Saudi Arabia plans to reopen from Sunday mosques in Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, after they were closed for three months due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, state television reported.
The kingdom has taken restrictive measures against the virus, particularly in Mecca, but the number of new coronavirus cases has notably increased in recent days.
Mosques in Mecca to reopen on Sunday
“The mosques in the holy city will begin to reopen their doors to the faithful on Sunday after three months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic,” the state-run Al-Ekhbariya channel reported, citing a decision by the Islamic affairs ministry.
— Ahram Online (@ahramonline) June 19, 2020
Some 1,500 holy sites are preparing to welcome visitors, the channel reported, showing footage of workers disinfecting floors and carpets.
Outside Mecca, mosques elsewhere in the country reopened at the end of May, but with strict rules imposing social distancing and other measures.
The hardest hit Gulf state, Saudi Arabia has reported over 150,000 virus cases, including nearly 1,200 deaths.
Muslims around the world breathed a sigh of relief as Saudi Arabia opened 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, 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.
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.
Hajj may be cancelled due to coronavirus
The decision comes weeks before the Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
The Hajj is an annual pilgrimage, incumbent upon every Muslim who has the means to undertake it, that usually sees record numbers of people gathered at Islam’s holiest sites. This is a development which threatens the Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia this year for millions of Muslims across the world.
While the Hajj is set to be held in late July, authorities are yet to announce if it will go ahead or be cancelled.
After an easing of precautions in the kingdom in late May, the ministry said that strict measures could also soon return to Riyadh, which was “witnessing a continuous increase during the last days” of critical cases of the pandemic.
The kingdom has said it will continue to suspend the year-round “umrah” pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina over fears of the coronavirus pandemic spreading in Islam’s holiest cities.
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 across the world to take part in the hajj, which all Muslims must perform at least once in their lives if able.
Saudi authorities have presented their recommendations regarding Hajj to King Salman. The recommendation regarding conducting this year’s pilgrimage on a limited scale is under consideration, he said. Saudi authorities are considering allowing 20 percent Pakistani pilgrims to perform the pilgrimage, the minister said.
However, a final decision is yet to made, but the reopening of mosques in Mecca do paint a positive picture.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk
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