Prayers at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque have been suspended as a precaution against the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Muslim Waqf Council announced yesterday.The rare decision, reached following an emergency meeting, has taken effect from today, Anadolu Agency quoted the council as saying in a statement.
"The Waqf council decided to temporarily suspend the arrival of worshipers through all of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque's gates as of dawn on March 23, 2020, responding affirmatively to the recommendations of religious and medical authorities," adding that the call to prayer from the minarets would continue.
The council also said: "The Waqf council feels bitter about taking this decision, but it was compelled to do so to preserve citizens' lives and health."
The Director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani, confirmed to Reuters that the decision had been made and that the new edict suspends outdoor prayers as well, which usually draws large crowds.
The decision was made after large numbers of Muslims continued to gather at the site, ignoring warnings from health authorities.
It said that only Waqf staff, who oversee Jerusalem's Islamic sites, will be allowed into the compound and will hold prayers there, adding that while it regrets taking this decision, it is doing so to save lives and is based on Islamic religious fatwas.
Muslim faithful believe the site to be where the Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven. Jews revere it as the site of the Jewish temples of antiquity. It is one of the most sensitive venues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to The New York Times, religious leaders at other holy sites in Jerusalem's walled Old City, such as the adjacent Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, have also set precautionary limitations.