The Time of Our Lives
Issue 92 May 2012
As the old saying goes, “Time and tide wait for no man,” so we should not delay in doing the good things we want to do—before time catches up with us.
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 is only one very important date, occurring at a time that we cannot choose. This is the time when Muslims believe all human beings meet their 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 are busy. Stress and exhaustion have become almost a badge of success. We now have schedule planners, computerised calendars, and sticky notes to help us organise our hectic work, family and social lives every day.
But what about organising 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.
Biblical tradition, particularly the Old Testament, emphasises the importance of time. One memorable extract from Ecclesiastes 3, familiar to me from my childhood, conveys the diversity of our human experiences over a lifetime.
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
Prophet David was unusual for not being so constrained by time. According to Jewish tradition, Prophet Adam 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 Qur’anic 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 advised, “Take advantage of five matters before five others: your youth before your old age; your health before your sickness; your wealth before your meagerness; your free time before your busy period; and your life before your death.” Through his actions, the blessed Prophet 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! Whilst a Muslim must worship God through the obligatory five daily prayers, worship can also include other prayers as well as all other actions that are done with the specific intention of pleasing God.
Prioritise the essentials
When on pilgrimage to Makkah, it is noticeable that our lives revolve around prayer times. Back at home, prayer times 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 five 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 all that.” She was looking down on me for finding time to connect with the Creator. I only wish I could find more time to do that.