Punctuality - The Neglected Virtue


Have you ever heard of a ridiculous time called MST aka Muslim standard time? It is the acceptable tradition of arriving later than the appointed time for an invitation, and one that many people consider the norm. I know that as busy parents we are always short of time, and seem to be rushing for an event or appointment.

I can certainly relate to the last-minute mishaps that happen along the way, such as baby having the worst diaper ever, or the groan of realization that you forgot your kids shoes or bottle, or to brush their hair or teeth, or even change them out of their pajamas, yikes!

I know that parents everyday have tons of unforeseen things happening all the time and may be excused when they are not the most punctual of beings. But I also know of some parents who have really busy lives and are always punctual, as well as parents that have no kids and are constantly late. So is this acceptable and unavoidable, or is it a bad habit?

I remember when I was growing up, any Muslim or eastern event that started at a certain time, would have the few punctual people waiting patiently, while majority of the crowd would only start filtering in 30 minutes later, and the event itself would start an hour later! Most times, the host or master of ceremonies, would apologize profusely while jokingly remarking that this is the norm at these events.

I remember how everyone would say its "eastern time" or "Muslim time" and that 7 pm really means 7:30 - 8:00 pm, as if anyone with an eastern or Muslim background was perpetually delayed and it was graciously accepted as humorous. I also remember being very irritated and questioned why this was so, and I could never really accept nor condone it.

I would admire the punctuality of the west and think how Islamic that was instead, but then I realized it is not a matter of east or west, but rather a matter of respect. Being punctual shows respect, good manners and the keeping of one's promise, and this is how a Muslim should be in everything they do. To my understanding, if an invitation says 7 pm, it is our duty to be on time, in order to honor our commitment and not insult our host. Here is an extract from Sunnipath explaining punctuality from an Islamic perspective:

"Agreeing to be somewhere at a given time is like a promise and therefore, the Fiqh of Promises applies to it. Making a promise without firm resolve and reasonable surety of fulfilling it is improper, but not sinful because of secondary issues that may arise and prevent one from fulfilling it. However, contractual matters such as jobs, classes, appointments, and the like are different. Allah says:

'Oh you who believe, fulfill your contracts'.

The scholars mention that contracts here refers to every form of commitment. It is obligatory (fard) to be on time if this is the expectation. Even being a little late is at least improper, and is unbecoming of a Muslim in our times. Undue delay is otherwise sinful, except for slight delays that are customarily overlooked. The believer should uphold themselves to the most excellent of character, for the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said

'The closest of you to me on the Day of Judgement are those best of character'. 

Shaykh Muhammad Qaylish mentions that in our times, when the Shariah is distant from society, we are ambassadors of Islam and must act in order to uphold a favourable impression of Islam. This entails:

1) Upholding commitments with excellence

2) Being easy-going without being lax."

(Courtesy of: spa.qibla.com)

I know that sometimes one cannot make it on time no matter what, and it happens to the best of us, because of our children and our responsibilities. I do believe that mothers should be given a certain degree of leeway, BUT there are ways to ensure that it does not become a habit. Some of the things I do to ensure that I am mostly punctual are:

*Make certain clocks 5-15 minutes faster (especially when my kids were younger) so I could always be ahead of time. I knew in the back of my mind the clock was fast, but my kids didn't. I also in a way was tricking my mind into believing that I had to follow that time.

*If my invite is say at 7:00 pm, I will mentally tell myself it is at 6:30 pm (30 mins before) so that I am ahead time and this also takes care of any unforeseen events like traffic, last minute bathroom visits, where my ???? etc.

*When I am waiting for a someone to help me go somewhere - like a babysitter or a carpool lift, I will tell that person to come earlier to my place in case they have any unforeseen circumstances or are not punctual by nature. This helps me not get frustrated and delayed for the event.

*I start preparing my kids and our belongings at least an hour before we need to leave. We only leave the bathroom visits for last. Shoes and coats can be put by the door to save time.

Some days no matter how much you prepare, you may not make it at the pre-determined time. The best you can do is call or message the host to say that you are running late and extend your sincerest apologies. This is very much a part of our Deen - to have excellent manners. Allah swt is the best of Planners and sometimes no matter how hard we try, we are not meant to be at a certain place at a certain time - this is out of our control and does not happen often.

Fashionably late is not fashionable at all, rather it is a sign of bad manners and lack of respect for another person's time. Everyone is busy these days, so we have to be less callous and more aware of how we affect another's feelings. It IS possible to be on time even with children! Maybe when we think of punctuality as a promise we make to someone, instead of the need to be somewhere on time, it will seem more important to keep.