People attend the mourning ceremony to commemorate Tasua, the ninth day of the month of Muharram and marking the commemoration of the death of Imam Hussein's brother Abbas ibn Ali in the battle of Karbala, on August 29, 2020 in Tehran, Iran. ( Fatemeh Bahrami - Anadolu Agency )

TEHRAN

Iranians marked the annual Ashura ritual with low-key ceremonies on Sunday, amid a coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Shia Muslims hold mourning processions, which attract large crowds, on the month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar, to mark the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein, who was killed in a battle in the Iraqi city of Karbala in 680 AD.The day is commonly known as Ashura.

All major ceremonies marking the day, however, were canceled this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Iran, one of the first countries in the region to report coronavirus cases in mid-February, has been battling hard to contain its spread.

On Sunday, the health ministry reported 1,754 new cases of the virus and 103 deaths, taking the overall tally to 373,570 cases and 21,462 deaths.

While the new cases and fatalities have seen a downward tilt in the past few days, experts warn that adherence to health guidelines is essential to preclude another wave of the virus.

The health ministry had issued strict guidelines prior to the Ashura ceremonies, specifying health protocols to be followed during the ritual.

In Iran, the Ashura ceremonies are generally organized for the first ten days of the month of Muharram, mostly in prayer halls, which see the participation of large numbers of people.

This year, however, ceremonies were held in open areas, parks, stadiums and roundabouts, with a limited number of participants, required to follow social distancing guidelines.

On Sunday, the usual Ashura buzz was missing on the streets of Tehran, as all large processions were canceled. People, wearing black dresses, took part in small functions in their local areas.

However, a large majority of people stayed home and followed the live broadcast of Ashura ceremonies.

In the cities of Mashhad and Qom, home to two highly revered Shiite shrines, Ashura ceremonies were held in a similarly subdued fashion. Both cities have seen a high number of COVID-19 cases.

“These annual commemorations are an integral part of the Iranian culture, but it was a wise decision to cancel major events this year,” Ali Qaharmani, a local organizer in Tehran, told Anadolu Agency.

“Health and wellbeing of people are more important at the moment because Muharram and Ashura will come again next year.”

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