In the wake of COVID-19, the Al Aqsa Mosque and adjoining Dome of the Rock have been closed to worshippers since mid-March but reopened in the early hours of Sunday morning to welcome Muslims for dawn prayers.
Nearly 700 Muslims gathered in the early morning darkness on May 31 to once again perform dawn prayers at Islam’s third holiest site. Many kissed the ground and chanted “God is the greatest” upon re-entering the compound, according to media reports.
“After they opened the mosque, I feel like I can breathe again. Thanks be to God,” said an emotional resident of Jerusalem, Umm Hisham, who took part in the first prayers at Al Aqsa since its March 15 closure.
For Jews, the area known as the Temple Mount is its holiest site and includes the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western or “Wailing” Wall. Reuters reports a group of Orthodox Jews were escorted into the compound by Israeli police to pray at the Western Wall later on Sunday morning.
Despite the faithful’s relief and excitement at Al Aqsa’s reopening, the spectre of the novel coronavirus remains, especially after Israel experienced a fresh spike in new cases in recent days. Visitors underwent temperature tests before entering the complex, and had to wear face-masks and use their own personal prayer rugs inside shrines and in outdoor areas to prevent the disease from spreading.
The Council of Islamic Waqf, who deemed the mosque was safe to reopen, does not appear to have imposed any limits on visitation numbers to the 35-acre (14-hectare) compound, whereas Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity is only allowing 50 visitors at a time. Social distancing measures also appeared quite relaxed as worshippers jostled at the gates before the mosque reopened on Sunday morning.