Police have shut down dozens of businesses in Iran for disrespecting fasting rules and issued warnings to many others amid the Iranian New Year (Nowruz) holidays.

A police official in Khuzestan Province said Saturday that fifty-five businesses, were shut down in Ahvaz, the capital of the province, for breaking the rules of fasting.

Colonel Mohammad-Hossein Mohammadvand said 229 businesses were inspected, 55 were shut down and 14 others received warnings that they will be shut down if they do not abide by the rules. Inspection will continue until the end of Ramadhan, he said. Similar inspections are carried out in other cities across the country.

During the fasting month which started March 23, restaurants, cafes and coffee shops, tea houses, ice-cream and juice bars have to remain closed until fasting ends around sunset. In the capital Tehran, this falls at around 18:35 at this time of year.

The rules apply to and are enforced in all public places including gyms, schools, universities and factories where cafeterias are closed throughout the month. Even eating inside cars is not allowed.

The fasting month of Ramadan in the Islamic lunar calendar has coincided with Nowrouz (Nowruz) and its holidays. Authorities have been urging people to report if they witness anyone violates fasting in public or hijab rules, by sending text messages to designated numbers or online.

A government-sponsored billboard in the city of Shiraz urges visitors to the city to report hijab, fasting disrespect to the authorities.

Those taking trips during Ramadan are not required to fast if they travel farther than 45km from home and intend to return at least ten days later, according to Sharia. Restaurants situated inside hotels, on transit roads or airports and train stations can apply for special permits to cater to the needs of travelers but they must completely cover their windows so that patrons eating inside cannot be seen from the outside.

“Serving kebabs and other grilled food is prohibited before iftar,” regulations announced by Tehran police Wednesday said while stressing that the number of permits issued in any given neighborhood or city should be low enough not to blur “the difference between this month and ordinary months”.

The religious establishment and its supporters say people should not eat in public during the fasting month “out of respect for those who fast” but many among the non-fasting citizens believe this is unfair.

“You are fasting, Okay, but why should I not be able to eat?” a tweeter protested. “The [real] reason for keeping restaurants closed is not to allow the huge number of those who don’t fast to be revealed.”

Another tweet protested that food businesses must suffer so that the faith of the religious is not threatened with temptation to eat. “You morons, you are fasting so that you feel and understand what it means [not to be able to eat] to the poor!”

Shiite clerics have even coined a term for the acts of eating, drinking, or smoking in public during the fasting hours, which could very loosely be translated into “showing off in public that one is not fasting”. This ‘crime’ is punishable by ten to sixty days of prison or up to 74 lashes according to article 638 of Iran's Islamic Penal Code.

There are similar rules and cash fines and prison terms for eating in public during Ramadan in most Islamic countries including Qatar, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

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