Ahhhh … the weekend! And by weekend, I mean the weekend proper not just the last day of the work-week and the beginning of the weekend. Yup, that’s right here in Jordan, Friday is a bona fide day off. It stems from the Islamic religion, with Friday being their preferred holy day as opposed to Saturday for the Jews and Sunday for the Christians. So, all across the Middle East Friday is a day off from work for most people. Of course, as in all nations, if you are in the service or hospitality industry you will most likely be working anyways.
For most working-class people Friday is their only day off. A two-day weekend is really a modern convention in the Middle East. Some countries (mainly in the gulf) opt for Thursday and Friday as the weekend. However, here in Jordan, it is Friday and Saturday. Unless you are a Christian … then you get Friday and Sunday off but have to work or go to school on Saturday. Go figure. Split weekends. Not fun.
Some of you might be asking what do Jordanians do on Friday? Well, here’s my outsider’s answer to that:
- Sleep -Jordanians love to stay up late. Especially on Thursday nights. They stay up with their family chatting over small cups of strong coffee or tea talking into the wee hours of the morning. As a result, Fridays are often a slow start for some. Actually early Friday morning is a great time for grocery shopping as the aisles are mostly empty … but don’t wait until afternoon as any grocery store will likely be packed!
- Go to the Mosque -Despite the well-known mandate to pray 5x per day, Muslims are not required to pray in the mosque each of those times (it is considered more beneficial to pray in the mosque, but not mandated). However, mosque attendance spikes on Fridays – especially around midday – as this is when the Imam gives his speech or sermon. Worshipers sit on the ground to listen to the sermon and then perform their prayers. In the larger mosques it is not unusual to find the men lining up in rows outside the mosque in the courtyard, on the sidewalk, and eventually in the street. This is because the mosques are full to overflowing on many Fridays
- Visiting – Friday is a day for making a round of all of the relatives.
- Outings – The malls and restaurants and supermarkets and cafes are packed on Fridays with Muslim families out and about enjoying the life in Amman. But the most famous and well-loved Jordanian Friday outing is the:
- Mishwar – On Fridays families like to get out of town, find a place along the road or perhaps in a park or other clear area, lay out some blankets and spend the day grilling food, drinking tea, and enjoying each others company. Mishwar comes from the Arabic term for grilling meat. It is not uncommon to see an extended family parked out under any random tree along the major highways, enjoying more each others company and the food than perhaps the setting itself.
I would like to think that restaurant chain TGI Fridays realized the master stroke of marketing genius in their name the first time they opened a branch here … however, I have a feel it was probably just a fortunate happenstance for them. Either way, I stand with them and millions of people in the Middle East in thanking God that it’s Friday.