marhaba al-jum’ah! Nam, al-yawm al-jum’ah.
(Welcome to Friday! Yes, today is Friday.)
Muslims are supposed to pray in public once a week, and Friday is the day they all go to the mosque and pray as a group. Men and sons gather in part of the mosque, while women and girls (and small children) gather in another part of the mosque at zuhr (noon) each Friday. As a group, they say the midday prayer; afterward, they hear a sermon from the imam who presides over that particular mosque.
Some mosques are small structures, while some are phenomenally huge. Most are somewhere in the middle. All retain the signature minaret – some just one – many two. I have never seen more than two minarets associated with any one mosque. There are a huge variety of minaret styles, too. Some are simple and square mud towers, reflecting the desert. Others are ornate, hollow columns. Some the color of the sand; others flecked with beautiful shades one would normally associate with the desert. In the old days, a muezzin would climb to the top of the minaret and offer a call to the surrounding community of folks. As such, it became normal to have a mosque every 1/8-of-a-mile or so. I once counted seven mosques within eye distance as I stood on the steps of my bank waiting for it to open. Today, loudspeakers are mounted atop the minarets, and the muezzin’s call is a pre-recorded audio playback. I am sure there is some place where the muezzin still makes the call himself, perhaps, even, without the aid of a loudspeaker. Not in Riyadh, it appears.
As I’ve noted in previous posts, very little is open on Friday mornings – mostly just grocery stores and coffee shops. Even the grocery stores and coffee shops start close down at least an hour prior to zuhr. A family day, everyone piles into the car, the minivan, or walks to their chosen mosque. Then, they split up and go to their appropriate areas of the mosque for the prayers and sermon.
The sermons are monitored here in Riyadh, at least. Those in control don’t want the wrong message to go out to the people listening…particularly if that message might call for jihad or action against Westerners or infidels, in general…or the Royal Family, in particular.
After the prayers and sermon conclude, it is pretty common for families (or singles) to go out for lunch at a local restaurant. Just as after church in the U.S, the midday meal – even if eaten at home – is often a bigger affair than during the rest of the week. With the exception of grocery stores and coffee shops again, most stores don’t open up until 4pm. So, every goes grocery shopping, socializes with friends over coffee, or kicks back with the folks throughout the hottest part of the day. When it is really hot, it can be difficult to walk around inside the grocery stores (including Carrefour [think Wal-Mart]). Air conditioning is popular.
Things open back up around 4pm, and life returns to mostly normal – a little more active than what one might see on Sunday night in the West – but, certainly not as busy as one would find on Thursday (Saturday) night. Folks usually go to bed late most nights, doing activities they can’t do during the heat, and prepare for the start of the new week on Saturday morning.
(The day is done.)