Egypt closes Al-Sayeda Zeinab Mosque ahead of religious festival over coronavirus fears

Menna Alaa El-Din , Saturday 21 Mar 2020

 Al-Sayeda Zeinab Mosque
Al-Sayeda Zeinab Mosque (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Egypt shut down one of Cairo's central mosques in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the religious endowments ministry said, after a large number of worshippers attended Friday prayers at Al-Sayeda Zeinab Mosque despite religious edicts allowing people to avoid religious gatherings.

The ministry said it has decided to close Al-Sayeda Zeinab Mosque after more devotees flocked on Friday outside of the mosque’s shrine ahead of the final night of the birthday of the granddaughter of the Prophet Mohamed next week, a religious celebration known as Mawlid.

The mosque will remain closed until the resumption of schools, the ministry added.

Egypt reported one death and 29 novel coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing the total cases to 285 and deaths to eight nationwide.

Egypt has upped its preventive measures to combat the spread of the Corona virus, shutting down schools and universities, suspending international flights to and from the country until the end of March. The government reduced temporarily the number of public sector employees working at state institutions.

The decision to close Al-Sayeda Zeinab Mosque came hours after videos and photos circulated on social media showing a large number of Sufi worshippers practising devotional rituals outside the mosque’s shrine, ignoring the preventive measures the government adopted on avoiding large gatherings.

Al-Sayeda Zeinab, the granddaughter of the Prophet Mohamed, who was born to daughter Fatma and cousin Imam Ali Ibn Abi Taleb, is the object of passion of many Muslims around the world, particularly Sufis.

Her neo-Mameluke mosque, which dates back to the Fatimid period and houses her shrine, stands in majesty in a populous square in Cairo and receives hundreds of passionate worshippers every day.

Sufis visit the mosques and shrines of the prophet’s family (ahl al-beit), seeking their blessings, praying, and reciting the Quran.

Health minister Hala Zayed slammed Friday’s gathering, comparing the danger to a gathering in Iran that caused the uncontrollable outbreak in the country.

“What happened in Iran was because of a mawlid. It hit Iran and now the country is detecting thousands it cases. This mawlid has also affected the Gulf and has led to the detection of the first case in Lebanon,” she said.

The health minister said that “if detected cases rise to over 1,000, we won’t be able to track those who were in contact to conduct tests,” she said, affirming the government’s major efforts to keep Corona virus under control.

Last week, Egypt’s top Muslim clerics issued a religious edict allowing people to avoid religious gatherings and to pray at home due to the coronavirus outbreak, but on Friday, many worshippers chose to gather at Cairo’s mosques for the noon prayers.

Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s top religious institution, said earlier this week that it is “permissible” for authorities to halt Friday congregations and mass prayers to limit the spread of the virus, and religious officials have called on the elderly and ill people to stay at home.

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