03/10/2020, 16.51
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Superstitions and plots behind the coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East

For a Saudi intellectual, the virus is the work of Qatar to block Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan. An ultra-Orthodox rabbi sees signs of the "coming of the Messiah" in the epidemic. Others hand out Corona beer to the faithful, asking them to drink and pray. The al-Aqsa mosque compound is disinfected, whilst the Church of the Nativity is closed.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The coronavirus emergency in the Middle East has further highlighted regional tensions amid revived many superstition and messianic theories. At a practical level, Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders are taking steps to change worshippers’ behaviour in order to counter the spread of the epidemic.

For some influential political figures in the region, Covid-19 is a weapon fuelling regional rivalries or attempts to counter the rise of rivals. Noura al-Moteari, Saudi journalist and intellectual, tweeted that the virus and its spread are an attempt by Qatar to undermine Saudi Arabia’s upcoming Expo 2020 and its Vision 2030 plan. His tweet generated thousands of comments, some positive, others negative.

In the Holy Land, Israeli rabbis, Palestinian imams and Christian leaders have been using their influence with the faithful for days, to get them to comply with preventive health instructions set by the authorities.

Giving up receiving the host in the mouth and avoiding public places are but some of the incessantly repeated tips by Christian clerics.

Some rabbis have called for a "magic" formula on a parchment, to act as an amulet; others recommend no longer touching the case containing the mezuzah affixed on the doorstop of Jewish homes.

As a way to exorcise the crisis, someone has suggested drinking Corona Beer whilst praying to God since “drinking a nice glass of alcohol during prayers gives them extra power.”

Online, some videos show rabbis trying to find a theological justification for the epidemic. For some, the virus is "the consequence of non-Jews eating everything". For ultra-orthodox Rabbi Ron Chaya, coronavirus is a clear sign of the "coming of the Messiah".

Jokes aside, tens of thousands of Israelis have been asking some serious social and ethical issues with respect to the quarantine.

Traditional Orthodox Jewish practice requires that men pray in groups of ten in the synagogue, especially during the Purim festival. Given the risks, some rabbis have now authorised the faithful to listen to the prayers on the radio. 

In Jerusalem, Muslim religious leaders ordered the al-Aqsa Mosque compound to be disinfected. The highest Muslim authority in Jerusalem, Grand Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, said on the radio that health is “more important than religious practice,” and that “protecting oneself is one of the foundations of Islam.”

In Bethlehem, West Bank, all churches and mosques are under lockdown after 20 people tested positive to the coronavirus, the only cases reported in the Palestinian territories.

In light of the situation, the Palestinian Authority has declared a 30-day state of emergency, banned tourists for two weeks, and closed the Church of the Nativity.

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