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Public Debate in Kuwait Following Switch to Friday-Saturday Weekend
Kuwait City, 31 August 2007 - The Kuwaiti parliament recently passed a law, effective September 1, 2007, designating Friday and Saturday as the official days of rest in Kuwait, instead of Thursday and Friday as it has been until now.
A Friday-Saturday weekend has already been adopted by numerous Muslim countries, including Syria, Egypt, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE. In Saudi Arabia, an attempt to switch from a Thursday-Friday weekend to a Friday-Saturday weekend was blocked by the Shura Council, which strongly opposed the move, but the initiative is still on the agenda, and was discussed at a recent meeting between the head of the Shura Council and several businessmen.
Kuwaiti Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Faisal Al-Haji explained that the new law was motivated by "economic considerations," and was meant to resolve "numerous problems stemming from [the fact that] the Kuwaiti weekend does not coincide with the weekend in other countries around the world whose days off are Saturday and Sunday."
The new law has sparked widespread debate in Kuwait, with proponents arguing that the change would boost the economy, and opponents - primarily religious scholars and Islamist MPs - condemning it as an attempt to imitate the West and to be like the Christians and Jews.
The following are excerpts from reactions to the new law:
Proponents of the New Law: The Switch Has Economic Advantages; We Must Be In Sync with the Rest of the World
MP Ahmad Lari said, "Synchronizing the workweek of financial services such as banks and the stock exchange [with that of institutions in other parts of the world] is very important for the country's economy... [Moreover,] having Saturday as a day off will allow complete rest on Friday, enabling [people] to prepare for worship and to visit their families."
The law was also defended by Muhammad Al-Roumi, deputy director of the Citizen Service Bureau, which had promoted the change. Al-Roumi stressed that under the present circumstances, Kuwait is cut off from the rest of the world for four days a week (from Thursday to Sunday), and that a comprehensive study conducted by his bureau showed that the changeover would improve communication with the world markets and stock exchanges.
Senior Education Ministry official Dr. Mansour Al-Shatti likewise described the decision as "positive," pointing out that other Gulf states had implemented a similar change and found it to be beneficial. "We must [support] this decision," he said, "since the major businesses in our country are in contact with other countries around the world and in the Gulf."
Kuwaiti Sheikh: All Days of the Week Belong to Allah
Alongside economic arguments, proponents of the change invoked religious arguments in its favor. Senior Shi'ite cleric Muhammad Baqer Al-Mahri stated, "In terms of shari'a, there is no evidence that it is forbidden to designate Saturday as another official day of rest, in addition to Friday... Islam does not prescribe Saturday as a day of rest, but neither does it prohibit it. All the days of the week belong to Allah... [although] some [days] are special, such as Friday, which is the most important day [of the week] and a holiday for the Muslims."
Kuwaiti Columnist: "The Decision... Will Turn Kuwait into a Modern State"
Nahar Al-Mahfouz, columnist for the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai, wrote: "The decision [to switch to a Friday-Saturday weekend] was not taken hastily - it was meant to serve the country's economic interests, and is not [based] on any other consideration. Saturday is a day of rest in most countries of the world, including some Arab and Muslim countries which do not suffer from the disorder of [believing in] conspiracy [theories], [a tendency that characterizes] the parties of political Islam...
"The decision... will turn Kuwait into a modern state... It will promote [our] financial and commercial institutions in the international market... and will [boost] social-commercial activity, which currently is suspended on Saturdays because banks and financial institutions [worldwide] are closed. In addition, the [local government] ministries, bureaus, and institutions are closed on Thursdays, which is a waste of time and of government services.
Opponents of the New Law: It is Forbidden to Imitate the Jews and Christians
The opponents of the new law - primarily Islamist MPs - presented several religious arguments against it, citing in particular the prohibition against imitating the Jews and Christians. MP Dr. Dhaifallah Buramya collected 25 signatures of MPs demanding that the government reverse its decision. He stated that should the government fail to meet this demand, a law would be proposed that would force it to revoke the new law.
MP Muhammad Al-Mutair said, "Saturday is a day of rest and a holy day for the Jews, and it is forbidden to imitate them by making it an official day off for our government institutions - especially since there is no need for this, since we already have Thursday as a day of rest.
MP for the Muslim Brotherhood Dr. Sa'd Al-'Anzi stated that "Islam has forbidden [us] to imitate the Jews and the Christians, whether in actions, behavior, customs, or traditions." As evidence, he evoked a hadith according to which the Prophet Muhammad inquired about the Jewish fast of "Ashura" [or "tenth day," referring to Yom Kippur], and was told that this holiday marks the day on which Allah granted Moses victory. The Prophet said, "We are closer to Moses than you [i.e. the Jews] are," and fasted on that day. He added: "If it had not been too late, I would have fasted on the ninth day [in addition to the tenth]." Al-'Anzi considers the last statement to be proof that Muslims "have a duty to differ from the Jews in their holidays and in other things."
Islamic Preacher: The Nation is Becoming Estranged from Religion
Clerics too were among the critics of the law. Preacher Nazem Al-Misbah called it a "catastrophe" stemming from the absence of religious authorities to advise the decision makers. In a symposium he conducted on "The Jewish Sabbath," Al-Misbah stated that "this decision represents a regression of [our Muslim] nation, for the Jews have started to impose their traditions and beliefs upon the Muslims."
Al-Misbah explained that the Prophet had instructed the Muslims to preserve their distinct character, and warned them against attempting to imitate other people or religious groups. By way of evidence, he referred to the Prophet's ruling that forbade blowing a ram's horn to call Muslims to prayer for fear of being like the Jews, and the subsequent decision to summon them vocally, rather than by blowing a horn. Al-Misbah added, "The [Muslim] nation is becoming estranged from religion and is becoming weaker... [while] the Jews are ruling the world and have become the most powerful force, imposing their agenda on weak states, and in particular on the Islamic states."
Kuwaiti Columnists: The New Law is an Attempt to Westernize
Kuwaiti columnists also wrote against the new law. 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Qaws wrote in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Watan: "It is clear that the liberal stream is behind the decision to switch the day of rest to Saturday. I have said more than once that there is a stream in this country that advocates Westernization and promotes a clear and well-organized agenda whose object is to Westernize [our] country, education, society, and politics. They have already managed to forcibly push the Kuwaiti woman into the parliament. I do not know on what research or information they based this hasty decision to switch the rest day to Saturday... Even simple folk and old people instinctively said in response: 'Have we turned into Jews?'
"It is clear that behind this decision stands a group of traders and businessmen, which means that a small group of people wants to pass this decision out of its own personal interests and to impose it upon all the [other] citizens. I expect this decision to be revoked, since it is fruitless and not serious... Allah has already warned us against attempting to imitate the Jews in matters of both this world and the hereafter, and Islam forbids this. Allah has said: 'Shall I point out to you who is punished most severely by Allah? Those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those whom He transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped evil [i.e. the Jews]' [Koran 5:60]...
"Imam Ibn Taymiyya [also] explained the danger inherent in imitating the Jews and Christians, for example by resting from work on Christian holidays. In the present day, one of the greatest centers of Islamic jurisprudence in the world - the Permanent Council for Scientific Research and Legal Opinions in Saudi Arabia, headed by Sheikh 'Abd Al-'Aziz ibn Baz - issued a fatwa against designating Saturday and Sunday as days of rest and against resting from work on those days, for this means being like the Jews and Christians..."
Proponents of the New Law Respond to Islamists: These Outdated Rulings Have Nothing to Do with Reality
Other articles in the Kuwaiti press criticized those who had evoked the prohibition against imitating the Jews and the Christians. Former Kuwaiti oil minister Ali Ahmad Al-Baghli wrote in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas: "I am surprised to see members of the 2006 Parliament objecting to this decision and evoking the ridiculous argument about imitating the Jews and Christians!! They are evoking an outdated ruling issued hundreds of years ago, which has nothing to do with our [present] reality, and threatening to block this decision through religious intervention!!...
"[I say to these people]: You can talk as much as you want, but we will continue to imitate [the Jews and Christians] by eating their food and wearing their clothes, which they manufacture for us, and by using electricity to warm and to cool our [homes], and by using water distilled with [technology] invented by them - not by the Islamic scholars of the eighth century. We drive cars and fly planes that they [manufacture] instead of riding on a camel or a horse. We have adopted thousands of other [inventions] and behaviors that are the products of Jewish and Christian genius. For [the Jews and Christians] are our brothers in humanity, and we feel no shame, no fear, and qualms about living and acting within the broad human [sphere]. Why is taking Saturday off regarded as 'imitating' [the Jews and Christians]? What about the rest of our behaviors?!"
*M. Gueta is a research fellow at MEMRI.