March 5, 2020 11:48 pm

Coronavirus Is Changing The Way Muslims Worship Across The World

Muslims wearing masks pray for coronavirus patients at a mosque in Ahmedabad, India, on January 31, 2020 [Pic: Reuters]

Srinagar - People around the world are avoiding crowded places, cutting back on non-essential travel and taking precautionary measures such as working from home to avoid catching the new coronavirus.

Several countries have also urged their citizens to change the way they greet one another, or celebrate certain festivities.

The coronavirus outbreak has even disrupted worship across many countries.

In the Middle East as Saudi Arabia on Wednesday banned its citizens and other residents of the kingdom from performing the pilgrimage in Mecca, while Iran canceled Friday prayers in major cities.

Palestinian media have reported that the Christian churches of Palestine have decided to close the Church of Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus Christ for two weeks.

Here are some examples of the new measures and advice from Muslim countries, organisations and Islamic sites for worshippers and pilgrims.

Pilgrimage to Mecca stopped

The Saudis on Wednesday expanded a ban on foreigners visiting Mecca and Medina, home to the holiest sites in Islam. That decision alone disrupted travel for thousands of Muslims already headed to the kingdom and potentially affects plans later this year for millions more ahead of the fasting month of Ramazan and the annual hajj pilgrimage.

Even after that announcement on Feb. 27, people already in Saudi Arabia could still travel to Mecca's Grand Mosque. The crowds were far smaller than usual before Wednesday's statement by Interior Ministry.

Millions attend the annual hajj, which this year is set for late July into early August, and many more visit the kingdom’s holy sites year round. Those other pilgrimages are referred to as the umrah, which drew 7.5 million foreigners in 2019 alone.

Umrah, which can be completed in a few hours, is a pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time of year, unlike the much more intensive and time-consuming Hajj - one of the five pillars of Islam performed during a few specific days each year.

It remains unclear how the ban will be enforced. The government described the suspension as temporary, but gave no hint at when it will be lifted.

Authorities have not yet announced any restrictive measures for Hajj; more than 60,000 people have applied to participate in this year's event already.

The decision seeks to limit the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic and prevent its access to the Two Holy Mosques, which are witnessing a permanent and intense flow of human crowds, which makes the issue of securing these crowds of utmost importance," the Saudi government said.

The kingdom has two reported cases of coronavirus.

Access to religious shrines has now been restricted [Getty]

Iran halts Friday prayers 

In Iran, authorities halted Friday prayers in all provincial capitals amid the country's growing coronavirus outbreak, which has killed at least 92 people amid 2,922 confirmed cases. Iran and Italy have the world's highest death tolls outside of China.

"This disease is a widespread one," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told his cabinet, according to a transcript. "It encompasses almost all of our provinces and is, in a sense, a global disease that many countries in the world have become infected with, and we must work together to tackle this problem as quickly as possible."

While observant Muslims can pray at home, the devout prefer to attend Friday prayers as a community. In Iran Friday prayers are an important religio-political event and often top leaders make important announcements during the service.

Rouhani, in his Cabinet meeting, acknowledged the toll the outbreak was taking on the public. He called on state television to offer happier programs to entertain those stuck at home.

I urge all artists, scientists, psychologists and all who can bring smiles to people’s faces, come into the social media, he said. Today, words that make people tired are no longer advantageous.

Friday prayers to last 10 minutes in Dubai

In UAE Muslims are being advised to arrive for Friday prayers well in time as duration of Friday prayers including Khutba on March 6 has been reduced to 10-minute only.

According to Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department (ICAD) in Dubai, the ‘Khutba’--Friday sermon before the prayer will also be shortened and will focus on preventive measures against Coronavirus.

“Khutba and the Friday prayer will be completed within 10-minute,” ICAD said.

Earlier, the UAE’s Sharia Council issued a fatwa prohibiting those infected or suspected of contracting coronavirus from attending congregational prayers including Friday prayer, Eid prayer and being in public places.

Singapore advisory on prayer mats

In Singapore a Muslim leader advised worshippers to use own prayer mats and avoid shaking hands

According to The Straits Times, Masagos Zulkifli, a minister in charge of Muslim affairs in Singapore, advised Muslims to bring their own prayer mats to mosques and refrain from shaking hands with one another.

"In these circumstances, we will not be shaking hands. But if you do, wash your hands, and then make sure you don't touch your face. This is just a precaution for many of us who always forget that," he said.

While it remains logistically difficult to take worshippers' temperatures at mosques, some of which attract thousands of people, Masagos said Muslims should stay at home if they showed any coronavirus symptoms.

There have been more than 100 cases of coronavirus in Singapore, and the majority of patients have recovered.

UK group issues hygiene advice

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), one of the United Kingdom's largest Muslim umbrella organisations, has called on mosques and Islamic schools to "keep your congregations safe", by following the government's advice.

"Much of this advice, and an emphasis on cleanliness and hygiene is in line with Islamic tradition. Abu Malik Al-Ash`ari (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (Peace Be Upon Him) said: 'Purity is half of iman (faith)'," MCB said on its website, referring to a saying of the Prophet Muhammad.

It advised madrassas, or schools, to encourage handwashing and said mosques should have enough soap and hand sanitisers available, especially near ablution areas.

The number of people infected in the UK has risen to 87.

Tajikistan asks Muslims to pray at home

Tajikistan, which so far has no reported cases, has suspended Friday prayers.

The Muslim-majority country of nine million has shut its border to neighbours China and Afghanistan as well as South Korea, Iran and Italy.

It is also cancelling celebrations for Nowruz or the Persian New Year, which is celebrated from March 21 to 25.


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