Muslims around the world breathe a sigh of relief as Saudi Arabia opens mosques within its borders, including the Masjid-e-Nabavi, one of Islam’s two holiest sites in Medina. Mask-clad worshippers flocked to Saudi mosques that reopened nationwide Sunday, except in the holy city of Mecca, more than two months after congregational prayers were halted under a coronavirus-triggered lockdown.
Complying with stringent social distancing rules, worshippers kept a minimum of two metres apart as many voiced elation over the government decision to allow more than 90,000 mosques across the kingdom to re-open.
Saudi Arabia reopens mosques: stringent SOPs to be followed
They had been instructed to bring their own prayer mats and to perform the cleansing ritual, or ablution, at home, instead of in mosque grounds.
“Worshippers rushed to the home of God to perform their obligatory duty (prayers) after the reopening of mosques,” the ministry of Islamic affairs said on Twitter.
After Saudi Arabia reopened mosques, the ministry posted photos showing mosques and many worshippers wearing face masks and keeping standard minimum distance in between fellow worshippers.
The worshipers performed the Fajr prayer after reopening 90,000 mosques in #SaudiArabia, amid implementing precautionary measures circulated by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. pic.twitter.com/2ubxLbdxnP
— Ministry of Islamic Affairs 🇸🇦 (@Saudi_MoiaEN) May 31, 2020
Hundreds of people headed to Riyadh’s Al-Rajhi mosque, where they had their temperatures checked before entering.
Multiple television screens inside the mosque displayed written instructions, including the need to maintain distance between the worshippers to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Authorities have instructed mosques to avoid crowding and the distribution of food, drinks, incense and miswak twigs used to clean teeth, according to the ministry.
“My feelings are indescribable. We are so happy. Thank God we are back in (His) house,” Abdulrahman, 45, told AFP at Al-Rajhi mosque.
“All the precautionary measures have been put in place here.”
But some took to social media to complain that worshippers in other mosques were not strictly complying with the rules.
“I prayed, praise be to God, in the neighbourhood mosque… and it was a beautiful feeling,” said one Twitter user.
“But I swear to God that some people do not care about anything. No face mask. No rug.”
Saudi Arabia reopens mosques: a path toward lockdown easing
Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, had shut down mosques nationwide for more than two months to limit the spread of the virus.
The kingdom, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus cases in the Gulf, is emerging from a full nationwide curfew imposed during Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marked the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Domestic air traffic also resumed on Sunday, with state media saying around 100 flights were scheduled.
The interior ministry intends to ease restrictions in a phased manner, with the curfew lifted nationwide — except in Mecca — between 6:00 am and 8:00 pm (0300 GMT and 1700 GMT) until June 20.
Complete lifting of lockdown in Saudi Arabia (sans Makkah) from June 21
The kingdom will lift the lockdown entirely from June 21, Mecca aside.
In Mecca, a virus hotspot, the curfew will be lifted between 6:00 am and 3:00 pm until June 20, and thereafter the curfew will be shortened by a further five hours.
In March, it suspended the year-round “umrah” pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
That suspension will remain in place until further notice, the interior ministry said.
Final decision on annual Hajj pilgrimage still awaited
Authorities are yet to announce whether they will proceed with this year’s hajj — scheduled for late July — but they have urged Muslims to temporarily defer preparations for the annual pilgrimage. Hajj, or the greater pilgrimage, is one of Islam’s holiest journeys, with it being contingent at least once on each Muslim having the means to undertake the journey. The Hajj also happens to be one of the most lucrative tourist destinations for Saudi Arabia, which earns the Kingdom as estimated $12 billion in revenue each year.
Last year, some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from around the world to participate in the hajj, which Muslims are obliged to perform at least once during their lifetime. Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam – the others are shahadah (declaration of faith); salat (daily prayer); zakat (giving of alms); sawm (fasting in Ramadan).
Mecca’s Grand Mosque has been almost devoid of worshippers since March, with an eerie emptiness surrounding the sacred Kaaba — the large cube-shaped building which is venerated in Islam as the ‘House of God’ and towards which Muslims around the world pray.
But mosque employees and security personnel have been allowed to attend prayers.
Coronavirus in Saudi Arabia: the story so far
As of today, the number of people infected by the Novel Coronavirus and suffering from the associated disease COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia has crossed 87,000. There have been more than 500 deaths associated with the disease. A statistic to take heart from is the fact that more than 64,000 people suffering from COVID-19 have recovered.
COVID-19 associated lockdowns have caused a slowdown in the international economy, with experts saying that it will shrink by as much as 6% this year. Estimates do not show it recovering before 2022.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk