Understanding Surah Asr – 1

hour-glassTranscribed from the Bayyinah podcast Tafseer series by Iqra Asad.

“By Al-Asr (the time). Verily, man is in loss, Except those who believe (in Islâmic Monotheism) and do righteous good deeds, and recommend one another to the truth (i.e. order one another to perform all kinds of good deeds (Al-Maruf) which Allâh has ordained, and abstain from all kinds of sins and evil deeds (Al-Munkar) which Allâh has forbidden), and recommend one another to patience (for the sufferings, harms, and injuries which one may encounter in Allâh’s Cause during preaching His religion of Islâmic Monotheism or Jihâd).”

Why is humankind in loss?

The central aspect of this Surah is “Khusr” i.e. loss. The previous Surah (Surah Takasur) discussed the people wanting to accumulate more and more, and this Surah discusses the reality, that people are actually in loss. The overwhelming theme of this Surah is warning; that is negative reinforcement. Humans are created in the best of forms; they are qualified to be successful, so then why are they in loss? Allah (swt) mentions four things in the end. The last two things are both actions, to enjoin the truth and to enjoin perseverance. Then Allah (swt) mentions faith and good deeds. He could have mentioned anything, like Zakat, but He mentions truth and patience. Why is it critical to mention these actions? Let’s analyze.

Surah Asr is Islam (in a nutshell)!

The only people who are the exception are the ones who do all the above four mentioned things. A famous quote by Fakhruddin Ghazi regarding this Surah, “In this verse, there is an intense, severe warning that is filled with a promise, because in this verse Allah (swt) declared utter loss against all humanity, except for the one who comes to Allah (swt) with these four things. The language illustrates that salvation hangs in the balance of these four conditions.” In many ways, this Surah is a summary of the Quran and Islam.

Success or Survival?

In this Surah, there is no mention of reward. No mention that “these people will get everlasting Jannah.” It demarcates between the people who fail and those who pass. This Surah does not talk about higher levels of success. It describes the bare minimum, the bottom line. So this Surah is not about success, it’s about survival; about escaping Hell, not earning Paradise. When your survival is being questioned, you forget everything else. If you’re drowning, for example, there is no time for you to talk about success. If you’re talking to your boss about promotion in the office, and there’s a fire alarm, you won’t stop in the office to finish discussing your promotion; that won’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense for someone to talk about anything other than survival, if they’re not meeting the bare requirements for survival.

This Surah does not talk about higher levels of success. It describes the bare minimum, the bottom line.

This Surah proves that being good on your own, is not enough. Islam is about living with and for other people. Imam Shafi (ra) said, “If people only reflected on this Surah, it would encompass them.” It would be enough for them. “If this was the only thing that was revealed, it would have been enough.” What is in this Surah that made him say that?

Whenever the companions would meet, they would not leave each other without reciting Surah Asr to each other. Why? They felt this is something extremely important to remind each other of constantly.

We should never lose sight of the fact that Allah (swt) is talking to us like someone who is concerned about us would talk to us. Talking about this Surah is easy, internalizing it is very difficult.

Survival is interdependent

If you’re drowning and you’re unconscious, what do you need to survive? You need to wake up. Once you wake up, you realize that you’re drowning. Even if you don’t know how to swim, you will move every muscle in your body to move towards the surface. Once you reach the surface, you are pulled back down, because your leg is tied to a chain which is tied to your drowning cousin. You need to wake up your cousin to save yourself. Maybe you don’t even like your cousin. But you wake him up. Then you are pulled down by your unconscious grandmother. You need to wake her up. Your survival depends on each other.

To survive, you have faith, due to which you do good. You tell people about the truth, and you remain patient, because it’s a time consuming and draining process.

When we want to hurry through the prayer, which Surah do we recite? Surah Asr. What do we have hanging on the wall next to our TVs and our game consoles? Surah Asr. See the irony.

Allah (swt) oath must grab attention!

This is one of the Surahs that begins with Allah (swt) taking an oath. Whatever Allah (swt) swears by is grand and magnificent, demanding reflection. Allah (swt) is bringing time as a witness to the tragedy of the human being.

“Asr” literally means “time that is running out”. It comes from “Aseer”, juice that is squeezed out. The time for Asr prayer is when the daytime is ending.

If one really has faith, the next three things are bound to happen. If those things don’t happen, what is missing? Faith.

Faith- Most wanted!

If you are truly doing good, it is impossible for you to keep it to yourself. When you enjoin good, you will encounter people who respond to you and people who hate you for what you have to say, and for the haters you need patience.

When a decent human being comes across a dispute, the first thing he will do is to seek out the truth. When he has discovered the truth, he must take action according to the truth. It may be that when he finds the truth, he does not like what he finds. However, he must stand by the truth.

Now, when he sees other people doing wrong—in our society we have the “mind your own business” policy. However, that is not the way of the Prophets. Otherwise, Islam would just be confined to saying prayers and doing Dhikr (remembrance of Allah (swt)). Islam began as, “Arise and warn!” (Al-Muddatthir 74:2).When you want to stand up for justice, you think, “I know I shouldn’t do it, but I don’t have the guts to tell people not to do it.” People who act on their beliefs, stick to their beliefs, are known as “heroes”. Like Martin Luther King. His days are celebrated; this is a process of decency that people respect. The struggle of such human beings is commendable, but it is just a part of the truth, not the entire truth. We, Muslims, have the entire truth. How much more convinced and willing should the believer be to stand up for Islam? We should compete with the disbelievers with patience and perseverance.

Further reading and viewing:

8-minute illustrated explanation of Surah Asr [Nouman Ali Khan Collection]: http://bit.ly/surahasrillustrated

The concept of time in Hadeeth [Productive Muslim article]: http://bit.ly/timeinhadith

A message from myself to the Quran [I Got it Covered article]: http://bit.ly/tothequran

[To be continued Insha Allah..]

Pearls of Peace – An extract from Surah Anam 2

Pearl-in-a-shell1Previously, we discussed standing up for what’s right, even if others around us are content with whatever is happening.

Prophet Ibrahim (as) – the devoted friend of Allah (swt)

Prophet Ibrahim’s (as) entire nation was drowned in Shirk. But he was not of those who blindly followed his tribe. He said: “Verily, I have turned my face towards Him Who has created the heavens and the earth Hanifa and I am not of Al-Mushrikun.” (Al-Anam 6:79) His family kicked him out, his people threw him in fire; but his heart was filled with peace. Why? It was because he had turned his attention and devotion to Allah (swt). As a consequence of his open declaration of truth Allah (swt) chose Ibrahim (as) as His friend – Khalilullah. What an honour!

Who are the secured ones?

Therefore in verse 81 Allah (swt) asks us, “(So) which of the two parties has more right to be in security? If you but know?” The two parties mentioned here are the monotheists and the polytheists. He answers this question in verse 82, “It is those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah and worship none but Him Alone) and confuse not their belief with Zulm (wrong i.e. by worshipping others besides Allah), for them (only) there is security and they are the guided.” May Allah (swt) keep us firm on Tauheed. Ameen.

Respect all religions

As we talk about polytheism, an important point to mention here is that if Allah (swt) chose us to be Muslims, then we have no right to scoff those who worship whatever pleases them. He says, “And insult not those whom they (disbelievers) worship besides Allah, lest they insult Allah wrongfully without knowledge.” (Al-Anam 6:108) If we make fun of them, the obvious retaliation would be ridiculing our religion. Think of others’ reaction before you take any action. Do not become the reason for causing damage to your own religion.

Leaving inner and outer sins

Allah (swt) then wants us to examine ourselves internally – the dual lives that we live. There are people who apparently seem pious and righteous, but they are engaged in sins that only they know of. Allah (swt) says, “Leave (O mankind, all kinds of) sin, open and secret. Verily, those who commit sin will get due recompense for that which they used to commit.” (Al-Anam 6:120) Quit immediately. Give them up. Learn to control your Nafs. Cleanse yourself internally. Our Prophet (sa) taught us a beautiful Dua: “O Allah! Give my heart its piety and purify it, for You are the best who can purify it; You are its Protector and Guardian.”

Would you like to share your good deeds with anyone?

To do a good deed is not as difficult as preserving that deed is. We may be doing a lot of good deeds in our lives, but sometimes we hurt one person and back bite another. We spread rumours about people without verifying the source of information. All these people will be coming on the Day of Judgement to take a portion from our good deeds. Do we wish to give our Salah to other people when we will be the neediest ones? Allah (swt) says, “Whoever brings a good deed shall have ten times the like thereof to his credit, and whoever brings an evil deed shall have only the recompense of the like thereof, and they will not be wronged.” (Al-Anam 6:160) What a loss it would be if our deeds are added to someone else’s scale! Repent and protect other people’s rights.

Do’s and don’ts for staying on the straight path

Towards the end of Surah al-Anam, there is a list of prohibitions and commandments that is similar to what Prophet Moosa (as) was given in Torah. Allah (swt) instructs Muhammad (sa) to say, “Say (O Muhammad (sa)): Come, I will recite what your Lord has prohibited you from: Join not anything in worship with Him; be good and dutiful to your parents; kill not your children because of poverty – We provide sustenance for you and for them; come not near to Al-Fawahish (shameful sins, illegal sexual intercourse, etc.) whether committed openly or secretly, and kill not anyone whom Allah has forbidden, except for a just cause (according to Islamic law). This He has commanded you that you may understand. And come not near to the orphan’s property, except to improve it, until he (or she) attains the age of full strength; and give full measure and full weight with justice. We burden not any person, but that which he can bear. And whenever you give your word (i.e. judge between men or give evidence, etc.), say the truth even if a near relative is concerned, and fulfill the Covenant of Allah, This He commands you, which you may remember. And verily, this (i.e. Allah’s Commandments mentioned in the above two Verses 151 and 152) is my Straight Path, so follow it, and follow not (other) paths, for they will separate you away from His Path. This He has ordained for you that you may become Al-Muttaqun.” (Al-Anam 6:151-153)

Why were the above prohibitions mentioned?

It is because if we engage in them, our peace will be snatched both in this world and the hereafter.

1. Shirk – no forgiveness without repentance

The first thing that Allah (swt) mentions is Shirk. That is because there is no forgiveness for Shirk if one dies without seeking repentance. Right after, He mentions kindness to parents because they have the greatest right on an individual.

2. Infant killing

Then we are warned against killing children out of the fear of poverty and hunger. The Arab pagans used to bury their daughters alive; today we have abortions. We are told immorality is unacceptable- don’t even come near it. We should be upright in our character and have high morals.

3. Rights of humankind

Murder and suicide is absolutely prohibited in the Shariah. Then the rights of the orphans are mentioned. If one has spent anything on them. He can recollect his honest share; otherwise handover their property as it was received. We continue to cheat the women when it comes to inheritance and do not give them their share. May Allah (swt) help us. Ameen

4. Bless your business

The discussion moves on to business dealings. People cheat one another for petty prices. The Prophet (sa) said that if one is honest in his business dealings then Allah’s (swt) blessings will descend. But when we misquote our prices and scheme deceitful plans, how do we expect the Barakah in our wealth?

Value the Deen – spread it with love

This brings us to another aspect of our lives. When we have to sell something of this world, our mind can think of all sorts of strategies to lure the customer. We are polite, kind, friendly and respectful. But when it comes to calling people to Allah’s (swt) Deen, we can come up with all the excuses that one can think of. The energy that drives our business marketing skills has vanished. Our time becomes limited. Our tongues become sharp and bitter. We forget all our manners and etiquettes. We will not humble ourselves for the grandeur of the hereafter, but we will open our hearts to accommodate the customers for paltry gain of this world.

Brothers and sisters, the Deen is more valuable! It can result in Paradise for you as against the momentary benefit of this world.