Mecca, Oct 18 (CNA) – The Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia operated at full capacity on Sunday (Oct 17), with worshippers praying shoulder-to-shoulder for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Workers removed floor markings that guide people to social distance in and around the Grand Mosque, which is built around the Kaaba, the black cubic structure towards which Muslims around the world pray.
“This is in line with the decision to ease precautionary measures and to allow pilgrims and visitors to the Grand Mosque at full capacity,” reported the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
Pictures and footage on Sunday morning showed people praying side by side, making straight rows of worshippers that are formations revered in performing Muslim prayers, for the first time since the pandemic took hold last year.
While social distancing measures were lifted, the authorities said that visitors must be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and must continue to wear masks on mosque grounds.
Also, the Kaaba remained cordoned off and out of reach.
Saudi Arabia announced in August that it will begin accepting vaccinated foreigners wanting to make the umrah pilgrimage.
The umrah can be undertaken at any time and usually draws millions from around the globe, as does the annual Haj, which able-bodied Muslims who have the means must perform at least once in their lifetimes.
In July, only around 60,000 inoculated residents were allowed to take part in a vastly scaled down form of the annual Haj.
The COVID-19 pandemic hugely disrupted both Muslim pilgrimages, which are usually key revenue earners for the kingdom that rake in a combined US$12 billion annually.
Hosting the pilgrimages is a matter of prestige for Saudi rulers, for whom the custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites is their most powerful source of political legitimacy.