Al-Asr: The Passing Time

Wa-(a)l-‘Asr(i). ‘Inna-(a)l-‘insana lafi khusr(in).

‘Illa-(a)lladhina ‘amanu wa ‘amilu-(a)s-salihati

Wa-tawasaw bi-(a)l haqqi wa-tawasau bi(a)s-sabr(i)

“By the Time. Indeed! Man surely is in a loss. Except those who believe, and do good deeds, and mutually enjoin truth and mutually enjoin patience” (‘Al-‘Asr 103: 1-3)

Al Asr- The Passing Time. One of the shortest chapters in the Quran but by all means most significant in its few words. Seeing by its explanation, you may understand that this Surah is about time. Time is witness to all of human history. This Surah teaches us the value of time and how we can benefit from it rather than losing it. The concept may seem simple but it is actually so unique and important to understand as Muslims. A great scholar, Imam Shafi’i, once said: “This Surah alone is enough for humans to ensure their happiness.” We can believe that the understanding of this Surah alone will guide us to the teachings which will make our life happy in his world and in the hereafter.

So, what makes this Surah so special? In a few words, it summarizes some main concepts of the Holy Qur’an: that those who do not believe in God or do good deeds, or who spend their lives in lies and hypocrisy will one day lose all that they have worked for; their entire lives will have been wasted and time will have passed and out of reach.

“The Passing Time” is clearly depicted in a well known story. A thousand years ago, when freezers were not of existence, residents in a Muslim land would transport ice from mountain peaks and bring them to the town to sell. One scholar reported he understood the meaning of “wal’asri innal-insana lafi khusr” when he heard an ice-seller in the market place calling out, “Have mercy on a man whose wealth is melting away!” meaning, “please buy my ice before it melts, or I will lose all my investment and have no money with which to feed my family!” The days he would sell this ice, were very hot days where even the insulated ice blocks were not safe. The ice would melt with each passing second. The scholar further understood this and related the story to our lives. A human life is just like ice that is melting and passing away with every second. The ice does not come back, it merely melts and disappears. We can interpret ourselves to be the ice seller who does not sell his ice. We need to make the most of our time by filling it with good deeds so that we may reach Jannah.

In this Surah, Allah (SWT) takes oath of time. Time is a witness and is the best asset human beings have. If we use this time correctly and efficiently, we will profit. If otherwise, we will lose in both the worlds. Time is such a concept and thus it cannot be taken as just another asset. If lost, it will never return. This is why we must better utilize our time. Allama Moududi explains it referring to a student who is taking an exam. Each second of this examination period is crucial and important for the student.

The Surah states there are four qualities in an individual who will be saved from the loss of time. “Those who have faith” are enjoined in the Surah to define those who hold firmly to their faith. Faith provides us with an understanding of what is right and what is wrong. It is a guidance in which everyone will set standards for themselves. The second group are “those who do righteous deeds.” Faith and actions based on that faith is mentioned together in Qur’an. “Those who do desires for the Hereafter, and strives for it with all due striving, and have Faith — they are the ones whose striving is acceptable (to Allah)” (17:19).

There is no faith without actions and no actions without faith. Strive to achieve good deeds. These can include simply praying, fasting, charity, and pilgrimage. However, it also involves much more than that. It is being able to respect and pay rights to your parents, spouses, and children. It is about helping the needy or visiting the sick. This can also be about keeping ones society strong. The next set of people are “those who promote truth and justice and rights of others.” There can be many situations in which we are tested and put through trials. People must support one another in these situations and stick up for the truth. Seek out what is fair and acknowledge what is true and deny what is wrong.

“And those who advice each other for patience and perseverance.” Imam Ibn Taymiyyah explained this verse in two concepts. According to him, Shubuhat, or doubts, can affect faith and Shahawat, or temptations, can lead one away from doing righteous acts. We must build as a team and support one another and seek forgiveness as a community. Sabr, patience, is the key to strive to the ultimate path. Do not waste your time — spend on others, strive higher, and establish a sense of time consciousness in your heart. We’ve already let a lot of time pass by. Let’s seek the opportunity to please our Creator with the time He has given us.