We are all interested in time, even if we are not all rabidly worried about punctuality. We have got used to the idea of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years, without thinking very often where these divisions come from. Being a person of mathematical bent, I often think of such things, just as I love seeing and examining in detail geometrical patterns in anything and everything around me.
I am fascinated by the idea of days of the week. As we in the "west" tend to know, the Bible tells us that each new day for our Jewish brothers and sisters begins at dusk and continues until the following dusk. Thus, in Genesis, we have the most poetic and imaginative version of the story of creation, starting with darkness. Therein, the first day, starting with what is now, in our system, Saturday evening to Sunday evening, went on into light, and each day thereafter follows the same pattern. The seventh day, the Sabbath, runs from what we "westerners" call Friday evening to Saturday evening, and was set aside for rest. Thus, of course, except in the land of the midnight sun, the Sabbath and Sunday never even have a common dividing line.
I have never found out what any practising Jewish person does to know when to begin or end the observance of the Sabbath, once he or she is in a place where, for so many months, there is no dusk and no dawn. For reasons which I have never understood, many in the English-speaking world (but nowhere else, so far as I know) talk and write as if the word Sabbath was another name for Sunday. All I can say is that they must never have read attentively any of the Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion, where it is made very clear that the Resurrection took place on the day after the Sabbath. Furthermore, they do not understand that each week most Christians celebrate Sunday, the first day, as the Lord's Day which follows on gloriously from and after the Sabbath.
As to seconds, minutes and hours, these were, until comparatively recently, calculated locally, and the time would vary from place to place, even village to village. However, the coming of the railways made it necessary for time to be regulated (and later divided into time zones), since without some kind of coherence it became obvious that timetables could not have any degree of evenness. With so much air travel, this has become even more obvious since we find that we sometimes cross several time zones in one single flight.
In my younger years, when I still had to travel around by air as part of my job, I suffered more than most from jet-lag, and I therefore tried to break my journeys to spread the strain. For example, on one occasion travelling from Paris to New Delhi, I broke my journey at Cairo, thus dividing the five and a half hour time zone difference into one section of two hours and another of three and a half hours. I was out of luck, though, since this did not work to overcome the problem. The aircraft on the second leg had engine problems, and we passengers were forced to spend a whole night on Teheran Airport (fortunately in the aircraft for myself and some friends whom I found on the same flight, going to the same event, each on a row of seats with the arm-rests removed). We managed to persuade the charming air-hostesses to grant us this privilege. It takes me a day or two to recover from even such a time difference as that, so I was glad that I had time to recover once I had arrived in New Delhi. Totally different from me is one of my sons-in-law, who happily, since he has regularly to go on lengthy flights, overcomes the effects without any apparent difficulty.
Months pose further problems, since they were originally based on the relation between the earth and the moon and some calendars are based still on this relationship, such as those used in Judaism and in Islam. To correct the shortfall in days in each year, these calendars add when necessary a extra month. We in the "west" have fairly standard months, and we tailor them to fit, more or less precisely, into our year (calculated on the relation between the sun and the earth) by adding (every four years with specific exceptions) one day to February. These variations can become confusing when we see that the great feasts of our Jewish and Muslim friends can be at what are very different dates for us in each of our years.
In general, we have managed to impose our system of years on the rest of the world, but we must not forget that our friends of other traditions follow others, and I find it wonderful that we can somehow muddle through, despite these differences. I long since became accustomed to calendars in majority Islamic countries giving every day its due date, both under the "western" Calendar (based on Christian tradition) and under the Muslim calendar. I see no reason for not allowing this anywhere and everywhere.
Tolerance is what we need in such matters, as in so many other fields of human activity, and I have for a long time found it a fascinating subject. Let us not try to force others to abide by our habits and customs, just as we should never endeavour to impose our ideas of freedom and democracy on those whose very decent traditions make them find another solution, which is not necessarily wrong.
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