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Growing Faith “God accepts more prayers on Fridays”: Marking God’s Time in Our Muslim and Orthodox Jewish Families
“How do I find the opportunity to celebrate the day as different?”
This is Growing Faith, a column about parenting and faith coauthored by Saadia Faruqi and Shoshana Kordova.
The first column centers on their families’ activities and observances on Friday, the Jewish Sabbath (beginning at sundown) and, for Muslims, a day traditionally dedicated to midday prayers and a sermon at the mosque. Shoshana and Saadia discuss the significance of this day, and contrast their own experiences growing up (Saadia in Pakistan, Shoshana in New Jersey) with how their own children and families observe the day in Texas and Israel, respectively.
Saadia: Friday is the day Muslims visit the mosque for a special sermon and congregational prayers. Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad remind us of the special nature of this day, and make it a cause of reward and celebration. At the mosque, I sometimes hear the words “Jummah Mubarak” (happy Friday) from my more devout friends. Many families I know get together for lunch or afternoon tea to welcome the coming weekend and offer thanks for the week behind them.
Celebrating the specialness of Friday hasn’t always been easy for me. Pakistan suffered through periods of military rule, much of which was highlighted by what we call an Islamization of the nation. This included, among many things, a national holiday on Friday, when businesses and schools would be closed. I remember my father, a banker, grumbling that Friday wasn’t a holiday for the rest of the world, that his bank lost money by not being able to communicate with its counterparts in other countries for an entire day each week. I remember the same conversations taking place on television among financial and economic experts, who believed our nation was being harmed by the Friday holiday. But I was very young at that time, so my memory is only a snippet here and a conversation there.
My grandparents would go to the mosque every Friday. It was their weekly fun, the highlight of their otherwise retired lives. My grandmother wore her fashionable sunglasses and a full burqa, my grandfather wore his seventies-era pantsuit and smartly combed hair. I remember my grandmother coming home after prayers and demanding a tall, cold glass of lassi—iced yogurt—to forget the harsh heat of Karachi afternoons. To this day, lassi reminds me of my grandparents and of those early days of military rule, when for the elders going to the mosque was a respite from everyday inconveniences and a chance to truly be themselves.
Shoshana: Here in Israel, Friday has a quasi-weekend status. It’s the first day of the weekend for the many Israelis who don’t have to work that day, including me and my husband — a day to get things done, as long as you do it before the buses, trains, banks, doctors’ offices, and most of the stores shut down for Shabbat.
Yet Friday in Israel doesn’t quite exude that holiday feeling. The kids have school on Friday mornings, so it’s tough to either sleep in or go on a family outing. And for Shabbat-observant Jews like our family, there’s always so much to do in the house before the Sabbath begins at sundown. Though we might manage a bit of fun (swimming, hiking, biking, or picnicking) on rare summer Fridays, as a parent my Fridays usually center on cleaning, cooking, eating, and sleeping.
While the sun is still out, there’s a lot of rush rush rush and “We don’t have time for that right now, we have to get ready for Shabbat” and “Will you please get into the bath already?” Friday is the day we shrink all seven days of creation — six days of labor, one day of rest—into one. The daytime is for the cleaning and cooking, but come sunset the work ends and the respite (and food consumption) begins. In Jerusalem, where I met my husband, where our first child was born, the wail of the Shabbat siren announces that the texture of time has shifted; that the candles representing the boundary between rushing and resting must be lit.
Saadia: My own parents were not very religious, but sometimes my mother would take us to the mosque for Friday prayers. I remember dozing during the Imam’s sermon, and my mother giving me a lecture on the way back. Now my daughter does the same thing when we attend Friday prayers during summer vacations or other unexpected holidays. I resist the urge to lecture, because I know the experience will stick with her regardless of how much of the sermon she understands.
Those stolen afternoon naps in the back of a mosque somehow stick in my mind even after thirty-odd years: that laziness brought on by a stomach full of lunch; the ceiling fans hypnotizing me with slow circles; the Imam’s chosen topic, which was always boring (or so I thought then). After the prayers, my mother would sometimes take us to the market near the mosque to buy a treat, and it never ceased to amaze me how shopkeepers would be back to business so promptly after offering their prayers.
There is an entire chapter of the Quran titled Jummah, or Friday. The chapter reminds Muslims to stop working for the time of prayer, then continue to work after religious obligations are over. In other words, it reminds us to keep a balance between our worldly interactions and our interactions with God. But for Americans Muslims like myself, Friday is also a working day. I have client meetings in the mornings, my children are at school, and my husband is at work. My kids wear colorful spirit shirts to school instead of their regular uniform, and eat the school pizza at lunch instead of the sandwiches I usually make for them.
Shoshana: Growing up in New Jersey, we knew, of course, that not everyone observed the Sabbath on Friday night and Saturday. Our lives revolved around Orthodox Jewish school, Orthodox Jewish home, Orthodox Jewish synagogue —b ut the bubble wasn’t impermeable. As American Jews, as Orthodox American Jews, we knew our days, our weeks, our months were not quite in sync with everyone else’s.
For us Shabbat was distinct from the rest of the week, a time for work to cease until another candle was lit as Saturday edged into night, as the texture of time shifted again. In the winter, the outside world used to sneak in on Fridays along with the chill. In that world, Friday was a workday like any other, and there were some winter Fridays when my father just barely had time to pull into the driveway before Shabbat began.
The Jewish Sabbath is Saturday, but it starts at sundown on Friday. There are weeks when it starts around four p.m. on the east coast, which hardly seems like evening, but that’s how it is in Judaism. We don’t wait around for the sun to come back the next morning. As soon as it takes its leave, we call it a day, and start the next.
When I was a child, sometimes UPS would come on Shabbat to deliver some item my mother had ordered from one of her catalogs, and we’d have to explain that we couldn’t sign for the package, deploying the words we used with outsiders—not “Shabbat” or “Shabbos,” but “It’s our Sabbath.” Or the phone would ring, startling us mid-bite as my sisters and I left the chicken on our plates, running upstairs to listen to the answering machine and find out who could be trying to reach us on Shabbat, a day we don’t use the phone. “It’s someone from Abba’s work,” we’d call down. Or, “They hung up, maybe it’s a wrong number.”
Later, when the other kids in my college dorm saw me all dressed up on the cusp of the weekend, ready to walk the few blocks to Friday night services and dinner at the converted fire station that was home to the campus Chabad house, they asked if I was rushing a sorority. Maybe “rushing” is a more universal Friday activity than I thought!
Saadia: Making sure Friday is a day of personal significance can still be a major challenge. How do I make sure no appointments are scheduled from noon to two p.m.? How do I remind my children to pray extra because our tradition says God accepts more prayers on Fridays? How do I find the opportunity to celebrate the day as different?
Somehow, though, Friday being just a regular day has sometimes worked in my favor. I tend to appreciate it more because it is a regular working day; because I have to make an effort to make it significant. I’ve found this to be an excellent lesson for my children. In teaching them the value of hard work, the idea of a Sabbath-less religion often comes up. According to Islam, Friday is not a Sabbath in the true sense of the word, but a day to work.
God never told us to take an entire day of rest, I tell my children. He wants us to take time out of our daily lives to worship him, but not to make that an excuse to forget our everyday responsibilities. Men and women take an extra hour off from their jobs to go to the mosque. Many of my friends take their children out of school for prayers, then send them back to finish the rest of the day. It’s difficult, but it can be done.
I remember watching in awe as my more observant friends in college in Karachi wore the traditional shalwar kameez on Fridays because they’d be going to the mosque later on. That these young men and women were willing to give up the in-vogue jeans to wear something we typically rejected as old-fashioned made an impression on me. This was dedication, I thought. This was faith.
My son, too, notices some of his friends taking time off from school to pray. It’s something great to see my children being positively influenced by their peers’ actions rather than my tired lectures. He often asks why we don’t do the same, and isn’t always satisfied with my response that their school is too far from the mosque for us to make that trip back and forth in time for prayers. I remind him that once he gets older, he can pray with other Muslim students in school. Peer pressure will make it difficult, I know, but the dedication to his faith will be the real source of Friday’s reward. Or maybe, like those students in my college in Pakistan, he too will find it easy. Inshallah; God willing.
Shoshana: As the glowing numbers on the oven clock begin to match the numbers on the magnetic calendar on the fridge telling us the times Shabbat begins and ends every week, I make a quick dash to check that the bathroom lights are lit and the bedroom lights are not. Since we don’t turn electricity on and off during Shabbat, that’s how they’ll stay the entire twenty-five hours. I make sure the hot water urn has boiled and is on Shabbat mode, so we’ll be able to drink tea and coffee, and set the timer for the hot plate. “Girls!” I call. “Come light candles now!”
I light a match and glue the two tall, fat white candles into their candleholders in front of the kitchen window, and help my daughters light their tea lights: six candles altogether, one for each member of the family. We wave our arms in front of our eyes three times, cover them, and utter the blessing. “Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who has sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to light Shabbat candles.”
And exhale: Time’s up. Whatever we’ve managed to clean is what will be clean for Shabbat; whatever we’ve managed to cook is what we will eat on Shabbat. I reach down to give my daughters a hug and kiss and say “Shabbat shalom”: May you have a peaceful Sabbath. At least one runs away, squealing, “Don’t kiss me!”