There is a famous saying telling us to plan as if we will live forever, but live as if we will die tomorrow. Mahatma Ghandi said it similarly: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Such words of wisdom teach us profound things in religious texts and secular philosophy. Life is short and every day is a gift for all of us, not to be taken for granted and not to be wasted.

When we are young, we don’t really understand the concept of time, at least I didn’t. We think we have oceans of time ahead. Children often find that time moves so slowly, they long for becoming big and independent, when they can say and do what they want, when they can travel the world and see and experience what their parents, uncles and aunts, grandparents and the rest, could not do. But then, when they too grow older, say 30 plus, they begin to understand that time goes fast, especially if they have own children and a hectic everyday life. Soon they may wonder, where did all the years go?

Teenagers dream of changing the world. Luckily, some actually contribute tremendously to that at young ages, such as Malala Yousafzai (21) from Pakistan, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, for her brave efforts concerning peace and girls’ education. The Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg (16) has this year been nominated for the Peace Prize by three Norwegian parliamentarians. Her achievements are in the fields of climate change, engaging fellow students and teachers – so that her generation and future generations can live well and in peace on our planet.

The young student in ‘Skipper Worse’, depicted in the famous satirical book by Norwegian social realism writer Alexander Kielland, published in 1882, and in a short story, ‘A Dinner’ (‘En middag’) from 1879, is an example of speaking one’s mind, yes, at the time of need. The student, who is the son of the host at a dinner party set in the 1840s wealthy bourgeoisie environment in Stavanger, Norway, has many drastic opinions that shock the cigar-smoking, overweight men. He is categorical and idealistic about changes needed in religion, class inequality, and social relations. Alas Kielland’s student did not do what Malala and Greta did; he did not follow his calling, belief and duty. Instead he became like his teacher, the adjunct, a pillar of society, squandering his talent and potential, leaving to future generations to change what he could have helped change, delaying it all for the exploited under classes.

I had not planned to be so serious in my article today, talking about time management and the urgency of change and doing right. I had thought I should write a lighter story as we all enjoy the summer season, thinking of vacation, lazy days in the heat, maybe travels to cooler mountain areas, or a dip in a river or the ocean. But then this is as good a time as any to think about serious issues, too, maybe better than many times; it is just after Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr, when Muslims in particular, and everyone else living in Muslim countries, or mixed communities, have become invigorated by prayer and reflection – by thinking right and doing good in the family and neighbourhood, and much more.

Maybe this is indeed the right time to talk about the urgency of change, about realizing that time is always in short supply. Religious preachers talk about how short life on this planet is, and that we must ‘turn around’ and follow God’s will and the teachings of the holy books.

Some seventy years is the average time we human beings can expect to be on this planet. Yet, many live shorter and some get ‘bonus years’. With old Eastern and new Western medicine, more people can be alright into their late 80s and 90s, some even celebrating their 100th birthday.

Some years ago, I remember when my friend held a big birthday party for her mother, who was turning 100, the ‘birthday child’ was not quite in agreement with it all. “One hundred is too much. I think you are fooling me”, she said.

Some of the war veterans that we could see on TV on 6 June, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the D-Day and the World War II decisive battle at Normandie, France, in 1944, were still impressive men. They had been given many ‘bonus years’.

The Bible takes up the issue of time, or as we say nowadays ‘time management’, in many verses both in the Old and New Testament. The most frequently quoted verse is that of Psalm 90:12; “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom”.

In his worldwide religious crusades, the famous American evangelist Billy Graham (1918-2018) spoke about the importance of realizing how short time we all have in our life on earth, and that we must always be ready for the life hereafter. To prepare for eternity is to get things right here and now. Many of the teachings in the holy books are rather about how to live every moment of our lives right, ask for forgiveness when we stumble, and stand up again. To gain a heart of wisdom means to have things sorted out with God and fellow human beings at any given time, in faith, social relations and practical politics.

Karen Armstrong (b. 1944), a former Catholic nun, who has written extensively about the history and messages of the Abrahamic religions, always comes back to the Golden Rule, based on Jesus’, Issa’s ‘Sermon on the Mount’ in Matthew 5-7: Do unto others what you want others to do unto you. In her book, ‘A Letter to Pakistan’ (OUP, Karachi, 2011), she writes in the ‘Charter for Compassion’ (p. 6): “Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.” She writes (p. 14): “Faith was not merely an intellectual acceptance of a set of doctrines about God. The earliest Surahs repeatedly emphasized that a man or a woman of faith was one who performed the ‘deeds of justice’ (‘salihat’).

Let us try to follow these messages, with the help of God Allah – while there still is time – in everyday life, at home, at work, in politics, and more. We can use this summer to ‘gain a heart of wisdom’ and practice it.