Iran has been one of the countries that have suffered the most as a consequence of the Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic. After China, Iran was the country that the COVID-19 hit hard although since then, it has been overtaken by Italy by the sheer number of deaths. The seat of political Shia Islam was already under siege as a consequence of its conflict with the USA and with the onset of the pandemic, Iran has suffered devastating losses.
Ali Sadrzadeh, writing for the Iran Journal, elaborated on the manner in which it would shake the foundations of the republic. He wrote, “Omnipotent and omnipresent: The novel corona virus in Iran has rapidly eliminated everything that makes up the Islamic state: Friday sermons, pilgrimages, visits to mosques, mourning events, Ayatollah seminars and state-organized street parades, religious and political. The Islamic Republic is inconceivable without these symbolic mass events, practically no longer exists, at least not as it presented itself to us for 41 years. The clergymen have also disappeared from the streets. You are either in quarantine at home or in hospital.”
Sadrzadeh also wrote that the city that was hit the hardest by the pandemic is ‘holy city’ of Qom, a city of great historical, political and religious significance to the Iranian Republic. The first response by the administration was denial due to the importance of the city. On the 17th of February, Iranian Civil Defense Chief Gholam Reza Jalali spoke about the ‘God-given immunity’ of the ‘holy city’ and categorically denied of Iran having a single case of the Novel Coronavirus. Only seventy hours later, the Vice Minister of Health declared that two people had succumbed to the virus. Three days later, the number had gone up to 12 deaths and 47 infected.
He wrote further, “The tissue of lies surrounding the shooting down of the Ukrainian passenger plane by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on 8 January lasted only three days. The coronavirus fairy-tale lasted several weeks. The reason: for one thing, there was no pressure from abroad. Secondly, the rulers had two important dates in this period for which they needed organised crowds: 9 February – the anniversary of the revolution – and the parliamentary elections on 21 February.”
Despite being urged to quarantine the city by journalists and doctors, the influential ayatollahs silenced them and consequently, the virus has spread to the rest of the country. According to Sadrzadeh, the SARS-CoV-2 crisis surpasses everything that the country has endured previously. He calls it a turning point in the history of the republic. He says that future generations will read how the actions of the religious leaders of the country first encouraged the spread of the virus and later called it bioterrorism against Iran. More importantly, Sadrzadeh says, “the survivors will recognise the great gulf that has opened up between reason and superstition, and will learn of the loss of confidence that has spread even among believers.” Amidst all of this, Ayatollah Khamanei is safely locked up within the confines of a secret residence. So are the president and the Revolutionary Guards.
Iran has failed in gigantic proportions in controlling the spread of the virus. As of the time of writing this report, Iran had over 21,500 cases and 1,685 deaths. However, no one really believes the statistics and the numbers are believed to be much higher. The religious frenzy has played a critical part in the spread of the epidemic. Even as authorities were urged to close the shrines, Iranians continued visiting them in huge numbers. Even a trend emerged where the devotees started licking the shrines and urging others to visit the places, resolute in their belief that Allah will protect them from the disease. However, that hasn’t been the case.
The religious frenzy that is observed in Iran can also be seen in India where Muslims have continued to defy the government directions against gathering in large numbers in public. While some gather to protest against the CAA and the NRC, most gather for their Friday namaz and other prayers. The same justification can also be seen in India, that Allah will protect them or that they are not afraid to die because they are Muslims. Some say that it is a conspiracy by the ruling Indian dispensation to end the protests against the CAA and NRC.
Such religious bigotry could very well have the same devastating consequences in India as they have in Iran. Unless large public gatherings are prevented, by force if necessary, the cases of the COVID-19 could very well escalate very quickly which could overwhelm our healthcare system.