Every Sunday morning, Christians the world over gather together in churches, sing praises to God, and hear expositions of the Bible by learned leaders. Once a week on Saturday, devout Jews attend synagogue. Similarly, Muslims the world over attend weekly Juma prayer on Friday. From the surface, a casual observer would conclude that this proves that all religions are essentially equal. They all meet once a week for services which follow roughly similar formats. Yet, as usual, digging deeper doesn’t just show differences; it illustrates complete antithetical aspects between Christianity and Islam.
The timing of when Christians attend services is not arbitrary. Deep meaning is embedded within traditions that we take for granted today. In the early church, Jews who chose to follow Jesus started meeting on Sunday mornings instead of Saturday. Whether this happened suddenly or gradually over time we cannot be sure. However, what we do know is that within a few years after the crucifixion, Sunday was a day that held special prominence. For example, the book of 1 Corinthians is one of the earliest books written in the New Testament. In it we find Sunday was the day for tithing. (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)
1 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. 2 On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.
Sunday was also the day for communion, as evidenced in Acts 20:7
7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.
The reason for this transition is readily apparent. The first Christians moved the time of worship from Saturday to Sunday in order to celebrate the resurrection. Since Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday morning, this was the most logical time to gather to celebrate this pivotal moment in history.
So why do Muslims worship at noon on Friday? From a pragmatic standpoint, there are historians who offer various theories, but from a theological viewpoint, the answer is unclear. The Qur’an tells Muslims to congregate on Friday, but doesn’t offer much insight as to why this time is selected. The only relevant verse comes from Surah 62, verse 9.
O you who believe! when the call is made for prayer on Friday, then hasten to the remembrance of Allah and leave off trading; that is better for you, if you know.
While the Hadith also discuss meeting on Friday, so too no specific reason is offered as to why the day of worship was moved to Friday.
Narrated Abu Huraira: I heard Allah’s Apostle (p.b.u.h) saying, “We (Muslims) are the last (to come) but (will be) the foremost on the Day of Resurrection though the former nations were given the Holy Scriptures before us. And this was their day (Friday) the celebration of which was made compulsory for them but they differed about it. So Allah gave us the guidance for it (Friday) and all the other people are behind us in this respect: the Jews’ (holy day is) tomorrow (i.e. Saturday) and the Christians’ (is) the day after tomorrow (i.e. Sunday).” [i]
Here Muhammad says that the day of worship is prescribed to be Friday, just to be different from the Jews and Christians. So what if any conclusions can be drawn about a worship time of Friday at noon? To unravel this, let’s return to the Christian time of worship, Sunday morning. This was the time marking when Jesus conquered the grave, once and for all. So what was happening two days earlier on that previous Friday? Jesus was being crucified. In fact, something very specific happened at noon on that Friday. From Mark 15:33 (NLT)
33 At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock.
The darkness that fell is associated with judgment and with Jesus’ separation from the Father. Somehow Jesus was taking the full brunt of God’s wrath, experiencing rejection from the Father during these final hours of His earthly life spent in unimaginable agony. This is the time of the week that Muslims are told to congregate.
Rather than draw any hasty conclusions as to the causes behind this difference, let’s just review the facts. There is not a specific reason given within Islam for meeting on Friday. Christians worship on Sunday morning, the time of Jesus’ resurrection. Muslims worship at Friday noon, the time when darkness fell over the earth. Christians gather at the time of Jesus rebirth, Muslims at the time of His impending death.
What appears at first to be similar traditions turns out to hold an ironic and opposite twist when examined in more detail. Could there have been spiritual forces at work behind the time chosen for Muslims to congregate? As always, I invite and await your comments or criticisms.