Saudi Arabia’s mosques have opened their doors to worshippers for the first time in more than two months as the kingdom eased restrictions imposed to combat the novel coronavirus.
“It is great to feel the mercy of God and once again call people for prayers at mosques instead of at their homes,” Abdulmajeed al-Mohaisen, who issues the call to prayer at Al-Rajhi Mosque, one of the largest in the capital Riyadh, told Reuters news agency on Sunday.
Worshippers headed to mosques for dawn prayers amid strict regulations requiring the use of face masks and personal prayer mats, avoiding handshakes and standing at least 2 metres (6.5 feet) apart.
The elderly, children below 15 and people with chronic diseases are not permitted. People must perform the ablution rite, the act of washing the face, arms and legs before prayer, at home.
“My eyes filled with tears when I entered the mosque and when I heard the call to prayer. Thank God for this blessing that we are back to the houses of worship,” Said Maamoun Bashir, a Syrian resident in Riyadh.
“Worshippers rushed to the home of God to perform their obligatory duty (prayers) after the reopening of mosques,” the Ministry of Islamic Affairs said on Twitter.
The ministry posted a video showing a mosque with many worshippers wearing face masks and reaching out for a large bottle of hand sanitiser after prayers.
Authorities have asked mosques to avoid crowding and the distribution of food, drinks, incense and miswak twigs used to clean teeth, according to the ministry.
“My feelings are indescribable. We are so happy. Thank God we are back in [His] house,” Abdulrahman, 45, told AFP news agency at Al-Rajhi Mosque.
“All the precautionary measures have been put in place here.”
But some took to social media to complain that worshippers in other mosques were not strictly complying with the rules.
“I prayed, praise be to God, in the neighbourhood mosque … and it was a beautiful feeling,” said one Twitter user.
“But I swear to God that some people do not care about anything. No face mask. No rug.”
Saudi authorities said earlier this month that restrictions would be lifted in three phases, culminating in a curfew ending on June 21, with the exception of the holy city of Mecca.
The Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages, which attract millions of Muslims from around the world, remain suspended.
The country of some 30 million has reported more than 83,300 infections and 480 deaths from the disease, the highest among the seven Gulf Arab states.