JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound will be closed to Muslim worshippers throughout the holy fasting month of Ramadan due to the coronavirus epidemic, Muslim clerics at Islam’s third-holiest site said on Thursday.
Ramadan typically draws tens of thousands of Muslims daily to the mosque and the adjoining Dome of the Rock for evening prayers known as Taraweeh. Muslim faithful believe the site to be where the Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven.
The decision to ban Muslim prayer at the 35-acre complex, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and site of the Jewish temples of antiquity, extends a March 23 ban on Muslim prayer there.
In a statement, the Jordan-appointed council that oversees Islamic sites on the sacred compound called the decision “painful” but said it was “in line with legal fatwas (clerical opinions) and medical advice”.
Muslims should “perform prayers in their homes during the month of Ramadan, to preserve their safety,” the council said.
Ramadan will start around April 23.
In one sign of normalcy, the Muslim call to prayer will still take place five times daily at the site during Ramadan, and religious workers will still be allowed entry, the statement added.
Jerusalem has sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and all three religions have taken coronavirus precautions.
Last week, Jews marking Passover in Jerusalem and across Israel were required to stay at home and celebrate only with immediate family.
Typically large Passover prayers at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest place Jews are allowed to pray in the city, were attended by only a handful of worshippers.
At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, what are usually festive, pilgrim-filled Easter ceremonies at the shrine revered as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial have been marked by small groups of clergy, often wearing face masks.
Israel has reported at least 140 deaths and nearly 12,600 cases of coronavirus. There have been two deaths and nearly 300 cases in the Palestinian Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
All mosques in Gaza have been closed since March 25, and since March 14 in the West Bank.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Roleen Tafakji in Jerusalem, Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)