A number of Iranian clerical leaders have called for the elimination of the ancient fire festival of Chaharshanbeh Souri on the grounds that it is a “superstitious ritual” and could pose great harm to youth.

The Mehr News Agency quoted Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi denouncing Chaharshanbeh Souri, saying: “An intelligent person must not engage in such activities, especially since it can pose much danger. Many youth and youngsters have lost their eyes, faces and other parts of their body in these events. It is best that we eliminate the wrong ceremonies and instead persist in keeping the positive ones.”

Chaharshanbeh Souri, a event observed in Iran for millennia, is celebrated on the night before the last Wednesday of the Iranian year, which begins with Spring. This year, Chaharshanbeh Souri falls on March 13. One of the main activities on this night is building bonfires in smaller neighbourhood alleyways and jumping over them. A special chant calls for fire to burn away all illnesses and deliver health to all.

A spokesman for another senior Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Safi Golpayegani, said: “This clerical leader does not approve of the Chaharshanbeh Souri ceremony and regards it as the reaffirmation of the obsolete rites of the age of ignorance.”

He added that the senior cleric has called on the people to eliminate such “superstitious” activities.

Since the ceremony of Chaharshanbeh Souri is not related to the history of Islam in Iran, the clerical establishment has never been too keen on perpetuating its celebration; however, the ceremony has always held a prominent place in the people’s celebrations of the coming year.

Even Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spoke out against it in 2009, saying it should be avoided because it has no roots in Islamic principles and creates “harm and corruption.”