A Muslim Woman and Free Time
Everyone seems to wish they had more of it. Being a wife and the mother of seven children I have often thought to myself that if only I had some free time I would... What would I do? Here we come to a universal truth about free time. It is used in one of two ways. Either it is put to good use or it is wasted, sometimes in sinful use.
Of course, we will all agree that performing some sort of Ibadah would be the ideal use of free time. However, we often forget that the performance of Ibadah is the very reason for our life on earth. Allah (swt) says: “I have not created jinn and humans except so that they may worship Me.” [51:56]
Allah did not create humans without reason. Nor did He create them for the sake of spending their time in pointless activity. He created them for Ibadah in the complete meaning of Ibadah - worship of Him as the one Almighty Lord of the Worlds.
Ibadah refers not just to ritual, physical, and mental acts of Ibadah such as Salah, Saum, Zakah, and Hajj. These are the Arkan of Ibadah. The true and complete meaning of the word Ibadah includes much more. As Ibn Taymiyyah puts it, Ibadah is “a comprehensive word that refers to all that Allah (swt) loves and all that pleases Him.”
So how does all this tie in with a woman and free time? If we examine the question and take a deeper look at exactly how Ibadah is performed in a woman's life, the desire for “free time” takes on a new meaning.
Adh-Dhahabee related in Sayr A'laam An-Nubalaa from Asma bint Yazeed Ibn As-Sakan that she went to the Prophet (saw) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, may my father and mother be sacrificed for you. I have come to you on behalf of the women. Verily Allah has sent you to men and women. We have believed in you. We do not go out and we remain in your homes. We are your source of physical pleasure. We carry your children. A man goes out to pray Jum’ah and Jamah, and follows the Janazah. And if you go out for Hajj, or Umrah, or Jihad, we look after your wealth. We wash your clothing. We raise your children. Shall we not share in the reward?”
The Prophet (saw) turned to his Companions and said, “Have you ever heard anything a woman has said better than what she has said?” Then he said to her, “Understand O woman, and inform the other women. Indeed a woman's perfection of her relationship with her husband, her seeking his pleasure, and doing that which he approves of is equivalent to all of that.” Asma left exclaiming “Laa ilaaha illallaah.”
Here, the Prophet (saw) explains an important aspect of Ibadah which applies uniquely to women. He informs us of the way to her success and how she has been granted this distinguished form of worship, one that many of us complain about. It is equivalent to Jihad, praying Jum’ah and Jamah. It is commensurate to participating in the Janazah, performance of Hajj and Umrah.
This Ibadah is the perfection of her relationship with her husband, her seeking his pleasure, obeying him, and doing that which he approves of. It is the caring for her children and her home and remaining within her home. Allah (swt) in His incomparable mercy has provided her with other deeds which replace those deeds that men usually perform, so that she may achieve equal reward.
One might argue that most of the women participate in these actions on a daily basis, even the disbelieving women. However, the concerns of a Muslim woman are nobler. She sets her sights high in her actions. She is aware that her every act, when performed islamically, is an expression of her worship of Allah (swt).
What is it that makes a woman wish for free time? Usually it is a need for a more personal time period wherein she may direct her energies into something that she would individually benefit from and enjoy. There is nothing wrong with this and indeed, when done with the correct intention, this too falls into Ibadah.
However, the waste of free time is an evil that many of us succumb to. The world is filled with opportunities for us to waste our time. Shaytan whispers here and there and before you know it we've intended well but failed to follow through. All of us are prone to wasting our time or failing to take opportunities to use our time well.
This is how it happens:
Putting things off until “later”. It is very easy to fall into a rut of aspiring to do good while not putting forth a sincere effort. Success in doing good things with our time is much like repentance. Is repentance sincere if you just think about it, express your desire to repent, and then say, “Oh, maybe I'll repent next month?”
Similarly, if you wish to memorise Qur’an, or further your knowledge, but continually put your efforts on a back burner, you've fallen into Tasweef. In order to succeed at something we must first rectify our intention, then make sure that the thing we are aspiring to is in accordance with the Qur’an and Sunnah, and finally we must step forward with a firm foot. We must be serious in our commitment.
Affairs outside our home can be harmful as well as Haram. Would you even think that going shopping could fall into this? Don't be surprised. Islam directs that a woman is primarily meant to remain in her home. She may come out for her needs. If she goes out, according to the conditions of the Shariah, for a need which her husband cannot fulfil for her, then there is nothing against that. But, sometimes we fall into a western mentality of role sharing. Now there is nothing wrong with a husband helping his wife out and vice-versa.
However, a woman taking over responsibilities of the husband with the intention of “making things easier on him” is skirting on the questionable. This is particularly so when we talk of shopping and other such needed but not always necessary tasks. A better way would be to organise herself and her household affairs and that of her children by simplifying her lifestyle and cutting back on the unnecessary.
A Muslim woman's constant going to the markets to make the household purchases and her desire to do so is wrong. Some women have no intention to purchase anything. They just want to walk around the market and see what's new. Maybe there's a new style, new material, something nice. So she has no true need to go out. And we know the Hadith of the Prophet (saw) who said, “If a woman goes out of her home Shaytan will attract attention to her presence.” [At-Tirmidhi]
Meaning he will draw attention to her presence and make use of the opportunity either in tempting her or tempting others through her. If a woman remains in her home then Shaytan cannot do this. The Prophet (saw) also said that if a woman goes out of her home she “appears in the form of a Shaytan and she leaves in the form of Shaytan.” [Muslim]
How? The scholars have said that Shaytan comes to those who are before her and make her coming out appear attractive to those who are looking. And when she leaves he makes her appear attractive to those who are present and see her leaving.
So she causes people to look at her and she causes their temptation. Allah (swt) and His Messenger (saw) have ordered us to remain in our homes and to come out only for true need to do so.
“And remain in your homes” are the words of Allah (swt) addressed to the believing women and the wives of the Prophet (saw). The word in the Ayah, “qarna” means to remain and adhere. Allah has ordered the woman to adhere, to stay, and not merely to it, in her home. She should accustom herself to staying home and not going out. And if she does go out she should feel uncomfortable in doing so.
A sign of Iman of a true believing woman is her feeling that her home is where she belongs. And a sign of a diseased heart is that of a woman who feels uncomfortable staying at home. Examine your heart for the stirrings of disease. Treat yourself by applying Allah's command. By rectifying our hearts contentment can be bred and truly appreciated.
Ah, the telephone. A wonderful invention it was, without doubt. It did away with a lot of travel, sending messages by hand, and unexpected visitors. But it also brought us the opportunity for wasting large blocks of our time and, sometimes, committing serious sin such as talking about things that are none of our business. A telephone does indeed fulfil a need for us as women.
It provides us with an opportunity to “visit” with our friends and family without leaving our homes. We can share a cup of tea with a friend as a relaxation from the occupation of daily chores. But, it can also steal valuable time that can be put to more beneficial use. Use it with attention and care or you will find that it will use you.
Music and Singing
Allah (swt) says: “And befool them gradually those whom you can among them with your voice, (i.e. songs, music, and any other call for Allah’s disobedience) make assaults on them with your cavalry and your infantry.” [17:64]
“And of mankind is he who purchases idle talk (music, singing, etc.)” [31:6]
In explaining this Ayah Ibn Masood said: “Wallaahi Laa ilaaha illaa huwa this refers to music and singing.” The Prophet (saw) said, “There will come among my nation a group of people making permissible the wearing of silk (for men) the drinking of wine, and the usage of musical instruments.” [Al-Bukhari]
This was pointing to the fact that such deeds were originally forbidden but would be made permissible in later times by those who stray from the correct path. I'm sure we can all agree that Allah (swt) has not forbidden a thing except for the corruption or harm that it contains.
Now, there may be Muslims that listen to music for pleasure. If you are one of them, I advise you to research the subject to learn of its impermissibility and work on your Iman. A Mumin would turn to Qur’an for such pleasure.
I like to believe that most Muslims do not listen to music but rather find it an unintentional part of their lives - on the radio, while listening to the news, computer software, and the like.
If you are truly benefiting from such things, don't fall into the neglectful habit of not turning the sound down whenever music comes on. It's so easy to do - to just sit there and think that it will stop in a minute. This occurs a lot with children, especially with computer software and video games.
If they can't use them without the sound and the sound is full of music then maybe the actual benefit should be reconsidered. Sooner or later we will tire of turning it down or having to constantly say, “Turn down the music!” And, sooner or later, we will find music a constant element of our lives. Sooner or later.
Gossip and Backbiting
Most of us have, at one time or another chewed the flesh of someone. It may have been an enemy or a friend, an acquaintance, a supervisor, or an employee, or even our own spouse or child. Gossip and backbiting are nasty deeds and they can become habitual. Though not restricted to females, it is notoriously recurrent in us. We have a reputation for it. We fall into it easily. And again, it is usually idle time, time not well spent, that is the trap laid into which we place our wagging tongues.
When we call a sister just to talk, how many times do our conversations turn to the affairs of others? When this happens do we forbid what is wrong and command what is right? Do we discuss shared secrets under the pretence of seeking advice. When we call or go to visit, do we start with good intent but fall into talk that rings with “Did you hear?” “Can you believe that she?” and “So-and-so said this and that.”
Often talk enters into the perimeters of the Haram, causing us to use our free time in an extremely detrimental way. Even our silence to its occurrence is an abuse of time for which we are accountable.
Films and Television
This is a particularly dangerous tool of learning and change. Audio/video anything has the incredible ability of making lasting impressions in the mind and upon the soul. Mannerisms, morals, and beliefs can be culled from them. If exposure is continuous the influence can begin to be seen within a very short period of time, in changes of belief as well as in the amount of time spent viewing.
Don't fool yourself into thinking that children are the only ones who are impressionable and susceptible. Adults can be just as easily influenced and addicted. Now, consider this view of films and television shows, given by the lecturer Saeed bin Misfir Al-Qahtaanee.
“A film or a show is basically a story. A liar called a writer or producer writes it. After he writes it he approaches a group of other liars and actors with the intent to perform and bring the story to life. You play this role and you perform this part. You're the mother, you play the father, you the son, and so on, and they sit together for two, three, or four months to produce the story and present it to the people. And then people spend long stretches of time sitting together following the story as if it were true while in reality it is a lie. Actually a person shouldn't even be looking at it. . . They even have a way of capturing the viewer’s attention by leaving them in suspense at the end of the show so that they will make it a point to watch the next show.”
Granted, there are possibilities for useful and permissible use of television and video. But the concern is in that which is, without question, forbidden. Ask yourself, “Am I watching or listening to things that I really, islamically, should not?” Am I using my time well in doing so?
We are left with the subject of how to use our free time beneficially. The world is filled with activities. How do we choose who, what, when, and where and at the same time reassure ourselves of why? Here are a few principles that can put some perspective and equilibrium into our lives.
Place this feeling into everything that you approach in your life. Keep in mind the pillars of our Deen - not just that of Iman and Islam but particularly of Ihsan – “to worship Allah as if you see Him and, though you cannot see Him, know that He sees you.” [Mutafaqun 'alaih]
What a powerful statement! Make it words to live by. Also remember that our entire lives and the world around us is a test. Know that you will be asked how you spent your time, your money, your health, and your wealth. Allah (swt) tells us in Surah Al-Kahf: “Indeed We have made that which is on earth as an adornment for it, in order that We may test them (mankind) as to which of them are best in deeds.” [18:7]
Pay attention to your life and the outlook you put into your day-to-day activities. Allah (swt) observes us. He knows our every movement. We should consider this observance and emphasise our awareness of Allah (swt). If we fear Allah (swt) and maintain our consciousness of Him (swt) we will be more responsible with our time and our use of it.
Be Responsible and Responsive
As women we have varying circumstances and situations within the folds of our lives and our responsibilities vary accordingly. First and foremost we are responsible to Allah (swt). All of our obligations in life are subjective to this. If we could only keep this is mind most things would fall into place and much wrong avoided.
But sometimes we overindulge ourselves in personal desires causing us to neglect areas of responsibility to the point that we step over the bounds of right into wrong. The fabric of our lives is as different and varying as fingerprints. Some of us are married though others are not. We may live all alone or within an extended family home. You may have a child or two, others have a houseful, while even others have none.
Therein each of us will find a different balance of responsibilities and a varying amount of free time. If you were to list all of the responsibilities that you have as a woman you might feel a bit exasperated. However, the key is not in making a “To Do” list but more a reminder to be responsive to those things around you that need you.
For example, a baby has a right to the breast milk that Allah (swt) has created for its nourishment. A mother has an obligation to offer it. But the responsive part of this relationship is recognising that the child needs not just the milk but the loving, caring warmth, the emotional cradling, the comforting nipple of his mother's breast. A relationship of physical contact and emotion is created and needed, one for which a bottle is a poor replacement. A baby is not aware of the nutritional difference that mother's milk provides over other milks. But she is aware of the difference in comfort, closeness, and affinity that she feels when she nurses from her mother's own milk.
By looking beyond the “right” and “obligation” aspects of our lives and turning our minds to the benefit, reward, and fulfilment that can be gained by living out our responsibilities we can find pleasure and satisfaction in things that are otherwise done without attention or enjoyment.
In the patchwork of our lives we will find that there is blessing in whatever Allah (swt) has given us if we only look for it, nurture it, and give it its due. The more responsive we are to our individual blessings, the more benefit we will gain.
Be responsive to the daily situations that Allah (swt) places you in. Act and react with full awareness of your duties to all aspects of your life and the people and things within it. Stop and ask yourself if you are truly fulfilling the rights of Allah (swt), the rights of others, and the rights of yourself.
Keep Good Company
Most of us have a “best friend”. She (or even he) is the one whom we call and discuss our innermost feelings and concerns with, the one with whom we share our day-to-day happenings and thoughts, the one whom we turn to for advice. No wonder the Prophet (saw) said, “A person follows the faith of his friend. Therefore, consider with whom you make friends.” [Abu Dawoud & Tirmidhi]
A good companion is one who will listen, yet stop you if you gossip. She will encourage you toward good when you incline toward evil. She will tell you that you are wrong when you need to hear it. She will remind you of Allah (swt) and remind you to remember Him.
She will prohibit you from disobedience to Him. And perhaps most importantly, she will do this without fear of losing you as a friend just as you, if you are worthy of such a companion, will accept it with a good heart and thank Allah (swt) for the blessing of such a good friend.
Identify Your Weaknesses and Desires
All of us have them. Some of us control them. Many of us indulge in them. It could be talking on the phone, e-mailing friends, going shopping, social engagements, an outside job, even going out for Dawah or education. Any one of these activities has the potential to turn into a platform for misuse of time and neglect of responsibility.
As part of a balanced life there is no harm in participating in any or all of these things as long as they involve nothing forbidden. But if they overshadow or negatively affect the other areas of your life, particularly those things that are obligations, you could be setting yourself up for some major questioning on the Day of Judgment.
Sit with yourself and examine where and how you spend your time. Often we may find that we give an abundance of our time to things that are beneficial but not really necessary while other areas of our lives are not being cared for properly. Single out those things that seem to dominate your life.
Examine them for their value. Are you sacrificing time from other obligations in your life to make room for them? Does it affect your relationships with the people in your life? We don't have to give up the things we enjoy. We just need to maintain the equilibrium that is necessary to balance the many balls that we choose to juggle.
Free time is a luxury that most of us enjoy and would appreciate more of. But in doing so we must keep in mind that every second that ticks by comes to an end and does not return until we are called to account for it. Spend your time well as it is stated so superbly by the Lord of the Worlds:
By al-'Asr (Time), Verily mankind is in loss, except those who believe, and do good righteous deeds, and those who enjoin one another to truth.