Plea for Friday Holiday for Muslims

by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian

The Light (UK), February 2009 Issue (pp. 1–3)

Editor’s Note: After Edward VII became King of the U.K. in January 1901, succeeding Queen Victoria, a ceremony to mark his coronation was held in India, under British rule, in December 1902 to January 1903. This was known as the Delhi Durbar (Royal Court) and was attended by Indian princes, maharajahs, noblemen and other leaders. On this occasion, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad wrote the following Memorial to the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon (who is referred to in it as “Your Excellency”). The English translation is reproduced below verbatim from The Review of Religions, December 1902, pages 496–500.

Note that the word Muhammadan was commonly used in Indian Muslim English writings of the time to mean Muslim. For example, Syed Ameer Ali wrote a book entitled Muhammadan Law, and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan founded the famous Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh. Note also that in the 2nd paragraph below, the mention of “the old Muhammadan capital of India” refers to the holding of the Durbar in Delhi. At that time the capital of British India was Calcutta.

The Memorial

I, a loyal subject of His Most Gracious Majesty, the King Emperor of India, beg most respectfully to approach Your Excellency on the auspicious occasion of the Coronation of His Majesty with an earnest request involving the interests of the vast Muhammadan population of the whole of India.

The Muhammadans have no better opportunity for preferring their humble request than the joyous occasion of the Coronation of their King Emperor in their own country. They moreover deeply feel and are grateful for the honour which on this blessed occasion has been given to the old Muhammadan capital of India, and see in it a clear proof of Your Excellency’s special regard for this loyal portion of His Majesty’s Indian subjects, and, therefore, take this opportunity of laying before Your Excellency this their humble petition.

Your Excellency’s humble memorialist is the founder of the well-known sect of Islam known as the Ahmadiyya Sect. I have more than a hundred thousand disciples living in different parts of India and belonging to all ranks of Society. This sect is specially remarkable for its efforts in uprooting from among the Muhammadans the notorious evil custom known as Jehad [Jihad]. I have written about sixty books and pamphlets with the object of remedying this great evil.

I am further encouraged to prefer this request to Your Excellency by the fact that Your Excellency has already shown your sympathy with Muhammadan religious feeling on more occasions than one, by restoring to religious use mosques which had been desecrated and by otherwise showing Your Excellency’s regard for these sacred buildings. These tokens of respect for their mosques have kindled a new hope in Muhammadan breasts and for its fulfilment they look to Your Excellency alone. Since the advent of the British rule they have ever looked forward to the occasion for begging this favour from the Government but the absence of a suitable opportunity alone has kept them back from preferring this request. They are now fully conscious that if their expectations are not realised under such a kind and sympathetic Viceroy, and upon such an auspicious occasion, there is little hope of their being ever realised afterwards.

The Muhammadans are a people in whose practical life religion is the most important factor and nothing is calculated to more attract their hearts or make them overflow with loyalty and gratitude to the Government than a religious favour bestowed on them. Therefore, the most excellent practical step which the Government can take to completely conquer their hearts is to give them a benefit which affects their religion. And on this auspicious occasion when every class of the subjects of the British Government expects some favour from the Government, the Muhammadans look forward for a religious favour.

Of all the religions obligations of a Muhammadan, the most important is prayer, and of all the prayers, none is so essential to be recited in congregations as the Juma [Friday] prayer. The Juma is in fact the greatest Muhammadan festival. The Holy Quran regards it as a holiday. A whole chapter of the holy book entitled the Juma, has been devoted to it. In that chapter Almighty God commands the Muhammadans to quit all their worldly affairs when they are summoned to prayer on Friday, to assemble in mosques and to say the Juma prayers with due observance of all the requirements of the Law. The person who does not act in obedience to these injunctions is regarded by the Holy Quran as guilty of a deadly sin and almost outside the circle of Islam. Far more stress has been laid upon attendance at the Juma Sermon and the Juma prayers than upon the Id [Eid]. It is on account of this importance of the Juma in the Muhammadan faith that Friday has universally been observed as a holiday among the Muhammadans from the very earliest time that Islam took its rise. In India, Friday has been observed as a holiday for about eight hundred years, and on this account, Patiala and some other Hindoo [Hindu] States observed Juma as a holiday until very recent times.

India is largely peopled by three great nations, viz., Hindoos, Christians and Muhammadans. On account of the observance of Sunday as a holiday, the first two of these fully enjoy the privilege of performing their religious ceremonies on their appointed sacred day, and the Muhammadans are the only considerable class of people whom this liberty is not allowed; and strangely enough, of these three classes the Muhammadans are the only people who have been expressly enjoined in their sacred scriptures to quit their worldly affairs and assemble in mosques on a named day, i.e., the Juma or Friday.

Besides this importance attached to this day in Muhammadan Scriptures and Muhammadan Law, Friday has a great importance and sanctity according to the doctrines of the Christian faith, for Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday, and according to Christian belief, crucifixion is the source from which all blessings spring. The Jewish Sabbath also before their exodus from Egypt was Friday and the same day was observed as a holiday among the ancient Egyptians. Adam was also created on Friday, and it was on a Friday that Noah’s Ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat. Besides being the sacred day of Muhammadans, Friday preserves the memory of so many memorable events that took place on that day.

On these grounds I humbly pray Your Excellency on behalf of all Muhammadans that Your Excellency be pleased to recognise Friday as a holiday in all public offices in the British Indian dominions.

The sympathy which Your Excellency has shown with the religious feelings of the Muhammadans by restoring to them the sacred use of some of their mosques of which they had long been deprived, inspires them with fervent hope that Your Excellency will grant them the privilege of being at liberty to attend in those mosques the Juma sermon and prayers which is the chief object of their erection and consecration. The mosques are but like the table on which meals are served, whereas the Juma prayers represent the meals themselves. The Muhammadans are fully confident that Your Excellency will not allow the defect to remain unremedied that the table which Your Excellency has so generously spread should not be supplied with bread.

If Your Excellency is pleased to grant this request, this one act alone shall win the hearts of the whole Muhammadan India, and overflowing with gratitude, the Muhammadans shall be drawn with a mighty magnetism towards the love and obedience of the British Government. Of all the favours which the British Government has bestowed upon the Muhammadans, this one indeed shall deserve to be placed at the top and written in letters of gold on the pages of history. It shall cause a deep and profound impression of the kindness and justice of Your Excellency’s Government upon their hearts, and the feeling shall really be ecstatic when this great boon shall be conferred by Government on the joyous occasion of the Coronation Durbar in the presence of assembled Chiefs and Raises [Indian Aristocrats] as a favour to its loyal subjects in commemoration of the auspicious Coronation of His Majesty. This act of kindness on the part of Your Excellency’s Government shall moreover bring the two religions, Christianity and Islam, into closer relations. No other act can under the present circumstances give the same unbounded joy to the whole Muhammadan population of India. And this glorious deed shall ever shine as the most memorable event of Your Excellency’s Government.

The Muhammadans are willing to have some of their unimportant holidays stopped if Your Excellency is pleased to grant them a holiday on Friday. If it is not possible under any circumstances that Friday should be made a whole holiday, a half-holiday may at least be granted in that case. The Muhammadans have every reason to expect this favour from a kind and benevolent Government which has equal regard for the religious feelings of all communities and which has already given a whole day to the Christians and Hindoos for the performance of their religious duties.

Though the wise Government can best judge the manner in which it can do any good to its subjects, yet from my personal experience of, and a personal contact with, large numbers of Muhammadans, I am bound to say that under the present circumstances the Government can place the Muhammadans under no greater obligation than allow them a holiday on Friday, so that they may not break the express injunctions of the Holy Quran requiring them to assemble in mosques the moment they are summoned to the Juma prayers.

I humbly request Your Excellency to give a careful consideration to this petition which I beg to submit in accordance with the desires of a large number of Muhammadans. Its acceptance shall furnish me who am always exerting myself to my utmost to create among the Muhammadans a spirit of staunch and sincere loyalty and faithfulness towards the Government, with new arguments, and enable me to count fresh favours of the Government upon the Muhammadans of this country. It is, therefore, my earnest request that Your Excellency be pleased to give this petition a careful consideration.

I have thought it unnecessary to burden the petition with other signatures because being the founder and leader of a Muhammadan sect, I represent more than a hundred thousand respectable Muhammadans who are comprised among my followers, and the request whose acceptance is prayed for, is the common cause of all Muhammadans, being based on clear and plain words of the Holy Quran.

Our Comments:

The “favour” which Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad has appealed for here is not a material one, nor one for his own benefit or that of his followers only, but one which would have benefitted all Muslims equally, whether they were his followers or his opponents. Also we notice from his appeal that his loyalty to, and praise of, the government stemmed from the religious freedom that Muslims in general had been given. That included, of course, the freedom they had to criticise, oppose and abuse Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.

The root cause of the problems faced by Muslims was identified by Hazrat Mirza sahib to be their neglect of the basic institutions of Islam, such as the Friday prayer and khutba, that were meant for their moral and spiritual reform. His task was to restore these institutions so that they serve their intended purpose. He was treating the root cause of the Muslim malady. Their political subjugation by other nations was a symptom or result.