The Value of Time (Book Notes)
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Book Notes: The Value of Time

About the Author 

Shaykh Abu Guddah (1917 – 1997) was born in Syria. One of the outstanding Muslim scholars of the 20th century. He was taught by over 200 scholars. Among his prominent teachers were Ahmad al-Kurdi and imam al-Kawthari. 

The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. The scholars of the Muslim nation were peak performers. 
  1. By taking advantage of their days and nights, they could produce high-quality work in abundance. 
  1. Animated by the ambition to get closer to the Lord, early scholars developed a strong determination and beast-mode self-discipline that has no equal. 

My Impressions  

This book put me in a meditative mood. It pushed me to reflect on my use of time. 

Although motivating, it left me with many questions. Among them: 

  • How can I reach a high level of self-discipline? What could be the step-by-step process to do so? 
  • How can I contain my curiosity and unleash it exclusively towards important knowledge
  • What’s the relationship between eating a little and sleeping a little?  

I also found some scholars extreme in their ways, especially the unmarried ones. Their lifestyle might not be easily applicable. However, we can learn from their dedication. They loved learning and sharing knowledge so much that wasting time, even a little of it, was too painful.

My Top 3 Quotes 

The Prophet (ﷺ) said:

“There are two blessings that many people waste: health and free time.”  [Bukhari] 

Imam al-Shafii said:

“Keep your soul occupied with good, otherwise it will keep you occupied with evil.”

Imam al-Halabi wrote in the biography of al-Suyuti in Bughyat al-Wuat: 

To do a thing today, and the same tomorrow  

Gathering is the essence of knowledge  

Thus one may achieve wisdom  

For streams are but the gathering of drops 

Some Thoughts After Reading The Value of Time

Between the time I wasted and the one I have left (which is unknown!), this book reminds me to be more strategic with the things I want to learn. 

The time management matrix of Stephen Covey came to my mind. 

What if I can apply it to seeking knowledge? 

Effective people spend more time in Quadrant II. So do effective learners. 

They spend more time going after important and non-urgent knowledge. 

We define important as something that contributes to your medium and long-term goals or to your life purpose. 

For Muslims, the ultimate purpose is to prepare for the meeting with Allah. 

So any knowledge that draws you closer to Him will have the priority. 

Right after comes any knowledge that helps you develop yourself, reach your potential, or better your relationship. 

Regarding Quadrant I, it’s reserved for emergencies. 

I see important and urgent knowledge as anything that helps you perform your daily job or resolve your actual problems. 

Anything outside Quadrant I and II should be kept low.  

It’s the kind of knowledge that doesn’t serve your medium or long-term purpose.    

Just like food without nutrients, they are of little benefit. 

Some of My Highlights from The Value of Time 

Qatāda said:

“Know that the length of one’s life is a proof against him, so we seek refuge in Allah from being mocked and blamed due to our long lives.” 

The Prophet (ﷺ) said:

“Allah will not accept the excuse of any person whose instant of death is delayed till he is sixty years of age.” [Bukhari] 

Regret over loss is another loss, as it is said: busying oneself with regret over time lost in the past is wasting the present time!

Time passes naturally, ends automatically, so whoever is not aware of his soul, his time will be lost, his loss will be great, and his regrets will be severe. 

For the one who spends his time in negligence, desires and false wishes, and spends most of his time in sleeping and idleness, then the death of such a person is better for him than his life. 

The eminent companion Abdullah ibn Masud, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

“I have never regretted anything as much as my regret over a day on which the sun sets and my life span decreases while my good deeds have not increased.” 

Al-Ḥasan al-Baṣri, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

“O Son of Adam, you are but days, such that with every day that goes by, part of you departs with it.” 

Imam al-Ḥaramayn al-Juwayni (teacher of al-Ghazali):

“I do not eat or sleep out of habit, I rather sleep when sleep overtakes me whether it is day or night, and I eat when I need to whatever time it is.” 

Ibn Aqil used to say:

“I am not allowed to waste a moment of my life, for even if my tongue stops reading and debating, and my eyes stop reading, I can use my mind to reflect even when I am lying down. And when I get up, I do so to write something that has occurred to me, and I find that my desire to seek knowledge at the age of eighty is greater than it was when I was twenty.” 

Ibn Aqil wrote, in the introduction to his book al-Funun:

“Indeed the best way to spend time, to keep oneself occupied, and to draw closer to the Lord, Glorified is He, is to seek knowledge that takes one out of the darkness of ignorance to the light of Allah’s Way, and that is what I kept myself occupied with and spent my time in. …And even if the only immediate benefits were purifying time of being wasted in being occupied with bad habits in which the times of the ignorant masses are spent, then it would have been sufficient.” 

Dear reader, reflect on how using one’s intellect, saving time, self-discipline and spending time on seeking knowledge and good can produce incredible results: books that are 800 volumes long, the largest book in the world, written by one person, Ibn Aqīl, in addition to many other books, reaching over twenty books, some of which contain ten volumes. 

Ibn al-Jawzi said:

I have seen the majority of people making strange use of time! Spending long nights in useless talk, or reading books of ghazal [love poetry] and entertainment, and spending long days in sleep, and you would find them at the end of the day by the river Dijlah or in the markets [Ibn al-Jawzi lived in Baghdad]. I likened them to people chatting while on a ship that is moving fast while they are unaware of its movement! I found that rare were those who understood the essence of existence, and it is those you find gathering their provisions and preparing for their departure. Thus be ever conscious of the passing of time, and hasten to use it before it is too late, and compete against time. 

Among the things that help one to profit from time: Solitude as much as possible, keeping to greeting and necessary talk with those one meets, and eating little, for excessive eating causes one to sleep for long hours and waste the night hours.  

The determination and self-discipline of the early scholars were high, which is reflected in their writings, which were the essence of their lives, despite the fact that most of their writings have been lost. This is because the ambition and determination of students had weakened, such that they became only interested in summaries, and were not motivated to write lengthy works, and they moreover became content with studying a few books, leading to the loss of many books that were not copied! 

I seek refuge from the lives of these contemporary people, in whom we see no high aspiration to inspire beginners, nor any great piety to inspire ascetics. 

Ibn al-Jawzi:

“If I were to describe my state, then I am never content with reading books, and when I see a book that I had not seen before, it is as if I have found a treasure…And if I said that I read 20,000 books, then in truth it would be more, and I was then still a student. I benefited from reading those books by observing the lives of the early people, and the extent of their memorisation, their determination, their worship, the diversity of their disciplines, of which one would not know had one not read those books.” 

Ibn al-Qayyim said in his book On the Invocation of God:

The sixty-first benefit from dhikr [the remembrance of Allah]: It gives one’s memory strength, such that with dhikr one can achieve things one did not imagine being able to achieve. 

The imam al-Askari said:  

One who stays up by night for some need is in fact at rest  

One who spends his money in a good cause is in fact gaining it 

Ibn Nubata said:  

You who reproach me for exhausting myself  

And enduring sleeplessness in the darkness of night  

If a man aspires to the highest summits  

Then the least of losses will be good sleep 

Careful Distribution of Activities According to the Time Suitable for Them  

There are academic activities which can only be fully achieved during times when the mind is free, when intuition and understanding are apt, when blessings abound, such as the hours of late night, dawn, morning, and the hours of the peace and quiet of night and the complete emptiness and silence of space and time. These peaceful and blessed times must be taken advantage of, in order to solve problematic issues and difficult questions, to disentangle complicated problems, to correct and edit writings, to seek to clarify ambiguous obscure expressions, to memorise texts, and the like. 

Some knowledge is of little consequence, has minimal benefit, is superfluous (who absence is not considered a deficiency), has little benefit, and the need for it is even less. Time should not be spent on seeking such knowledge, nor should minds be preoccupied with it. 

Salih bin Abdul Quddus wrote:  

If you seek knowledge, then know that it is a burden,  

Hence take care of what you carry  

And if you find something better than it, then  

Preoccupy your heart with that which is better. 

Al-Abbas al-Alawi on giving the priority to what is important:  

Know that your mind cannot contain everything, hence dedicate it to the important matters.  

Know that your money is not sufficient to enrich all people, hence devote it to the rightful people.  

Know that your generosity cannot be enough for all the people, hence seek to reserve it for the people of grace.  

Know that your night and day cannot satisfy all your needs, even if you strive hard, hence divide them carefully between times of work and times of rest. 

The seeker of knowledge which qualify him to acquire knowledge and of whom excellence is expected: he must be fast at writing, fast in reading, and fast in walking. 

In fact, the highest virtues are none other than combining knowledge and action, for when they are achieved, the person is raised to the highest status, for that is the aspired goal, and according to one’s ambition, opportunities arise. 

The famous poet Abu al-Tayyib said:  

And not every lover of goodness is a doer of it  

Nor does every doer of it complete it! 

Most Important Ways to Gain Time  

The most important ways of gaining time are: organising one’s time and activities, avoiding idle useless gatherings, avoiding excessive curiosity in everything, keeping the company of the serious, intelligent, time-conscious people, reading about the eminent scholars and their motivating biographies.  

The rightly-guided teacher and adviser Ḥasan al-Banna, may Allah have mercy on him, said:

“Whoever knows the real value of time knows life itself, for time is life.” 

The famous Egyptian poet Ahmad Shawqi also wrote:  

One’s heartbeats say to him:  

Life is but minutes and seconds.  

Hence build for yourself a legacy after its death  

For a man’s legacy is a second life 

Imam al-Nawawi wrote in his valuable introduction to his important book al-Majmu:  

“The seeker of knowledge must seek to learn during times of leisure and vitality, and in a state of youth, physical strength, aptitude of mind and freedom from preoccupations, before the symptoms of incapacity.” 

Imam al-Razi:  

If you are harmed by the heat of summer  

And the dryness of autumn and the cold of winter  

And you are distracted by the beauty of springtime  

Then tell me: when will you seek knowledge?! 

Ustadh Aḥmad Amin, the well-known Egyptian author, wrote in his book Fayḍ al-Khaṭir:  

“Among the consequences of wasting time in our world is the unpopularity of books and abandoning of reading, and contentment with ignorance, for there are no spirits to feel the unbearability of ignorance, just bodies that find pleasure in rest!  

[…] Make it a habit to always ask yourself: “What have I done in my free time? Have I acquired some health, wealth, knowledge, or benefit for myself or others?”” 

A poem states:  

The patient one is likely to achieve his purpose  

And the one who persists in knocking is likely to enter. 

Imām al-Nawawi may Allah have mercy on him, wrote in the introduction to his great book al-Majmu in the chapter on “Manners of the seeker of knowledge”:  

And among his manners is that his ambition should be high, such that he is not satisfied with little while more is possible, that he does not delay his tasks, that he does not delay acquiring a benefit.” 

Imam Qadi Ayyad, may Allah have mercy on him, wrote in his book al-Shifa:  

Arabs and the wise have always extolled the virtues of eating and sleeping a little and shunned excesses in them. For excess in eating and drinking is an indication of greed, weak self-control and self-indulgence, as well as a cause of bodily diseases, laziness of spirit and clouded vision. 

In contrast, frugality of food and sleep is an indication of contentment and self-control, a cause of health, clarity of thought and sharpness of mind.  

In addition, excessive sleep indicates weakness and lack of ambition in the affairs of this world and the next, causes laziness, hardening, heedlessness and death of the heart, and wasting one’s life in that which is not beneficial.  

And excessive sleep is a result of excessive eating and drinking, as Luqman wisely said:  

“O Son! When the stomach is full, the mind sleeps, wisdom is silenced, and one’s limbs are reluctant to worship.”  

Sufyan al-Thawri said:  

“Staying up the night is accomplished through eating little.”  

Suḥnun said:  

“Knowledge is not for the one who eats until he is full.” 

Article posted the 20 December 2021

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