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 [Hamidullah]. 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 (upon whom be peace and blessings) was also a master of skillful time management. In this article 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.
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 chapter 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: “1. By the (token of) time (through the ages)! 2. Verily man is in a state of loss. 3. Except those who believe and do righteous deeds, and exhort one another to truth and exhort one another to steadfastness.” Another such oath is to be found at the beginning of Chapter 93, Ad-Dooha or “The Morning Hours”: “(1) By the morning hours, (2) And by the night when it is still.” (*) The particular translation we have adopted here is by Uzunoglu [Uzunoglu 2003]. Other contemporary translations of the Qur’an include Abdel Haleem [AbdelHaleem 2004] and Cleary [Cleary 2004].
In the prayer books attributed to the Prophet Muhammad we see that there are prayers for every occasion [Gulen 2000]. 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.” [Bukhari, Riqaq, 1997]
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 (insan-i kamil) 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 [Gulen 2000].
In a weak prophetic tradition narrated by Ibn Abbas [Canan 1998, Harf 2000], 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, stronger prophetic tradition, the Prophet was heard to say, “Seek knowledge on every Monday” [Fayz al-Qadr 1/543]. 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.
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 Medina 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 Medina 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? [Usd al-Gaba 1/168].
Regular prayer times form the framework around which all other regular activities are scheduled. Two aspects of the Prophet’s daily schedule were (1) The same activities were scheduled in the same time period every day, and (2) each activity had a designated time limit.
Regular daily prayers are ordered by God at specific times [The Qur’an 4/103] and the start and end times for each prayer were taught to the Prophet Muhammad by the Archangel Gabriel. In authentic prophetic traditions we learn that Archangel Gabriel asked the Prophet Muhammad to join him in performing each prayer at the beginning of the time period time throughout one day. 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” [Bukhari, Mawaqit al-Salat; Muslim, Iman]. 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.
Various accounts of the Prophet’s daily life tell us that he was very careful in the observation of his daily schedule. We understand this particularly from the observation that when the Prophet changed his schedule, this was a cause for worry in the community. For instance, one companion relates: “The Messenger of God (upon whom be peace and blessings) left his home at a time when normally nobody saw him outside.” [Usd al-Gaba 1/168, cited in Canan 1994]. Another one is: “The Messenger of God (upon whom be peace and blessings) ascended to the pulpit. He was never seen on the pulpit except on Fridays before.” [Ibnul Maja, Fitan, 33, cited in Canan 1994].
The narrations from his companions tell us that the Prophet used to divide his night into three segments. One segment was dedicated to worship, one to his family and one segment to his personal matters. At times, he is seen as giving his personal time to his community in meeting with them and trying to address their needs.
The Prophet was observed to halt his daily activities after sunset [Mustadrak: 3/461, cited in Canan 1994]. This does not mean, however, that he rested for the remainder of the evening; he sometimes held meetings after evening or night prayer. As a general principle, he did not like sleeping before the night prayer or talking after it [Bukhari, Mawaqit, 13/23, cited in Canan 1994]. His wife Aisha (may God be pleased with her) reports that the Prophet, upon whom be peace and blessings, used to sleep during the early part of the night and wake up for worship during the later part [Ibn Maja, Iqama, 182, cited in Canan 1994]. On exceptional circumstances, the Prophet was observed to stay awake and deal with community affairs until late hours of the night.
The night stances (qiyam al-layl), the hours he spent in worship, reflection and prayers all occupy an important place in the Prophet’s life. He is reported to have spent on average between 2/3 to 3/4 of each night in worship, remembrance, reflection, and supplication. This corresponds to a period of 4 to 7 hours each night, depending on the season. He explains this emphasis on night prayers in the following way: “God descends to the first heaven of the earth every night and announces, ‘Is there anyone who repents; I will forgive, is there anyone who prays; I will accept,’ and this continues until early dawn” [Usd al-Gaba: 6/91; Ibn Maja, Iqama, 182, cited in Canan 1994]. He also likened his night stances to those of the Prophet David: “The best nightly prayer in God’s sight is that of David. He used to sleep during the early part of the night, then wake up and spend a third of the night in prayers and sleep a little again before dawn” [Bukhari, Tahajjud, 7; Muslim, Siyam, 189; Nasai, Qiyam al-layl, 14, available in Harf 2000].
The Prophet prohibited his companions from sleeping after the morning prayer. He used to stay at the mosque until sunrise and have group conversations with his companions. The subjects of these conversations were both religious as well as entertaining, for example, poetry would be read or the dreams of the previous night would be related. It is understood that these hours were spent in a felicitous way, with companions laughing at times and the Prophet smiling [Nasai, Sahv, 98, Muslim, Ruya, 23, cited in Canan 1994]. The Prophet underlines the significance of these hours held for him with the following saying: “Sitting together with a group of companions and remembering God with them after the morning prayer until the sunrise is more valuable to me than fighting in the cause of God. The same is true for the hours after the afternoon prayer before sunset” [Usd al-Gaba: 2/466, cited in Canan 1994].
Following the conversation with his companions, the Prophet would then spend time with his family. On days when he was not fasting, he would have breakfast during this period. He is known to have eaten two meals each day, a late breakfast and a dinner. Towards noon, he would take a nap and encourage others to do the same, as this would help them to stay awake at night for prayers [Mednick 2002]. After the noon prayers came the time for community matters. The afternoon prayer was followed by time for the family once again. In the Meccan period, the Prophet was married to Khadeeja for 25 years, his only wife during this time. His multiple marriages occurred after she had passed away, when he was already over 50. The reasons and occasions for these marriages form the subject of a separate article. But suffice it to say that in general these marriages could be categorized into three types: (1) Marrying the widow of a martyr to take care of her and to honor the family. (2) Marrying the daughter or other relative of a community leader to establish family ties with that community to avoid armed conflicts. (3) Marriage with a woman of a special status so that woman could become a teacher and role model for Muslim women. This third function was especially important, as the aspects of faith that pertain to special circumstances of women could only be taught by the experience of the wives of the Prophet. The Prophet was observed to visit and spend equal, fixed times with his wives during his family time. Figure 1 depicts the time allowances in a regular day of the Prophet as estimated by this author.
Human biorhythm and activity changes
Researchers on human biorhythms tell us that multiple periodic biorhythms operate within the human body with different cycle times, changing from 90 minutes (ultradian) to daily (circadian), to longer than a day [Smolensky 2001]. As the human body operates with chemicals, hormones, and electrical signals, it needs to replenish these resources once in a while [Chafetz 1992]. One mechanism for achieving this is having a short break such as a nap [Rossi 1991, Mednick 2002] and another is to change one’s activity when feeling tired. the Prophet Muhammad points to this important fact by saying “Relieve us O Bilal!” Bilal was the chief caller to prayer. The Prophet was indicating that they were tired and less productive in the activity in which they were involved and that it was a good time to take a break and pray. “Relieve us” means “Please make the call to prayer” so the community will gather in the mosque for a congregational prayer. The interweaving of different activities in his daily schedule is another indication that the Prophet was cognizant of the effect of the biorhythm on one’s productivity.
The popular mental picture of the Prophet Muhammad in the non-Muslim world depicts a person who spent most of his time in the battlefield or enjoying the spoils of war. Nothing can be further from truth. In this article we examined the life of the Prophet Muhammad from a time management perspective. The picture that emerges from this analysis is very different from the popular perception in the west. We learn that the Prophet spent most of his time engaged in worship, prayer, remembrance, and supplications. The next two most important activities in his life were community matters, including spreading God’s message and family matters. We also learn that the Prophet was a very punctual time keeper. He did not waste even the smallest amount of time and admonished those who did. We learn that he kept a tight daily schedule to the extent that his companions became worried when this schedule was not observed. He designated certain days and hours of each day for certain activities. He encouraged staying awake after dawn and having a short nap at noon. He practiced such principles as eating moderately, sleeping moderately, and talking moderately, all of which ultimately help with better time management. He took advantage of every discretionary moment in life for remembering God and offering prayers. Every activity in his life was guided by his main goal of living and sharing God’s religion for a happy life on the Earth and in the Hereafter. Interestingly, many of these practices are now recognized and recommended by modern experts of time management. In summary, we witness a life that was lived fully and productively, yet opportunities for smiling were not neglected.
Yuksel A. Aslandogan is the Vice President of Institute of Interfaith Dialog, Houston, Texas.