Lecture for 4th year medical students at the Kulliyah of Medicine, UIA on 28th October 2000


Different concepts of time: The concept of time varies from one society to another. Different socio-cultural or occupational groups within the same society may have different concepts of time. Concepts of time change in the same social group with time being influenced by the level of technological development and sophistication of social organization. The underlying concepts influence the efficiency of time use. There are 3 distinct ways of looking at time: pre-Islamic Arabia, jahiliyyah, Islam, and the European industrialized society. Pre-Islamic Arabia was a traditional and simple society like many pre-industrial societies in many parts of the world then and now. The Islamic society established in the Arabian peninsular was an ideological state that derived its guidance from the Qur’an. It ushered in a lasting social revolution that brought new and concepts of time. Today’s industrial society represents varying degrees of de-humanisation, mechanization of human functions, materialism, and secularization.


Jahiliyyat Concepts of time: In pre-Islamic Arabia time was looked at as a dangerous destructive phenomenon, dahr. Humans were in awe of it and had no control over it. Society was simple; there was no need for accurate or serious measurement of time or concern with it. Tampering with the lunar calendar was common; a month would be intercalated if that served some selfish interest with little regard being given to accuracy. There was little concern with recording the past.


Islamic Concepts of time: The revolutionary concepts introduced by Islam were profoundly different from the pre-Islamic ones. Time is very important because the five prayers had to be offered at fixed time intervals. The calendar is important because of zakat payment and hajj rites. Time is considered finite and fleeting it must be used optimally to achieve the pleasure of Allah. Time, created before humans and put a their disposal under the concept of taskhir, is not a destructive enemy of man but is a resource or an opportunity that can be used well or badly. Some time periods and days are of higher quality than others. Human perception of time like all other empirical functions has innate limitations; humans cannot perceive very quick or very slow events. The time-scale of the universe is infinite. Humans cannot even conceptualize the beginning and the end of time. Humans however can grasp the concept of finite time period of their lifetime. They also can understand the finite life span of the earth that will come to end on the Day of Judgment. All events that occur in time are already pre-destined and are known by Allah. Nothing happens by chance.


European concepts of time: The modern European concept of time is that of a valuable commodity used for material gain whether at work or at play. Time can be bought or sold like any other commodity. This understanding of time has been responsible for a lot of efficiency and productivity. Captains of industry attempt to extract the maximum productivity from each unit of time that the employee is paid to work. However the extreme materialistic view of time has caused imbalance in life. People work hard and for long hours in pursuit of material gain at the expense of their health and happiness of their families. They have traded spiritual welfare for material welfare. Having no concept of the hereafter they do not invest effort in their time on earth to reap the rewards in the hereafter.


Time perspective of events: Passage of time changes human perception and appreciation of events.  Events seen as of seminal importance today may have diminished significance a few years later. Major problems could disappear with the passage of time as if effective measures were proffered for their solution. Insignificant happenings today could with time prove to have had a major impact on human history. Events must therefore be considered in the three time context mentioned by the Qur’an: the past, zaman madhi (p. 539-540 2:97 … 69:24); the present, zaman hadhir (p. p. 534-535 2:249 .. 68:24); and the future, zaman mustaqbali (p. 540-541 2:255 … 46:21). The past is known, often imperfectly, from human reports, oral or written and archaeological findings. The most reliable and absolutely true information about the past is from revelation, wahy. In most cases events of the past are part of the unseen, ilm al ghaib, knowable only by Allah. Study of the past is important to learn lessons of history, al ibrat bi al tarikh (p. 217-221 3:137 … 69:4-12. The future is entirely within the realm of the unknown. Humans can learn about it from revelation. All other pronouncements about the future are either conjecture or extrapolation and could be wrong. The present is the field of human action. The human must plan to use the present time in the most efficient or effective way in the full knowledge that time passes and does not return. Efforts in the present for purposes of getting rewards on earth should be earnest as if there is no death. Efforts for rewards in the hereafter should be even more earnest in the certainty that death could happen the next moment.


Time and culture:  Good time management and use reflect positive background cultural values and the impact of early childhood upbringing. Waste if time and its poor management are not culture; they are manifestations of social failure. Waste of time or poor time management is a prevalent problem in several pre-industrialized societies. Sometimes the problem is not acknowledged and the poor time utilization is justified as part of 'culture' and 'tradition'. The problem is so severe that people even have a special ‘local’ time which usually means being late beyond the given or appointed time.



Religious dimension: Time is so important that Allah swears by it. There is a religious dimension to work and time use. Any human endeavor is considered Ibadat, an act of worship.


Sense of urgency: There is a sense of urgency underlying time management by a Muslim. The only time under control on is now; it has to be used well since there is no way of knowing whether time opportunities will be available in the future. Life is finite; time on earth must be used to prepare for the hereafter. No time should ever be wasted. Time is fleeting and should be used and not wasted or allowed to lapse without any useful work. An account of time utilization on earth will be required in the hereafter. Time is not elastic. The time a human has at the moment is the only one that can be exploited to accomplish a task. Time cannot be extended, created, or increased. Efficient time utilization enables a human to get more utility out of each unit of time. Waste of time, an immoral act, is most often due to poor time management. This sense of urgency was always clear from the character of the Prophet. He used to walk quickly as if he is running after something (KS p. 483). Even in sleep he was concerned about the affairs of the ummat; his eyes slept but not his heart (KS p. 489, Bukhari Kitab 4 Bab 5, Abu Daud Kitab 5 Bab 26).


Constant work: A human must work constantly and never let any time pass without a productive endeavor. It is better to undertake small but regular work than have bursts of activity followed by long periods of dormancy. There is no time for absolute rest. Rest is not considered an end in itself. Any rest taken should be for the purposes of rejuvenating the body and mind preparation for more work. A normal person who is balanced can never be in a situation in which there is excess time with no work and it becomes necessary to ‘kill time’.


Investment in time: Work performed in the present could be looked at as investment that will bear fruits in the future. The future may be on earth or in the hereafter. Different investments bear different dividends. A human should therefore seek to use time in the way that bears maximum returns. The returns however should not be measured only in material terms. Other measures of return on investment in time are: social and psychological satisfaction, personal fulfilment, the pleasure of the parents, ridha al waalidayn; and the pleasure of Allah. The most important return from time investment is success, falah,  in the hereafter.



Varying values of time periods: Different periods of time are not of equal quality or importance. Some hours of the day are prime time and are qualitatively more important than the rest of the day. Some days, for example Friday, are more important. Some months, for example Ramadhan, are more important than others (KS199). The three months of hajj are sacred months, ashur hurum (KS199: Bukhari K59 B2; Bukhari K97 B24; Abudaud K11 B67; Ahmad 5:72). There are special rewards for salat and I’itikaaf in the last 10 days of Ramadhan (KS94; KS252: Muslim K14 H7;, 8; Abudaud K6 B1; Tirmidhi K6 B73; Nisai K13 B103; Nisai K20 B4; Ibn Majah K5 B173; Ibn Majah K7 B57; Ahmad 1:132, 133, 137; Ahmad 4:272; Ahmad 6:40, 66, 68, 68, 82, 122, 146, 255, 287; Tayalisi H118, 466, 881; KS253: Ahmad 1:224, 338; Ahmad 2:75, 131; KS?: Ahmad 2:131). Work in the first 10 days of dhi al hajj has special rewards (KS94). Work on Monday and Thursday has special reward because human work is presented to Allah on those days (KS94). A certain time period may have a higher value because of the person exploiting it. The place of performance also may give a time period more value.


Variation of time value because of the user: The benefit from the same activity may be higher for some people and not others. There is special blessing in the times of the righteous, barakat al waqt. For example it is very clear that the times of the early scholars of Islam had more value; their production has continued to have positive impacts centuries later. Sometimes similar work today cannot have the same impact.


Variation of time value because of the place: Time may take on a new importance and value at some place or on some occasions. For example at a public gathering the time allocated to a speaker however short it may be has more value than a similar length of time in normal circumstances. Time spent in the mosque has more value than that spent elsewhere.



Human perception of time: Human measurement and perception of time are subject to distortions. Human understanding of time may be unrealistic. Humans will not absorb or understand events that happen very slowly or very rapidly. They may be pre-occupied with the past or predicting the future that the present passes by them. They may be pre-occupied with the pressures of the moment and forget to think about the future


Time in the Qur’an: The culture of time and its measurement is emphasized by the Qur’an mentioning various time periods in different contexts (p. 533-534 2:96 … 106:2). Time is referred to as waqt and zaman. The following terms have been used to refer to points in time: mid-day, duluuk al shams (p. 536 17:78), shuruq al shams(p. 15:73 … 43:38). The following terms have been used to refer to time periods: sahr(p. 534 3:17, 51:18, 54:34), morning, subh/fajr/ghadaat/bukrat (p. 536 2:187 … 100:3); mid-morning, dhuha (p. 536 7:98, 20:59, 79:29, 79:46; 91:1),; forenoon, dhuh (p. 536 7:4, 17:78, 24:58, 30:18), ‘isha, (p. 6:52, 12:16, 17:78); ‘ashiyat (p. 536 19:11, 19:62, 30:18, 40:46, 79:46);, night, layl/ghasaq (p. 537-539 2:51 … 97:1-3),; evening, masa’a (p. 540 30:17);  sun-set, maghrib (p. 541 7:205 … 76:25);  day-time, nahar (p. 541-543 2:164 … 92:2);  Measures of time elapsed used are: hour, sa’a (p. 534 7:34 … 46:35), year, sanat (p. 535 2:96 … 70:4); month, shahar (p. 535-536 2:185 … 97:3), century, qarn (p. 537 2:259 … 50:36), day, yawm (p. 2:65 … 90:14).  The word hawl is used in the special context of zakat to refer to a taxation year (KS p. 259) and to refer to the mandatory period of breast-feeding.


The Islamic calendar: One of the manifestations of the cultural invasion of the ummat is that the Gregorian calendar is used more than the Islamic calendar. Return to the Islamic calendar is symbolically very important, every dominant civilization uses its own calendar. We cannot rebuild our civilization while reckoning by the Gregorian calendar, the Islamic year is ordained in the Qur'an and consists of 12 lunar months (KS199: Bukhari K59 B2; Bukhari K64 B77; Bukhari K74 B5; Ahmad 5:72; Waqidi 431). The Hijri calendar was fixed by Omar Ibn Al Khattab when he made the year of migration, hijrah, the beginning of the history of the Islamic calendar because it was the start of the Islamic state (KS p. 199, BU Kitab 63 Bab 48)  There are fixed events on the Islamic calendar: day of ‘arafat, yawm arafat; day of the feast, yawm al ‘eid; day of ashura, yawm ashura; days of drying meat; ayam al tashriq; the mid-shaban, yawm al nisf min sha’aban (KS p. 292)



Time management and success: The level of sophistication and efficiency of individuals, societies, and civilizations is assessed by their efficient use of time. When two parties are equal in other resources, they compete over how efficient they use time. Winners control, schedule, and use their time optimally; losers waste it. Winners always know what to do at any one time, when to start and finish, what to start with and what to end with. They always have an objective and make sure that every activity they undertake is moving them toward the objective.


Classification of events: Events that make a demand on time can be classified into 4 categories depending on their importance and urgency. Urgent and important, Urgent and not important, Not urgent but important, and Not urgent and not important. Different people under different circumstances may out emphasis on urgency or on importance. There is no fast and hard rule; the best choice is always dictated by the situation.


Analysis of time use: In order to improve time management, current time utilization must be analyzed. All activities undertaken in the day are recorded. Each task is recorded separately: time started, time ended, total time expended, and the ranking of the task in importance compared to others. Such a record will prove a surprise to many people who are often not aware of their time utilization patterns.


Prioritizing on the basis of urgency or importance: Prioritizing using the rule of first come first served is not good because it treats all tasks and all time periods as if they were of equal importance. Starting with the easiest or the most difficult tasks again ignores relative importance. Important things even if not the most urgent should be given most priority. Sometimes unimportant matters claim a disproportionate amount of time because they seem so urgent!.

Prioritization on the basis of needs, wants, and obligations: When prioritizing a distinction must be made between what needs and wants and between what must be and what may be done. Priority is given to essential needs that must be done.


Prioritization on the basis of hierarchy of obligations: Ibadat has the first priority. Next are biological needs such as sleep and food. There must be time for the family and for earning your livelihood. The body has its rights, haqq al jasad. Rest, recreation, and pursuing interests that lead to personal satisfaction should not be neglected even if others do not consider them of high priority.


Balance of gains and losses: The time of time prioritization decisions should be maximizing gains and minimizing losses. There can be no pure gain without some loss. Some compromises must made here and there. Time taken away from business for the family is worth its while.


Opportunity: Constant self-questioning is needed to discover ways of maximizing time utility. There are many tasks that can be left without much loss and can be replaced for by more rewarding activities. Unexpected opportunities can occur that should be fully exploited. These windows of opportunity increase the amount of work accomplished in the day.


Stakeholders: Stakeholders are people who can reward or punish. They must be given priority in time allocation decisions. Ignoring demand on time by a parent or a boss may not be prudent.


Taking control: All time prioritization decisions must be by conscious choice and not passive following of others. It is better to lead personal time priorities than to follow others’ priorities. Muslims must take charge of themselves and their time.



Calendar/diary: It is important to plan and schedule time but flexibility must be exercised. The schedule is an aid and not an end in itself. It should never be allowed to become a slave master. All tasks must be recorded. Time must be budgeted correctly for each activity. Allowance must be made for contingency time. After writing the schedule, trust must be put in Allah by saying inshallah. The schedule can only be accomplished by the grace of Allah. It is a mistake to think that one is too busy to have a few moments to write a schedule or check it. A calendar is the best ally of a busy person; procrastination is the worst enemy. Scheduling should provide for appropriate pacing. Large projects should be broken up into small manageable steps. Each person should know the prime time for executing the most important tasks. The plan should be to get tasks done and finished. A careful balance is needed between work, personal and family time.


Transitional time: Transitions between activities are a frequent cause of poor time management. Sufficient time must be allowed for the transition from one activity to another. Some activities are affected by those before them. It is for example difficult to concentrate in salat immediately after involvement in a physically and mentally exhausting activity without transition time in between. Transition time is not dead time; it can be used to accomplish small tasks. Time between 2 meetings can be used to read a book or a report.


Discretionary time: Discretionary time is that time that a person can use creatively. People with more discretionary time make more progress than those who have less. The schedule should therefore not be crowded. There should be space for discretionary activities.


Functional linkages: Linkages between consecutive activities must be planned correctly. The successful completion of some tasks requires that some pre-requisites be fulfilled. The pre-requisite must be scheduled and carried out before the intended tasks.


Time sensitivity of events: Some activities like salat are time-sensitive and must be put on the schedule at the right time. Some events are not equally time-sensitive; they can be planned for the day but need not be assigned a specific time. A plan may be made to read a story during the day; there is not need to fix a time for it. It may be read during transitional or discretionary times.


The day’s plan: A daily checklist is made of things to do and also things not to do. The day should be scheduled as a Muslim. It starts with salat al Fajr. Work should commence soon after salat al fajr without going back to sleep. A rest is planned in the middle of the day when the heat makes it difficult to do productive work. Bedtime should be immediately after salat al isha. Qiyam al layl should preferably be towards the end of the night so that there is no much time between it and Salat al Fajr. This gives a fairly long uninterrupted period of sleep. Prayers and meals should be included in the daily schedule. Too many activities, distractions, or long projects should be avoided in the day’s schedule. There should objectives for whole year. Some task however small towards accomplish the yearly goals should be included in the day’s plan. The best of work is what is constant even if small (KS94: Bukhari K2 B32; Bukhari K19 B7; Bukhari K3 B52 q 64; Muslim K77 B43; Muslim K81 B18; Abudaud K5 B27; Tirmidhi K41 B73; Nisai K9 B13; Nisai K20 B8; Ibn Majah K37 B27; Muwatta K9 H90; Ibn Sa’ad 109; Ahmad 2:350; Ahmad 6:32, 46, 51, 61, 84, 94, 113, 125, 128, 147, 165, 176, 180, 189, 199, 203, 231, 233, 241, 244, 249, 250, 267, 275, 289, 304, 305, 319, 320, 321, 322; Tayalisi 1398, 1407, 1479, 1609). 


Finding hidden time: It is always possible to find time in the schedule for extra tasks by constant review and revision of the schedule. Some tasks may be deleted. Quicker ways of accomplishing tasks may be discovered. Delegation frees up a lot of time. Meal times, boring meetings, lengthy telephone conversations, waiting for a latecomer can be used for urgent and short tasks.



Importance of punctuality: The importance of punctuality is emphasized in the offering of the 5 daily prayers at fixed times. The best of work is salat at the start of its time interval. Punctuality is needed to make sure that salat al jamaat can be held with everybody present at the beginning.


Problem of punctuality: There is an obvious dichotomy in the Muslim mind regarding punctuality. It is taken seriously for salat and is neglected for social events and work. Late coming is justified as culture and tradition and few get censured for being late. The problem becomes compounded when late coming is regarded as a mark of social status; the more important members of society being expected to arrive late.


Causes of late coming: Most people are late out of habit. Late coming tells a lot about a person. It is in  a way the final common path for all inefficiencies that a person has such as poor time planning, poor planning of transition times and transition events, failure to do the right things at the right time, and inability to anticipate problems and solve them in advance. A person living in an inefficient home is likely to be late because of inability to get ready early in the morning. Persons who do not take care of servicing their cars will be late when the car breaks down on the way to the meeting. A persistently late person should therefore be considered as personally inefficient.


Consequences of late coming: Those who come on time and have to wait for the latecomers before start of an activity are cheated out of their time. They are frustrated. They may decide to be also late the next time around to avoid having to wait and a vicious circle is completed. Those who come late may miss the start of the event and are thus not able to follow very well the rest of the time. They may even discuss matters out of context because they missed some information that was provided at the start of the meeting.


On time versus in time: Latecomers usually plan to arrive on time. Since unforeseen circumstances can always happen, they end up delaying. The correct approach is to be in time, to plan to arrive before the appointed time. This leaves some time to absorb delays due to emergency or unforeseen situations



Self versus Work: It is a mistake for a person to devote so much time to work earning a living and forgetting the needs of the body. The body has its own rights, haqq al jasad, which consist of rest, eating, drinking, and recreation. Imbalances in time management violate the rights of the body leading to physical and psychological disorders. 


Self versus Family: Parents especially fathers spend so much time in work and social commitments and forget their families. As a consequence there is dysfunction in the family itself. Working parents may not devote enough time to their nurturing roles as mothers and wives.


Self versus community: An individual must strike a balance between the commitments in the community and his or her own needs. Too much time in the community could affect the individual’s work and health. On the other hand being so engaged in personal pursuits and neglecting the community will weaken or even break the essential community social and psychological support networks.


Imbalance among acts of ibadat: Any  human activity if carried out with the correct niyyat is an act of ibadat. It is therefore wrong to concentrate on certain types of ibadat while neglecting others.


Go to Part II

Professor Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. October 2000