Moqtada al-Sadr’s followers blasted for congregating amid coronavirus outbreak
Followers of top Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are being criticized days after congregating in their hundreds inside a mosque and chanting “coronavirus has terrified” others despite government measures imposed to stop the spread of the outbreak.
“From east to west, coronavirus has terrified you. Seek refuge to Allah in every path, for there is no one capable but him. This is how we were taught by: al-Sadr,” a man wearing a military camouflage shirt in one video chants in front of Sadr’s followers inside the mosque.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi Shiites turned out to commemorate a revered imam on Saturday, defying curfews imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
In Baghdad’s Sadr City, a massive Friday prayer went ahead with supporters of al-Sadr insisting that praying and visiting religious shrines is an “effective medicine to counter the coronavirus.”
Watch: Hundreds of Shia Iraqis are still congregating in ceremonial religious mourning sessions despite a ban on public gatherings to stem the spread of the #COVID_19 pandemic, videos posted by popular reciters’ on social media show.#Coronavirus #Iraqhttps://t.co/Jb6FLugoUa pic.twitter.com/jOigBDo1AP— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) March 21, 2020
At the time, influential cleric al-Sadr urged his followers to take part in the pilgrimage to the Imam Al-Kadhim mosque despite federal authorities urging against the event taking place.
“Moqtada al-Sader followers continue to think coronavirus is a man who they can take on and beat by defying medical advice,” tweeted Steven Nabil, a correspondent with Al Hurra news channel.
Since the events on Saturday, the Iraqi Ministry of Health requested all participants who took part in the pilgrimage visiting the Imam Al-Kadhim to quarantine themselves voluntarily in their homes for two weeks to ensure that there were no infections among them with the coronavirus.
Over the weekend, videos posted on popular reciters’ social media pages show thousands of Shia Iraqis still congregating in ceremonial religious mourning sessions despite measures taken by the government to suspend schools, universities, and gatherings in public spaces to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Hussein is miraculous; his love is the greatest prize. Don’t come to this Aza (mourning), he who fears corona,” sang one popular reciter during a ceremony in Baghdad on March 15.
Abbas Kadhim, a senior fellow and Iraq initiative director at the Atlantic Council, said one thing to look out for in Iraq more than any other pressing issue in the coming weeks is the government’s willingness to tackle the public spaces amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“Iraqis are converging in Baghdad right now by the hundreds of thousands to commemorate a religious pilgrimage that will jam hundreds of thousands of people in a very small area in crowded places,” Kadhim said last Friday during a panel discussion on US-Iran tensions ratcheting up in Iraq.
Al Arabiya’s Arfad al-Janabi contributed to this report.