When Iranians hear the phrase "violet oil," the first person who comes to mind is Abbas Tabrizian, who became the butt (pardon the pun) of jokes last year when he prescribed the anal application of this substance to treat Covid-19.
The attention-seeking cleric from Qom false claims to have invented “Islamic medicine” – traditional Shia herbal remedies – and includes in this his own quack treatments for “womb preparation” and “brain debility” that he sells via an online shop.
Now Tabrizian has also decided to proffer his absurd opinion on vaccines. He said on his Telegram channel, which has 210,000 followers: “Do not approach those who are vaccinated, because they have microchips and have undergone genetic mutations and are outside of the human race, acting like controlled robots, losing their genes of faith, morality and decency, and becoming homosexual. They are dangerous creatures.”
Tabrizian claims that modern medicine is a fallacy and that the treatment of diseases must be “derived from the Quran”. To demonstrate his sincerity, in January 2020 he set fire to a copy of Harris’s Principles of Internal Medicine. The video went viral, but the subject was condemned by Iranian officials and Shia authorities alike.
Tabrizian’s claims about coronavirus are not limited to violet oil and vaccines. He has also said men do not need to wear masks, as only women can transmit coronavirus. The cleric also advocates "prayer therapy" and once said at a conference: "Any disease that is not cured by a Quran verse will never be cured."
Tabrizian promotes his medical teachings as the only correct reference for the treatment of many modern diseases, despite having no medical education himself. Many clerics oppose him, and the Special Clerical Court has written to the Ministry of Health and Medical Education ordering the closure of all of Tabrizian’s centers. And yet, he continues to operate unabated.
Tabrizian sells herbal products on his online store, whose website proclaims: "This store is only for the convenience of compatriots to access medicines and other products and is not and will not be for profit." But although his drugs do not have a license from the Ministry of Health, he would appear to be making money by... selling them.
Extreme Even for Iran
Tabrizian’s unscientific and ignorant comments about the Covid-19 vaccine provoked a strong reaction from social media users. One wrote: "Our clergy in the 21st century have an understanding equal to the priests of the 16th century. Alas, the Galileans are too numerous to be tried and burned."
Many individuals and religious groups believe that Tabrizian is undermining the image of Islamic religion and, indeed, so-called “Islamic medicine” with his superstitious positions. Officials at the Ministry of Health are calling for the judiciary to deal with him because they believe his statements endanger public health.
"If he has a child, he probably hasn’t allowed the child to be vaccinated," said Hossein Kermanpour, director general of public relations for the Medical Council of Iran. “But Mr. Tabrizian must have been vaccinated himself as a child. So if he believes what he says, he is the foremost example of an unbelieving, ungodly and immoral man.”
Some have likened Tabrizian’s behavior to that of preachers in the pre-Islamic era. Rasoul Jafarian, director of the Central Library of the University of Tehran, said: "Unfortunately, this person has been trying for years to appropriate popular beliefs among the people to promote his concoctions. To sanctify them he uses narrations that have been criticized many times by scholars. His behavior is approved by no-one in Qom except for a small number of naive supporters.”
Echoes of Homophobia in Other Countries
In the past year, other religious figures elsewhere in the world have similarly blamed the current state of the world on homosexuals – from Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Iraqi Shiites, who claimed the pandemic came about because of the legalisation of same-sex marriage, to Ali Arbas, the head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate, who blamed homosexuality for the spread of the virus.
Recently Daniel Assor, an Israeli Orthodox rabbi with whom Tabrizian strongly agrees, told his followers to refrain from receiving the Covid-19 vaccine as it might make them homosexual. He claims that efforts to vaccinate people are part of a "sinister world government" program that seeks to establish a "new world order."
This fringe view in Israel will not have any impact on the policies of the Israeli government. But in Iran, where former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad still denies the existence of homosexuals and same-sex relationships are criminalized, and where Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif defends these discriminatory laws and the death penalty for homosexuals, the words of people like Tabrizian have an effect on people who believe superstition when it is wrapped up in religious terminology.