By: Muinali Saiyed
I was driving down Rt 130 this Thursday towards the Masjid for Asr prayer when it occurred to me that I was frustrated with the modern notion of time. We’ve gotten so accustomed to work hours of 9–5, 8–4ish M-F that our world has become enveloped in this awkwardly and arbitrarily constructed schedule. As I drove down that road a few days ago, what I came to realize was that it had been years since I had driven that road at that hour. The reason wasn’t want or desire, but rather the inability to do so because of a work schedule.
And unfortunately in modern day America we’re all sort of stuck with it whether we like it or not. Come 5 o clock, roads will be packed as rush hour starts, come the weekend, store hours will change, kids will be off from school, and Sunday morning brunches at overly priced cafés will be scheduled. How we think of ‘time’ has been systematically hard wired into us after the industrial revolution and for better or worse it’s here to stay.
Most of us have never been introduced to a world where time functioned differently but it existed and damn, I miss it. It’s how you miss a great figure of the past, a great relic of history, be it saint or scholar; to wish to entertain a few minutes of conversation, oh how you miss it. This is how I think of time, an almost nostalgic calling to what naturally seemed more correct according to my fitrah.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of spending time with my family in India. I come from a rural farming family in a village in Gujarat, India. My father still remembers not having electricity and studying by candlelight, and to this day many of my uncles still earn their living from farmland.
I remember it was Saturday morning and my uncle was leaving to work in the farm and I asked him, “You work everyday?”
He responded, “What do you mean?”
“I mean it’s Saturday.”
And then he walked away to the farm and I came to realize how absurd my line of questioning was to him. You see my uncle doesn’t have a concept of work-life balance. It’s as absurd to him as a gym-life balance or a mother-life balance because work is part and parcel of life. For him everyday was a new day, and he didn’t spend his weekdays to bank roll the weekend. This was a foreign concept that not only felt alien to him, but might I say unnatural.
Time in it’s essence was also different, it wasn’t structured around leaving at 9 am, working for 8–9 hours and returning to sit on your couch and stream Netflix, it was a natural experience. You got up, went to work, worked until you were tired, or sold merchandise until you felt fulfilled for the day and then you wrapped up and went home. If your sister was getting married that month, maybe you close up shop for a week and help her out and maybe during the wedding planning you decide to go out and sell a few more token items. Your trade, craft, and work was seamlessly weaved into the fabric of life.
Something I’ve found interesting is how time has changed overtime, it’s almost as if it’s been kicked into high gear. If you study history at all, they say that just prior to WW1, Czar Nicolas II convened an arms control conference called the Hauge Conference in 1899. It was at a point in human history that technological advancement had skyrocketed. A person in 1600 could build a weapon or a tool, not make changes to it for a hundred years and it would still be okay. A person today writes an innovative app, builds a new tool, 10 years later that tool is now obsolete. In 1899, the Czar was thinking the same thing when he asked the attending powers to suspend all advancement on weapons technology because it felt as if time itself had sped up. He wanted to freeze it right then and there, since he thought it was going too fast; a metaphorical pulling of the brakes. It was almost as if time as everyone knew it was no longer the same and it needed to stop.
Now we see how the consequence of the last 100 years and how time has played a well orchestrated game of chess as it took the board piece by piece while our spirits have struggled to keep up in the game. As I sat in my village those few years ago, one thing I distinctly cannot shake is how one day there felt almost as much as a week in a modern developed country. If you spent a month in my village, its almost as if you spent a good portion of your lifetime amongst the people there. Call it relativity or call it barakah, all I know is that time has changed, it has matured and advanced faster than our ancient spirits can handle.
And so I say it, I am frustrated with time. I often internally debate with myself on whether this frustration is only due to a displaced nostalgia of a romanticized past, or an actual consequential change that has occurred. I posit that by nature we aren’t wired for time at this speed, because I think of the ancients and how they spent their time. The commandments from all religions of old of prayer in the day, in nighttime hours, and in moments of sitting, standing, and sleeping. If they were able to do it all and still maintain a balanced living then I call to question the following sentiment, have we changed, or has time?
PS: To read more from Muin, you can follow his posts on Medium