Iran arrests religious heralds on charges of 'spying for Israel'

The charges the eulogists are facing include "spying for Israel" as well as disrespecting the holy Ashura cermonies.

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September 1, 2019 17:06
2 minute read.
Muslims pray during Friday prayers at the Turkish Kuba Camii mosque.

Muslims pray during Friday prayers at the Turkish Kuba Camii mosque located near a hotel housing refugees in Cologne's district of Kalk, Germany, October 14, 2016. Picture taken October 14, 2016.. (photo credit: WOLFGANG RATTAY / REUTERS)

The Iranian Eulogists Basij Organization (IEBO) - an organization comprised of preachers, eulogists, panegyrists and heads of local religious associations - has claimed that Iranian security forces have arrested "a number of eulogists trained in Israel to dishonor Shi'ite Ashura ceremonies," according to Radio Farda.

Chairman of the organization Yousef Arjouni refused to give any further details on the matter, but confirmed the arrests through his statement. The spokesman for the Iranian Judiciary Committee also confirmed the arrests of two eulogists, and also refused to give any details on the matter.

Muharram, the first month in the Islamic calendar, is one of the four sacred months in the Muslim religion.

On the tenth day of this month, Shi'ite Muslims mourn the death or martyrdom of the third Imam and grandson of the prophet Muhammad, Hussein ibn Ali, at the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD - called the holy day of Ashura in the Shi'ite faith.

During this time, eulogists are very active in their respective communities, retelling the Karbala story and Hussein's sacrifice.

The story is one of the most powerful "ideological tools" used by Iranian religious authorities to justify many of their government policies, according to Radio Farda.

The Iranian regime uses these eulogists or heralds, normally adamant faithfuls of the Shi'ite religion, to suppress dissent and protests, as well as to work towards the discrediting of critics of the Islamic Republic of Iran - through singing at religious gatherings.

The charges the eulogists are facing include "spying for Israel" as well as disrespecting the holy Ashura ceremonies, according to Radio Farda.

Three Iranian eulogists were arrested on similar charges in 2017, under the auspices of spying for Israel, however social media revealed that those arrested were instead associated with a female member of the French Embassy in Tehran.

The IEBO was first established in 2009. The organization has approximately 50,000 members, who train, organize and register other eulogists to work across the country. The preachers normally chant and tell stories about Karbala; up until twenty years ago, most of these ceremonies took place in mosques and special religious centers. These days, however, they hold sermons at private gatherings and homes.

Recently, the songs and stories the eulogists have been sharing with the public praise Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei as opposed to historical "Islamic saints".

The eulogist profession has become a lucrative business for many of these mourning preachers. "Fees can range from as low as 50,000 tomans (£10) for a single day to 1.5-2 million tomans (£300-400) for a two-hour session," according to the Guardian, adding that some of these eulogists have even gained "celebrity status by appearing on national television and performing in ceremonies sponsored by well-known and influential figures in the ruling establishment. Their fees are estimated to be [ten to] fifteen million tomans (£2000-3000) per performance."


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