The Saudi government has announced that there will be no iftar gatherings or Aitekaf at the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah during Ramazan, according to a report by the Saudi Gazette.
Head of the Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais said that the presidency would provide worshippers at the Grand Mosque with ready-made meals for iftar — meals at dusk when the fast is broken. The distribution of meals for sehri — meals at dawn before the fasting time starts — would not be allowed at the Prophet's Mosque in Madinah, he added.
Sheikh Sudais announced the measures in an annual meeting held to launch the presidency's plan for this year's Ramazan.
During the meeting, Sheikh Sudais said that the focus during Ramazan would be on stopping the spread of the coronavirus through precautionary measures. These include "taking the vaccine, keeping physical distance and wearing a mask in order to preserve the health and safety of pilgrims and worshippers," the report quoted him as saying.
The presidency is "fully ready" to receive pilgrims and worshippers, he added.
Sharing the details of preparations, Sheikh Sudais said: "The mataf (area for circumambulation around the Holy Kaaba) will be designated only for Umrah pilgrims and there will be five designated areas inside the Grand Mosque and its eastern courtyard for [performing] prayers."
The presidency head said that there would be translators at the Grand Mosque who would convey worshippers' questions to the scholars and translate the fatwas (religious decrees). Sign language interpreters would also be present during the Friday sermons, he added.
Visitors from outside the country will not be able to perform Umrah during Ramazan as Saudi Arabia has suspended international flights till May 17, according to an earlier report by Saudi Gazette.
The country's General Authority of Civil Aviation (Gaca) said that international airports will reopen and international flights will be allowed to resume on May 17 — after Ramazan is over.
Umrah and Haj
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia's Minister of Haj and Umrah had advised those wanting to perform Umrah to get vaccinated beforehand.
"Preventative protocols will continue to be in place, but as a precautionary measure, it is advised that all those who wish to perform the ritual take the Covid-19 vaccine," he was quoted as saying by Al-Arabiya.
Other restrictions that the minister had announced included wearing masks at all times during Umrah, age limits wherein only those between 18 to 50 years would be allowed to perform it and enforcement of social distancing.
Meanwhile, it would be mandatory for people involved in preparations for Haj and Umrah to get vaccinated by the first of Ramazan, according to Al-Arabiya.
Last year, Saudi Arabia had hosted a drastically reduced Haj in late July for the first time in modern history, with a few thousand domestic pilgrims instead of the usual white-clad sea of some three million Muslims.
It had also partially lifted a coronavirus ban on performing Umrah in October 2020 after a seven-month hiatus. Citizens and residents were allowed to start performing Umrah at 30 per cent capacity, or 6,000 pilgrims a day.