For the first time in many many months, I woke up today, the second day of my weekend, and realised I had nothing pressing that needed to get done. My sister and I cleaned the apartment and bought groceries yesterday. I emerged from an intense six-day week at work that weighed heavily on my energy, and completed the last of three Arabic-language exams, having struggled to scrape together enough time since December to prepare for them.

So, with no studying to do or homework to complete until my next round of courses begins, no pressing errands to run, nor any plans to meet with friends, I suddenly found myself with a free day to exercise, read, write, sleep, cook, relax in front of the television, or whatever I felt like doing before another rigorous work week starts tomorrow. Free time is a valuable commodity that we often don’t have a lot of—or we fail to appreciate when we do.

One of the highlights of my trip to Malaysia earlier this month was an unexpected meeting with one of my friend’s eldest maternal uncles. My friend, his wife and I had just visited the beautiful Blue Mosque in Shah Alam for the afternoon prayer, Asr, and decided to stop by a small Chinese restaurant nearby for dessert before carrying on with sightseeing.  When we had almost finished the refreshing desserts that combined crushed ice, sago and milk with mango, watermelon and honeydew, my friend noticed his uncle had just taken a seat at a nearby table to order lunch. He rushed over to greet his uncle in the incredibly courteous, respectful manner that is part of Malay tradition. Visibly pleased by the coincidence, my friend invited his uncle to join us for a few minutes before we headed off.

His uncle was incredibly kind, evidently pious, spiritually aware and wise. He spoke with his nephew about new projects he was in the midst of executing and they discussed entrepreneurial ventures with enthusiasm. My friend praised his uncle’s continued drive and stamina. Then, his uncle turned his attention to the three of us and said something that left a profound impression on me about the importance of using our free time wisely and effectively.

He explained that the there are two great blessings God grants us during our lives that we should not neglect: health and free time. As practicing Muslims, humans who consciously surrender to the one Almighty God, it is a divine obligation for us to ensure that, when healthy, we use our free time effectively toward enriching our lives and our communities.

His wisdom, I would later discover, is drawn from Hadith, a collection of sayings of the Last Prophet, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), who is cited as having said: “There are two blessings which many people waste: health and free time.” As with most Prophetic advice on how to live a fulfilled life, this wisdom is succinct, crystallising in a single sentence something that we may already be aware of but hadn’t really thought about or carefully applied in our lives.

My friends and I departed shortly afterward and, feeling enriched by our serendipitous rendezvous, I let the advice simmer in my mind. I hadn’t contemplated before just how rare those two elements, health and free time, are and together how important they can be to our spiritual routine. The moment sickness strikes us or someone dear to us falls ill, we become consumed by the treatments involved to reverse, relieve or rehabilitate ailments and our energy is quickly drained. Daily activities become impossible to carry out and we long for the health and schedule we had, perhaps, taken for granted.

By reflex, whenever I’ve had some free time after work in the past two weeks, those words of wisdom shared by my friend’s uncle came to mind. I found myself resisting the urge to flip on the TV, for instance, to instead go for a swim, read a book or chapters of the Holy Quran, or send notes to some friends or relatives I hadn’t been in touch with for a while.

This morning, after enjoying a cup of coffee and bowl of cereal, I resisted the urge to crawl back into bed for another hour and went up to the gym instead, this wise man’s example in my mind. While I didn’t have any grand plans for my free day, I decided to exercise, spend time writing and start reading one of three new books I bought recently from The Revival of the Religions Sciences collection, a comprehensive series of books on Islamic spirituality by the great medieval theologian and mystic Al-Ghazali. I also took a couple of hours to watch a movie on TV, which was immensely enjoyable with a cup of tea with fresh mint and a slice of blackberry pie.

Rather than regard those moments of downtime as a right after toiling throughout my hectic week, I instead embraced them as a privilege and was immensely grateful to God for blessing me with health to be able to treasure my free time and, with His will, make best use of it. We have great power in our hands to acquire and spread knowledge and wealth in our free time by discovering ways to put our God-given talents to the best use, participating in charitable activities (something I really should do more of) and taking steps to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

Everything we do during our days can be an act of worship to our Creator when we understand, realise and embrace His presence in each activity. The time He grants us on this earth is a gift that should not be misspent.

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