The building in the centre of the Great Mosque of Mecca has been shut down and is completely empty of worshippers as Saudi Arabia works to prevent the spread of the deadly COVD-19 virus. Dr Yasir Qadhi, Islamic scholar, posted on Twitter: “Subhan Allah, the Ka’ba is empty, the tawaf has stopped as the authorities clean the Ḥaram because of the coronavirus scare. May Allah protect all of us!”
Others responded in shock on Twitter writing that it was the first time they have ever seen the Kaaba empty.
One said: “I am seeing empty Kaba first time in my life.”
Another simply posted: “Very rare!”.
A Twitter user wrote: “Never had I imagined this in my life.”
The Kaaba is a building at the centre of Islam’s most important mosque, the Great Mosque of Mecca.
Its name means “the cube” in Arabic because it is a cube-shaped stone structure built in the middle of the sacred Mosque.
The decision to close the Kaaba comes after Saudi Arabia blocked foreigners and Saudi citizens from attending pilgrimages at the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
Riyadh reported its first case of the flu-like killer disease on Monday and a second incident on Wednesday, both from nationals who had not disclosed recent visits to Iran, which has reported the most deaths outside China where the virus originated.
A source in the Saudi interior ministry said: “Based on the recommendations of the committee appointed to monitor coronavirus it has been decided to suspend umrah for citizens and residents in the kingdom,” according to state news agency SPA.
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Umrah refers to pilgrimage rites carried out in the holy cities throughout the year, and is separate from the annual week-long haj, which typically draws two million Muslims from around the world. Haj starts this year in late July.
Dr Sami Angawi, a Saudi expert on Mecca and Medina as well as the haj, said the latest restrictions were the most severe in living memory but not unprecedented in 1,400 years of Islamic history.
But he described the move “a wise and courageous decision to protect the heart of the Muslim world”.
Deputy haj minister Abdulfattah Mashat told Al Arabiya TV Saudi nationals and residents can still visit Mecca and Medina and pray there, provided they do not go for the purpose of umrah.
He said: “Mecca is still open to visitors from across the kingdom. The decision suspends only umrah activities.”
Saudi Arabia last week halted umrah visas for foreigners and banned Gulf citizens from visiting the two cities because of the virus.
It also barred tourists from at least 25 countries where the virus has been found, and on Tuesday it limited arrivals of travellers from Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
Pilgrimage is big business for Saudi Arabia and is the backbone of plans to develop tourism under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic reform agenda, which aims to end the oil dependence of the world’s top crude exporter.
Visits by pilgrims accelerate during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, beginning this year in late April.
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