When FIFA, the international football association, scheduled a World Cup qualifier between Iran and South Korea for Tuesday, they seem to have done so based on the Gregorian calendar.
That caused a pretty serious conflict of interest for Shiite Muslims: The game comes on the eve of Ashura, the annual mourning holiday when Shia lament the death of Hussein ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Mohammed. Initially, Iranian officials said that organizing the match so close to Ashura would be impossible. But when FIFA officials refused to switch the game’s date, Iran came up with a solution: Fans should still attend, but will wear all black instead of their team’s colors, and will chant “Ya Hussein” instead of cheering for the players.
“If a football match is to take place on the night before Ashura, the spirit has to be one of Ashura and Karbala,” cleric Movahedi-Kermani said ahead of the game. “Everyone has to be covered in black and the crowd should chant Ya Hussein. Instead of clapping hands, everyone has to chant Ya Hussein.”
When the game schedule was published, there was so much concern about what fans should do that it wasn’t only clerics who had to chime in. Iran’s supreme national security council also had to ensure fans that it was acceptable to go forward with the game.
“According to FIFA regulations, if Iran refrains from playing in this game, then it will be barred from two more matches,” lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi said over the weekend. “The supreme national security council concluded that the game can take place, though compatible with the spirit of Ashura and Hussein symbols all over the stadium.”
Many Shia Muslims will wear black for the entire month and on the holiday itself, many will walk through the streets slapping their heads and hitting their chests. In the lead-up to the holiday, Iranian state television broadcasts theatrical renditions of the story of Hussein’s death in order to prompt crying and mourning from those who tune in.
Korean fans don’t seem to have much of a problem with Iran’s solution to the scheduling snafu: They wore wearing black armbands to show solidarity with the 100,000 Iranian fans expected to attend the match.
And the fact Iranian officials let the game happen at all is a bit of a surprise. Iran’s morality police have proven themselves to be particularly strict with the country’s soccer players: In June, goalkeeper Sosha Makani was suspended for six months after he was photographed in a Spongebob Squarepants outfit.
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