04/17/2020, 15.30
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COVID-19: authorities close al-Aqsa mosque for Ramadan

During the holy month of fasting and prayer, the faithful will not be able to access the Noble Sanctuary. The council governing Muslim holy places calls on the faithful to "pray at home". Archbishop Marcuzzo notes that Christians, Jews and Muslims "united and determined" in the fight against the novel coronavirus. The emergency has highlighted of the role “of the family and of the domestic Church”.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem will be closed to Muslim worshippers during Ramadan. No one will be able to access the site to pray.

This follows the closure of the city’s businesses and places of worship, including the Holy Sepulchre, during last week’s Easter break in an attempt to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

During the holy month of fasting and prayer, tens of thousands of Muslims come to the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock every day for evening prayers (Tarawih). According to tradition, the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from here.

The Haram esh-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary), known to Jews as the Temple Mount, is the third holiest site in Islam.

Yesterday afternoon the Jordanian-appointed council of clerics that oversees al-Aqsa announced the decision to extend the lockdown, which it had first imposed on 23 March, at the start of the pandemic.

In a statement the Council noted that closing off the area was "painful" but "in line with legal fatwas (clerical opinions) and medical advice”. Given the circumstances, Muslims must therefore "perform prayers in their homes during the month of Ramadan, to preserve their safety". 

During the Easter and Passover celebrations, Christians and Muslims took precautions and implemented restrictions to stem the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even Muslims are ready to respect the directives of the authorities,” said Mgr Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, auxiliary bishop and patriarchal vicar of Jerusalem.

“We are all united and determined,” he noted. “Although Israel and Palestine have not been overwhelmed by the virus, this is perhaps one of the most positive aspects of this emergency situation. But we must remain vigilant.”

The atmosphere “is still festive because we have not had drastic restrictions,” he explained. Still, like Christians "Muslims too will celebrate Ramadan at home, without festivities and Iftar dinners with friends and acquaintances, including some time Christians”.

“This Easter was something special, out of the ordinary" with few participants. "We worked with media, computers, social media”.

Many clergymen did a great job, "tirelessly visiting families, especially those with seniors, and the sick, to bring them communion, make confession, hand out olive branches on Palm Sunday.”

The coronavirus outbreak has made people “more aware about their precariousness and weakness"; however, it also boosted their “inner self” and highlighted the “role played by the family and domestic church as the original centre of the faith at a time of large gatherings”.

Israel has reported so far about 13,000 cases of the novel coronavirus with 148 deaths. The Gaza Strip, where fear of the contagion is high given its devastated healthcare, and the West Bank have reported about 300 cases and two deaths, but the actual figure is very likely higher.

Since 25 March mosques and other places of worship have been closed in Gaza, since 14 March in the West Bank.

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