Holy month of Ramadan began with Islam’s most holy sites in Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem largely empty of worshippers as the coronavirus crisis placed unprecedented restrictions on authorities, a British wire service reported for a rare event in the 1,400-year history of Islam, during the fasting era, the Grand Mosque of Makkah and the Masjid-e-Nabwi (SAW) in Medina-the two holiest sites of the faith-will be closed to the public.
Prayers from inside the Makkah mosque on Ramadan’s first evening on Thursday were restricted to clerics, security staff, and cleaners, in a live television broadcast ceremony.
In Khana Ka’aba and Masjid-e-Nabwi, the masks and gloves were used when offering Jumma prayers. A breathtaking darkness enveloped the holy Ka’aba in the most important indication of how the daytime fasting month will be a dark affair across Islamic nations. King Salman, who is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, regretted the need for social distancing during the holy month in remarks marking the start of Ramadan.
“It pains me to welcome Ramadan’s glorious month under circumstances which prevent us from praying in mosques,” he said, according to the official Saudi Press Agency. “This year it feels no different, we don’t feel any Ramadan vibes,” said Sarah, a Riyadh mother-of-two. An imam called out Ramadan’s first Friday prayers at a near-empty Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem across a windswept plateau that was almost devoid of worshippers.
A handful of priests knelt underneath the pulpit in face masks, keeping several feet apart to follow the restrictions on coronavirus. “We pray God to have mercy on us and on all of mankind, and to save us from this deadly pandemic,” said the imam.
Usually, Ramadan attracts tens of thousands of Muslims to the mosque and adjacent Dome of the Rock daily. Instead worshippers will have to attend television prayers.
Ramadan is traditionally a time of worship as well as socialization, but this year strict lockdowns restrict socializing during iftar meals at dusk when the fast is broken — a Ramadan highlight.
In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim majority country, where national religious groups have called on the faithful to stay home, the steps have put a damper on spirits.