Thursday, March 05, 2020
Saudi Arabia on Thursday emptied Islam's holiest site for sterilisation over fears of the new coronavirus, an unprecedented move after the kingdom suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage.
State television relayed stunning images of an empty white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba — a large black cube structure inside Makkah´s Grand Mosque, which is usually packed with tens of thousands of pilgrims.
The move was a "temporary preventive measure" but the upper floors of the Grand Mosque were still open for prayers, a Saudi official told AFP.
He called the measure "unprecedented".
On Wednesday, the kingdom halted the Umrah pilgrimage for its own citizens and residents.
The move came after authorities last week suspended visas for the Umrah and barred citizens from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council from entering Makkha and Madina.
Saudi Arabia on Thursday declared three new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of reported infections to five.
The Umrah, which refers to the Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah that can be undertaken at any time of year, attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe annually.
The decision to suspend the Umrah comes ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan starting in late April, which is a favoured period for pilgrimage.
It is unclear how the coronavirus will affect the Haj, due to start in late July.
Some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world in 2019 to take part in the Haj, which is one of the five pillars of Islam as Muslim obligations are known.
The event is a massive logistical challenge for Saudi authorities, with colossal crowds cramming into relatively small holy sites, making attendees vulnerable to contagion.
Meanwhile, Friday prayers across the United Arab Emirates will be limited to 10 minutes, a notification issued by the Abu Dhabi General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments said on Thursday evening.
The notice has warned the mosque khateebs to not take more than 10 minutes to complete the weekly sermon and the congregational prayers. The topic for the sermon shall be ‘Prevention is better than cure’.
According to Gulf News: “Normally, only [the sermon] is delivered in 15 to 20 minutes in addition to time to offer prayers. At an average, Friday prayers lasts for about half an hour.”
In an earlier notification by UAE’s Sharia Council the elderly, children and those who are ill were asked to refrain from attending the congregation.