Iranian cleric: Alms and prayer prevent quakes

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A prominent hard-line cleric has urged Iranians to give alms and pray for forgiveness to prevent earthquakes, media reports said, a week after another prayer leader said promiscuous women were to blame for Iran's seismic instability.

Hours after making the appeal for prayer in a sermon Friday, four small earthquakes struck different corners of Iran.

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told worshippers that only the pious could predict earthquakes with certainty.

"But with prayers, almsgiving and repentance, it can be prevented," Jannati said, according to the Aftab e-Yazd newspaper. Several other newspapers also carried Jannati's comments. The cleric is head of the powerful Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog that vets all parliamentary legislation and election candidates.

A short time after his sermon, tremors jolted four areas of southern and eastern Iran, according to Tehran University's Geophysics Institute. The biggest was a 3.2-magnitude quake in the ancient city of Shoush in southwestern Iran, though there were no casualties.

Iran is located on seismic fault lines and on average experiences at least one small earthquake every day.

A week earlier, another hard-line cleric, Kazem Sedighi, said promiscuous women were to blame for quakes in Iran.

"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes," Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Sedighi, like Jannati, serves as one of Tehran's acting Friday prayer leaders.

Those comments prompted a wave of sarcastic commentary, particularly by women writing on websites such as Facebook and Twitter and became the talk of the town.

Women in the Islamic Republic are required by law to cover from head to toe, but many, especially the young, ignore some of the more strict codes and wear tight coats and scarves pulled back that show much of the hair.

Adding to the quake debate, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently warned that he believes an earthquake is certain to hit Tehran and that at least 5 million of its 12 million inhabitants should relocate.

In 2003, a 6.6-magnitude quake flattened the historic southeastern city of Bam, killing 26,000 people.