June 4, 2020 – Saudi Arabia’s mosques opened their doors for worshippers this Sunday 31 May, the first time in nearly two months, as the Kingdom eased restrictions imposed to battle the novel coronavirus.
Mosques in the holy city of Mecca remain closed as part of the Kingdom’s plan for a gradual return to normal life.
Hundreds of thousands of worshippers headed to mosques for the dawn prayers complying with strict new regulations: face masks are mandatory, as is bringing personal prayer mats, avoiding handshakes and standing about 6.5 feet away from each other.
The elderly, children below the age of 15 and people with chronic diseases are not permitted, and people coming to pray must perform the ablution rite – the act of washing face, arms and legs before prayer – at home, prior to arrival.
“It is great to feel the mercy of God and once again call people for prayers at mosques instead of at their homes,” Abdulmajeed al-Mohaisen, who issues the call to prayer at Al-Rajhi Mosque, one of the largest in the capital Riyadh, told Reuters news agency on Sunday.
“My eyes filled with tears when I entered the mosque and when I heard the call to prayer. Thank God for this blessing that we are allowed back to the houses of worship,” said Maamoun Bashir, a Syrian resident in Riyadh.
Sunday also saw the gradual reopening of the Prophet’s Mosque (Al Masjid an-Nabawi) in Medina, with prayers allowed at 40%of the mosque’s capacity.
The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has set a raft of precautions for performing congregational prayers in mosques. They include opening mosques 15 minutes before the Adhan and closing them 10 minutes after the end of the prayer, with the interval between the Adhan and the start of the prayer shortened to 10 minutes; avoiding crowding, and the distribution of food, drinks, incense and miswak twigs (used to clean teeth) no longer allowed. Toilets and ablution places are closed. Likewise, mosque lectures and Quran memorization gatherings remain suspended.
Saudi authorities said earlier in May that restrictions would be lifted in three phases, culminating in a curfew ending on June 21, with the exception of the holy city of Mecca. The Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, which attract millions of Muslims from every part of the world, also remain suspended until further notice..
The country of around 30 million people has reported more than 89,000 infections and 549 deaths from the disease, the highest among the seven Gulf Arab states.