For the first time in modern history, the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem was closed to Muslim worshipers on the first day of Ramadan, the holy fasting month, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The holy site, which in normal times draws tens of thousands of Muslims for the weekly Friday prayer and the evening prayers of Ramadan, known as Taraweeh, was seen devoid of any worshipers for the first time. Only a handful of Muslim clerics in facemasks, staying several feet apart because of coronavirus restrictions, performed the weekly Friday prayer there.
Two weeks ago, the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf Council announced an unprecedented decision to temporarily ban Muslim worshipers access to Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest house of worship.
The decision taken by the Jordan-run Waqf Council was a “painful” one, according to a statement issued by the council, which is in charge of overseeing the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Muslims should “perform prayers in their homes during the month of Ramadan, to preserve their safety”, the council said.
Muslims believe the site to be where Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven.
Israel, which occupies East Jerusalem where the holy site is located, has nearly 15,000 cases of coronavirus, with 193 deaths. In the occupied Palestine Territories around 350 cases have been confirmed, with two deaths.