The response of Iran, especially by the religious authorities, in handling the Chinese coronavirus crisis in the country has received severe criticism from Iranians. Some blame the country’s Ayatollahs – high-ranking Islamic clerics for not only taking necessary health measures to limit the pandemic but also promoting traditional Islamic medicine, leading to further more deaths.
According to a France 24 report, Qom, one of the holiest cities for Shiite Muslims, is believed to have had the first cluster of coronavirus cases in Iran. The first official coronavirus cases were announced in the city on February 19.
Despite repeated calls by the public officials and medical experts to put the city under quarantine, it was not enforced. The hardline religious leaders of Iran refused to enact safety measures like imposing a lockdown. Shockingly, they resorted to religious ways to fight the crisis, aggravating the spread of Chinese virus that had already ravaged the country.
A video had gone viral on social media in which two clerics were seen disinfecting cars in the streets of Gorgan in northwest Iran. The clerics without wearing any protective gear were seen disinfecting only one side of the cars.
These acts of recklessness are not the only case in Iran. The interference of extremist religious clerics in fighting the coronavirus crisis in Iran is also believed to be one of the main reasons for such a high number of deaths. Islamic clerics in the country have pushed for the use of traditional Islamic medicine in the treatment of patients with COVID-19.
On March 21, a cleric and staunch advocate of ‘Islamic medicine’, Morteza Kohansal, visited the coronavirus section of a hospital in Anzali in Gilan province, in northern Iran. He is a follower of Ayatollah Tabrizian, the so-called ‘father’ of Islamic medicine in Iran.
During his visit to the hospital, Kohansal is said to have applied “Islamic remedy” to some coronavirus patients. He used an unknown liquid that he called “Prophet’s perfume” under the noses of patients. Images and Videos were also published on social media showing Kohansal standing next to the patients and with doctors and nurses wearing protective equipment. However, the Islamic cleric was seen not wearing any protective equipment himself.
Two days later, the health authorities in Gilan province announced the death of Mohsen Sharif, a young man pictured with Morteza Kohansal in the photos and videos.
Even though there is no evidence that the mysterious liquid called “Prophet’s perfume” was used to ‘cure’ the patients, who died to the Chinese virus, but the general prosecutor of Anzali, Rahman Seyedzadeh, had issued an arrest warrant for Morteza Kohansal.
For many years, religious hardliners in Iran have criticised modern medical science, instead, have claimed of ability to cure any illness through Islamic remedies.
The France 24 report says, another Islamic cleric named Ayatollah Hashem Bathaei-Golpaygani, who is a renowned clergyman and politician in Iran and also a member of the country’s Elite Council had announced during a ceremony on February 22 that he had contracted coronavirus. However, later he stated that he had healed himself by using an Islamic remedy. He was later hospitalised in Qom, on March 14, where he died two days later.
Similarly, on February 25, another controversial Iranian-Iraqi Shia cleric Ayatollah Abbas Tabrizian stoked a controversy by posting 13 tips to avoid contracting coronavirus on his Telegram channel. The advice included brushing one’s hair, eating onion and using a piece of cotton soaked in violet flower oil as a suppository before going to sleep.
Ayatollah Abbas Tabrizian had also caused a stir in January when he had publicly burned a copy of “Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine”, which is one of the main resources for modern medical science.
In a quintessential Iranian way, three doctors who had criticised the ayatollah’s actions on social media were each condemned to a suspended sentence of 60 lashes in court for “insults”.
Mohammad Javad Akbarain, a journalist and theologist, explained the source of these “Islamic remedies”. The original recipes for these medicines are ascribed to the Prophet or Shia Imams in some Islamic history books like “Bihar al-Anwar”.
According to Akbaraian, these books reported that the Prophet or Shia Imams cured different illnesses with certain remedies. However, the authenticity of most of these reports is questionable. Religious extremists took these recipes from these books and now present them as Islamic medicine that is capable of curing any illness.
“What we now refer to as “Islamic medicine” has existed for hundreds of years. Before the Islamic Revolution in Iran, some religious people would use these home remedies to cure physical ailments. It was a minor phenomenon,” Akbaraian added.
Akbarnain added that since the Islamic Revolution 40 years ago, the new political regime supported the use of this type of traditional medicine and they channelled money into promoting it.
“That’s what happened in Qom: the authorities blocked suggestions to put the city under quarantine and close the holy shrines in both Qom and the neighbouring city of Mashhad,” the Shia scholar added.
Mohammad Javad Akbarain also explained that there has been political support at the highest order for following practices of Islamic medicine in Iran.
Ayatollah Tabrizian, the father of Islamic medicine in Iran, initially had published a book about Islamic medicine and even began to produce these Islamic remedies. However, at first he was criticised by many Islamic scholars in Qom, who said that his ideas were unfounded, but eventually, he became untouchable after some of the people closest to Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, came out in public support of him.
Iran was one of the first reporters of Chinese coronavirus cases in the world. The Islamic republic seems to have contracted the virus directly from China. The Islamic Republic of Iran has 47,593 cases with deaths crossing 3,000 due to Chinese epidemic COVID-19.
Earlier, Islamic believers were seen licking Shia shrines in Qom with their tongue, declaring that the coronavirus cannot harm them. Qom has been the worst affected Iranian city. Thereafter after fake news and rumours were circulated that alcohol can kill the coronavirus in one’s body, over 300 Iranians had died of methanol poisoning when they had consumed toxic alcohol. Before that, 44 Iranians had died in a similar case of poisoning.