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April 28, 2020 12:08 pm

Parking Lot Prayers: Muslims in Jaffa and Jerusalem Improvise for Ramadan

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

Muslim worshipers conduct Ramadan prayers in an empty parking lot in Jaffa, Israel, as mosques are closed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, April 27, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Corinna Kern.

Shortly after sunset, Muslims in the ancient Israeli port city of Jaffa filed quietly into an empty parking lot for Ramadan prayers, after the coronavirus outbreak forced mosques to close in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Muslims typically pack into Jaffa’s Ottoman-era shrines for evening worship during the month-long fasting holiday before pouring out into the old city and taking walks along the Mediterranean promenade.

But with mosques off-limits this year due to the pandemic, worshipers are improvising — gathering in large open spaces and praying outside Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.

Holding prayer rugs and wearing face masks, dozens of Muslims in Jaffa used parking spaces as social-distancing markers on Sunday night as they congregated for Tarawih prayers, held nightly after the faithful break their fast.

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“We want to feel that it is Ramadan, despite the coronavirus pandemic,” said Tarek Ghazi, who heads an Islamic committee in Jaffa that helped organize the parking lot prayers. Its members come from Israel’s 21-percent Arab minority, most of whom are Muslim.

Committee volunteers donned reflective vests and stood along the lot’s perimeter to make sure worshipers kept a safe distance apart, in line with Israeli government orders.

An imam recited verses from the Koran through a loudspeaker as worshipers responded “amen.”

Israel has reported 208 deaths and 15,589 cases of the coronavirus. Palestinian officials have reported two deaths and 342 cases in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In Jerusalem, Muslim faithful have taken to the Old City’s back streets to pray as close as they can to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where a March ban on prayer was extended for the entire month of Ramadan.

In a normal year, thousands of Palestinians and foreign pilgrims would gather inside and around the compound’s holy shrines, built on the site where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven.

“I am powerless due to this disease,” Abu Belal Abu Senanah, an Old City resident, said, as he prayed outside the holy esplanade, also revered by Jews as the site of biblical temples.

Jerusalem and other cities across Israel and the Palestinian territories have sites that are sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and all three religions have taken coronavirus precautions.

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