On Thursday, Saudi Arabia emptied the Kaaba, the holiest place in Islam, for sterilization amid concerns of the latest coronavirus, an unprecedented state-owned shutdown media said it would last until the Umrah pilgrimage is suspended year-round.
On Wednesday the kingdom stopped the pilgrimage for its own people and residents, in addition to the restrictions declared last week on international pilgrims to avoid the spread of the disease.
State TV relayed pictures of an empty white-tiled area surrounding the Kaaba – a huge black cube inside the Great Mosque of Mecca – normally filled with tens of thousands of pilgrims.
The area will remain closed as long as the umrah suspension lasts, as a “precautionary measure,” but prayers will be permitted inside the mosque, a mosque official cited as saying by a state-run Saudi news agency.
In addition, the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s (PBUH) Mosque in the city of Medina will be closed one hour after the “Isha” prayer at night and reopen one hour before the “Fajr” prayer at dawn to allow cleaning and sterilization, the official added.
A group of cleaners have been seen scrubbing and mopping the tiles around the Kaaba, a building covered in gold-embroidered gold cloth Muslims around the world are praying against.
It’s unclear how e Hajj will affect the coronavirus, due to start late July.
In 2019, about 2.5 million faithful traveled from around the world to Saudi Arabia to engage in the Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam known as Muslim obligations.