On Thursday Saudi Arabia emptied Islam’s holiest site Masjid Al Haram for sterilisation over fears of the new coronavirus, an unprecedented move after the kingdom suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage.
State television relayed stunning images of an empty white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba at the centre of the structure inside Makkah’s Grand Mosque, which is usually packed with thousands of pilgrims from every corner of the world.
The images sent shockwaves around the world as Muslims were stunned by the images and videos circulating on social media.
The move came after authorities last week suspended visas for the Umrah and barred citizens from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council from entering Makkah and Madina.
The Saudi’s have been rocked by the rise of the coronavirus infections in the Middle East. Earlier in the week the UAE announced it was shutting all schools for one month in order to contain the further spreading of the virus.
On Wednesday Saudi authorities also halted the Umrah pilgrimage for its own citizens and residents.
These moves came swiftly after Saudi Arabia declared three new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of reported infections to five.
So far the preventative measures include the temporary closure of an area surrounding the Kaaba, where worshippers undertake a ritual walk, and between the hills of Safa and Marwah, where they perform a ritual called Sa’ee.
The Sacred Chamber in the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, which houses the graves of Prophet Muhammad and his two companions, will also be closed to worshippers.
Precautionary measures included ensuring that food and drinks are not brought inside the Grand Mosque, as well as closing the Zamzam water dispensers and preventing sleeping at the mosque.
What to do if you’re in Saudi
The Kingdom announced a raft of measures to protect worshippers from being infected with the virus. These include closure of the Two Holy Mosques an hour after the Isha prayer and re-opening an hour before the Fajr prayer.
Saudi health authorities have urged all those who have traveled to places affected by the virus to call 937 in order to ensure their health and the health of their families. An early disclosure of content with infected people will help to contain the virus, they said.
Saudi tourism chiefs also put a temporary halt on the issue of visas to visitors from countries worst hit by the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
The Ministry of Tourism announced that for the time being the Kingdom would no longer be approving passes for travelers from China, Italy, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Kazakhstan.
An unprecedented move to close the Grand Mosque
A Saudi official called the measure “unprecedented” and “temporary preventive measure” However, went on to say that the upper floors of the Grand Mosque were still open for prayers.
With the holy month of Ramadhan approaching the Saudi authorities are vying to contain the virus. Globally, Muslim’s are concerned how they will perform Umrah not just in Ramadhan but leading up to the holy month as well.
Will Hajj 2020 be affected?
It is unclear how the coronavirus will affect the Haj, due to start in late July.
Some 2.5 million faithful travelled to Saudi Arabia from across the world in 2019 to take part in the Haj, which is one of the five pillars of Islam as Muslim obligations are known.
The event is a massive logistical challenge for Saudi authorities, with colossal crowds cramming into relatively small holy sites, making attendees vulnerable to contagion.
Friday ‘Jumma Prayers’ resume at the Masjid Al Haram
Muslims performed Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah for the first time since restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus were announced by Saudi Arabia.
During the Friday sermon at the Grand Mosque, Sheikh Abdullah Awad Al-Juhani said that the emergency procedures being taken by the authorities to prevent the spread of the virus were in accordance with Shariah law.
The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosque confirmed that following the ban on Umrah, visitors entered the Grand Mosque smoothly through 76 doors, unlike the usual Fridays when 80 doors are used.
The director of the Grand Mosque’s gates department, Fahd Al-Juaid, said that in cooperation with security agencies, visitors who came to the mosque to perform Friday prayer entered and exited the squares smoothly.
The World Health Organization noted that the Kingdom’s moves would enable Saudi Arabia to implement sustainable measures to control the virus and protect crowds during this important season.