Kamal Ahmad, Student, Jamia Ahmadiyya Ghana
Almost a decade ago, the University of Hertfordshire published the results of an international study measuring the speed of life in 32 countries; it proved that the pace of life is speeding up by 10%.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the speed of our “busy” lives has been driven by the variable of commerce and business. Ever-evolving technology has a lot to do with the feeling that life is getting faster and faster. After all, every few years, a new device appears that allows us to do something quicker and more efficiently.
We have crammed schedules with activities planned for the coming weeks, months and years. Hours are spent perfecting and modifying timetables to reduce “wasting” time. Apps tell us how much sleep we need and how many calories we need to burn off. We jump from one activity to another; constant productivity is expected in this racing world.
The adage of “time is money” is now a universal truth and with that, we weave this urgency to make every moment count. Sadly, for most of the world, religion does not fit into the picture.
Of course, productivity is good. But being engulfed in a non-stop life, in which we chase nothing but worldly pursuits, is the point of contention.
Most have become so intimately entangled with digital lives that we sometimes feel our phones vibrating in our pockets when they aren’t even there. Notification sounds alerting us of the likes and retweets satisfy our dopamine-driven desire for social validation. And in this madness, we have lost our once esteemed virtues. Humanity has grown increasingly impatient. Restlessness kicks in instantly when one must stand in line or a webpage doesn’t load quickly enough or when a video starts to buffer.
This busy and hectic lifestyle has become a problem as the remembrance of Allah is sidelined or engulfed in this “fast-paced” lifestyle and not given due time. Allah the Exalted has stated in the fourth verse of Surah al-Baqarah:
وَ یُقِیۡمُوۡنَ الصَّلٰوۃَ
“[Believers] Observe Prayer…” (Surah Al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.4)
The Promised Messiah, peace be upon him, explaining this verse, said that a believer sets upright their prayer. Here, “to set upright” (translated as “observe”) alludes to the forced effort that is specific to a righteous person when praying. When such a person begins their prayer, they must ward off countless evil whisperings, due to which their prayer “falls” repeatedly, as it were, and they must keep it held up. When the worshipper says “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is the Greatest) to begin the prayer, a swarm of evil temptations rush to dissipate his heart’s concentration. These thoughts lead a person to a far off place, causing them distress, but they go on fighting in order to acquire concentration and contentment in prayer.
Difficulty in concentrating is a normal and periodic occurrence for most people but this hectic lifestyle that we are forced to live causes our concentration spans to deteriorate at a much faster rate. Our attention spans have shortened, we become distracted easily and cannot suffer the wait.
The French philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, in the mid-17th century, said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone”. Is it truly impossible to sit alone in a quiet room for a few minutes without external stimulation in today’s world?
Psychologists at the University of Virginia and Harvard tested this with college students. Each of their 146 subjects were required to sit in a chair, alone, in a quiet room for twelve minutes. All external devices, including smartphones and watches, were confiscated. However, one type of external stimulation was allowed. A button next to the chair, when pushed, would administer an electric shock to the participant.
Before the experiment began, the participants were asked to press the button “just for practice.” All of them reported that the shock was unpleasant, something they would avoid if possible. Then the experiment began. One at a time, the subjects were asked to sit “for ten or twenty minutes” (exactly how long, they didn’t know since their devices had been taken from them), with two rules: they couldn’t fall asleep and they couldn’t get out of the chair. But if they wanted to press the button and receive a shock, it was okay. The researchers found that 67 percent of the men and 25 percent of the women chose to shock themselves during the twelve minutes of the experiment rather than sit quietly with their thoughts.
We reached to this point consciously. This cancer didn’t just spring up on us, but it’s an invited guest. Day by day, the noise and speed of our surrounding environment increased and we just gasped at how fast our webpages loaded and videos downloaded. It is a challenge to recall a time of slowness, calmness, tranquility and quietness, when our minds could drift away in thought.
The coronavirus has, to some extent, slowed us down. Daily routines have been interrupted and suddenly, we have unstructured, free-floating time. This terrible pandemic has freed us from the prison of our time-driven lives. And this is a perfect storm within which we can re-establish a link with our God.
The Promised Messiahas states:
“If our entire lives are spent in worldly engagements, what will we have accumulated for the Hereafter? Make a special effort to wake up for Tahajjud and offer it with fervour and joy. At times, the prayers to be offered during the day pose a challenge to those who are in employment, but Allah the Exalted is the Provider. The obligatory prayers ought to be offered at their prescribed times.” (Malfuzat, Vol. 1, p. 5)
This is a period where we should take a step back, evaluate and recognise where we have failed traversing toward God. What areas of our lives need improving to establish a connection with God and how can we given precedence to the Hereafter? Consider this time in isolation to be a time to recollect our thoughts.
In fact, studies have shown that when the mind is at rest, great subconscious achievements can sprout from the mind.
Brian Sutton-Smith was one of the foremost play theorists of his time, with over 65 years observing, researching and teaching in the fields of educational psychology and play theory. He argued that any useful definition of play must apply to both adults and children. He explained that activities are not just for fun and amusement. This is the time to let the mind rest. A chance to daydream. To rest the mind.
A few years ago, Jihae Shin, an assistant professor of management and human resources at the business school of the University of Wisconsin (Madison), performed a simple experiment to test the impact of play and procrastination on creativity. Professor Shin asked people to come up with new business ideas. The participants were divided into three groups.
The first group started throwing out ideas immediately. The second group, before coming up with ideas, was asked to first spend a few minutes playing Minesweeper or Solitaire, two popular video games from the 1990s. An independent group rated the ideas that both groups came up with. They found that those in the second group, who had “procrastinated” for a few minutes, were noticeably more creative. Furthermore, Shin determined that another group, asked to play the games before being told about the assignment, was no more creative than the first group. Evidently, the decisive factor in increasing creativity seems to have been allowing a period to ponder a given problem at a leisurely and subconscious level, exploring possibilities while at play.
Let this be a time to let our mind give birth to new ideas and ways in which we can better ourselves spiritually.
The mind needs to rest. The mind needs periods of calmness. The brain is always busy, even during periods of apparent rest. Einstein once said that “adversity is the mother of inventions” and this is being noticed around the world.
People are discovering deep-seated creativity within themselves which they’ve been too busy to develop, before the lockdown. They are now free and are left to roam through the halls of their minds.
This is the time for us to ponder over the challenges that we are confronted with in this busy world, especially in terms of our spirituality and connection with God, which is often lost in our “busy lives”.