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 as busy moms we are always short of time and seemingly rushing around for an event or appointment because our kids do not follow the rules like we wish.

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 every day moms have tons of unforeseen things happening all the time and may be excused when they are not the most punctual of beings. However, I also know of some moms who have 4-10 kids and are always punctual, as well as other moms who have 1-2 kids and are constantly late. So is this acceptable and unavoidable, or is it just 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 at their tables. The majority of the crowd would only start filtering in 30-40 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 from an Eastern or Muslim background was perpetually delayed and it was graciously accepted as humorous. I also recall being extremely irritated and questioned why this was so if we call ourselves Muslims, and I never could 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 as a Muslim to be there 7 pm sharp, in order to honor our commitment and not insult our host. In Islam it is also considered ill-mannered to arrive too early for an invitation - how thoughtful is that for the host who may be rushing to prepare everything in time! Islam is filled with lessons in adhab and our Prophet PBUH even stated that:

“The most beloved of Allah’s servants to Him are those with the best manners.” - At-Tabarâni

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'.

- Extract Courtesy of: spa.qibla.com

I know that sometimes parents cannot make it on time no matter what, and it happens to the best of us, because of our children and our responsibilities. I also do believe that moms should be given a certain degree of leeway, but there are ways to ensure that being delayed does not become a habit. Some of the things I do to avoid being a delayed mom are:

  • I change certain clocks in our house to 5-15 minutes faster (especially when my kids were young) 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. In a way, I was also tricking my mind into believing that I had to follow that time.

  • If my invite said 7:00 pm, I will mentally tell myself it is at 6:30 pm so that I am thinking of being ready by then. Leaving early also takes care of any unforeseen events like traffic, last minute bathroom visits, “where is my this?” and “where is my that?” moments.

  • When I am waiting for a someone to help me to 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 through no mistake of my own.

  • I start preparing my kids and our belongings at least an hour before we need to leave and let my kids play until it is time to go. We only leave bathroom visits for last and place shoes and coats by the door to grab and go when it’s time to leave.

Some days no matter how much you prepare, you may not be able to be punctual. The best you can do is call or message the host to say that you are running late and extend your sincerest apologies. 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 usually 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 more considerate and aware of how we’re affecting another person’s feelings and precious time.

It is possible to be on time even with children and I know this as a mom of six! Maybe when we think of punctuality as a promise we are making to someone, instead of the need to be somewhere on time, it will seem more important to be punctual.

Are you the mom who is always late? Or the mom who gets irritated by everyone’s lack of punctuality? I’d love to hear which!