Masks, personal mats and no ablutions as Saudis reopen mosques

Muslims perform the Al-Fajr prayer amid strict regulations in the Al-Rajhi Mosque in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 31, 2020.
Muslims perform the Al-Fajr prayer amid strict regulations in the Al-Rajhi Mosque in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 31, 2020. REUTERS - AHMED YOSRI

Mask-clad worshippers flocked to Saudi mosques that reopened nationwide – except in the holy city of Mecca – Sunday for the first time in more than two months as the kingdom eased restrictions imposed to combat the Covid-19 outbreak.

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Worshippers kept a minimum of two metres apart in Saudi mosques amid strict regulations requiring use of face masks and personal prayer mats, avoiding handshakes and standing at least two metres apart.

The elderly, children under 15 and people with chronic diseases are not permitted. People must perform the ablution rite, the act of washing the face, arms and legs before prayer, at home.

"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.

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.

But some complained that worshippers 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."

Easing curbs

Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest sites, had shut down mosques nationwide for more than two months to limit the spread of the Covid-19 respiratory disease.

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 marks 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 6:00am and 8:00pm local time until June 20.

With the exception of Mecca, the kingdom is set to lift the lockdown entirely from June 21. 

Phased opening in Mecca

In Mecca, a virus hotspot, the curfew will be lifted between 6am and 3pm until June 20, and thereafter the curfew will be shortened by a further five hours.

Saudi Arabia has reported more than 85,000 coronavirus infections and 503 deaths from Covid-19.

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.

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.

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.

Mecca's Grand Mosque has been almost devoid of worshippers since March, with an eerie emptiness surrounding the sacred Kaaba, the large cube-shaped structure towards which Muslims around the world pray.

But mosque employees and security personnel have been allowed to attend prayers.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

 

 

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