.
A few weeks ago, the government’s coronavirus task force announced that low-risk businesses will be allowed to resume work. Several factors, including health protocols and employment rates in different businesses, were considered, according to the Iran Chamber of Guilds.
The authorities later allowed major shopping outlets and highways to reopen, which however has not gone down well with the coronavirus task force.
For some, though, lockdown and quarantine in the month of Ramadan have not made any difference. Mahdi Kia, a screenplay writer, lyricist, and translator, is one of them.
“For me, it makes no difference. I am a writer, I work from home usually. So, I am used to staying home, “he said.
Challenge for health workers
The Ramadan has brought its challenges for the health workers, who are on the frontline of combating the virus.
Health Minister, Saeed Namaki, said on Wednesday that in the last 18 days, the new infections have reduced by 53%, due to the efforts of health workers. But there is scope to lower the guard. While working round the clock, fasting becomes an arduous task for them.
“It is a lot difficult to fast this year because when I put on this heavy protective gear, it increases thirst for water,” Atieh Shapuori, a nurse at one of the hospitals in Tehran, told Anadolu Agency.
“It is not a great feeling to combat the pandemic in the month of Ramadan, but right now the only thing on my mind is the recovery of patients,” said the nurse who works on long shifts these days.
A few days ago, Ayatollah Khamenei, said avoiding fasting is permissible if there is a reasonable belief that it will cause, aggravate, or prolong an illness.
Bozorgi said that it suggests that those who are on the frontline of this battle – healthcare workers – can skip the fasting and attend to the immediate task at hand – saving the lives of people.
Authorities in Iran are ensuring essential supplies during the month of Ramadan and have been carrying inspections in markets to prevent overcharging or hoarding of supplies.
Most of the shops are open in residential localities in Tehran and other major cities across Iran as part of measures to allow small businesses to resume their work.
Helping poor during Ramadan
A recent study by Iran parliament’s research center, based on Health Ministry’s epidemiological models, warned that the virus can claim nearly 30,000 lives in Iran if just 10% of social distancing plans are adhered to.
Meanwhile, authorities have proposed establishing a center to coordinate efforts to help the poor and needy during the month of Ramadan.
Many organizations have supported this initiative named Imam Hassan Headquarters, which will formulate plans and programs to help the poor.
“Due to COVID-19, many families are facing financial difficulties, and it is our responsibility to extend a helping hand to them,” an official of Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation told Anadolu Agency, wishing anonymity.
Economic experts believe that the coronavirus will have an enormous strain on the global economy and Iran is no exception. It will hugely impact people’s livelihood, especially that of the working class.