Johor will return to observing Friday and Saturday as rest days next year, after two decades of having weekends on Saturday and Sunday.
The decision by Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Sultan Iskandar, which was announcedon Saturday, came as no surprise. A document from a state government meeting on the plan was leaked on the Internet recently.
The new weekend in Johor, Malaysia's third most industrialised state after Selangor and Penang, will start on Jan 3 next year.
"The decision was made following feedback from various quarters to allow Muslims to perform their religious obligation on Friday in a more peaceful manner," the ruler said in a speech to celebrate his 55th birthday.
But Johor Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin said yesterday that the private sector had the option of following the state government or continuing to observe Saturday and Sunday as rest days.
"I don't think with current rapid technological development, a switch in weekends will have a huge effect on the state's economy," he said.
Only three of Malaysia's 13 states - Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah, which have Malay majorities - now observe Friday and Saturday as rest days. Nearly 60 per cent of Johor's 3.4 million people are Muslim.
Before 1994, the state's weekend followed the Muslim calendar, with work days from Sunday to Thursday. But the policy was changed by then Menteri Besar Muhyiddin Yassin, now the Deputy Prime Minister, to make the business environment friendlier and attract investment.
Some opposition state assemblymen have voiced concern, saying the move would hamper business, especially in massive Iskandar economic zone which is aimed at attracting foreign investments from countries including Singapore.
It is unclear if banks based in Johor and international school students in Iskandar would be affected by the move.
Johor took in RM6.6 billion (S$2.6 billion) of a total of RM18.8 billion of foreign investment for Malaysia from January to August this year, the most for any state.
Parti Islam SeMalaysia approved a motion at its Congress on Saturday to support the Sultan of Johor's move.