Surah Al-Asr, is the 103rd Surah of The Qur’an and the second shortest surah after Surah Al-Kawthar. The meaning of Al-Asr is “The Declining Day, The Eventide, The Epoch, Time”.
This surah teaches that all human beings are in loss, except those who have imaan (faith). It also touches on doing righteous deeds serves as a reminder of the Haqq (truth, rights, reality). It’s also a message for Muslims to practice Sabr (read our guide on how you can practice Sabr).
Al-Asr is considered by many Quran exegete to summarize the core message of the Quran in just 3 short ayats. It offers a warning to believers not to waste time, information on how to achieve success in life, and outlines a complete belief system for humans to follow based on Islamic principles.
READ SURAH AL ASR TRANSLITERATION
Bismillah Hir Rahman Nir Raheem
In the name of Allah, The Most Gracious and The Most Merciful
1. By time,
Innal insaana lafee khusr
2. Indeed, mankind is in loss,
Illa allatheena aamanu wa ‘amilus saali haati wa tawa saw bil haqqi wa tawa saw bissabr
3. Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.
Tafsir of Surah Al Asr
Here we provided the text for four different tafsirs of Surah Al Asr which you can read to expand your knowledge about the history and benefits of this surah. Reading all four different interpretations or perspectives will give you a complete understanding Surah Al Asr.
They have mentioned that `Amr bin Al-`As went to visit Musaylimah Al-Kadhdhab after the Messenger of Allah was commissioned (as a Prophet) and before `Amr had accepted Islam. Upon his arrival, Musaylimah said to him, “What has been revealed to your friend (Muhammad ) during this time” `Amr said, “A short and concise Surah has been revealed to him.” Musaylimah then said, “What is it” `Amr replied;
(By Al-`Asr. Verily, man is in loss. Except those who believe and do righteous deeds, and recommend one another to the truth, and recommend one another to patience.) So Musaylimah thought for a while. Then he said, “Indeed something similar has also been revealed to me.” `Amr asked him, “What is it” He replied, “O Wabr (a small, furry mammal; hyrax), O Wabr! You are only two ears and a chest, and the rest of you is digging and burrowing.” Then he said, “What do you think, O `Amr” So `Amr said to him, “By Allah! Verily, you know that I know you are lying.” I saw that Abu Bakr Al-Khara’iti mentioned a chain of narration for part of this story, or what was close to its meaning, in volume two of his famous book Masawi’ ul-Akhlaq. The Wabr is a small animal that resembles a cat, and the largest thing on it is its ears and its torso, while the rest of it is ugly. Musayli- mah intended by the composition of these nonsensical verses to produce something which would oppose the Qur’an. Yet, it was not even convin- cing to the idol wor- shipper of that time. At-Tabarani recorded from `Abdullah bin Hisn Abi Madinah that he said, “Whenever two men from the Companions of the Messenger of Allah used to meet, they would not part until one of them had recited Surat Al-`Asr in its entirety to the other, and one of them had given the greetings of peace to the other.” Ash-Shafi`i said, “If the people were to ponder on this Surah, it would be sufficient for them.”
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Malik narrated from Zayd bin Aslam that he said, “It is the evening.” However, the first view is the popular opinion. Thus, Allah swears by this, that man is in Khusr, which means in loss and destruction.
(Except those who believe and do righteous good deeds) So Allah makes an exception, among the species of man being in loss, for those who believe in their hearts and work righteous deeds with their limbs.
(And recommend one another to the truth,) This is to perform acts of obedience and avoid the forbidden things.
(And recommend one another to patience.) meaning, with the plots, the evils, and the harms of those who harm people due to their commanding them to do good and forbidding them from evil. This is the end of the Tafsir of Surat Al-`Asr, and all praise and thanks are due to Allah.
Sayyidna ` Ubaidullah Ibn Hisn (رض) reports that whenever two Companions of the Holy Prophet (صلی اللہ علیہ وآلہ وسلم) met, they would not part company until one of them had recited Surah Al-` Asr in its entirety to the other. [ Transmitted by At-Tabarni ]. Imam Shafi` i (رح) says that if people thought about Surah Al-` Asr carefully, it would be enough for their guidance. It is a concise but comprehensive Surah, which in three verses, outlines a complete way of human life based on the Islamic worldview.
In this Surah, Allah swears an oath by the ‘Time’ and says that mankind is in a state of loss; exception, however, is made of people who are characterized by four qualities:
 righteous deeds;
 advising each other for Truth; and
 advising each other for patience.
This is the only path to salvation in this world, as well as in the next world. The Qur’anic prescription comprises, as we have just seen, of four elements. The first two of them relate to man’s own personal betterment, and the other two relate to other people’s guidance and reform. [Ibn Kathir].
Relationship between ‘Time’ and ‘Human Loss’
The first point we need to analyze here is the relationship between the ‘oath of time’ and ‘its subject’ because there needs to be a relationship between an ‘oath’ and its ‘subject’ The commentators, generally, state that all conditions of man, his growth and development, his movements, his actions and morality – all take place within the space of ‘Time’. Man will lose the capital of his existence. Hours, days, months, and years of life pass quickly, spiritual and material potentialities decline, and abilities fade. Man is like a person who possesses great capital and, without his permission and will, every day, a portion of that capital is taken away. This is the nature of life in this world; the nature of continual loss. How well this has been put poetically:
حَیَاتُک اَنفَاسُ تُعَدُّ فَکُلَّمَا مَضیٰ نَفَسٌ مِنھَا انتَقَصتَ بِہٖ جُزءًا
“Your life comprises a few breaths that can be counted; when one of them is sent out, a part of your life has diminished.”
Allah has granted man the invaluable capital of his life, so that he may invest it in profitable business venture. If he invests his capital of life sensibly in good works, there will be no limit to the profitable returns; but if he invests it unwisely in evil works, then, let alone attracting profitable returns, he will even lose his capital, and. In addition, he will incur the dreadful scourge of committing numerous sins. If however a person did not invest his life-capital in good deeds or in evil deeds, then he, at least, loses both the profit. as well as the capital. This is not merely a poetic imagery, but is supported by a Prophetic Hadith, according to which the Messenger of Allah k is reported to have said:
کُلٌ یَّغدُو فَبَایٔعٌ نَفسَہ، فَمُعتِقُھَا اَو مُوبِقُھَا
“When a person wakes up in the morning, he invests his soul or life in a business enterprise: some of the investors free or save the capital from loss and others destroy it.”
The Qur’an itself has used the word tijarah in relation to ‘faith’ and ‘righteous deed’, thus:
هَلْ أَدُلُّكُمْ عَلَىٰ تِجَارَةٍ تُنجِيكُم مِّنْ عَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ “…shall I tell you about a trade that saves you from a painful punishment? [ 61:10] ”
Since ‘Time’ is man’s capital of life, the man himself is the trader. Under normal circumstances, his capital is not a frozen thing that may be kept for a while and used up later when the need arises. The capital is fluid or flowing all the time, every minute and every second. The man who invests it needs to be very wise, intelligent and agile, so that he is able to swiftly and readily reap the profit from a flowing capital. One of the old scholars said that he had learnt the meaning of this verse from an ice-seller whose trade required utmost diligence, and if he were neglectful for a moment, his entire capital would melt away. That is why this verse has sworn an oath by the ‘time’ to indicate that it is a melting capital, and the only way to escape loss is to take every moment of his life as valuable, and use it for the four acts mentioned in the Surah.
Another possible reason for swearing by ‘Time’ may be that the ‘Time’ (in the sense of history) bears testimony to the fact mentioned in the Surah. If one thinks on the causes of the rise and decline of individuals and nations, he would certainly believe that it is only these four acts (mentioned in the forthcoming verses) that may ensure the real success and betterment of mankind. Whoever has ever abandoned them has suffered a great loss, as is evident from numerous events recorded by history.
Let us now study the ‘four principles’ mentioned in the Surah. As pointed out earlier, faith and righteous deeds are related to man’s moral and spiritual growth and development. They are not in need of elaboration. However, the last two principles [‘advising each other for truth’] and [‘advising each other for patience’] require some elaboration.
The infinitive tawasi is derived from wasiyyah which means ‘to advise somebody strongly and effectively about the best thing to do in a particular situation’. The term wasiyyah also refers to a ‘will or testament’ where a testator advises his executor regarding the disposal of his estate on his death.
The two parts are in fact two chapters of the same testament: [ 1] advice to truth; and [ 2] advice to patience and fortitude. These two concepts may be explained in different ways. One way to explain them is that haqq (‘truth’ ) refers to the package of ‘correct faith’ and ‘good deeds’, and sabr (‘patience’ ) refers to abstinence from all sins and evil deeds. Thus the first concept refers to ‘enjoining good actions’ and the second concept refers to ‘forbidding evil actions’. The cumulative sense of the Surah is that believers have been enjoined not only to adopt right faith and good deeds themselves, but to advise others strongly and effectively to adopt them, and thus help in the creation of a healthy atmosphere around them.
It is also possible to interpret ‘Truth’ as referring to articles of faith, and to interpret ‘patience’ as referring to all good actions and abstinence from evil deeds. The word sabr, originally meaning ‘to withhold oneself and to bind oneself ‘, encompasses binding oneself down to the performance of righteous deeds and abstaining from sins.
Hafiz Ibn Taimiyyah has stated in one of his monographs that there are normally two factors that restrain a person from faith and righteous deeds: The first cause is some doubts about the true faith. When such doubts arise in the mind of people, it destroys their faith and leaves them confused and confounded. As a result, it adversely affects their righteous deeds. The second cause is the selfish desires that stop man from doing good, and involve him in evil deeds. In this situation, he theoretically believes that he should do good and abstain from sins, but his selfish desires lead him to stray from the right path. The current verse indicates to remove both causes of one’s distraction. By stressing upon ‘advice of truth’ it has catered to the first cause, and that it should be removed by reforming others on theoretical and academic level, and by emphasizing on ‘advice of patience’ it has taken care of the second cause by enjoining upon the Muslims to advise others to give up the base desires and remain firm against their evil demands. Put differently, ‘enjoining the truth’ means ‘improving the knowledge of Muslims or their intellectual development’ and ‘enjoining patience’ means ‘improving the practical life of Muslims’.
Need to Salvage the Entire Muslim Society
This Surah lays down the important principle of guidance for the Muslims that inviting other Muslims to keep to the true faith and good deeds is as much necessary as their own submission to the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah. Without sincere efforts, to the best of one’s ability, to invite others to the right path, one’s own good deeds are not enough to one’s salvation. Especially, if a person does not take care of the spiritual and moral welfare of his wife, children and family and turns a blind eye to their unrighteous deeds, he is blocking his way to salvation – no matter how pious he himself might be. Therefore, the Qur’an and the Sunnah make it obligatory upon every Muslim to do his best to invite others to the good deeds, and warn them against the evil acts. Unfortunately, let alone the general public, many learned people are lax in this matter. They think it is sufficient for them to be concerned about their own moral and spiritual well-being. They are not concerned about the well-being of their family and children. May Allah grant us the ability to act upon this verse.
This very short surah outlines a complete system for human life based on the Islamic viewpoint. It defines, in the clearest and most concise form, the basic concept of faith in the context of its comprehensive reality. In a few words the whole Islamic constitution is covered and in fact, the Muslim community is described in its essential qualities and message in one verse only, the last. Such is the clear and most expressive style of which only God is capable.
The great fact which this surah affirms is simply that throughout the history of mankind there has been one worthwhile and trustworthy path, which is, specifically, the one the surah describes. All other ways lead only to loss and ruin. As it says in outline, this way means first the adoption of faith, followed by good deeds and exhortation to follow the truth and to persevere in the face of adversity.
Faith and Its Significance
What does the adoption of faith then mean? We shall not give here its juristic definition. Instead, we shall describe its nature and importance in human life.
Faith is the characteristic by which man, a small creature with a life of short duration in a limited world, attains closeness to the Absolute and Everlasting Originator of the universe and all that exists in it. He thus establishes a link with the whole universe, which springs from that One Origin, with the laws governing it and the powers and potentialities it provides. As a result, he breaks away from the narrow boundaries of his trivial self to the broadness of the universe, from his inadequate power to the great unknown universal energies, and from the limits of his short life to the eternity that God alone comprehends.
This bond with God grants man assured power, limitless scope and freedom. It endows him with great enjoyment of this beautiful life and enriches his life with a mutual friendship with other creatures. Thus life becomes a pleasant journey for man everywhere and at all times. From this an everlasting happiness and intimate understanding of life and creation are derived. This is the invaluable gain, to lack which is an immeasurable loss.
The qualities of faith are also precisely those of sublime and dignified humanity, such as the worship of one God which elevates man above servitude to others and establishes within him the truth of all mankind’s equality so that he neither yields nor bows down his head to anyone other than God, the One, the Absolute. The result is that man enjoys true liberty, which radiates from within his conscience following his realization that there is only one power and one Lord in this world. This liberation is spontaneously developed from such an awareness, for it is the only logical sequence.
Godliness is the second quality of dignified humanity. This quality determines for man the source from which he derives his concepts, values, criteria, considerations, doctrines, laws and whatever brings him into relation with God, the world at large and with his fellow human beings. Thus, equity and justice replace personal desires and self-interest. This strengthens the believer’s realization of the value of his way of life and keeps him above all jahiliyyah concepts, interests and mundane values. This is so even when a believer finds himself alone, with no one else of his kind. For he counters all these features with values he derives directly from God. As such, they are the highest in value, most sound and most deserving of devotion and esteem.
A third quality of faith and dignified humanity is the clarity of the relationship between the Creator and His creatures. Thus, man, who is a creature restricted by his own world, is connected with the Everlasting Truth without any mediator. It supplies his heart and soul with light and contentment; and it gives him confidence and purpose. It eliminates from his mind perplexity, fear and anxiety, as well as any inclination towards arrogance and tyranny over others.
Following the path ordained by God, with steadfastness and clarity of vision, is the next quality of the community of believers. This must be maintained so that goodness does not come about casually, incidentally or without deliberation but rather springs from definite motives and heads towards certain aims. People united for God’s cause collaborate. Thus, with a single definite purpose and a single distinguished banner, the Muslim community is raised. This is true for all generations that are similarly welded together.
Another quality is belief in the dignity of man in God’s sight. This heightens man’s regard for himself and restrains him from aspiring to a position higher than that which the Creator has defined for him. For man to feel that he is dignified in God’s sight is the loftiest concept he may attain of himself. Any ideology or philosophy that abases this valuation and ascribes a dishonourable origin to man, separating him from the Supreme society of God is, in effect, nothing but a position of ignominy and degradation, even though it may not say so openly. Hence, the effects of Darwinism, Freudianism and Marxism are among the most horrid disasters human nature has encountered. For they teach mankind that all abasement and downright animalism are natural phenomena with which we should be familiar and of which we need not be ashamed.
Purity of motivation is yet another quality of the dignified humanity established by faith. This directly follows the realization of man’s dignity in God’s sight, His supervision over human conscience and His knowledge of what man harbours in his innermost soul. A normal human being, whom the theories of Freud, Karl Marx and their type have not deformed, feels ashamed should another person come to know what unhealthy feelings he may incidentally experience. The believer feels the awesome presence of God in his innermost consciousness and his awareness makes him tremble. He, therefore, resorts to self-purification and spiritual cleansing. A refined moral sense is the natural fruit of faith in God who is just, kind, compassionate, generous, and forbearing and who abhors evil, loves goodness, knows every furtive look and every secret thought. From this follows the believer’s responsibility, which is the direct result of his free-will and the fact that God is aware of all that he does and feels. It stimulates within him healthy awareness, sensitivity, serenity, and foresight. His is a communal, rather than an individual responsibility. What is more is that it is a responsibility towards all humanity, pure and simple. A believer feels all this in every action. He achieves a higher degree of self-respect and calculates results before taking any step. He is of value in the world and the whole realm of existence and has a role in its smooth running.
The final quality is man’s elevation above greed for worldly gains, preferring 1 instead God’s richer, everlasting reward for which all people should strive, as the Qur’an directs them to do. Such striving for all that is good results in spiritual elevation, purification, and cleansing. Of immense help in this regard is the fact that a believer has a broad scope for action: between this life and the next and between the heavens and the earth. Man’s elevation lessens his anxiety about the results and fruits of his actions. He does what is good only because it is good and because God requires it. It is never his concern whether it leads to further goodness in his own short life. God, for whom he performs the good, neither dies, forgets nor ignores anyone’s deeds. The reward is not to be received here, for this life is not the last. Thus, a believer acquires the power to continue to perform good deeds without waiting for immediate results. He is sustained in his determination to do good deeds by his unshakable belief in God. This is what guarantees that doing good becomes a carefully chosen way of life, not a casual incident or motiveless event. It is this belief that supplies believers with the power and fortitude to face evil, whether manifested in the despotism of a tyrant, the pressures of jahiliyyah, or the frailty of their willpower to control their passions. All these represent pressures which arise primarily from a sense that this life is too short for us to achieve our aims and pleasures and from our inability to comprehend the deeper results of doing good or to see the ultimate victory of right over evil. Faith provides a radical and perfect way of dealing with such feelings.
Faith in Human Life Faith is the foundation of all goodness in human life. It is from faith that all forms of goodness spring and to which all its fruits are due. What does not spring from faith is a branch cut from its tree: it is bound to fade and perish; or else, it is a stray shoot, limited and temporary! Faith is the axis to which all the fine fabric of life’s networks is connected. Without it life is a loose event, wasted through the pursuit of yearnings and fantasies. It is the ideology which brings together diversified deeds under a consistent system, following the same route and geared to the same mechanism, possessing a definite motive and a well-defined goal.
Hence, all deeds not stemming from this origin and not related to that way are completely disregarded by the Qur’an. Islam is invariably candid over this. In Surah 14, Abraham, we read: “The works of those who disbelieve in their Lord are like ashes which the wind blows about fiercely on a stormy day. They cannot achieve any benefit from all that they might have earned.” (14: 18) In Surah 24, Light, we read: “As for the unbelievers, their deeds are like a mirage in the desert, which the thirsty traveller supposes to be water, but when he comes near to it, he finds that it is nothing.” (24: 39) These are clear statements discrediting every deed not related to faith. The fact is that faith gives a person’s deed a motive that is connected with the origin of existence and an aim compatible with the purpose of all creation. This is a logical view of an ideology that attributes all events to God. Whoever dissociates himself from Him, vanishes and loses the reality of his existence.
Faith is a sign of health in a person’s nature and soundness in his disposition. It also indicates man’s harmony with the nature of the whole universe, and the presence of mutual effect between man and the world around him. His life, as long as his behaviour is straightforward, must bring about an orientation which ends up in his adoption of faith because of what this universe itself possesses of signs and testimonies about the absolute power that created it. Were the contrary the case, something must then be wrong or lacking in the state of the recipient, i.e. man, which would be a sign of corruption that only leads to loss and nullifies any deed which might somehow give an appearance of righteousness. So extensive and comprehensive, so sublime and beautiful, so happy is the believers’ world that the world of unbelievers appears, by comparison, minute, trivial, low, feeble, ugly and miserable.
Need for Righteous Deeds Doing what is righteous is the natural fruit of faith. It is a spontaneous interaction generated once the reality of faith settles inside the human heart and mind. For faith is a positive and active concept which, once it has pervaded the human conscience, hastens to reflect itself to the outside world in good deeds. This is the Islamic view of faith. It must be dynamic. If it is not, then it is either phoney or nonexistent, just as a flower cannot withhold its fragrance which naturally spreads. Otherwise, it is not in the flower at all.
From all this we recognize the value of faith: it is dynamic, active, creative, productive, and totally devoted to God’s pleasure. It is the opposite of narrowness, negativity, or introversion. It is not just sincere and innocent intentions that never develop into actions. This is the distinguishing characteristic of Islam that makes it a creative power in practical life.
All this is logical only as long as faith remains the link with the way of life God has outlined. This way of life is characterized by perpetual dynamism in the world and among people. It is founded according to a specific plan and orientated towards a definite goal. Moreover, faith propels humanity towards implementing what is good, pure, constructive, and utilitarian. Counselling one another to follow the truth and to persevere in the face of adversity reveals a picture of Islamic society which has its own very special entity, a unique inter-relationship between its individual members and a single objective. It fully understands its position, role, and duties. It realizes the essence of its faith and what it has to do of good deeds which include, among other tasks, the leadership of humanity along its own way. To execute this tremendous duty, mutual counselling and exhortation become a necessity.
From the meaning and nature of the very word ‘counsel’ appears a most magnificent picture of a united, co-ordinated, righteous, and enlightened community or society which pursues right, justice and goodness on this earth. This is exactly how Islam wants the Muslim community to be.
Mutual counsel aimed at that which is right is a necessity because it is hard always to maintain what is right, bearing in mind that the obstacles in its way are innumerable: egoistic passions and predilections, false concepts in the social environment, and the tyranny, inequity and despotism of some. Hence the mutual exhortation urged here means reminding, encouraging, and expressing the unity of aim and destination and equality in duty and responsibility. It also collects individual efforts into a unified whole and thus increases feelings of brotherhood in every guardian of truth, in so far as there are others with him to exhort, encourage, support, and love him. This is precisely the case with Islam, the righteous way of life whose establishment requires a co-ordinated, interdependent, self- sufficient and self-supporting community.
Counsel and exhortation to persevere in the face of adversity are also a necessity because the sustenance of faith and good deeds and catering for right and equity are the hardest tasks to carry out. This makes endurance utterly indispensable. Endurance is also necessary when adapting oneself to the Islamic way of life, confronting others, and when afflicted with ill-treatment and hardship. Perseverance is necessary when evil and falsehood triumph. It is necessary for traversing the length of the route, putting up with the slowness of the process of reform, the obscurity of the road- posts and the lengthy road leading to the destination.
Exhortation to endure hardship and persevere against adverse conditions broadens man’s capacities by inspiring unity of aim and direction as well as feelings of togetherness in everyone, equipping them with love, fortitude, and determination. It generates vitality in the community where the truth of Islam can survive and through which it is implemented.
Judging by the doctrine which the Qur’an outlines for the life of the successful group which attains salvation, we are gravely shocked to see the loss and the ruin in which humanity today finds itself everywhere. We are amazed at the frustration’s humanity suffers in this present world and at how humanity turns away from the goodness God has bestowed upon it. We are the more distressed by the absence a righteous and faithful authority to stand up for the truth. Moreover, the Muslims, or rather people claiming to be Muslims, are the farthest of all from what is good and the most averse to the ideology God ordained for their community and the one route He pointed out for their deliverance from loss and ruin. People, in the very realm where this righteousness took its roots, have deserted the banner God raised for them, that is the banner of faith. They have raised instead banners of race which have never done them any good throughout their history or given them a respectable position either on earth or in the heavens. For it was Islam that raised for them the banner totally conforming to God’s will, hoisted in His name only and identified with Him alone. Under this banner the Arabs triumphed, were predominant and gave humanity a righteous, strong, enlightened, and successful leadership for the first time in human history. Shaikh Abu’l al-Hasan `Ali Nadwi outlines the characteristics of this unique leadership:
Once the Muslims were aroused, they quickly burst the bounds of Arabia and threw themselves zealously into the task of the fuller working out of human destiny. Their leadership held the guarantee of light and happiness for the world; it gave the promise of turning humanity into a single divinely-guided society. Some of the characteristics of Muslim leadership were:
The Muslims had the unique advantage of being in possession of the divine book (the Qur’an) and the sacred law (the Shariah). They did not have to fall back on their own judgement on the vital questions of life, and were thus saved from the manifold difficulties and perils that are attendant upon such a course. The divine word had illumined all the avenues of life for them and had enabled them to progress towards a destination which they clearly envisaged. With them it was not to be a case of trial and error. Says the Holy Qur’an: “Can he who is dead, to whom We give life and a light whereby he can walk amongst men, be like him who is in the depths of darkness from which he can never come out?” (6: 122)
They were to judge among men on the basis of the revealed word; they were not to diverge from the dictates of justice and equity; their view was not to be blurred by enmity, hatred or desire for revenge. “O you who believe, stand out firmly for God as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just; that is nearer to piety; and fear God, for God is well acquainted with all that ye do.” (5: 8)
They had not by themselves leapt into power all of a sudden from the abysmal depth of degradation. The Qur’an had already beaten them into shape. They had been brought to a high level of nobility and purity by the Prophet through long years of unremitting care. The Prophet had conditioned them to a life of austerity and righteousness; he had instilled into their hearts the virtues of humility and courageous self-denial; he had purged them clean of greed and of striving after power, renown or wealth. It was laid down by him as a fundamental principle of Islamic polity that “We shall not assign an office under the government to anyone who makes a request for it, or shows his longing for it in any other way.” [Related by al-Bukhari and Muslim.]
The Muslims were as far removed from falsehood, haughtiness and mischief as white is from black. The following words of the Qur’an had not in vain been grounded into them night and day: “That home of the hereafter We shall give to those who intend not high-handedness or mischief on earth; and the end is (best) for the righteous.” (28: 37)
Instead of aspiring for positions of authority and trust, they accepted them with great reluctance and when they did accept an official position they accepted it as a trust from God, to whom they would have to render full account of their sins of omission and commission on the Day of Judgement. Says the Holy Qur’an: “God commands you to render back your trusts to those to whom they are due; and when you judge between man and man, that you judge with justice.” (4: 58) “It is He Who has made you (His) vicegerents on the earth. He has raised you in ranks, some above others, that He might try you in the gifts you receive; for your Lord is quick in punishment, yet He is indeed Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (6: 165)
Further, the Muslims were not the agents of any particular race or country; nor were they out to establish Arab imperialism. Their mission was a universal mission of faith and freedom. They were happily free from all the sickly obsessions of colour and territorial nationality. All men were equal before them. The Qur’an had pointedly said: “O mankind, We created you from (a single pair of) a male and a female; and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other [not that you may despise each other]. Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is [he who is] the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted [with all things].” (49: 13)
Once the son of `Amr ibn al-`Aş, the Governor of Egypt, struck an Egyptian commoner with a whip. The matter was brought to the notice of Caliph `Umar. The Caliph did not show the least regard for the high status of the offender’s father, and ordered the Egyptian straightaway to avenge himself for harm done to him. To the offender’s father he administered this telling rebuke, “Why have you made them slaves when they were born free?”
The Arabs were not stingy in making the benefits of faith, culture and learning available to the non-Arabs. They did not care for the nationality or the family connections of the recipients when it came to the conferment of high honours and positions in the State. They were, as it were, a cloud of bliss that rained ungrudgingly over the entire world, and from which all peoples, everywhere freely profited according to their own capacity.
The Arabs allowed a free and equal partnership to all nations in the establishment of a new socio-political structure and in the advancement of mankind towards a fuller and richer moral ideal. There were no national divisions, no colour bars, no vested interests, no priesthood and no hereditary nobility in the Islamic Commonwealth. No special benefits were reserved for anyone. There was nothing to prevent the non-Arabs from surpassing the Arabs in the various fields of life. Even as Doctors of Fiqh and Hadith a number of non-Arabs attained to distinction for which the Muslims in general and the Arabs in particular feel proud. Ibn Khaldun writes: “It is an amazing fact of history that though their religion is of Arabian origin and the Law that the Prophet had brought had an Arab complexion, with a few exceptions, all eminent men of learning in the Muslim Millat [i.e. faith], in the field of theological as well as secular sciences, are non-Arabs. Even those who are Arabs by birth are non-Arabs by education, language and scholarship. During the later centuries, too, the non-Arab Muslims continued to produce leaders, statesmen, saints and savants of exceptional merit. This would obviously not have been possible, had the Arabs been mean or prejudiced in sharing their opportunities with the people of other nationalities in the Islamic world. Humanity has many sides — physical, emotional, social, moral, mental and spiritual. We cannot neglect any one of them for the benefit of another. Humanity cannot progress to its highest level unless every human instinct is brought into proper play. It would be futile to hope for the establishment of a healthy human society till an intellectual, material, moral and spiritual environment is created in which a man is enabled to develop his latent potentialities in harmony with God’s plan of creation. We learn from experience that this goal must remain a dream so long as the reins of civilization are not held by those who attach due importance to both the material and the spiritual yearnings of life, and can, together with having a high moral and spiritual sense, fitly appreciate the claims of flesh and blood upon man and the interrelationship between the individual and the society. (Abu’ al-Hasan `Ali Nadwi, Islam and the World, pp. 75-78.)
Shaikh Nadwī then speaks of the reign of the first four Caliphs who ruled after the Prophet:
We, consequently, find that no period in the recorded history of the human race has been more auspicious for it in the true sense of the term than what is known among the Muslims as Khilafat-i-Rashidah. During this epoch, all the material, moral and spiritual resources of man were brought into use to make him an ideal citizen of an ideal State. The Government was judged by the yard-stick of morality, and the morals were judged by their utility to lift humanity in permanent values and establishing justice in human society. Though the Islamic Commonwealth was the richest and the most powerful State of its time, the popular heroes and ideal personalities in it used to be drawn from among those who possessed, not earthly glory, but purity and nobleness of character. There was no disparity between power and morality. Material advancement was not allowed to outrun moral progress. That is why in the Islamic world the incidence of crime was very low in spite of the abundance of wealth and the great heterogeneity of its population. To put it in a nutshell, this epoch was the most beautiful springtime mankind has to this day experienced. (Ibid., p. 80)
We know some features of that glorious period of human history whose generation lived under the Islamic constitution, the pillars of which this particular surah erects. That happy period of history was made possible under the banner of faith carried by a group of believers who performed righteous deeds and encouraged each other to follow the truth and to persevere in adversity.
Profit and Loss
Now what, in the light of all this, is the loss humanity is suffering everywhere? How great is its failure in the battle between good and evil as a result of turning a blind eye to the great message the Arabs delivered to it when they raised the banner of Islam and thus assumed the leadership of mankind? Having abandoned Islam, the Arab nation is in the forefront of the caravan which is heading towards loss and ruin. Since then, the banners of mankind have been for Satan, falsehood, error, darkness and loss. No banner has been raised for God, truth, guidance, light or success. God’s banner, however, is still there awaiting the arms that will raise it and the nation which under it will advance towards righteousness, guidance and success.
All that has been said so far concerned gain and loss in this life which, though of great importance, is very trivial in comparison with the hereafter. There is an everlasting life and a world of reality where real profit is made or real loss is suffered; that is, either the attainment of, or deprivation from, paradise and the pleasure of God. There man either accomplishes the highest of perfection allowed for him or completely collapses so that his humanity is crushed and ends up as worthless as pebbles or even worse: “On the day when man will look on what his hands have forwarded and the unbeliever will cry: ‘Would that I were dust.’“ (78: 40)
This surah is unequivocal in indicating the path leading humanity away from loss: “except for those who have faith and do righteous deeds and counsel one another to follow the truth and counsel one another to be patient in adversity.” (Verse 3) There is only one right path — that of faith, good deeds and the existence of a Muslim community whose members counsel one another to follow the truth and to show endurance and perseverance.
Consequently, whenever two Companions of God’s Messenger were about to depart from each other, they would read this surah, after which they would shake hands. This was indicative of a pledge to accept this doctrine fully, to preserve this faith, piety and a willingness to counsel each other to follow the truth and to persevere in the face of adversity. It was a mutual compact to remain good elements in an Islamic society established according to that doctrine and to preserve the foundation of this society.
In this Surah an oath has been sworn by the Time to impress the point that man is in sheer loss and only those people are an exception from the loss who are characterized by four qualities:
(2) Righteous deeds.
(3) Exhorting one another to truth.
(4) Exhorting one another to patience.
Let us consider each of these parts separately in order to fully understand the meanings.
As for the oath, we have explained several times above that Allah has not sworn an oath by any of the created objects on account of its glory or its excellence and wonderful qualities but for the reason that it testifies to the truth which is meant to be established. Therefore, the oath by Time signifies that Time is witness to the truth that man is in sheer loss except for the people who possess the four qualities.
The word time is used for the past as well as for the passing time in which the present, in fact, does not signify any long stretch of time. Every moment, when it has passed, becomes past, and every moment of the future, when it is passing, becomes present, and when it has passed, becomes past.
Here, since the oath has been sworn by time absolute, both kinds of time are included in its meaning. The oath by the past time means that human history testifies that the people who were without these qualities, eventually incurred loss, and in order to understand the significance of the oath by the passing time, one should understand that the time which is now passing is, in fact, the time which has been given to every single individual and every single nation to work in the world.
Its example is of the time which is allotted to a candidate for answering his question-paper in the examination hall. The speed with which this time is passing can be estimated from the movement of the secondhand in the watch. Even a second is a considerable amount of time, for during this very second light travels 186,000 miles, and in the Kingdom of God there may as well be many things which move even faster than light, but are not yet known to man. However, if the speed of the passing time be regarded the same as of the movement of the second-hand, and we consider that whatever act, good or bad, we perform and whatever occupation we pursue, takes place in the limited span of age that we have been given for work in the world, we feel that our real wealth is this very time, which is passing so quickly.
Imam Razi has cited a scholar as saying: I understood the meaning of Surah Al- Asr from an ice-seller, who was calling aloud for the attention of the people repeatedly in the bazar: Have mercy on the one whose wealth is melting away! Hearing what he was crying I said to myself: this then is the meaning of Walasri innal-insana lafi khusrin. The age-limit that man has been allotted is passing quickly like the melting away of ice. If it is wasted, or spent in wrong pursuits, it will be sheer loss to man.
Thus, swearing an oath by the Time what has been said in this Surah, means that the fast passing Time is witness that devoid of these four qualities in whatever occupation and work man is spending his limited span of life, he is engaged in bad bargains. Only such people are engaged in good bargains, who work in the world, characterized by the four qualities. It would be just like calling attention of the candidate, who was spending the time allotted for solving the question-paper in some other pursuit, to the wall clock in the examination hall, to tell him that the passing time bore witness that he was causing loss to himself; the candidate benefiting by the Time was he who was using every moment of the allotted time in solving the paper.
Though the word man has been used in the singular, in the following sentences those people have been made an exception from it, who are characterized by the four qualities. Therefore, one will have to admit that here the word man has been used as a collective noun, denoting a class, and it applies equally to individuals, groups, nations, and entire mankind. Thus, the general statement that whoever is devoid of the above four qualities is in loss, would be proved in any case whether it is a person who is devoid of these, or a nation, or all men of the world.
It will be just like giving the verdict that poison is fatal for man; it will mean that poison is fatal in any case whether it is taken by an individual, or a nation, or all the people of the world. Poison’s being fatal is an unchangeable truth; it does not make any difference whether one man has taken it, or a nation has decided to take it, or all the people of the world collectively have agreed to take poison. Precisely in the same way this truth by itself is unchangeable that man’s being devoid of the above four qualities brings him loss.
The general rule is not at all affected even if one man is devoid of these, or a nation, or all the people of the world agree that they would exhort one another to disbelief, immorality, falsehood and servitude to the self.
Now, let us see in what sense has the Quran used the word khusr (loss). Lexically, khusr is an antonym of nafa (profit); in trade this word is used in the case when loss results from one bargain as well as in the case when the whole business is running in loss, and also in the case when man loses all his capital and becomes bankrupt. The Quran has made this word a special term of its own and uses it as an antonym of falah (true success). And just as its concept of falah is not merely synonymous with worldly prosperity but comprehends man’s true success from the world till the Hereafter, so its concept of khusr (loss) is also not merely synonymous with worldly failure or distress but comprehends man’s real failure and disappointment from the world till the Hereafter. We have explained the Quranic concept of both falah and khusran at several places before which need not be repeated here.
(For this please see E.N. 9 of Surah Al-Aaraf; E.N. 30 of Surah Al-Anfal; E.N. 23 of Surah Younus; E.N. 102 of Surah Bani Israil; E.N. 17 of Surah Al-Hajj; E Ns 1, 2, 11, 50 of Surah Al-Muminoon; E.N. 4 of Surah Luqman; E.N. 34 of Surah Az-Zumar).
Besides, one should also understand that although according to the Quran true success is man’s success in the Hereafter and real loss his failure there, yet in this world too what the people describe as success is not, in fact, real success but its end in this world itself is failure, and what they regard as loss is not, in fact, loss but a means of true success even in this world. This truth has been stated by the Quran at several places and we have explained it everywhere accordingly.
(Please see E.N. 99 of Surah An- Nahl; E.N. 53 of Surah Maryam; E.N. 105 of Surah TaHa; E.Ns 3-5 of Surah Al-Lail).
Thus, when the Quran states conclusively and absolutely that man is certainly in loss, it implies loss both in this world and in the Hereafter. And when it says that only such people are secure from this loss, who are characterized by the four qualities, it implies their being secure from loss and attaining true success both here and in the Hereafter.
Now, let us consider the four qualities on the existence of which depends man’s being secure from loss and failure.
Of these the first quality is Iman (Faith). Although this word at some places in the Quran has been used in the meaning of only verbal affirmation of Faith (e.g. in Surah An-Nisa, Ayat 137; Surah Al-Maidah, Ayat 54; Surah Al- Anfal, Ayats 20, 27; Surah At-Taubah, Ayat 38; Surah As- Saff, Ayat 2), it has primarily been used in the meaning of believing sincerely and faithfully, and in the Arabic language this word has this very meaning. Lexically, amanu lahu means saddaqa-hu wa tamada alai-hi: affirmed him and put faith in him, and amana bi-hi means aiqana bi-hi: had full faith in him. The Faith which the Quran regards as true Faith has been explained in the following verses:
In fact, true believers are those who believed in Allah and His Messenger, then entertained no doubt. (Surah Al- Hujurat, Ayat 15).
Those who said: Allah is our Lord, and then stood steadfast by it. (Surah HaMim As-Sajdah, Ayat 30).
True believers are those whose hearts tremble with awe, whenever Allah is mentioned to them. (Surah Al-Anfaal, Ayat 2).
Those who have believed adore Allah most ardently. (Surah Al-Baqarah, Ayat 165).
Nay, (O Prophet), by your Lord, they can never become believers until they accept you as judge for the decision of the disputes between them, and then surrender to your decision with entire submission without the least resentment in their hearts. (Surah An-Nisa, Ayat 65).
The following verse is even more explicit as regards the distinction between verbal affirmation of Faith and true Faith; it says that what is actually desirable is true Faith and not mere verbal affirmation of the Faith:
O you who profess to have believed, believe sincerely in Allah and His Messenger. (Surah An-Nisa, Ayat 136).
As for the question, what has one to believe in, in order to have true faith? This has also been answered and explained in the Quran most explicitly. First, it implies that one has to believe in Allah, not merely in His Being but in the sense that He alone is God; no one else is an associate in His Godhead. He alone is worthy that man should worship, serve and obey Him. He alone can make or mar destinies; man should invoke Him alone and have trust in Him alone. He alone can enjoin things and forbid things; man is under obligation to obey Him and refrain from what he forbids. He sees everything and hears everything; not to speak of any act of man, even his motives and intentions with which he has done an act, are not hidden from Him.
Secondly, one has to believe in the Messenger, in the sense that he is a guide and leader appointed by Allah: whatever he has taught, is from Allah, is based upon the truth and has to be acknowledged and accepted. This belief in Apostleship also includes faith in the angels, the Prophets, the divine Books and in the Quran itself, for this forms part of the teachings which the Messenger of Allah has given. Thirdly, one has to believe in the Hereafter, in the sense that man’s present life is not his first and last life, but after death man has to be resurrected, to render an account to God of the deeds done in the present life, and has to be rewarded for the good deeds and punished for the evil deeds accordingly. This Faith provides a firm basis for morality and character, upon which can be built the edifice of a pure life, whereas the truth is that without such Faith, the life of man, however beautiful and pleasing outwardly, is like a ship without an anchor, which is at the mercy of the waves wherever they may take it.
After Faith the second quality required to save man from loss is to perform righteous deeds (salihalt). Salihat comprehends all kinds of virtuous and good deeds. However, according to the Quran, no act can be a good act unless it is based on Faith and it is performed in obedience to the guidance given by Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him). That is why in the Quran exhortation to perform good deeds is preceded everywhere by Faith, and in this Surah too it has been mentioned after the Faith.
Nowhere in the Quran has a deed without Faith been called a good deed, nor any reward promised for a deed performed without Faith. On the contrary, this also is a fact that only that Faith is reliable and beneficial, the sincerity of which is proved by man’s own act and deed, otherwise Faith without righteous deeds would be a false claim refuted by the man himself when in spite of this claim he follows a way opposed to the way taught by Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him).
The relationship between Faith and righteous deed is of the seed and the tree. Unless the seed is sown in the soil no tree can grow out of it. But if the seed is in the soil and no tree is growing out of it, it would mean that the seed is lost in the soil. On this very basis whatever good news has been given in the Quran, has been given to the people who believe and do good deeds, and the same has been reiterated in this Surah. What man requires to do after the Faith in order to remain secure from loss is to perform righteous deeds. In other words, mere Faith without righteous deeds cannot save man from loss.
The above two qualities are such as must be possessed by every single individual. Then, the Surah mentions two further qualities, which a man must have in order to be saved from loss. They are that the people who believe and do good deeds must exhort one another to truth and to patience. This means that in the first place, a believing and righteous people should not live as individuals but should create a believing and righteous society by their combination. Second, that every individual of this society must feel his responsibility not to let the society become degenerate. Thus, all its members are duty bound to exhort one another to truth and to patience.
Truth is the antonym of falsehood, and generally it is used in , two meanings:
(1) A correct and right thing which is in accordance with justice and truth, whether it relates to belief and faith or to mundane affairs.
(2) The right which is obligatory on man to render, whether it is the right of God, the right of man, or the right of one’s own self. Thus, to exhort one another to truth means that the society of the believers should not be so insensitive that falsehood may thrive and things against justice and truth be done in it, and the people be watching everything indifferently. On the contrary, it should be a living, sensitive society so that whenever and wherever falsehood appears, the upholders of the Truth should rise up against it, and no member of the society rest content with only himself adhering to truth, righteousness, justice and rendering the rights of others, but should exhort others also to adopt the same way of life. This is the spirit that can ensure security of a society against moral degeneration and decay. If a society becomes devoid of this spirit, it cannot remain secure from loss, and eventually even those people are also affected by the loss who might in their own way be adhering to the truth, but were insensitive to violation of the truth in their society.
The same has been stated in Surah Al-Maidah, thus: Those who adopted the way of disbelief among the children of Israel were cursed by the tongue of David and of Jesus, son of Mary, because they had grown rebellious and become transgressors: they would not forbid one another to do the wrong deeds they committed. (verses 78-79). Then the same idea has been expressed in Surah Al-Aaraf, thus: When the children of Israel totally forgot the teachings (of observing the Sabbath), We seized with a severe scourge all those who were transgressors, and We saved those who used to forbid evil (verse 165); and in Surah Al-Anfal, thus: And guard against that mischief which will not bring punishment in particular to the mischief-makers alone from among you. (verse 25). That is why to enjoin what is good and to forbid what is evil, has been enjoined on the Muslim community as a duty (Surah Aal-Imran, Ayat 104) and the community which performs this duty has been declared to be the best community (Surah Aal-Imran, Ayat 110).
Besides exhorting to the truth, the other thing which has been declared as a necessary condition for keeping the believers and their society secure from loss is that the members of the society should enjoin patience upon one another. That is, they should enjoin upon one another to bear with fortitude and steadfastness the difficulties, hardships, trials, losses and deprivations which befall the one who adheres to the truth and supports it. Each one of them should encourage the other to bear up against adversity steadfastly. (For further explanation, see E.N. 16 of Surah Ad-Dahr; E.N. 14 of Surah Al-Balad).