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THE ORIGIN AND NATURE OF THE MUSLIM FRIDAY WORSHIP
The idea of a weekly day of rest is taken for granted by modern man. It appears to him so natural that he is hardly aware of the fact that it was largely founded on essentially religious, rather than rational, conceptions; that it took hundreds of years of severe, sometimes abstruse, practices to put it into effect even within the Jewish community, in which it originated; and that this legacy of Judaism in Christianity was adopted by the major part of world-humanity only in the wake of modern social legislation.
Likewise, it is not always realized that Friday, the Muslim weekly holy day, is essentially different from the Jewish Sabbath or the Christian Sunday. It is not at all a day of rest, but one of obligatory public worship, held at noon, the most characteristic part of which is a sermon consisting of two sections.1
Therefore, inquiring into the origin and nature of the Muslim Friday worship, it would not be correct to assume that the founder of Islam merely followed the example of the other religions, although it was certainly natural for him and his successors to do so with regard to certain aspects of the holiday. Thus an ancient tradition has the Muslims say: "The Jews have every seventh day a day, when they get together (for prayer), and so do the Christians; therefore, let us do the same."2
As might be expected, there exists no authentic and complete account of the establishment of this most important institution of Islam in the ancient sources. The only passage of the Qur'an, which refers to it (see below), supposes it to be already in existence. On the other hand, the various reports about its beginnings by Muhammad's Muslim biographers, such as Ibn Sa'd and Ibn Hisham, or found in the compilations of Hadith (the oral tradition), are only too patently tendentious.3
Nevertheless, a number of facts about the origin of the Friday service emerge clearly from those accounts: (1) There was no Friday service in Mecca, the 'caravan city,' in which Muhammad began his prophetic career. Al-Tabari, in his Annals, part i, p. 1256, I. 20, says so expressly, while all the other sources confirm this fact by implication.4 (2) Public worship was held by the new Muslims, at their own initiative, in Medina even before Muhammad arrived there in 622 and made it his permanent domicile, but it was Muhammad who ordered that it should be held regularly on Friday. (3) Some sort of address (rather than: sermon) used to be made at that gathering, although the ancient sources do not contain any reliable information as to the regularity and contents of those speeches.5 (4) The ancient accounts on the establishment of the Muslim weekly holiday indicate only one connection between it and that of the preceding religions: the instruction given by Muhammad to his representative in Medina to hold the public service on the day when the Jews bought their provisions for their Sabbath.6
The key to the understanding of the question which occupies us is the right interpretation of the reference to the Jewish Sabbath made in Muhammad's instruction. The authors mentioned above, notes 2-3, Wensinck, Becker, Buhl and Watt, see in it a general dependence of the Prophet on the Jewish example. Others, like the Nestor of the French orientalists, in his new book on Muhammad, explain it as just another indication of his endeavors to win the Jews over, and assume that Muhammad intended originally to hold the weekly worship on Saturday itself.7 Contrariwise, some regard the choice of Friday as a deliberate act of opposition to the older religions.8
However, unbiased reading of the passage under discussion9 shows that it betrays neither a polemical tendency against the Jews nor dependence on them. The day was chosen for the simple reason that on it "the Jews bought their provisions for their Sabbath," i.e., it was the weekly market-day of the oasis of Medina; everybody was present, and it was, thus, a natural occasion for bringing people together for the purpose of prayer and admonition.
That Friday was the weekly Jewish market-day everywhere, except in big cities, is known from Talmudic sources.10 It is indeed natural that people should do their marketing on the eve of the weekly holiday. A striking parallel to this phenomenon is the present-day Muslim Thursday market in that part of Arabia, which is least touched by foreign influences: the borderland between Hijaz and Yemen. Of that country, we possess now a detailed description in H. St. J. B. Philby's masterly Arabian Highlands, (Cornell University Press 1952), in which one may count no less than six such Thursday markets.11
In one district, the famous Najran oasis, they have two weekly market-days, one on Monday and the other on Thursday. However, the latter, Philby, (l.c. 274), says 'was always more lively ... because it was the custom here as elsewhere for families to have their weekend joints on Friday (the Muslim holy day and holiday) and the Thursday market provided excellent opportunities of laying in the necessary stores and also of collecting guests, if desired. At any rate, it seemed on this Thursday as if the whole population of Najran must be gathered here in the enormous space over which the multifarious activities of the market were spread."
The Jewish Friday market possibly had behind it a longer history. For it is reported12 that Friday was the weekly market-day in the great Phoenician mercantile center of Sidon. In any case, it lies in the very nature of a day of eve that no special religious service was connected with it. There were, however, in antiquity other Jewish market-days which were used for public prayer and scripture readings, and which form, thus, a telling illustration and parallel of Muhammad's creation. In the big, fortified cities, markets were held on Mondays and Thursdays; people from all over the country streamed into the cities for buying and selling, as well as for any other business restricted to the provincial or district capital, such as visiting government offices. Therefore, the Jewish courts of law used to meet on Mondays and Thursdays — a custom observed in the East down to almost the end of the Middle Ages, which is proved by many legal deeds and court records preserved in the Cairo Geniza and made out on those days of the week.13
The Jewish legislator seized this opportunity for taking hold of the population of the open country and of providing it with religious education. Public services, in which a portion of the scripture was read, were held on Mondays and Thursdays, and these days were also recommended for - of course, non-obligatory - fasting.14 Many hundreds of years after these days had ceased to be market-days, they retained their religious character as days of public readings from the Pentateuch and of facultative fasting, and, in the East, as we have seen, also of the meeting of the rabbinical courts.
It is significant - although it may be a mere coincidence — that in the oasis of Najran, where Jews had been living from ancient times up till 1949, when they emigrated to Israel — the weekly markets were being held on Monday and Thursday (see above p. 4.). It is even more interesting, from the sociological point of view, that judgments were being given there on these days. Let's hear Philby again: Market-days were always busy occasions for the Amir, who sat all the morning in public audience as a court of summary jurisdiction to hear the plaints and claims of anybody who cared to avail himself of such facilities.15
Philby's descriptions of the market-days in Najran serve, thus, as a vivid illustration of the Jewish market-days of old, as they were held in the capitals of districts or provinces. These days are a striking example of originally secular gatherings which began to be used, in time, for worship and instruction and, finally, became a purely religious institution. As such — it may be mentioned in passing — they were adopted by Islam, where Monday and Thursday were recommended as days for supererogatory fasting and on which pious or bigot rulers, such as the famous Saladin or the Mamluk Sultan al-Malik al-Nasir, held public courts of justice in person.
If, as we have concluded from Ibn Sa'd's account, Friday was chosen by Muhammad as the weekly day of worship, because it was the market-day of the oasis of Medina, one may ask, why does not the account say so expressly and, instead, speaks of the day on which the Jews buy their provisions for the Sabbath? This brings us to a topic treated at length by the Muslim antiquarians and often referred to in modern books on Arab literature and history: the pre-Islamic fairs and markets of the Arabs. Lately, Robert Brunschvig has dealt with it in the broader context of the history of the Islamic fairs in general.16
Our sources are full of accounts of yearly fairs taking place around sanctuaries and during holy months, in which no blood was shed and which alone safeguarded the peaceful intercourse of the Arab tribes, normally at loggerheads with each other. On the other hand, weekly market-days were not a practical proposition for the majority of the population of North Arabia, which consisted either of bedouin or of merchants. The distances were too great and the products handled not of the perishable type of small consumer goods. It was, therefore, quite natural for Muhammad, the son of the merchants' city of Mecca, not to use the word suq, which carried the connotation of the great yearly fairs, for the Friday market of Medina, a conglomerate of agricultural settlements, but to circumscribe it clummsily as the day when the Jews bought their provisions for their Sabbath. One has also to bear in mind that, in those times, the suq of the Jewish "tribe" of the Banu Qainuqa' served as the market for the whole oasis of Medina, (cf. J. Wellhausen, Medina vor dem Islam, Berlin 1889, p. 10, note 4.)
There are, indeed, other indications of the fact that Arabs of pre-Islamic times held markets in connection with Jewish settlements. The Kitab al-Aghani says so expressly with regard to Al-Ablaq, the famous castle of Al-Samaw'al,17 the Jewish lord of the ancient oasis of Taima, northeast of Medina. Even more significant is the fact that the Arabs took over the Aramaic word for Friday: 'arubah18 which means: Eve (of Saturday), certainly because it played some role in their life; for, otherwise, the Arabs had no week before Islam; the passing of the weeks was indicated to them by their Christian and Jewish neighbors. 'Arubah, was to them a market-day, as may be gathered from a verse, preserved in Al-Shafi'i's Kitab al-Umm:19 "May my soul be a ransom for men who heaped,20 on the day of 'Arubah, provisions on provisions."
It is highly probable that in Medina, and perhaps also elsewhere, the Friday market bore, in addition to its foreign name: 'Arubah, another, Arabic designation: none other than Yaun al-Jum'ah, the Day of the Assembly or the Gathering.
There exist, indeed, various accounts of ancient Muslim scholars to the effect that this expression was known before Islam. Ya'qubi, in his Historiae, (ed. Houtsma, Leiden 1883, p. 272,) says of Ka'b ibn Lu'ayy, one of the ancestors of Quraish, the inhabitants of Mecca, that he was the first to call Friday by that name, because he used to assemble his people on that day and to address them on the vanity and futility of human life.21 In the Taj al-'Arus, we read22 that the first to call Friday by that name were the Medinans, because they held on that day public worship, before Muhammad emigrated to their town.
Needless to say, these accounts of the ancient Muslim scholars do not represent a living tradition, but are mere learned conjectures. They are quoted here only to show that it was by no means strange for learned Muslims to assume that the name Yaum al-Jum'ah, Day of Assembly, was in use before Muhammad.
There exist, indeed, good reasons to believe that this assumption is true — however with the important modification that the name originally did not denote a day of common worship, but the market-day, when the people all over the oasis of Medina and its environment came together to one place. For Yaum al-Jum'ah is nothing but the Arabic equivalent of Hebrew Yom hak-kenisa, "The Day of the Assembly," which was the name of the two weekly market-days, Monday and Thursday, described above.23 After the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt (135 AD.), these gatherings in the provincial capitals fell into disuse24 and there remained only one "Day of Assembly," the eve of Sabbath. It is highly probable that the Jews of Medina themselves used the Arabic, and not the Hebrew (or Aramaic), form of the term.
The explanation of the original meaning of Yaum al-Jum'ah, suggested here, is supported by the very wording of the only passage in the Qur'an, where it occurs. We turn now to the discussion of these often-quoted verses (Surah lxii.9-11):
(9) O true believers, when you are called to prayer on the day of the assembly, hasten to the commemoration of God and cease trading. This is better for you, if you have understanding.
(10) Only when prayer is ended, scatter in the country and ask for the bounty of God: commemorate God frequently, so that you may prosper.
(11) However, when they see any business or amusement, they flock there and leave you25 standing. Say: that which is with God is better than amusement and business; and God is the best supplier.
It is evident that if the term jum'ah had been coined originally for denoting a gathering for worship,26 the wording of verse 9 would have to be quite different; not "when you are called to prayer on the day of the assembly," but "to the prayer of the Assembly." Therefore, yaun al-Jum'ah means here nothing but Friday, the day when people gather for the market. It is highly significant that the Qur'an text of the famous Ibn Ubayy did not read yaum al-jum'ah at all, but yaum al-'arubah al kubra, "the day of the great 'Arubah, i.e., the common pre-Islamic name for Friday.27
Furthermore, the whole tenor of the passage quoted clearly indicates that it was said against the background of a market-day. The people of Medina were mainly farmers; buying and selling were not their normal occupations. Therefore, if Muhammad simply intended to say: "Leave your work and come to prayer," he had to talk about going to the mosque from the fields, rather than about leaving business. Likewise, the double reference to lahw, "amusement," suggests the market-day. All over the world, fairs and markets are accompanied by popular entertainments provided by professionals. We know this with regard to the great yearly fairs in pre-Islamic Arabia, as well as for the weekly market-days in Yemen today, and the situation certainly was not different in Medina.
The connection of the Muslim Friday service with the weekly market-day of Medina is brought out by a feature of it which has puzzled both ancient and modern observers: the fact that it is held at noon,28 a most impracticable time in the hot climate of Arabia and, indeed, the climate of most Muslim countries. No wonder that already the ancient books of Muslim law are full of details about the faithful who fall asleep during the sermon29 or even faint at the service. The reason for this inconvenient arrangement is to be found in the circumstances accompanying the creation of the Muslim weekly day of worship. The market in Arabia breaks up soon after noon, so that everybody attending it is able to reach his home before nightfall.30 To hold the public worship early in the morning was out of the question, for at that time everybody was eager to do business, as the proverb has it: "Whe the dust (from the way to the market) is still on your feet, sell your merchandise."31 Neither was it feasible to do so when the suq was "standing," as the Arabs say, i.e., when it was in full force. Therefore, the proper time for the public was at noon, shortly before people dispersed for gaining their homes, and thus it remained until the present day.
There are other characteristics of the Muslim Friday service which may have had their origin in its relation to the Medinan market-day. The preacher delivers the sermon from a Minbar (originally a platform or, rather, a chair, not a pulpit), while carrying in his hand a rod or a sword, or a lance. C. H. Becker has shown how probable it was that these were originally the insignia of the judge.32 Now, as we have seen above, the courts of justice or the judges both in Israel and in Arabia used to sit on market-days. However, this point should not be pressed. For, if the present writer is not mistaken, the many references in ancient Muslim literature to Muhammad's activity as judge do not connect it expressly with the Friday service, at least not as a rule.
For the same reason, it is more than doubtful whether the controversy about the sitting of the preacher at the Friday service had anything to do with the office of the magistrate. An enormous amount of discussion on this question is to be found in Muslim religious literature. The practice finally adopted is this: the preacher sits at the beginning of the service, stands up for the first section of his sermon, sits down again, but stands while delivering the second part. This is clearly a compromise. The original practice most probably was that related in the name of Abu Sa'id al-Khudri, by Al-Bukhari, (Chapter 11 (Jum'ah), para. 28, ed. Krehl, Leiden 1862, I, 233): "The Prophet sat on the Minbar and we sat around him." For us, it is the most natural thing that a preacher should stand up while delivering his sermon. However, in ancient Hebrew literature, we have invariably the same picture as that given for Muhammad in the Hadith quoted: hakham yoshev wedoresh, the scholar who expounded the Scripture was seated on a platform, while his audience 'sat to his feet,' either on the floor or on benches, and the same was the case in the ancient Christian church.33 The heated controversies34 in Islam, whether the preacher should stand up or not certainly had something to do with its turbulent inner development; for, originally, the Khalifs and the provincial governors addressed the congregation, which was identified with the political community, in person. However, these disputations reflect a later stage in the history of Friday service and lie outside the scope of this paper.
There remains, however, one aspect of the discussion of the Muslim scholars on the Friday service which has a significant bearing on the origin and the nature of this institution — the question, in which place, and for whom that service was obligatory. At the end, a generally accepted consensus was worked out, according to which the service should be held wherever forty male, adult, free Muslims had their permanent domicile, and were it even in a village. The compromise reached was a regulation for the fulfilment of a religious duty. The differences of opinion preceding it showed that the Friday service had, from its inception, a far wider scope, to the discussion of which we now turn.
It was stated at the beginning of this article, that, according to the commonly accepted Muslim tradition, no Friday service had been held in Mecca. It goes without saying that in Mecca, too, Muhammad's followers met for common prayer. However, the Friday meetings introduced in Medina at the suggestion of Muhammad's missionaries served a purpose wider than mere devotion. They were rallies which manifested who adhered to the new religion and who failed to do so. They had, from the outset, the character of a socio-political gathering. Therefore, attendance was (and remained) obligatory for everybody35 and, thus, it was long believed that they should be held only in provincial capitals, where a representative of the Government had his seat, and not in villages36, and only in one main mosque, not in several in one town, whatever size they had.37 The prayer for the ruler, expressed n the Friday sermon, had its Jewish and Christian antecedents. However, the immense practical importance attached to it in Islam was in conformity with the original conception that the attendance of the Friday service essentially was an act of showing one's allegiance.
As we have seen, in his practical wisdom, Muhammad fixed the day of public worship on the weekly market-day, because then the People of the oasis of Medina and its environment were assembled in one place anyhow.38 This day happened to be the eve of Sabbath, because the Jews, who formed a very considerable part of the population of the oasis, bought on it the necessary stores for their holy day, when no work, including buying and selling, was permitted. However Muhammad had not the slightest reason to adopt the Sabbath itself. First of all, as has been said in the introductory passage of this study, the idea of a weekly day of rest was foreign in general to the majority of mankind up to the threshold of modern times. In addition, for most of Muhammad's followers a weekly day of rest would not have been a practical proposition. For the Meceans, whose main occupation was the long distance transit-trade between the Mediterranean and Yaman, such an institution would hav been a serious impediment, rather than a blessing, while the Bedouin had no need for such a day, as they did not do regular work anyhow.39
Muhammad knew, of course, that the institution of the Sabbath formed part of the heavenly revelation,40 but succeeded in solving the theological problem: how one and the same God could give different laws to different peoples, at least to the satisfaction of his own followers.41 It is evident from Surah lxii., 9-11, quoted above, that Muhammad regarded it as not incompatible with the holiness of the weekly day of worship to be also one of flourishing business42 — a conception which is the more plausible, if we consider that that day originally was the one set aside for commerce in an otherwise agricultural environment. Similarly, the Qur'an43 and popular belief44 regard the yearly pilgrimage to the Holy Places in the environment of Mecca as an appropriate occasion for prosperous business — again in conformity with the fact that in pagan times the yearly pilgrimages were also the season of the yearly fairs. It may even be that an ancient epithet for Friday, yaum al-mazid, the day of God's special bounty, may have something to do with this practical aspect of the weekly day of worship.45
However, although Islam did not enhance the holiness of Friday by forbidding on it worldly business, it succeeded in conveying to its believers, both by the solemnity of the service and by a number of accessory means,46 the feeling of a specially blessed day. There is no better way for putting this sociological study into its proper religious context than by quoting a description of the Friday service written by a sympathetic, but not uncritical, European observer at a time when Islam was almost untouched by foreign intrusions:47
The utmost solemnity and decorum are observed in the public worship of the Muslims. Their looks and behaviour in the mosque are not those of enthusiastic devotion, but of calm and modest piety. Never are they guilty of a designedly irregular word or action during their prayers. The pride and fanaticism which they exhibit in common life, in intercourse with persons of their own, or of a different faith, seem to be dropped on their entering the mosque, and they appear wholly absorbed in the adoration of their Creator...
The main findings of this inquiry may be summarized as follows:
1) The expression yaum al-jum'ah is pre-Islamic and designated the market day, just as its Hebrew (and Aramaic) equivalent yom hakkenisa.
2) The market day was held in the oasis of Medina on Friday, the day, "when the Jews bought their provisions for the Sabbath."
3) For yaum al-jum'ah in Surah lxii. 9, Ibn Ubayy read yaum al-'arubah al-kubra, the word for Friday derived from Aramaic. This, together with the very wording of that verse, indicates that yaum al-jum'ah means there simply Friday. 4) Muhammad chose Friday as day of public worship, because on that day the people of Medina gathered anyhow to do their shopping. There was no intention of polemics against the older religions.
5) A striking parallel to the institution of public service on a market day is that of the ancient Jewish service on Mondays and Thursdays, originally the days when the villagers came to town, but which remained days of public prayer, as well as of fasting and sittings of the courts, long after the Monday and Thursday markets had been abolished.
6) This origin explains why the Friday prayer was fixed at noon, a very inconvenient time in a hot country: the Arab markets used to break up early in the afternoon. In view of this, the choice of noon was very practicable.
7) The reference to "business and amusement" in Surah lxii. 11 (which was promulgated in Medina) fits a community of farmers only if understood as describing a fair with public entertainments.
8) From the outset, the Friday service was of more than religious significance. Participation in it demonstrated the participants' joining of the Muslim community. This socio-political character was never given up entirely and has left many traces in the details prescribed for its celebration by Muslim law. However, in the consciousness of the average Muslim, the purely religious aspect certainly prevails over the others.
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Note : All the references on this topic can be found in authors book ---Studies in Islamic History and Institutions