In Pakistan, a Few Businesses Dare To Buck Traditional Friday Holidays

The huge steel shutters at the J.K. Brothers textile factory come down with a loud bang on a Friday afternoon. For Islamic Pakistan, the sound is unusual, because the country has observed Friday as a weekend day for two decades.

But at the industrial city of Faisalabad in central Pakistan, a small group of businesses such as J.K. Brothers are defying the tradition. They are almost certain to face opposition from the country's vocal Islamic lobby, which sees the change as causing a dent in their position.

Yet the question of whether Pakistan's weekend should be flexible, which may divide this country, is not strictly a religious one. Islam does not restrict work on Friday, and the Koran asks Muslims to shut down businesses only for afternoon prayers on Friday, after which they may return to work, scholars say. But the practice of observing a holiday on Friday - the holiest Islamic day of the week - has become an important tradition here. "In the Pakistani context, since Friday has been declared as a public holiday, there is now a great deal of emotional attachment to it," says Tarik Jan, an Islamic scholar at the Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad.

Some businesspeople insist that change is essential because they are cut off from the Western world for two working days during the week. In addition to the Friday holiday, offices here close on Thursday afternoon for the weekend. That, coupled with being four hours ahead of Europe and up to 10 hours ahead of the United States, thwarts dealing with the West on either day.

"The whole world is open on Fridays, so we have to be in touch," argues Shahid Anwar, chief executive of J.K. Brothers.

The change would "increase our business and increase the country's exports," adds Muhammad Siddiq, chairman of Pakistan's Cloth Exporters' Association.

Many government officials and cabinet ministers are privately sympathetic to the idea. But they worry about raising opposition from the religious lobby.

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