Tawaf comes to a halt at Holy Kaaba
The Saudi authorities have imposed new restrictions on pilgrims for entering the holy sites in Makkah and Madinah.
The security men on Thursday got vacated the Mataf where the pilgrims perform Tawaf (encircling the Holy Ka’aba) during Umrah and Hajj pilgrimages.
The Saudi decision to halt the pilgrims over the fear of ‘coronavirus’ outbreak has shocked millions of Muslims across the world.
The Saudi interior ministry said on Wednesday that the Kindom has suspended year-round Umrah pilgrimage to the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah over growing fears of COVID-19 outbreak.
It was very rare that the Tawaf has come to a standstill, which otherwise goes on without any break except for mandatory prayers.
There were also reports that Bab-e-Jibrael, the main entrance to Riazul Jannah, at Masjid-i-Nabvi in Madinah has also been closed for the pilgrims.
Saudi Arabia is treading a tightrope as it bars Muslim pilgrims from Islam's holiest sites to contain the coronavirus, rolling out restrictions that while essential could prove both expensive and politically perilous.
The kingdom has suspended the "umrah" year-round pilgrimage over fears of the disease spreading to Makkah and Madinah, raising uncertainty over the upcoming Hajj -- a key pillar of Islam.
The pilgrimages, which pack millions of people into relative small religious sites, could be a major source of contagion and the move mirrors a precautionary approach across the Gulf to cancel mass gatherings -- from concerts to sporting events.
But the issue is still a potential powder keg in a volatile region where it risks riling fringe hardliners for whom religion trumps health considerations. And some devout Muslims view the pilgrimages as an important rite of passage, whatever the risks.
Already reeling from slumping oil prices, the kingdom also risks losing billions of dollars it earns annually from religious tourism as it tightens access to the sites.