Tens of thousands of mosques across Saudi Arabia have reopened for the first time in more than two months, but worshippers have been ordered to follow strict guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus and Islam’s holiest site in Mecca remains closed to the public.
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Throngs waited outside the holy site’s gates before it opened, with many wearing surgical masks. As they were allowed to enter, the faithful stopped to have their temperature checked.
The mosque was one of Jerusalem’s many holy sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Western Wall, that were restricted to worshippers at the height of Israel’s coronavirus outbreak. Throughout that period, worshippers continued to pray in the alleyways outside the mosque.
The Ministry of Islamic Affairs said millions of text messages were sent to people in multiple languages to inform them about the new rules for public prayer, which include keeping two metres apart, wearing face masks at all times and abstaining from greeting one another with handshakes or hugs.
Children under 15 are not allowed inside mosques, while the elderly and those with chronic conditions are being told to pray at home.
People are advised to perform the mandatory ablution at home since washrooms at mosques will be closed, to use hand sanitiser and to bring their own prayer rugs and copies of the Koran.
The restrictions call for mosques to open just 15 minutes before each of the five daily prayers and to close 10 minutes after they conclude. Friday sermons and prayers are to last no longer than 15 minutes.
The new measures come as Saudi Arabia and other countries around the world begin to loosen restrictions and stay-at-home orders following weeks of curfews and lockdowns.
However the Grand Mosque in Mecca, which houses the cube-shaped Kaaba that Muslims around the world pray towards, will remain closed to the public. The city has been under a strict lockdown for several weeks.
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