“All right, everyone. Let’s recite Surah Al-Asr before we finish class,” I announced to thirteen pairs of brown eyes staring up at me. In unison, the chorus of excited third-graders began to read the Surah. One little girl in a puffy white coat and gauzy blue hijab leapt up in excitement, waving her hands grandiosely as she recited the Surah. The boy sitting next to her saw this as a challenge; grinning, he increased his voice three octaves to try and overshadow her. By the time the Surah was over, their voices boomed throughout the masjid hall.
This was the essence of purity and beauty: the sound of joyful kids reciting the words of the Qur’an. It never failed to drown out worried thoughts that might have been preoccupying my mind before.
As class ended, the kids tramped out of the masjid, each clutching the arks they had colored after learning about the story of Prophet Nuh (may Allah’s peace be upon him). I stayed where I was, wearily resting my head on the graffiti-covered wooden table as the realities of the upcoming week slowly came back to me.
The night before, I had made a list of what I had to do in the next few days. College applications clamored for my attention, scholarship essays needed to be written, and then there was the daily routine of chemistry labs, English presentations, and calculus exams.
Everybody has weeks where they’re overwhelmed with work and lose all notion of time. This was mine. Hours melted into days and days rapidly deteriorated into weeks as I worked, worked, worked, and worked. The sands of time were running out of very my fingers as deadlines approached and the calmness of my mind disintegrated.
“Asalaamu ‘alaikum.” Another teacher’s friendly greeting roused me from my self-induced stupor of self-pity and panic.
“Wa ‘alaikumus salaam. I was actually going to come talk to you,” I answered slowly, “I won’t be able to teach next Sunday because I have two college applications due on Monday. I’ll get someone to cover for me, Insha’Allah. Is that okay?”
She shook her head, declaring emphatically, “No, you have to come next Sunday.”
I stared at her for a minute, unsure if she was serious. I had a legitimate reason! Didn’t she know that next week could possibly determine my future, while Sunday school would come again and again?
Unnerved by her refusal, I looked around the room, trying to regain my composure. The messy table with strewn crayons and sprawled books didn’t help, except to remind me of the unfinished work awaiting me at home.
“But…but, I have to,” I stuttered, starting to ramble. “My application is due on Monday and I can’t get any of it done before.”
She looked at me for a minute with a mother’s eyes.
“You think that if you skip class next week and stay at home, you’ll get more work done. But if you come to class, Allah will give you more barakah. You might have four fewer hours to do your work, but Insha’Allah, your work will be even more successful because you took the time to remember Allah and teach about Islam.”
Her brutally honest words made me feel instantly ashamed as it forced me to reevaluate my work and so-called ‘study habits’.
Wasn’t it true that when I had homework or cleaning or some other overbearing obligation, I pushed Islam off to a last priority? The sister’s words made me remember the time I stayed up all night studying for a chemistry midterm and put aside reading Qur’an because I hadn’t had time. There was the day I skipped hadith class because I had three essays to write and I thought I could just go again next week. How often had I put Islamic learning or reading Qur’an last on my to-do lists? I thought I was being more efficient, but I was really preventing barakah and the blessings of Allah from entering into my life.
Most people forget about reading Qur’an or learning new ahadith when they become very busy and stressed. The truth is that this is the time that we should remember Allah the most, for He is the one who makes our efforts successful and eases our trials. Barakah allows us to achieve more with few resources, complete a lot when we are most pressed for time, and make our efforts successful.
After all, Allah is Al-Mu’tee (The Giver), Al-Baasit (The Extender), and Ar-Razzaq (The Provider). Without Him, all of our efforts would be fruitless. As it says in the Qur’an, “And if any one puts his trust in Allah, sufficient is Allah for him. For Allah will surely accomplish his purpose” (Surah Al-Talaq 65:3).
Maybe the kids weren’t the only ones who needed to recite Surah Al-Asr.