You might be wondering what I mean by "Asian Mean Time". It’s what one of my African friends also calls “African Time”. Partly, this is the inability of people to get to a place at an agreed time, but it’s more than that, it’s the idea that if you agree a time, you actually mean two hours later.
Like the time we were invited to a wedding in Lahore. We had to leave with the grooms party (baraat) at 8pm. At 8pm people were still mulling over what to wear I was panicking thinking we were late - much to everyone’s amusement. We finally left at 10pm, with me on my high horse thinking how terrible it was we couldn’t join the baraat on time. We got to the grooms house to find they were still getting ready! My mother-in-law pointed out – no-one here ever goes to anything on time.
Oh, and then there was the time that General Musharraf tried to establish daylight saving time in Pakistan where the clocks change by an hour in the spring and autumn (not sure why, they don’t have the problem of very short winter days like we do). So now there was the time you agreed to meet, the time you actually meet which is two hours later and there is “Musharraf Time”, so people were asking each other: “Ok 1pm, is that normal time or Musharraf time?” Probably trying to work out if they should turn up at 3pm or 4pm.
This still doesn’t explain why my hubby and in-laws were FOUR hours late to our wedding, but you can imagine it must have been a contributing factor (I’m still teasing him about this one and he is still making excuses!).
My family in contrast are sticklers for time. All of us seem to be full of nervous energy that doesn’t let us dawdle or relax and we are always early to an appointment or event (my parents are always one of the first ones to arrive at a wedding, because they actually turn up at the time on the invitation).
On the one hand, there is something to be said here about being more patient and relaxed. On the other I believe time is one of the most valuable resources available to us and we are negligent and careless about how we spend it. You may earn back lost money or property, you may regain lost health, but you can never regain time once it has passed, so I hate wasting time because someone hasn’t planned its use properly or because people are disorganised.
I also think that when someone keeps you waiting without a very good reason, they show a lack of respect. You wouldn’t keep someone you consider important waiting, you wouldn’t be late for an job interview or a meeting with your manager. So if you keep someone waiting, because you’re not that fussed about when you turn up, you can’t have much respect for them.
I feel that when you are agreeing a time with someone, you are giving them your word that you will be there at a certain time. For a Muslim, to break a promise is a big thing and we seem to take this very, very lightly. I can’t think of many Muslim events I have attended that have started or run on time, we generally seem to be hopeless at it and run on "Asian Mean Time" or "African Time", or should we call it "Chaotic Muslim Time"?
One thing that helps me is to factor in Salaah (prayer) times. So usually when I agree to meet someone or go somewhere, I will work out which Salaah falls during that time and factor in the additional time to make wudhoo' (ablutions) and pray. Or often, I will agree with family members to do something by Dhuhr (afternoon prayer) or after Fajr (dawn prayer).
Generally, though, I think we should be more careful to honour our word when it comes to agreeing on a time for something. If you agreed 1pm, and know you can’t get there till 3pm, then agree 3pm. Whoever then says, “Yes, but then I won’t get there till 5pm” really needs a bucket of water over their head, or an alarm clock, or some roller skates…
Undoubtedly keeping promises and keeping one’s word are attributes of the believers, and breaking promises is one of the attributes of the hypocrites, as was narrated from ‘Abd-Allaah ibn ‘Amr (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “There are four (characteristics), whoever has them is a hypocrite, and whoever has one of the four has a characteristic of hypocrisy unless he gives it up: when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise he breaks it; what he makes a pledge he betrays it; and when he disputes he resorts to foul language.” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 2327; Muslim, 58)