ONE remembers a period in the pre-independence period, during the Pakistan era, when the weekly holiday was for one day on Sunday. Two days of weekly holiday was unthinkable at that time. Anyone proposing such a thing could expect to be deluged by criticism for advocating indolence in the national life. Sunday was not a special day for Muslims as Friday is. Muslims go to the weekly prayer congregation on Friday while Christians go to the Church for similar congregation on Sunday. Therefore, throughout the Christian world or in the developed countries, Sunday is the holiday. But in Pakistan in the decades of the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and, even now, the weekly holiday -- barring for a short period -- has continued to be Sunday.
Could not the authorities in that country -- which was founded in the name of Islam -- show special attachment to its Islamic credentials by declaring Friday as the weekly holiday ? They did not and they were motivated more by economic pragmatism than anything else. Keeping Pakistan in a state of holiday on Friday would delink it on that day from business and other interactions with much of the world where holidays are observed from the middle of Saturday through all of Sunday. Businesses and official communication would have suffered as a result. Thus, the leaders in Pakistan considered it more worthwhile to promote the vital economic interests of their country and not to sacrifice it on some unfounded and emotional religious notions.
One day weekly holiday and that too on Sunday, not Friday, happens to be the practice in many important Muslim countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, etc. People of these countries also do not think that they are becoming less religious as a result. Indeed, nothing in the holy Koran says that Muslims should be inactive after saying their prayers or keep a whole day away from their earthly affairs for the Jumma prayers. Rather, the real teaching of Islam is to spread out into the world of work and toil hard at one's occupation after the prayer time. In fact, Surah Jumma in the holy Quran forbids working only from the time of the Azaan to the end of the Friday congregation.
But our leaders have interpreted it differently. Friday was made the weekly holiday long ago and in no small way the decision was a populist one. It was designed particularly to appeal to Islamists of different shades whose support is cultivated by all major political parties for winning elections. The present government has been no different. It took a decision about weekly holidays recently overlooking and completely disregarding the entreaties of chamber bodies and representatives of professional bodies. It was decided to retain Friday as the weekly holiday. Not only that, it was also decided to have Saturday as another weekly holiday as well.
The decision would not meet a hail of criticisms but for the fact that it stands to exact a heavy price from the economy of the country. Sunday being the day of weekly holiday, internationally, weekly holidays on Friday and Saturday in Bangladesh mean that this country remains cut off from much of the world for three days at a stretch. Business transactions with the outside world is put on freeze for these three consecutive days. Businesses do not get or not get fully the services of banks, insurance, ports and customs for a major part of a week and this hampers and undermine business activities, specially the vital export and import operations.