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Are We Letting Time Whizz Right Past Us?

as_time_passes_by_____by_d_meImam al-Shafi‘i remarked: ‘Time is like a sword, if you do not cut it, it will cut you.’ He also said: ‘Your soul, if it is not kept busy with the truth, it will busy you in untruths and falsehood.’1

Islam’s “masters of the heart” tell us that filling our lives with works of faith and with service to others is how blessings (barakah) of time is manifested and the journey to God made constant. The jewel in the crown of the journey, and the seeker’s weapon, is remembrance of God (dhikr).

Imam al-Ghazali (d.505H/1111CE) speaks about the need to organise our time and fill it with prayer, charity, dhikr and other award (‘litanies’, ‘regular acts of devotion’) so that our time is blessed and not squandered, and so that we are not cast adrift from the path by dragging our heels or constant procrastination. He writes:

وَلَا يَنْبَغِي أَنْ تَكُونَ اوْقَاتُكَ مُهْمَلَةً فَتَشْتَغِلَ فِي كُلِّ وَقْتٍ بِمَا اتَّفَقَ كَيْفَ اتَّفَقَ، بَلْ يَنْبَغِي أَنْ حَاسِبَ نَفْسَكَ وَتَرِبَ أَوْرَادِكَ فِي لَيْلِكَ وَنَهَارِكَ، وَتُعَيَّنَ لِكُلِّ وَقْتٍ شُغْلًا لَا تَتَعَدَّاهُ، وَلَا تُؤَثِّرُ فِيهِ سِوَاهُ فَبِذَلِكَ تَظْهَرُ بَرَكَةُ الْأَوْقَاتِ. فَأَمَّا إِذَا تَرَكْتَ نَفْسَكَ سُدًى مُهْمَلًا إِهْمَالَ الْبَهَائِمِ لَا تَدْرِي بِمَاذَا تَشْتَغِلُ فِي كُلِّ وَقْتٍ، فَيَنْقَضِي أَكْثَرُ أَوْقَاتِكَ ضَائِعًا، وَأَوْقَاتِكَ عُمْرُكَ، وَعُمْرُكَ رَأْسُ مَالِكٍ، وَعَلَيْهِ تِجَارَتُكَ، وَبِهِ وُصُولُكَ إِلَى نَعِيمِ دَارِ الْأَبَدِ نَفْيُ جِوَارِ اللَّهِ تَعَالَى؛ فَكُلُّ نَفْسٍ مِنْ أَنْفَاسِكَ جَوْهَرَةٌ لَا قِيمَةَ لَهَا؛ نَ إِذْ لَا بَدَلَ لَهُ فَإِذَا فَاتَ فَلَا عَوْدَ لَهُ.

‘You should not waste your time, doing at any moment whatever chances to present itself when it presents itself. Instead, you should take stock of yourself and structure your acts of devotion during each day or night, assigning to each period of time some specific function that is kept to and is not left for something else in that time. In this way the blessing (barakah) of your time will become evident. But if  you leave yourself to drift, aimlessly wandering as cattle do, not knowing what to occupy yourself with at each moment, you will squander most of your time. Your time is your life; your life is your capital through which you spiritually transact [with God] and through which you reach endless bliss in the proximity of God. Every breath you take is a priceless jewel that cannot be replaced. Once it passes, it can never be retrieved.”2

1. Cited in Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Da’ wa’l-Dawa’ (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1998), 239.

2. Bidayat al-Hidayah (Beirut: Dar al-Minhaj, 2004), 120.

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