"Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise" - a famous maxim coined by the American scientist, writer and inventor, Benjamin Franklin. And he was not alone in these beliefs. The writer Samuel Johnson also warned that "nobody who does not rise early will ever do any good".
This is not just opinion but proven scientific fact. A study by researchers at Brigham Young University in Provo in the American state of Utah found that:
"students who habitually go to bed late and sleep late the next day have lower grade point averages (GPAs) than students with early-to-bed and early-to-rise sleeping habits. The later students slept in the morning, the lower their grades tended to be. Out of all the factors studied, weekday and weekend wakeup times had the strongest association with students' GPAs. Each hour over the average that students slept in on weekdays was associated with a 0.13-point drop on the GPA (0.0-4.0 scale)."
Source: Journal of American College Health 2000; 49: 125-130
Of course, we Muslims are well used to getting up not just at the crack of dawn but actually half an hour before it to begin the day with the ritual worship of fajr salat (and even earlier in Ramadan before starting the day's fast).
What are the spiritual blessings of fajr salat?
According to a hadith recorded in Sahih Muslim, prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) stated that the action which is dearest to God is salat at its proper times. On another occasion prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) also said to his companions:
And once while standing beside a tree in autumn, he stated:
"When a Muslim observes his salat with due attention and devotion, he sheds his sins just like this tree is shedding its leaves." (Ahmad)
Moreover, in the Quran we are told that prostrating (in salat) brings us closer to God (96:1).
Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) also tells us that fajr salat along with isha is particularly rich in blessings:
(Bukhari and Muslim)
And according to Utham, (RA), prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) said:
"To perform the dawn prayer, [fajr], in congregation is like keeping vigil throughout the night." (Muslim).
In Surah 23, ayats 1-2 of the Quran we learn that:
Spiritual success certainly. But as Muslims we are also called upon not just to earn spiritual blessings for the next world but also to be materially successful in this one. Despite the obvious call to work hard and make the most of our abilities demonstrated in the parable of the talents, the Christian West has often had an ambiguous attitude towards wealth, sometimes glorifying poverty and misinterpreting Jesus's gospel statement that "love of money is the root of all evil" to mean that money itself is the root of all evil. As a Muslim, I am more inclined to agree with the playwright George Bernard Shaw who is reported to have said that "lack of money is the root of all evil".
[Shaw was an admirer of prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) and in the 1936 book The Genuine Islam referred to him as "the wonderful man" and "the saviour of humanity".]
Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) himself stated:
- Baihaqi. Narrated by Ibn Mas'ood (RA) and Abu Hurairah (RA)
The other side of the coin, so to speak, is:
- Sahih Bukhari hadith 4.95 Narrated by Abu Said Al Khudri (RA)
It is wealth which enables us to take care of our families, keep on the straight path and avoid doing wrong in order to make ends meet. It is wealth which enables us to meet our obligation to pay Zakat. It is wealth which enables us to help others and contribute to Dawah through additional charity. It is wealth which enables us to meet our obligation to go on Hajj.
It was wealthy Muslim traders who peacefully spread Islam throughout West Africa and the areas we now know as Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. And if we look at the first generation of Muslims, we find the shining example of Abdur-Rahman Ibn Awl. The eighth person to embrace Islam, he migrated twice to Abyssinia. Abdur-Rahman distinguished himself in both the battles of Badr and Uhud, suffering more than twenty wounds at the latter. Then starting with nothing, he went on to achieve tremendous success as a merchant, becoming the richest of the companions. From his great wealth, Abdur-Rahman financed the Muslim armies, contributed to the upkeep of the family of Mohammed (Peace be upon him) after the prophet's death and was universally renowned for his fabulous generosity.
So how can we turn getting up for Fajr to our material advantage? Certainly not by slinking back into bed again and snuggling up for another few hours. As prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him) said:
"The most excellent jihad is that for the conquest of self." (Bukhari)
In the context of fajr, what this means is, once up, stay up! Stay up and do something useful. Work on your goals. If you don't have any, set some. Decide what you want to achieve in life. Devise a plan to make those goals a reality then take action. You will be amazed at what you can get done in those few quiet hours when most of the rest of the world is still asleep. You can organise your day, learn a language, work on your degree course or get fit by going jogging in the coolness of the morning.
You can also turn staying up after fajr to your career advantage by driving into work earlier, beating the traffic then packing so much productive work into the next hour without interruption because no one is there to pop into your office and the phone hasn't started ringing yet.
A further fajr advantage is that along the way you can listen on cassette to the wisdom and inspiration of motivational and business speakers. We spend hundreds of ours commuting in our cars every year, by some estimates the equivalent to two full terms of university tuition. Put this time to good use, especially first thing in the morning when you are relaxed and driving on a virtually empty road, when you are bright and fresh and can best take it all in. Turn your car into a university on wheels.
Each of our lives is different, but you know how to apply these ideas to your own situation.
Take action now!
"Ah, that's too hard", I hear you say. Well God assures us in the Quran that:
It is possible to turn these early hours to great advantage. It's desirable and it's beneficial. We are obliged to get up for fajr anyway. From this we derive a spiritual advantage. Let's stay up and get to work. Why have just one type of advantage when we can have two - spiritual and material. As Muslims we are uniquely placed. The next fajr is less than 24 hours from now. First thing tomorrow morning make sure that you take advantage of your fajr double advantage.
[Author's footnote: After working on other tasks, I started this article at 6 am and have just finished it at 8.20. Now for a day's work!]