In the last two articles [The Concept of Time in Quran & The Concept of Time in Hadith] we mentioned some of the remarkable concepts and attitudes towards time in both Qur’an and Hadith. To see the fruits of practicing these principles, we can observe the statements and examples of our pious predecessors from the time of the great early generations (Salaf us-Saalih) to our times. The following is a limited selection of extremely dedicated Muslims who were continuously productive and truly understood the value of time.
An oft-quoted Islamic saying about time comes from Imam Shafi’i who famously expounded two principles of time management:
“Time is like a sword: if you don’t cut it, it will cut you. Second is yourself: if you don’t busy it with right, it will busy you with wrong.”
The first point reminds us of the urgency of time, the metaphor indicating the sharp ruthlessness of the way in which time can seemingly ‘cut’ you: you can waste an hour, a day, a month, or years. To ‘cut it’ with time, one has to actively manage it, bringing us to the second point: our nafs. In Surah 14:53, Yusuf says,
“Man’s very soul incites him to evil.”
Our nafs al-ammarah thus needs active restraining and purifying, lest it lead us to do bad deeds.
In the time management context, when one simply drifts along without a clear focus or plan, it is so much easier to be tempted to sin or waste time. What’s the main reason why ‘yobbos’ engage in petty crime or delinquent behaviour? The answer heard time and time again is that they have ‘nothing to do.’ At an individual level, where a person has no goal or project or purpose they end up wasting their life away. Teenagers disengaged with school waste their life on computer games and gossip; jobless young men take to drugs; elderly widows living alone spend all their time in house work as they know not what else to do. I believe the soaring rates of depression and mental illness, sadly even in our Muslim community, is partly due to a lack of purpose and direction. It’s not enough to be Muslim. One has to understand what Islam entails. And anyone who understands what Islam entails, understands the state of urgency we’re in. We cannot help being busy.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. - Antoine de Saint-Exupery”
These were the words inscribed on the cover folder of Timelenders’ “Strategic Vision” Workshop that I attended in January 2012 in Dubai, UAE.
As somebody who never believed in the power of visions – or was at least a major skeptic in the importance of visions – this workshop was an eye-opener for me.
I’m a very practical person, and I hate to delve into theory. I’ve met many people who paralyze themselves from achieving goals because they didn’t have a vision! Developing a vision, at best, seemed to me an exercise done by a gifted few people whom Allah blesses with inspiration of what their ultimate vision is; and at worst, a dreaming exercise.
Ever since our popular ProductiveMuslim Commuting article few years back, we haven’t visited the topic of “productive commuting” again. Here’s a different take to the topic with a focus on how to survive a 12+ hour flight.
Flying time, especially if it’s more than a few hours, can be extremely boring since you’re disconnected from the world and you can’t really go anywhere. However, if you think about it, this ‘idle’ time is actually what you’ve ALWAYS wished you had whenever you get busy in your real life. How many times have we caught ourselves saying, “If only I had a bit of free time, I’d do X”?
Shaytaan is very good at trying to make us waste the treasure of free time on a flight; but with some preparation and pre-planning, we can convert it to the most productive time ever!
Last month we explored the Concept of Time in the Qur’an, specifically Surah al-Asr. Now we turn to further guidance from the inspired Messenger . There are two hadiths I’d like to discuss: the first sums up the whole attitude of Islam towards time; the second is a famous hadith which many have had trouble understanding.
The Prophet said: ”Take advantage of five matters before five other matters: your youth before you become old; your health, before you fall sick; your wealth, before you become poor; your free time before you become preoccupied, and your life, before your death.” (Narrated by Ibn Abbas in the Mustadrak of Hakim & Musnad Imam Ahmad. Sahih)
The scholars regard this as one of the core hadiths of the religion as it spurs one to right action in so many different life circumstances. It contains two key principles with respect to Islam’s approach to time management: a sense of urgency to our life and expressing thanks for our blessings.
The whole language of this hadith points to the limited nature of our life and how time is running out. In Surah al-Rahman, verse 26, Allah (Subhanahu Wa’Tala) beautifully states ”Kullu man alaiyha faan” (All that is on earth will perish); describing the essential reality that every moment that passes is a moment that brings our death closer; our lifespan is like an upturned sand-timer and the last grain could drop soon. So the Prophet reminds us to act quickly before old age, before sickness, before our money decreases, before we get too busy and before our death. In other words, we must act now before it’s too late.