For most working people, and even students, the weekend is a time of opportunity. After a week of slogging away at work or in class, you finally enjoy a window of freedom, some breathing space where you can manage your own time. After five days of a packed schedule where at times you can barely squeeze in a cup of tea, you are now presented with the bliss of having boundless hours to do whatever you want.
But the reality of weekends for many of us is that they slip away week after week: some revel in plain ‘chilling’ using the opportunity to relax to the max, though they then regret the lost time; others are just as busy with non-work commitments that they also miss out; and some just don’t know what to do. If you face any of these scenarios regularly, or you’d like more solid ideas to plan your weekends, then hopefully you’ll find some help in this short series. I believe at least 50% of productivity comes down to attitude and 50% from principles or technique; true to this philosophy, Part 1 will explore the unique approach Muslims should have towards weekends, and holidays or ‘free time’ in general.
The Muslim Attitude Towards Weekends
I’d like to start by blowing away a Western attitude that’s so deeply ingrained in most of us that we probably don’t even realise it’s un-Islamic. If you’ve even worked in a typical high-pressure office or institutional environment then you’ll be very familiar with the ‘living for the weekend’ mentality. Work is a 9 to 5 duty of reluctant drudgery until you get that ‘Friday feeling’ and celebrate the onset of the weekend. You are productive out of obligation and to get that pay-check for five days but really ‘live life’ for two. This is more a capitalist attitude than Western as it reinforces the ‘work hard, play hard’ motto.
In cities across Europe and North America and increasingly across the capitalist-driven world workers will work very hard during the working week, only to then indulge themselves in nightclubs, pubs, football matches, parties and countless other vices at the weekend. Muslims may avoid the strictly haram but I certainly remember during my student days how the weekend could signal all-nighters watching movies, all day playing sports and then a little cramming on Sunday to prepare for the week ahead.
It was Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson who I first heard commenting on this Western attitude many years ago, and he reminded the audience that for Muslims every single day is sacred. Every single day is a time for worship of Allah, weekend or weekday. When Allah declares:
‘I have only created Jinn and Man that they may worship Me’ [Quran: Chapter 51, Verse 56 ]
There is no distinction between work days and weekends. Indeed, In Surah al-Inshirah, an oft-recited verse, fa iza faraghta fa-nsab, Allah commands us:
‘So when you are free, toil on [in worship]!’ [Quran: Chapter 94, Verse 7]
After a hard week’s work in the office, kitchen or school our first inclination is to rest. Yet the Prophet , who had more responsibilities and hard work than many of us put together, was commanded to ‘toil on’. This is why we read of his long hours of Salah in the night to the extent that his feet swelled. However, for the Muslim, whether it is the evening/morning, work-day/holiday, weekday/weekend our goal and purpose for every moment should be to worship Allah in the best way possible. When we’re at work, we’re happy to work for the sake of Allah ; when we’re home we’re happy to worship Allah . No doubt this is how the early Muslims, the scholars and the pious from every generation lived.
Purpose of the Weekend
Having said all the above, it doesn’t mean we can’t prepare differently for the weekend compared with the weekday. Indeed, the very fact that we tend to have a lot more unscheduled time in the weekend means we have to plan it more carefully than the weekday. Many complain that they don’t have time to do things they really want to during the working week. This is often true. Some of our schedules can be so demanding that there is literally only enough time for work, salah, meals and sleep! For this reason, even rest and recreation is an important activity for the weekend – as long as we don’t indulge in them for their own sake. Our niyyah should be firmly for Allah , to refresh ourselves so we can return to ‘ibadah later. The Prophet alludes to this when he taught
‘Your body has a right over you, your eye has a right over you and your wife has a right over you.’ [Bukhari]
One of the most useful concepts I’ve learnt from studying time management is the ‘time management matrix’. This matrix divides all our tasks we want to do into four quadrants which can be labelled Q1, Q2, Q3 and Q4. These quadrants divide our activities into degrees of urgency and importance. It’s not the purpose of this paper to describe this matrix in detail so I’ll suffice by sharing a diagram with examples:
The point of all this is to explain that people who are ineffective spend most of their time doing Q3 and Q4 activities. If you’re reading this article and lead a reasonably responsible life then I’d guess you spend a lot of time, especially on weekdays, doing Q1 activities. Most people spend the majority of their time across Q1 and Q3. Really effective people, and productive Muslims, however, spend quality time in what Stephen Covey calls ‘the Quadrant of Quality’: Q2. These are the activities which really count, things which would make a huge difference to one’s life but are not ‘urgent’ in the sense that there are no pressing deadlines: learning Arabic, taking time in our ‘ibada, spending time with family and friends, giving the house a good spring clean.
Think about all the accomplishments you are grateful to Allah that you’ve achieved like completing a degree or saving up to buy a house. All such long-term projects require regular Q2 time (or else they descend into Q1 deadlines!). One of my teachers used to say, ‘Anything worth having in this world is attained only through patience.’
So weekends, and holidays in general, provide an unmissable opportunity to do Q2 activities. For more details about the time management matrix and Q2 time planning I recommend consulting Covey’s ‘First Things First or 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.
Part 2, inshaAllah, will give recommendations for Islamic Q2 activities you can build into your weekend.