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..]

How to Fill Your Spiritual Void

INDONESIA“Enjoin you Al-Birr (piety and righteousness and each and every act of obedience to Allah) on the people and you forget (to practise it) yourselves, while you recite the Scripture (the Taurat, Torah)! Have you then no sense? And seek help in patience and As-Salat (the prayer) and truly it is extremely heavy and hard except for Al-Khashiun [i.e. the true believers in Allah – those who obey Allah with full submission, fear much from His Punishment, and believe in His Promise (Paradise, etc.) and in His Warnings (Hell, etc.)].” (Al-Baqarah 2:44-45)

Is there a spiritual hole inside you?

I would like to share with you yet another reminder. This one is particularly for those of you that are involved in any sort of Islamic activity: volunteering at a Sunday school or an islamic school, helping out at the MSA, working at a youth group, helping put a conference together, bringing educational programs to your community, trying to put together a soup kitchen or a humanitarian cause, putting up a halaqa for the youth. There are so many activites that many of you are involved in and you are doing it for the sake of Islam. It also includes learning the Deen and attending courses.

A lot of times what happens is, and I speak from personal experience, we get caught up with these activities and there is a deepening, widening and gaping spiritual hole inside of us. You are doing all this stuff but your prayers have become empty, you do not enjoy reciting Quran and in your downtime you are addicted to entertainment. You cannot help but watch movie after movie or video after video and YouTube, like you are watching now. Or you do other things to entertain yourself, like video game after video game, and you just cannot help yourself. You are caught up in this cycle, every time you are by yourself, you are just doing these things that you hate yourself for. You know you should be doing something better with your time but you just cannot get yourself to do it. You try to pick up the Quran and recite it, but you just do not do it. You are so busy volunteering, you are tied up in all these things, that even in the most amazing course you have been in, you have not listened to anything because you were helping out. May Allah (swt) reward you for helping out, but you have other needs also, and there is this spiritual hole that needs to be filled.

we get caught up with these activities and there is a deepening, widening and gaping spiritual hole inside of us. You are doing all this stuff but your prayers have become empty, you do not enjoy reciting Quran

Types of Services for the Deen

So there are two kinds of services in this Deen:

  • There are services you provide for others for the sake of Allah (swt). For example, you serve the community or you serve a good cause.
  •  There are things in this Deen you do to make yourself a better person.

You need to have a balance between both of these things.

Allah’s (swt) Complaint to the Children of Israel

The Ayat I recited to you was a complaint Allah (swt) made to the Children of Israel. He (swt) says:

“Enjoin you Al-Birr (piety and righteousness and each and every act of obedience to Allah) on the people and you forget (to practise it) yourselves, while you recite the Scripture [the Taurat (Torah)]! Have you then no sense?” (Al Baqarah 2:44)

In other words, clearly the person who runs the halaqa and the one who is knowledgeable, they are the ones who tell other people to do good. But when they are by themselves, they forget so easily. Why did this person not get it? Why did he not understand?

The Remedy

So then Allah (swt) gives a remedy: if this is your problem, if in your public life you become very active (not to show off but sincerely active) but in your private life you have been devoid of spirituality and Khushu in your prayer, then what should you do?

“And seek help in patience and As-Salat (the prayer) and truly it is extremely heavy and hard except for Al-Khashi’un (i.e. the true believers in Allah – those who obey Allah with full submission, fear much from His Punishment, and believe in His Promise (Paradise, etc.) and in His Warnings (Hell, etc.)).” (Al-Baqarah 2:45)

Seek help in perseverance and patience. Part of the meaning of perseverance is being tough with yourself. Get yourself up to pray, force yourself. Just turn that thing off and go recite some Quran or memorize some Ayat or do some Ibadah or make some Dua, memorize a new Dua or two. Force yourself to do this Sabr.

Seek help in perseverance and patience. Part of the meaning of perseverance is being tough with yourself. Get yourself up to pray, force yourself.

And then He (swt) says:

“Seek help in Salat.” The prayer is supposed to help you get out of this problem. You see, when Allah says “seek help” there is a problem for which you seek help. The problem was (mentioned) in the previous Ayat: you tell people to do good but you forget about yourself.  Allah says, to help yourself get out of this problem, you turn to prayer, you turn to the Salat.

Some Practical Advice for the Brothers

Now, I want to give some very practical advice, especially to the brothers. There are many spiritual excercises in the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (sa), many Azkar, many practices of higher levels, like fasting every Monday and Thursday, and the Tahajjud and Ishraq prayers. But before you talk about any of that, let me just give you some very practical advice: if you can make it to Fajr and Isha to the Masjid and you can do so for a month, two months or three months regularly, without missing a single one, you would have addressed your spiritual problem for the most part. The way you feel after you come back from the Masjid after praying Fajr, you will know that feeling. I cannot argue with you, I cannot give you evidence for it. Rather you yourself will witness it.