Michael: We’ve been waiting for ten minutes now and Yousef still hasn't shown up ... that's strange!!
Rajiv: True, this will also affect our other appointments and engagements.
Shortly after that, Yousef entered the chat room, greeted his two friends, and then said:
Yousef: Sorry for the delay, I was held up by a couple of tasks that I had to attend to and really couldn't cancel.
Michael: Allow me, Mr. Yousef, to say that this is a general feature known about Arab and Islamic peoples. Time just has no value for you lot. Sorry if my frankness is harsh!
Yousef: Much of what you said is true. In fact, we are the ones who gave this bad idea about ourselves to others. But let me just correct the error of connecting such bad behavior with Islam.
Michael: If it doesn’t come from Islam, then from where? I see that most people who are neglectful of time and scheduled appointments are citizens of your countries.
Yousef: There are two important differences between our people and your people: culture and environment. The fact is that it is the environment, and not Islam, that is responsible for this bad habit.
Rajiv: How is this true, when religion is supposed to be an important element in your culture?
Yousef: This is because of the fact that many contemporary Muslims do not adhere to the teachings of their religion, either because they are ignorant of these teachings or do not bother about them, and when religion and belief has less impact on a person, he tends to incline to the effect of the surrounding environment.
Michael: And what does the effect of the environment have to do with what we're speaking about?
Yousef: Let me explain to you. You, for instance, live in your country from ancient times in bitterly cold weather, and laws of survival necessitated that you must prepare yourself for the effects of such weather. So, you store food for the winter, and gather firewood or fuel in preparation for the cold weather. Your environment, therefore, forces you, even before thinking about or organizing anything, to adopt certain behaviors that are accurate and that take into consideration the factor of time.
As for our countries, they are located in the temperate zone or the moderately warm zone, which is characterized by moderate weather in most seasons of the year, as well as the abundance of its crops and wealth. This, therefore, demands less effort from people in these countries, and less preparation and organization to sustain their life, and this, in its turn, has an effect on these people's behavior. They incline to be more lenient, or let's say: lazy and inactive - which is increased by the hot weather - and they don't feel, for that reason, that lack of precision or consideration of the time affects their survival.
Rajiv: There is no doubt that the environment has a strong impact on humans, and resisting that impact needs an even stronger influence. Then why didn’t Islam change this negative impact of the environment? Was it because it didn’t care about these matters, or because it was not able to do so?
Yousef: As for replying to your saying that Islam is not able to do so, this comprises many factors, and now is not a suitable time to discuss them but, generally speaking, Islam is able to organize the communities which adopted it as its reference, and also organize the lives of its adherents at any period of time, and there are great models in history in this area.
Michael: Will you please mention to us some of these models?
Yousef : There are several models, including:
The story related by Amara Bin Khuzaymah bin Thabit, when he heard Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab saying to his (Amara’s) father, Khuzaymah: “What prevents you from planting your land?” His father said: “I am an old man and I will soon die.” Omar said to him: “I insist that you must plant it.” Amara then said: “I saw Omar planting the land with his own hands, with my father.” And the companion of the Prophet (mercy and blessing of the highest degree be upon him), Abdullah bin Mas’ud, said: "I detest seeing a man sitting without working: not doing any work for this world or for the Hereafter." Abdul Rahman, the son of Imam Abu Hatim al-Razi, said about his father: "I used to read to him maybe all the time: while he was eating I read to him, while he was walking I read to him, while he was in the toilet I read to him, and when he entered into the house to get something I read to him."
Rajiv: But does Islam establish the importance of time in its teachings, to remain a guide for those who follow it at any time?
Yousef: Yes, Islam underlines the importance of time in the Qur'an, and the traditions and sayings of the Prophet. He who considers the teachings of the Qur'an and the manner of the Prophet of Islam, and reads the biography of his companions and followers, will find with regards to time nothing but a clear indication to the importance of time and to punctuality in all circumstances. A manifestation of this is that Almighty God swears in His book more than once by time. He says: [By the dawn (1) And [by] ten nights (2)], and He says: [By the night when it covers (1) And [by] the day when it appears (2)]. He also says, [By time, (1)], and pointed out that from among His signs is the creation of the sun and the moon, in order to know the number of years and the account of time.
This is also seen in most Islamic acts of worship. All acts of worship depend on time, i.e. when they should start and when they should finish. In fact, the time specified for each act of worship is one of the conditions of its validity and acceptance. So Islamic law underlines the importance of this dimension, which is to have respect for and commitment to time, by making it a condition for the acceptance of those acts of worship. God says, for example: [Verily, the prayer is enjoined on the believers at fixed hours. (An-Nisa: 103)]. Prayer, which is the mainstay of the religion, divides day and night into parts of fixed times and clear signs. The same can be said about the other acts of worship or pillars of Islam. Fasting has a certain time annually, and during the time of fasting, a Muslim has to strictly stick to certain times with regards to eating or abstaining from eating. Also for Zakat (money given to the poor by the rich who fulfill certain conditions), as it is a socio-economic system subject to precise timings and specific estimations. The same is also true about pilgrimage.
Indications of the importance of time in the Sunnah of the Prophet are many. The Sunnah focuses on time, as does the Qur'an. The Prophet Muhammad highlighted the importance of punctuality, as indicated in his saying, "Muslims should be committed to their terms," as when a certain time for a meeting or an appointment is defined, it is a requirement of each individual to be committed to that time. If he isn't committed to that, then he has broken a promise that he had laid upon himself. The Prophet considered breaking a promise as one of the attributes of hypocrites. He said, "Signs of a hypocrite are three: when he speaks, he lies, when he promises, he breaks that promise, and when he is trusted with something, he betrays that trust." Thus, the individual who is late or neglects his appointment because of carelessness and disregard, made a promise and then broke it.
Michael: But the importance of time is a value common to all cultures and civilizations, what did Islam add to this value?
Yousef: Islam added the value of the investment of time and its organization, in three major dimensions:
The First: Is the extent. Time is the most precious and valuable asset of the human being. It is his life. It can be neither brought forward, delayed nor increased, and if it is lost, there's no hope of its return. It's for that reason that Islam encourages the investment of time until the last moment possible – which is the end of a man’s life. In fact, Islam even connects the fruits of time to after death and resurrection, and the reckoning on the Day of Judgment. Moreover, Islam urges Muslims to make the most of their time, even in the most difficult circumstances. The Messenger of Allah said, “Should the hour of the Day of Judgment arrive and one of you has a palm shoot in his hand, let him plant it, if he is able to.”
The second dimension is the obligatory aspect. Islam made the value of the investment of time and its organization stem from the consideration that this organization and investment is not an option for a Muslim, but an obligation on him. This springs from the fact that his age, which is the time span of his work, isn't his exclusive property. In fact, time is a gift from the Lord to invest to obtain His satisfaction, as much as possible. Hence, Islam considers time to be a capital for which a human being will be held accountable for, with regards to how he spent and invested it. The Messenger of Allah said, “A servant of Allah will remain standing on the Day of Judgment until he is questioned: about his age and how he spent it...” The Messenger of Allah also said: “There are two blessings which many people lose: They are health and free time in order to do good.” He said, “Take advantage of five matters before five other matters: Your youth before old age, your health before sickness, your wealth before poverty, your free time before being pre-occupied, and your life before death.” There is no doubt that accountability increases if the capital increases. God says in the chapter named Fatir, verse 37: [Did We not allow you to live long enough for you to seek guidance?] The Prophet said, “Allah will not accept the excuse of any person whose instant of death is delayed until he is sixty years of age.” It was also narrated that Hasan al-Basri (may Allah have mercy on him) said, “Son of Adam, you are but days, whenever a day passes, a part of you is lost with it.”… This day is also divided into hours, minutes and seconds. Whenever a minute goes by, or even a second, a part of you is lost; time is life.
The third dimension is the motive and the reward for this value. Time is an external variable, and no one other than the individual himself has authority or control over how he uses it. This is the reason why Islam makes internal motivation of the individual Muslim transcend and exceed any materialistic incentives and motives. Here comes the importance of self-control (the conscience) as being a key factor to set the minimum acceptable level of self-denial and benevolence towards the society. Self-control, in Islam, is based on the fear of the reckoning and of the Creator, and based on desiring His reward. This calls a Muslim to spend his time in what benefits the individual and the nation.
Michael: This is a strange religion! It intervenes in all affairs of the human life, and leaves no options for a person, even in his private life.
Yousef: No, it does leave space for diversity and for human options, but it doesn't leave an opportunity for other methodologies to compete with it, except through its system, This is consistent with the Islamic vision of man, the universe and of life, some of the aspects of which I have formerly clarified.
Islam considers the value of time not only in terms of material investment that is part of the fields of administration or economy, but its view also transcends and goes far beyond that. Man, from the Islamic point of view, before being a worker or a producer in worldly or material areas, is a submissive Muslim, who fears the punishment of God and hopes for His reward, and considers Him in all his words and his actions. Investing time and organizing it in Islam doesn't refer to an abstract idea in itself, aiming at exploiting time that in turn leads to an increase in profit and production. In fact, investing time is more sublime than that, because it is a spiritual goal that stems from the fear of the Day of Resurrection, the day of being held accountable and punished.
Rajiv: I have other issues to talk about concerning the behavior of some Muslims, but I’d prefer to postpone it to a later meeting...see you both later.