US, WASHINGTON (NEWS OBSERVATORY) — From Mecca to Jerusalem via Iran, the large weekly prayer was canceled or did not attract large crowds on Friday in the main cities of the Middle East due to fears of the spread of the new coronavirus.
In Saudi Arabia, thousands of faithful – and not hundreds of thousands as usual on Friday – converged in Mecca without being able to go to the esplanade surrounding the Kaaba, the holiest place in Islam located in the heart of the Great Mosque, closed “temporarily” to fight against the new coronavirus, a new measure.
“God, I seek refuge in you from calamities and the epidemic,” said the imam of the Great Mosque, Sheikh Abdullah Awad al-Juhani, during his sermon affirming that the measures taken by the Saudi authorities to curb the spread of the coronavirus, of which five cases have been confirmed in the kingdom, “complied with sharia”, Islamic law.
Going to the Great Mosque in Mecca without being able to get close to the Kaaba left a “strange feeling”, said a faithful. “The fact that it’s empty has something scary about it,” said the man, without giving his name.
In Al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam located on the esplanade of the Mosques, in the old city of Jerusalem, a few thousand faithful, many of whom with their faces covered with masks, gathered for this first great prayer since the tightening of anticoravirus measures in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
If the mosque was crowded, the vast esplanade, usually packed on Fridays, was almost deserted, according to an AFP team on site.
“There are fewer people than usual. But going to pray on Friday remains an obligation for us,” said Ammar Jouweilis, a faithful in his thirties.
“It is important to be at Al-Aqsa, but beware of the coronavirus,” he adds.
Given the rain and fears of the spread of the coronavirus, this participation remains “excellent”, welcomed AFP Azzam Al-Khatib, director of the waqf of Jerusalem, the religious authority which administers the Muslim holy places from the old town.
Entry to the site, however, is controlled by Israeli authorities who have prohibited gatherings of more than 5,000 people in the hope of halting the spread of Covid-19, of which 17 cases have been confirmed in Israel.
In the occupied West Bank, where seven cases have been confirmed, the Palestinian Authority has declared a 30-day state of health emergency, including the closure of schools and the banning of access to tourists for at least two weeks to this territory Palestinian.
– Iran, Iraq –
In Iran, one of the countries most affected by the new coronavirus with thousands of confirmed cases and 124 dead according to the latest report from the Ministry of Health, Friday prayers were canceled in all provincial capitals, including the metropolitan area of Tehran.
In the other cities of the first power of the Shiite branch of Islam, the decision to maintain or not the prayer belonged to local committees.
In neighboring Iraq, in the holy Shiite city of Karbala (south), where the mausoleum of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad is located, the big Friday prayer was canceled by the authorities.
The sermon delivered in the name of the great ayatollah Ali Sistani, tutelary figure in Iraq, was therefore not broadcast from the mosque of Karbala for the first time in 17 years.
In the southern Shiite city of Najaf, further south, where the first case of coronavirus in Iraq was discovered, the intense mobilization of the Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr forced the authorities to reopen the mausoleum of the imam Ali, son-in-law of the prophet Mohammed.
Elsewhere in this country, several provinces have banned Friday prayers for fear of contagion, particularly feared in mausoleums where, according to tradition, pilgrims kiss the gates that surround the tombs of imams or rub rosaries or others objects in the hope of withdrawing a blessing.
– Christians and Jews –
In Bethlehem, a Palestinian city located less than ten kilometers from Jerusalem, the authorities closed the Basilica of the Nativity, one of the oldest and most famous churches in the world, because it was erected at the presumed place of birth of Christ.
The Israeli authorities, in coordination with the Palestinian Authority, prevented tourists from entering and leaving the main tourist town in the Palestinian Territories on Friday.
And in Jerusalem, at the foot of the esplanade of the Mosques, called the Temple Mount by the Jews, the authorities restricted access to the Wailing Wall, the most sacred site of Judaism, particularly visited on Saturday, Shabbat day, allowing a maximum of 5,000 people at a time.
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Article is written and prepared by our foreign editors from different countries around the world – material edited and published by News Observatory staff in our US newsroom.