The time of our lives

Jul 15

In Alice in Wonderland, the White Rabbit memorably sings:  ‘’I’m late / I’m late / For a very important date. / No time to say “Hello, Goodbye”. / I’m late, I’m late, I’m late’’

In reality, there’s only one very important date, occurring at a time which we cannot choose. This is the time when Muslims believe all human beings meet our Creator, when we will all answer for how we have spent our time on earth. Prophet Muhammad said: ‘The Hour will not come until time passes so quickly that a year will be like a month, a month like a week, a week like a day, a day like an hour, and an hour like the time it takes for a palm-leaf to burn.’  So many of us already find the years rushing by at an increasingly fast pace, and wonder where the time has gone.

There is a noticeable culture of busy-ness permeating our lives. We tend to feel a sense of self-accomplishment – and respect from others – if we’re busy. Stress and exhaustion have become almost a badge of success. We now have schedule planners, computerized calendars, and sticky notes to help us organize our hectic work, family and social lives every day.

But what about organizing the inner dimension to our lives—the spiritual side? There must be time for mental and spiritual development as well as relaxation: time for worship and time to express our thankfulness for our ability to work, and think, and pray, and read, and help, and dream, and laugh, and plan, and learn.

Bibilical tradition, particularly the Old Testament, emphasises the importance of time. One memorable extract from Ecclesiastes 3 , familiar to me from childhood, conveys the diversity of our human experiences over a lifetime.

  1. To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
  2. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
  3. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
  4. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
  5. A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.
  6. A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
  7. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
  8. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace

Prophet David (pbuh) was unusual for not being so constrained by time. According to Jewish tradition, Prophet Adam (pbuh) gave up 70 years of his life for David. Islamic tradition upholds the same story of years being added to David’s life span, although the exact number differs. Regardless, he remains unique amongst human beings in being given additional time to make a difference and to worship God. The rest of us must make do with the years we have.

The Qur’an exhorts us to have good time management, repeatedly emphasising which actions have the most value during our limited lifetime.  These priorities are highlighted in the key Quranic chapter of ‘Al Asr’ (The Time):  “By the declining day (time). Lo!  Man is in a state of loss, Except those who believe and do good works, and encourage one another to truth and encourage one another to patience.”

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) wisely  advised: “Take advantage of five matters before five other matters: your youth, before you become old; and your health, before you fall sick; and your richness, before you become poor; and your free time before you become busy; and your life, before your death.” Through his actions, he demonstrated practically how we can make the most of our limited time through following some simple principles.

–      Plan your days. Prophet Muhammad divided his time into three equal parts – one part for worship, one for family affairs, and the last part he further divided into two, one for social engagements and one for rest. What stands out for me is that an entire third of each day was spent in worship! While a Muslim must worship God through the obligatory five daily prayers, worship can also include all other actions which are done with the specific intention of pleasing Allah.

 

–              Prioritise the essentials which keep you close to God. When on pilgrimage to Makkah, it is noticeable that our lives revolve around prayer times. Back at home, times to pray are often squeezed in amongst all the other things we either want to do or need to do – or both. While it is not realistic to remove those commitments, we could at least plan our daily prayers – and plan our day around them.   I vividly remember when I first became a Muslim and attempted –with difficulty – to make time in my day for 5 daily prayers. A colleague discovered this and asked me incredulously and somewhat disparagingly: ‘How do you manage to find time for all those prayers? I am way too busy for that.’ She was looking down on me for finding time to connect with the Creator. Yet if only I could find more.

 

–               Remain focused. Despite Muhammad’s  multiple roles as a leader, a governor, a teacher, a Messenger, a friend etc,  the Prophet’s wives never complained that the Prophet didn’t spend enough time with them, And that is because he used to spend quality time with them. He focussed on each of his roles individually, living in the present moment, and didn’t get distracted.

 

–              Do not procrastinate. Muhammad said:  “Beware of procrastination for you are (in) today and not (in) tomorrow. If there is a tomorrow for you, be tomorrow as you are today. If there isn’t a tomorrow for you, you will grievously regret the opportunity you missed today.” I watch my children take 2 hours over homework which could be done in a few minutes, as they hope that somehow it will go away if they engage in a myriad of unrelated activities first. Unsurprisingly, it never does.

 

An anonymous quote circulating around e-mail groups highlights the importance of time. “To realize the value of ONE YEAR, ask a student who has failed a grade.
To realize the value of ONE MONTH, ask a mother who has given birth to a pre-mature baby. To realize the value of ONE WEEK, ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.
To realize the value of ONE DAY, ask a daily wage labourer who has kids to feed.”

And so I must plan my family’s days – which will all too rapidly turn into weeks, months and years – to include more space for worship. Prioritise the objective of assisting the next generation in learning about and loving their Creator. Remain focussed on the task. And I know I need to do it now – I can’t be late. I had better go.

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