Thousands of supporters of Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr gathered at a mosque in east Baghdad on Friday for the first weekly prayers since the onset of the COVID -19 pandemic.
Iraq’s mosques have been closed to gatherings for close to six months, but notoriously outspoken Sadr said on Wednesday that he would hold open-air prayers in his stronghold.
In east Baghdad’s Sadr City on Friday, worshippers put on medical masks and gloves and had their temperatures taken before being allowed into the courtyard of the main mosque, where volunteers were spraying disinfectant.
“We urge everyone to abide by social distancing and protect themselves against this virus,” the imam said in the opening to his brief sermon.
Sadr had issued a list of restrictions on Twitter this week, including that worshippers must stand exactly 75 centimeters apart and sermons must last only 15 minutes.
One worshipper, Qassem al-Mayahi, 40, said he was “happy to finally be able to pray on Fridays, as this is one of the five pillars of Islam.”
“We need to figure out how to live” with the virus, he told AFP. “We may as well pray.”
Other prayers at Sadrist mosques were expected in the Shia holy city of Najaf on Friday.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit Iraq hard, with nearly 280,000 confirmed cases and more than 7,800 deaths.
In March, Iraqi authorities shut down airports and imposed total lockdowns to halt the virus’s spread. Top Shia authority Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani halted his weekly sermons, and they have yet to resume.
But rules have generally been relaxed, with most airports reopening in July and curfews now only in place overnight.