By Ayesha Khan
HARRISBURG, Pa. (RNS) – When Harris Zafar’s oldest child starts middle school in the fall, Zafar plans to sit down with the school administration for a talk.
“Here’s the deal,” Zafar said he’ll explain. “We’re Muslim and my son is going to have to leave early on Fridays. We’re going to need to have a conversation about how to make sure he doesn’t fall behind in class.”
Zafar, who works in software development in Portland, Ore., has long negotiated with his own employers for hours off on Fridays – longer lunch breaks, half-day schedules on that workday and extra hours other days – so he could attend Islam’s weekly prayer service. Known as Jummah, or the day of gathering, it is somewhat comparable to the Christian or Jewish Sabbath.
This spring, when his mosque began a serious push to promote the importance of attending Jummah, Zafar approached his children’s teachers about the need to take time off from school, too. Now that campaign, led by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, is going national.
“Some weeks Friday passes and we don’t even realize it was the day of Jummah,” said Imam Azhar Haneef, the group’s lead missionary, who announced the national initiative during his Friday sermon at the group’s 71st annual convention, Jalsa Salana USA. The event was attended by more than 9,000 Muslims, part of the Ahmadiyya sect, in Harrisburg on July 12.
The group’s national campaign, Haneef said, is intended to push members to understand that attending Jummah regularly is an “ark” that protects Muslims. In particular, the initiative will urge all students to at least attend Jummah on the first Friday of each month.
“Even though Jummah is mandatory every Friday, we have to walk before you run,” said Faheem Younus, who heads the campaign. “There is such an inertia right now that we have to first break. Then students will see the spiritual benefits, and that by taking one half day a week is not really hurting their progress, and this will grow.”