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Coronavirus: Saudi Arabia maintains group prayer suspension for Ramadan

As Covid-19 continues to spread in the kingdom, prayers will continue to take place at home, not in mosques
Worshippers continue to be banned from visiting the holy sites in Mecca and Medina, where mosques were seen empty for the first time in centuries (AFP)

Muslims will only be permitted to pray at home in Saudi Arabia during the upcoming holy month of Ramadan, the Saudi minister of Islamic affairs announced on Monday. This will remain the case until the coronavirus pandemic ends worldwide.

Since 19 March, group prayers at mosques have been suspended in an attempt to contain the outbreak, a measure set to continue according to the minister, Abdul Lateef al-Sheikh.

Sheikh said the daily obligatory prayers observed by Muslims are more important than taraweeh prayers in Ramadan, adding that the instructions to stay home were in line with advice from the health ministry.

“The suspension of performing the five daily prayers at mosques is more important than the suspension of taraweeh prayers. We ask Allah the Almighty to accept taraweeh prayers whether held at mosques, or homes, which we think is better for people’s health,” Sheikh told local media.

Curfew extended

The Saudi authorities on Sunday extended a curfew until further notice due to a surge in new infections. The kingdom was originally placed under a 21-day curfew, from 7pm to 6am.

Last week Saudi Arabia put its capital Riyadh and other big cities under a 24-hour curfew, locking down much of the population.

Saudis coronavirus
Saudis will be barred from congregating to pray at mosques even during the holy month of Ramadan as coronavirus cases rise. (AFP)

Since then, Saudi Arabia has reported more than 300 new cases per day. Residents are only permitted to leave for essential needs and violators face fines and jail time.

The interior ministry has also announced new permits for vital personnel to move around.

Saudi Arabia has recorded 4,934 infections with 65 deaths, the highest among the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, where the total neared 14,100 with 96 deaths.

The Saudi government has warned as many as 200,000 cases could be recorded in the coming weeks.

Riyadh has halted international passenger flights, suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage, and closed most public places. Meanwhile pilgrims intending to visit the kingdom for Hajj have been asked to put their plans on hold.

Ramadan under lockdown

The holy month of Ramadan, which is scheduled to begin on or around 23 April, will look very different this year for Muslims around the world. 

It is obligatory for Muslims to fast every day, abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. 

Ramadan is a very communal festival but this year gatherings will be prohibited worldwide due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Iftar - literally translated as "breaking the fast" - is a highly anticipated meal often shared with extended family, and friends.

Every evening during Ramadan, extended prayers, called taraweeh, take place in mosques around the world. These communal acts of worship are held in the belief that there is greater reward for prayers made in congregation. 

Saudi Grand Mosque prayers 2019

Mosques fill with worshippers during this time: the more popular venues are filled to overflowing, with the faithful following prayers from the courtyard and surrounding streets.

This year many mosques will offer online alternatives, such as video conference platforms or live streaming, as a substitute for the centuries-old tradition. 

On 27 February, Saudi Arabia temporarily suspended travel to the country’s holiest sites amid fears it would encourage spread of the coronavirus, leaving travel agents to scramble around and rearrange bookings. Many pilgrims have simply cancelled their trips. 

Earlier this month, Mecca’s Grand Mosque was emptied and cleaned to safeguard against the spread of the virus.