Islamic Waqf suspends prayer on Temple Mount

Religious council last week banned prayer inside the Al Aqsa Mosque, but closure extended to all grounds outside due to coronavirus health threat.

By World Israel News Staff

The Islamic Waqf Council announced Sunday it is closing the entire area of the Al Aqsa Mosque to prevent to worshipers from praying there “for their own health safety,” Jordan’s Petra News Agency reported.

Prayers at the site on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City will be halted as of Monday as both Jordan and the Palestinian Authority invoked severe restrictions on their populations to block the coronavirus.

The Waqf Council held an emergency meeting to review the latest instructions issued by the health and religious ministries in both Amman and Ramallah, Sheikh Azzam Al-Khatib, director general of the Waqf in Jerusalem, told Petra.

Al-Khatib said although the general public is barred, Waqf workers and guards will continue to maintain the site and pray there while observing health guidelines, ensuring that the daily calls to prayer will continue to be sounded from the loudspeakers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

“We feel bitter by taking this decision, but we took it to preserve the lives and health of citizens and to preserve the human soul in response to legal opinions in the Islamic world,” Al-Khatib said. He urged worshipers to pray in their homes to stay safe and healthy, saying it would help to reinforce and solidarity and devote compassion to overcome the crisis.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism where the ancient Jewish Temples stood. More than 600 years after Romans destroyed the second Temple, Islamic tradition says Muhammad rose to heaven on the same site and they later built the Dome of the Rock to mark the spot along with the nearby Al Aqsa Mosque. The site is hotly contested with numerous clashes over the years.

The Waqf had closed the mosque on March 15, but allowed prayers on the grounds as health measures permitted small groups to pray with the worshipers advised to maintain a 6 foot distance from each other.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced strict new measures Sunday including a daily evening curfew across Palestinian-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria, the WAFA news agency reported.

“People will have to observe a compulsory 14-day quarantine at their homes as of 10:00 pm, March 22, 2020, with the exception of those working in healthcare centers, bakeries, pharmacies and grocery stores,” Shtayyeh said.

On Saturday Jordan took the harshest measures yet with air raid sirens wailing across the country to invoke a 24-hour curfew, banning people from moving except for emergencies and deploying troops.

Part of the peace treaty signed with Israel in 1994 gave Jordan special status as custodian of the Waqf, or Islamic religious trust, which administers Muslim places on the Temple Mount. As a result, the Jordanians hold a majority on the Waqf council. Israel, however, maintains security control over the site. Part of the status quo allows Jews to visit the site in small numbers, but they are forbidden to pray there, a ban enforced by Waqf officials and Israeli security forces.