03/21/2020, 08.00
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Coronavirus: mosques close and prayers go ahead without faithful

Friday communal prayers have been cancelled in many Mideast countries. The courtyard around the Kaaba in Makkah is empty. Istanbul’s Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, and Casablanca’s Hassan II Mosque are closed. Some however have braved the epidemic, filling mosques in Karachi.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The coronavirus outbreak has forced Muslim religious authorities in much of the Middle East to suspend communal Muslim prayers to stop the novel coronavirus from further spreading across the region.

This is the first time in living memory that such a thorough cancellation takes place, sign of the seriousness of the situation in a region not yet fully feeling the impact of the pandemic, the one exception being Iran.

Some people did meet to pray, violating the restrictions imposed by the authorities, but the usually crowded courtyard around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest place in Makkah, was empty and silent.

At Riyadh’s massive al-Rajhi mosque, only the muezzin who makes the call to prayer, and other staff were praying inside instead of the thousands who normally attend.

“This feeling is indescribable ... the minarets are crying. The mosques were once full of worshippers,” said, tearful, muezzin Nasser Mohammed.

Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock and Casablanca’s Hassan II Mosque all shut their doors for the first time.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus in the Middle East has prompted many governments to suspend communal prayers and put seals on places of worship to avoid dangerous gatherings. For the faithful, the only option was to pray at home, at work, in parks or in streets.

Some mosques broadcast an altered version of the call to prayer, exhorting the faithful to stay at home.

In Jerusalem, where the Dome of the Rock and the neighbouring al-Aqsa were shut, clerics allowed prayer in the sacred compound that contains the two mosques. Some worshippers scuffled with Israeli police, who tried to limit the numbers.

In war-torn Syria, the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus closed for the first recorded time in over a thousand years, something that not even the war was able to do.

But the shutdown was not generalised across the Muslim world. Muslims from Cairo to Mogadishu via Karachi flocked to mosques, braving virus and bans.

In Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, mosques were crowded as a cleric told his congregation via loudspeaker: “We are not too weak to let this one virus empty our mosques.”

In Cairo, where mosques stayed open, religious authorities urged imams to shorten sermons and prayers and told the faithful to perform their ritual ablutions at home.

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