A rally of Muslim pilgrims that is drawing thousands of people to Indonesia has been stopped amid fears that it could help spread the new coronavirus, an official said.

For days, authorities had been trying to persuade Ijtima Asia, part of the global Tablighi Jama'at movement of evangelical Muslims, to halt the event at Gowa near the city of Makassar in South Sulawesi province after a similar event in Malaysia led to hundreds of infections. "Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), Ijtima finally agreed to postpone/cancel," the head of Gowa regency, Adnan Purichta Ichsan, posted on social media late on Wednesday.

Indonesia Muslim rally cancelled

Coronavirus
Workers make face masks in the workshop of a textile company in Jimo District of Qingdao, east China's Shandong Province, Feb. 12, 2020. Qingdao Municipal Bureau of Industry and Information Technology has mobilized two large textile companies to produce face masks to help the fight against the novel coronavirus epidemic. With the help and coordination of local authorities, the companies have retrofitted their production equipment and modified the assembly lines to produce face masks. It's expected that an average of 60,000 face masks could be produced per day in the first phase of production. (Photo by Liang Xiaopeng/Xinhua/IANS) Xinhua/IANS

He added that the pilgrims already there would be isolated while they make arrangements to leave Gowa. More than 8,500 people from across Indonesia, Asia and the Middle East had converged on the town. Reuters was unable to reach organisers for comment.

The proselytising Tablighi Jama'at movement behind the gathering in Indonesia hosted an event in Malaysia from February 27 to March 1 that drew 16,000 followers and led to more than 500 coronavirus infections. Photos and videos of the Indonesian gathering posted on social media showed huge crowds of men sitting tightly together in a huge tent.

"We are more afraid of God," one of the organisers, Mustari Bahranuddin, told Reuters on Wednesday, when asked about the risk of participants spreading the virus at the event in Gowa. "Because everyone's human, we fear illnesses, death," he said. "But there's something more to the body, which is our soul."