By Yuksel A. Aslandogan
In the preface to his book The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, Michael Hart noted the supreme success of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) on both the religious and secular level (Hart, 1978).
The Muslim community, which started as four individuals, himself, his wife Khadijah, his close friend Abu Bakr, and his cousin `Ali, reached over a hundred thousand Companions by his death in 23 years. Only ten thousand or so of these Companions are buried in the graveyard at Medina today, as most of them died in remote lands spreading the message (Gulen, 2000).
Contrary to the common perception in the West, the Prophet Muhammad did not spend most of his time in battle fields or even involved in political affairs. The total number of casualties in the battles in which he participated throughout his life is not even 800.
Instead, the activities that occupied most of his daily life were worship, prayers, and supplications, followed by family and community affairs, including conveying God’s message to his people.
While always confident of God’s help, the Messenger was also a master of skillful time management. Here we will review some of the time management practices that he employed in his life.
Four principles emerge as we examine the life of the Prophet Muhammad from a time management perspective (Canan, 1994). Interestingly, these are also the principles agreed upon by most contemporary experts of time management (Taylor 1998, Jasper 1999, Covey, Morgenstern, 2000). These are:
1- Appreciation of the value of time and, consequently, making the best use of every piece of available time.
2- The guidance of a mission, a set of values, and priorities in planning every activity.
3- Establishment of a time policy or a time budget.
4- The scheduling and completion of activities within allocated time slots.
Now we will give examples of how these principles were put to practice in the prophetic tradition.
Appreciation of the Value of Time
The value of time is emphasized in many verses of the Qur’an and in many prophetic sayings. In particular, God swears by time at the beginning of the 103rd chapter Al-`Asr in the Qur’an, meaning “time through the ages” or “afternoon.”
It is the general opinion of the interpreters of the Qur’an that such references are intended to draw attention to those concepts and emphasize their importance. The remaining two verses of this short chapter reinforce this view:
By the (token of) time (through the ages)! Verily man is in a state of loss. Except those who believe and do righteous deeds, and exhort one another to truth and exhort one another to steadfastness. (Al-`Asr 103:1-3)
Another such oath is to be found at the beginning of 93rd Chapter, Ad-Duha or “The Morning Hours”:
By the morning hours, And by the night when it is still. (Ad-Duha 93:1-2)
In the prayer books attributed to the Prophet Muhammad we see that there are prayers for every occasion. Examples include prayers for beginning an activity, beginning a meal, ending a meal, leaving for a journey, returning from a journey, during the journey, looking in a mirror, during ill health, for rain, against excessive rain, against cold or extreme heat, when entering the bathroom, when exiting the bathroom, and countless others.
From these prayers we learn that there is almost no time slot in the Prophet’s life that was not occupied with a useful activity or a prayer. It was observed on one occasion that the Prophet refused to greet a person who was sitting idly. He greets the very same person on his way back upon seeing them occupied with an activity.
The following Prophetic saying summarizes his attitude: “The majority of humanity is at a loss as they do not recognize the value of two of God’s gifts: Health and (discretionary) time.” (Al-Bukhari)
Guidance of a Mission
After receiving the divine call, the life of the Prophet Muhammad was focused on living and conveying the message. His ultimate goal was to fulfill his mission as a servant and messenger of God. This involved two aspects: On the personal front a spiritual ascension towards the state of being a perfect human as a servant of God and on the social front sharing the faith and practicing conduct that was pleasing to God and others. His values and priorities were shaped completely by the scripture as well as by the other communications of God that he received, which did not become part of the scripture.
In his farewell sermon during his last pilgrimage, he is reported to have asked the present audience, which numbered in the tens of thousands: “Do you bear witness that I have fulfilled my mission as God’s messenger?”
Of course the answer was a resounding yes, accompanied by tears.
Weekly Time Policy
In a weak prophetic tradition narrated by Ibn `Abbas, the cousin of the Prophet, the regular activities of his days are listed: “Sunday is the day for planting seeds and construction. Monday is for travel. Tuesday is for giving blood. Wednesday is for acquisition and alms giving. Thursday is for bringing community matters to the governor. Friday is for weddings and spending time with your family. Saturday is for hunting for livelihood.”
The authenticity of this narration is weak and therefore we cannot conclude that it is obligatory to perform these duties on these days. However, it does give the idea of designating specific days of the week for specific projects or activities. In another prophetic tradition, the Prophet was heard to say, “Seek knowledge on every Monday”
Other prophetic sayings emphasize the importance of Friday as a day of festivity and the early part of Friday as the time to clean the body and care for one’s clothing. Another established prophetic tradition is to fast voluntarily on Mondays and Thursdays.
From the observations of his Companions it has been firmly established that the Prophet (peace be upon him) established a weekly schedule with preferred activities on each day.
Daily Time Policy
The most detailed information about the time management of the Prophet Muhammad is available concerning his daily schedule. Two types of activities occupied his time: The spontaneous (un-programmed) activities and the regular (programmed) activities.
The spontaneous activities included giving an audience to an envoy or a representative group, the meeting of an urgent need, or helping a stranger who spontaneously sought help. Such activities were accommodated within the time slots that were not dedicated to programmed activities.
Furthermore, if a representative body were to arrive in Madinah for a one-off meeting, then it would be scheduled at the first available time. However, if the group was to stay in Medina for a while, then the meetings with this group were included in the regular plan of activities.
An example of such accommodation can be seen in the case of the representative group from the Tribe of Thaqif. As the group was to stay in Madinah for a while, the Prophet visited them and talked with them after each night prayer. When one evening he delayed his visit, the group asked him: “O Messenger of God, you did not come at the time you used to come today; you were late, what is the reason for this?”
Regular prayer times form the framework around which all other regular activities are scheduled. Two aspects of the Prophet’s daily schedule were (first): The same activities were scheduled in the same time period every day, and (second) each activity had a designated time limit.
Regular daily prayers are ordered by God at specific times:”set up Regular Prayers: For such prayers are enjoined on believers at stated times” (An-Nisaa’4:103) and the start and end times for each prayer were taught to the Prophet Muhammad by the Archangel Gabriel.
The next day, they performed each prayer at the very end of the period that was dedicated to that prayer. The Prophet said “The best of deeds in God’s sight is the prayer that is performed in time”. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
While the beginning time for each prayer period is preferred, the prayer can be done anytime between these limits. If the time limit is exceeded even by a minute, the prayer is invalidated and the person has to perform a makeup prayer in the next period.
It is easy to see that regular observation of these prayer times gives a person a high level of time consciousness. It also reveals the fallacy of the view that precise timing and punctuality are modern traditions.
Source: The Fountain Magazine
Yuksel A. Aslandogan is the Vice President of Institute of Interfaith Dialog, Houston, Texas.