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Dubai Muslims urged to delay pilgrimage

DUBAI, May 11 – The senior Muslim cleric in the Gulf emirate of Dubai urged the faithful not to travel to the Saudi holy city of Mecca for the time being and to pray in the open air because of the risk of swine flu infection, in advice published on Monday.

In a religious decree or fatwa carried by the Emarat Al-Youm, the emirate’s mufti, Sheikh Abdel Aziz Haddad, said believers should delay any pilgrimage to Mecca "for the next two or three weeks until the situation stabilises."

As well as the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, which all Muslims are required to make once in a lifetime if they have the means, the faithful can also make a lesser pilgrimage to the holy places, known as omra, at any time of the year.

Although no cases of swine flu have been reported in Saudi Arabia or other Gulf countries so far, pilgrims travel to Mecca from around the world, including nations where the A(H1N1) virus has been confirmed.

Sheik Haddad said the faithful should also not pray too close together in Dubai’s mosques or, better still, should pray outside them.

He said the same principle was applicable to churches, cinemas and other public places such as restaurants.

Dubai, a Middle East business and tourism hub, is one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. The UAE authorities have announced a series of measures to control the spread of swine flu, notably careful surveillance of passengers at its airports.

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