The Way To Salvation In the Light of Surah Al-Asr
On Surah Al-Asr
speech delivered at Aitchison College, Lahore)
Dr. Asrar Ahmed
from the Author’s Book, “The Way To Salvation In the Light of Surah
Al-Asr”, Published by the Cooperative Office for Call and Guidance at
Al-Badia Communities Section under the Supervision of Presidency of Islamic
Research, IFTA and Propagation, P.O. Box 24952, Riyadh, 11456,Tel.
966-1-4350455, Fax 966-1-41000122, Saudi Arabia.
Taken from the Author’s Book, “The Way To Salvation In the Light of Surah Al-Asr”, Published by the Cooperative Office for Call and Guidance at Al-Badia Communities Section under the Supervision of Presidency of Islamic Research, IFTA and Propagation, P.O. Box 24952, Riyadh, 11456,Tel. 966-1-4350455, Fax 966-1-41000122, Saudi Arabia.
Points Regarding Surah Al-‘Asr:
The first point is that this is one of the earliest surahs of the Glorious
Qur’an to be revealed. It was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace and
blessings of Allah be upon him) in the earliest period of his prophethood in
The second point is that it is one of the shortest surahs of the Glorious
Qur’an as it has only three verses, the first of which is comprised of only
one word “Wal-Asr”.
The third point is that it is one of the most comprehensive surahs of the
Glorious Qur’an. The Holy Qur’an is a book of guidance for all mankind,
which has been revealed to guide mankind on the road to success and salvation.
This path of salvation towards which the Holy Qur’an guides us has been
described with utmost brevity and comprehensiveness in this short surah.
whole Glorious Qur’an is like a tree, and this short surah is its seed. And as
a seed contains the total potentiality of a whole tree, Surah Al-Asr contains
the essence of the Holy Qur’an. This is why some reports of the Companions of
the Holy Prophet (may Allah be pleased with them) indicate that whenever two of
them met and sat together they never parted without reciting Surah Al-Asr to
this can be the reason why Imam Al-Shafeii (may Allah bless him) has said about
this surah that if the people were to ponder over this surah alone, it would
suffice for their guidance. He has also been reported as saying that if nothing
else would have been revealed in this Glorious Qur’an except this surah then
this surah would have been sufficient for man’s guidance.
fourth point is that the wording of this surah is very simple and easy to
understand. The masterpieces of literature of every language are sublime in
subject matter and meaning but so simple in style and wording that they can be
understood by all. This is why such pieces of literature are easily accessible
to everyone. The Glorious Qur’an is the most eminent masterpiece of Arabic
literature and in its totality can be understood easily. But this short surah is
the best example of the most lucid surahs of the Holy Qur’an. Though it is
very complete and all-embracing, not a single high-sounding or elusive word has
been used in it. Its words are familiar even to those who are only acquainted
with Urdu or Persian, and do not know Arabic.
Levels of Understanding Qur’an:
Before describing the significance of this surah, it is important to
state the fundamental principle that the Qur’an can be comprehended on many
levels. The real lesson which is implicit in any surah or verse of the Holy
Qur’an should be made explicit in order that the basic guidance regarding human
conduct may be attained. The Glorious Qur’an calls this Tazakkur bil Qur’an,
i.e., realizing through the Qur’an the fundamental truths implicit in human
nature. From this point of view, the Glorious Qur’an is the easiest of books
to understand. The highest stage of contemplation of Qur’anic verses has been
termed Tadabbur bil Qur’an, which means reflecting and pondering over every
word deeply, in order to deduce the philosophy and the wisdom of the Holy Book
In this sense the Holy Qur’an is the most difficult of books as it is not easy
to attain the depth of its meaning.
In this paper, I will describe clearly and in detail the basic guidance
obtained through the application of Tazakkur bil Qur’an to Surah Al-Asr. I will also include some hints concerning
Tadabbur bil Qur’an so that those who are interested in the deeper
contemplation of the Qur’an may also benefit.
English Translation of Surah Al-‘Asr:
simple translation of the surah is as follows:
Verily all human beings are in loss,
3. Except those who have achieved ‘Faith’, have performed Righteous deeds, and have emphasized to each other the teaching of ‘Truth’ and (the value of) ‘Patience’ (perseverance and constancy).
of the Translation:
three verses in this surah form one complete sentence. The first verse “Wal-Asr”
is an oath. The second verse describes a general rule. The third verse describes
an exception from that general rule. Combined together, all the three verses
constitute a single statement.
Please implant this simple statement firmly and clearly in your mind. And by pondering over it, you should deduce four conclusions which are the basic lessons of this surah.
Criterion of Success and Failure:
most important truth flowing forth from this surah is Allah’s presentation of
the real criterion of man’s success and failure.
person keeps in his mind a criterion of success and failure, of gain and loss.
All his endeavors and the whole struggle of his life in this world is directed
according to this criterion. An intellectually mature person is rarely found who
does not have an appointed goal or an ideal before him.
small children, specially the more intelligent ones, keep before them a standard
of achievement. They concentrate their energies on the attainment of their
we were to look around in our society as well as to search our hearts and minds,
we would find that in this age, the real criterion of success or failure is
wealth and property, or status, honor, fame and ostentation, or worldly power.
All but a few are running after these things. They expend their energies for
these purposes. The minds of most of our students are directed towards obtaining
degrees in science or technology, so that they may earn a lot of money or
achieve status, position or power. The achievement of these things is their
criterion of success or failure.
paramount truth which comes to our minds by studying Surah
is very different from this. In other words, the criterion of man’s success is
neither money or wealth, nor status, position, power, or ostentation. Rather its
first condition is ‘Faith’, the second is ‘righteous deeds’, the third
is ‘exhortation to truth’, and the fourth is ‘exhortation to
this criterion, a person who does not possess the above four qualities is
unsuccessful and will never achieve his real goal, and in the end he will be a
loser, though he might be a millionaire, even a billionaire like Qarun and-might
have highest status, position, and power, even kingship like Pharaoh or Herod.
Conversely any one who has these four prerequisites is successful and
triumphant, even if he has no worldly
wealth or property, and may be penniless, homeless, friendless, unknown,
un-honored and starving.
you reflect deeply over it, you will find that acknowledging this truth is very
easy, but its realization in your heart and soul is very difficult.
* We are living in a world of cause and effect, and we are bound to be
influenced by its external features. When we see that comfort, prosperity, honor
and reputation is due to wealth and worldly resources, we involuntarily rush to
get these things, so much so that we forget to distinguish between right and
wrong, legal and illegal, approved and forbidden. In other words, the
reformation of our attitudes and the righteousness of our actions depends upon
changing our criteria of our success and failure, gain and loss. This is the
real lesson of this unique surah.
a little contemplation it will become clear that if the simple truth stated in
this great surah is engraved on our heart and penetrates our soul, it will
revolutionize our point of view, change our values, and transform radically our
day to day life. What was thought most important before will appear to be most
trivial, and what was insignificant before will become significant.
The great transformation which was brought about in the lives of the Companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was the result of this deep-rooted change in their point of view. In their sight this world and whatever is in it seemed insignificant as compared to the achievement of Allah’s pleasure and that of the Prophet. This is the real lesson of this magnificent surah, and everyone should keep it in mind so that it may be infused in his heart and soul.
Minimum Conditions and Essential Prerequisites of Salvation:
surah describes only the minimum conditions and the essential prerequisites for
salvation, not the highest stages of achievement, nor the lofty ranks of success
and accomplishment. It explains the minimum demanded of us for our salvation.
Anything less would be failure. It does not mention first or second division,
grades ‘A’ or ‘B’ of success but only states the mere passing grade, the
minimum requirement for our success.
second conclusion has very important implications for our actions. The extreme
decadence of the moral and practical life of Muslims is a result of their
forgetting this injunction of the Glorious Qur’an. The realization that this
is the minimum standard of success will necessarily produce the proportionate
effort, struggle, and sacrifice for achieving it. People who strive for the
lofty ranks and sublime stages of religious excellence are rare. Most men only
try to fulfill the minimum requirements for salvation in one way or another.
This is why in this glorious surah the minimum demands of salvation have been
described in simplest terms so that people may dedicate themselves to its
achievement according to their capability.
the four Conditions are indispensable.
The third conclusion is a corollary of the second one.
salvation, ‘faith’, ‘righteous deeds’, ‘exhortation of truth’, and
‘exhortation of patience’ are all necessary. None of them can be dropped.
These are the words of Allah. Not a single additional word is added in it for
the sake of rhyme or exaggeration. Four conditions have been stated for saving
us from utter loss or failure, and certainly all four of them ire necessary. If
any one of them is left out, then the guarantee of man’s salvation will not
rest on the Holy Qur’an. For example, if a medical expert writes four
medicines in a prescription for a patient, and the patient leaves out any of
them according to his own judgment, then the medical expert will not be
responsible for the incomplete medication. The patient himself will be
responsible for this error.
is necessary. to emphasize this fact, because a false notion has taken hold of
the great majority of Muslims that salvation depends on the mere utterance of
the declaration of faith, that the mere verbal confession of ‘faith’ is
sufficient for salvation, and any practical application of it
his life is an additional goodness which will elevate him to high stages. You
will find very few people who think that after professing faith actively living
by its dictates is necessary for salvation. Even these few people rarely regard
it as necessary for everyone to take up the task of ‘exhortation to truth’.
It is usually assumed that the propagation of the message of Islam is the task
of a particular group only, and for others preaching is neither necessary nor
suitable. Even that special group, instead of propagating the complete truth
facing all the tribulations this effort brings with it, have left the path of
determination and sacrifice, and made their path easier by attenuating Allah’s
requirements. In this manner the whole Muslim Nation has become dominated by
inactivity, stagnation, escapism, and sloth. This situation cannot change until
Muslims realize that the performance of righteous deeds is essential for
salvation. Even more is required. The affirmation and declaration of truth and
inviting others to accept it, as well as remaining steadfast in the face of
hardships and calamities for truth’s sake is also necessary. This is the truth
which has been stated in this shortest but most comprehensive surah.
It is necessary to understand the rational relation between these four components. To be called a man of character implies, judging what is wrong or right in every matter, then adopting in practice whatever his heart and mind has sanctioned as right. A man must not only adopt it himself, but must declare it openly, inviting others to acknowledge and accept it. If in this connection, he faces difficulties and hardships, or has to offer sacrifices, then he must show courage and fortitude, patience and perseverance, and should never retreat or withdraw from his stand. For a man of noble character, it is not possible to adopt any other course. Otherwise he will be a coward and man of weak character, not a man of principle. This is the rati6nal and logical sequence in these four components: (1) ‘faith’ (2) ‘righteous deeds’ (3) ‘exhortation to truth’ (4) ‘exhortation to patience and endurance’. And it is not possible for a man of strong character to try to avoid any one of these.
with categorical Emphasis:
fourth conclusion obtained by analyzing and paraphrasing this surah is that the
above three conclusions are categorical and most emphatic in their nature and
that there is no doubt concerning any of them. Our whole faith rests upon
accepting the Glorious Qur’an as the word of Allah and accepting this word as
infallible. And who can be more truthful in his statements than Allah? Moreover,
Allah has not merely stated these truths, but has taken an oath for confirming
their validity. This oath makes this statement more emphatic, and whatever
realities are hidden in it, and whatever moral lessons are conveyed by it, are
all of them delivered with complete certainty, free from all doubts and
compromise. This means that mankind is unknowingly moving towards utter loss and
is on the verge of destruction, with the exception of those who have fulfilled
these four conditions of ‘faith’, ‘righteous deeds’,
to truth’, and ‘exhortation to patience’, and have passed all tests and
ordeals which come in the way of fulfilling these conditions.
are the four basic conclusions which can be drawn by contemplating on this
glorious surah. In fact this is the gist of Surah Al-Asr, according to the
practice of Tazakkurbil-Qur’an in order to obtain its basic meaning.
Now I want you to study and understand every word of this surah rather in depth, in order to make clear that despite of its simple wording great realities are concealed in it, and gems of wisdom and prudence are hidden in it.
Real Meaning of ‘Wal
us take the word “Wal Asr” which we have simply translated as ‘taking an
oath by time’. The
real meaning of ‘Asr’ is not only time, but a period which passes swiftly.
In Arabic language the two words ‘Asr’ and ‘Dahr’ are very
comprehensive. In both of them, not only time, but time-space complex is
implied. Curiously enough in the Glorious Qur’an, there are surahs with the
title of both ‘Asr’ and ‘Dahr’. The word ‘Dahr’ connotes the
vastness of the space-time continuum, or in the terminology of modern
philosophy, absolute time or pure duration. The word ‘Asr’ connotes the
sweep of time or its swift flow. In other words, ‘Asr’ means serial time.
In the word “Wal -Asr” the letter (Waw) is a preposition, and is used as an oath and testimonial. In short, the real meaning of the word “Wal-‘Asr” is that the swift passage of time through the ages bears witness and provides evidence for the statements that follow.
Vast Meaning of ‘Khusran’
have translated the second verse as ‘Verily all human beings are in loss’.
But even this translation does not convey the real meaning, because the
Qur’anic term ‘Khusran’ is not a monetary loss of a few thousands or
millions, but indicates complete destruction. In the Holy Qur’an many words
have been used for achievement and success such as accomplishment, triumph,
fulfilment, and blessing. But as an antonym of all these, only one
comprehensive word is used and that is ‘Khusran’. It means that the second
verse really shows that the whole mankind is standing on the verge of
destruction or doom.
significant reality which has been described in this verse, and the human
tragedy towards which this verse points out, can be conceived or realized full
in its true perspective in two stages.
Firstly, every one in this worldly life faces a hard struggle for
existence. Many people have to undertake rigorous labor from morning till
evening, but are unable to provide the bare necessities of life for their
dependents. The majority of human beings can not afford even the basic
necessities of life, such as food, clothing, shelter, education, and medical
care. Even prosperous people have to work hard to maintain their status. From
this point of view, a human being is like a beast of burden. But he is even more
tragic because he is a creature of feelings and emotions. In addition to all
that labor, he has to bear numerous mental hardships. Sometimes, he is deeply
the love of his children, sometimes by the troubles
faced by his kith and kin. Sometimes he has to put up with the sorrow of a
relative’s illness, or the shock of the death of someone loved by him. Not
only hard work and labor is his lot but grief and sorrow as well.
must have known that by observing these very troubles and tribulations of life
Buddha was so much disheartened and dismayed that in the prime of his life he
left his young wife and innocent son and ran out to the jungles in search of
masses generally harbor the misunderstanding that wealthy and prosperous people
have no anxieties. As a matter of fact, the kind of psychic agony which they
face is rarely experienced by a common man. They face numerous conflicts and
frustrations, and very often the people of this class fall prey to mental
diseases and psychic disorders. This is the first stage of human tragedy and
this has been mentioned very eloquently in the last part of the Glorious
Qur’an, is surah No. 90 Al-Balad’
in verse No. 4 wherein Allah says:
We have created man in toil and struggle”.
But added to this tragedy of the terrestrial existence is
the doom of the worst type that is manifest in the life
Hereafter. The climax of human tragedy is that after tolerating all troubles and
hardships of this world, suddenly he will have to present himself before his
Creator and give account for all the activities of his life. This is the
picture, which has been presented in surah No. 84, entitled ‘Insheqaq’ Verse
No. 6 wherein Allah says:
man, you are
toiling on towards your Rabb (Cherisher and Sustainer) - painfully toiling
- but you shall meet Him’.
if in that trial, his thoughts, convictions, actions and activities are found
deviating from the straight path, he would undergo a heart-rending and most
severe punishment and torture in the hell forever. And this is the real loss as
Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:
‘That is the sheer loss’
Interrelation of the First Two Verses:
is clear that the first verse is an oath and the second is the statement for
which the oath has been taken. That is, in the second verse a truth has been
stated, and in the first evidence has been presented for it. The question is:
what is the logical sequence between the two?
contemplating over it, we realize that ‘time’, constantly passing, is like a
sheet, which is spread up to eternity. It means that ‘time’ is an entity,
which is an eye witness to the entire passage of man’s life, from his birth to
death and to the life of the Hereafter. Hence, the toiling, painful life of man
is present before it, and it stands witness also to the momentous events of the
rise and fall of nations. The life of the Hereafter, the climax of human
tragedy, is also before its gaze. Thus ‘time’ is the greatest witness to the
fact that ‘verily man is in a state of loss’.
ascertained truth has an added element of warning implied by “Wal -‘Asr”.
This warning is, that the real cause of mankind’s ruination, destruction, and
utter loss is his negligence, and that by entangling himself in his immediate
problems and the trivial affairs of his life, he faces a state of perplexity and
The word “Wal-‘Asr” is a clarion call to wake him up from his indifference and slumber. It points out: O careless man! Your real asset is time, which is passing swiftly, and your real capital is this probationary period of worldly life which is ending quickly, and if you are unable to build up your personality, or according to the words of Iqbal, the poet of the East, if you have not achieved any sublimity in your SELF or EGO, then you will have, to face eternal loss, and your life will be doomed.
Real Meaning of ‘Iman’or Faith:
The first condition of salvation, or deliverance from this sheer
destruction, is ‘Iman’ (faith). The word ‘Iman’ has been derived from
‘aman’ meaning peace. Its literal meaning is to provide peace and
tranquility. But in its technical sense the word ‘Iman’ is used with the
prepositions. In this form its literal meaning is to have trust or belief in
and to testify. In order to
the real meaning of ‘Iman’ (faith) it is necessary to realize that any man
who has attained maturity of intelligence obviously starts thinking on perennial
am I?”, “From where did I come?”, “What is the nature of the Universe
?” and “What is the last destination of the journey of my life?”
Those who have studied philosophy, know that throughout the history of human
many thinkers continued to ponder over these questions,
and tried to find satisfactory answers. Without an answer to these questions, a
human being is in the dark, knowing little about his real self, or about the
universe, or his own beginning, or the beginning or end of the Universe.
It is evident that these questions cannot be
answered merely by our physical senses. As yet we have not been able to fathom
the vastness even of the physical world. How can we have any knowledge of its
beginning or end? Similarly, the question whether or not we had any existence
before our creation in this world, and whether after death there will be any
continuity of our existence or not, cannot be answered by our senses, because we
cannot possibly peep into the world of existence either prior to our birth or
beyond physical death. In short, man is utterly helpless to attain true and
Despite these natural limitations, there have been in the history of
mankind a number of persons who claimed that they had a special source of
knowledge which they called (revelation’. On the authority of ‘revelation’
they knew for certain that this universe did not exist from eternity nor would
to remain in existence for ever. It has been brought into existence by a Creator
Who possesses all the attributes of perfection in their utmost degree of
excellence, and He is Unique in His essence and attributes. He had always
existed and will continue to exist for ever. It is He Who has created you, and
your life is not the life of this world only, but He would again bring you back
to life after death, and that life will be real and eternal. In that life of the
Hereafter, you will face your rewards or punishments for your convictions,
actions and pursuits during this life. This Creator and Master has assigned
messengers from among men and given them the task of proclaiming these verities
and the right way of living in this world so that men may be saved from sheer
loss in the life Hereafter and may achieve success and eternal bliss.
Messengers are known as Prophets of Allah and the affirmation of our belief in
them is called Iman’ or belief in prophethood. This faith has two aspects:
verbal confession and certainty in our hearts. We testify verbally that we
believe in all prophets, and, according to their teachings, we believe in Allah
with all His revealed attributes, and we believe in life after death, and in the
day of judgment, in reward and punishment, and in hell and heaven. We also
accept these verities with utmost certitude in our hearts. These two conditions
constitute our faith or ‘Iman’. Faith is certitude about the Creator, man
and the universe. It leads to two results:
first is that a man’s internal anxiety must disappear and he must achieve
inner peace and satisfaction, when, as a result of this faith, the natural
inquisitiveness regarding his own identity and the nature of universe is
gratified. This internal serenity is the gift of faith. That is why,
etymologically, the Arabic word for faith is a derivative of the root word
‘aman’ which means peace.
second is a reform of one’s actions and life-style. As the Socratic doctrine
says ‘Knowledge is virtue, and ignorance is vice’. A believer should be
adorned with high morals and virtuous deeds, and should be free from inferior
and degrading actions.
This second point is very important because it shows that ‘faith’ and
‘action’ are linked, that faith (Iman) and righteous deeds (Amal-i-Saleh)
are interrelated. Compare for a moment two men. One thinks that this universe
has come into existence accidentally and that its entire system and organization
is running automatically. The second acknowledges that there is an Almighty,
All-powerful, Supreme Being, Who has ordained and created this cosmos and that
He is the Ordainer Who has ordained this Universe and everything in it, land it
is running according to His decrees. Is it possible that the life attitude and
actions of these two persons would be similar? Would not there be a tremendous
difference between their attitudes and behavior ? Similarly, one man thinks that
this life which he is leading in this world is the only life and there is no
life after death, there is no accountability, no responsibility, no reward or
punishment. Another man is sure that the real and everlasting life will begin
after death, that the life of this material world is nothing but a preamble of
that real life which will start in the Hereafter, and that after death every
person will be answerable not only for every action, but for every word and
thought. The attitudes and actions of these two would necessarily be different.
is quite easy to conclude that the goal of life of the former would be to enjoy
every minute of this life, as there is no life after it. And in this
gratification of the instinct of enjoyment, he might not distinguish between
right and wrong, lawful and unlawful. But the second man would take every step
in his life with caution and he would be conscious of his responsibility at all
times. A man’s faith necessitates tremendous transformation in his life.
do understand clearly that the idea commonly held in our society that
‘faith’ and ‘action’ are separate is only true about the legal aspect of
‘faith’. In this society a man is considered and pronounced a Muslim on the
basis of verbal confession only. We cannot possibly include his action and
conduct in this. But that genuine ‘faith’ which includes certainty of
one’s heart and soul must bring a transformation in one’s actions. If
one’s daily life is not changed, this is an absolute proof that genuine
‘faith’ does not exist in his heart. His faith is no more than a profession.
truth has been clarified by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of
Allah be upon him) in many of his traditions and sayings. He said:
“A man who betrays his trust has no
‘faith’, and the person who does not fulfill his promise has no religion.”
Now think over it and see how beautiful is
our Prophet’s way of expression, and how the thought expressed is as clear as
a basic mathematical proposition.
Similarly, once the Prophet of Islam (peace
and blessings of Allah be upon him) swore three times, saying:
“By God, he is not a believer, by God, he
is not a believer, by God, he is not a believer”. The Companions of the
Prophet enquired: “Who is that person about whom you are saying this?’ He
said in reply : It is the person from whose misconduct his neighbor is not
see how emphatically the Holy Prophet has referred to the complete negation of
faith and that too not on account of committing a major sin, such as,
polytheism, unjustified murder adultery, theft or robbery, but only on account
of something normally regarded as merely poor behavior. Is there any
justification after this for thinking that ‘faith’ and ‘action’ are
separate things and are not co-essential and interrelated? This is why in order
to remove this misunderstanding completely the Holy Qur’an consistently
mentions righteous deeds as the accompaniment of ‘faith’.
So long as faith is confined to the stage of verbal confession and it
is limited up
an utterance of words only, actions can be exactly the opposite of it, because
the contradiction of word and actions is very commonly found in this world. But
when faith reaches a state of certainty in our heart, when it penetrates our
heart and soul and becomes an unshakable conviction, then our actions will
necessarily be changed because the actions of a man are based on his belief and
conviction. For example, we know that fire can burn us, so we would never put
even a finger in it.
suspicion can influence our actions. We know that all snakes are not poisonous,
but still even if we suspect that a particular snake might be poisonous, we keep
away from it. Now if a person believes with utmost surety that Allah exists and
that He is All-seeing, All-hearing, All-knowing; that every movement of his,
every word which he utters and, more than this, even every intention of his
heart is known to Him; that after death, he shall have no alternative but to
present himself before Him, and shall have to give full account of his entire
life, with no chance of escaping from the grip of His punishment, nor any hope
of deliverance through ransom or intercession; then that man, believing all
these things firmly, would not dare to lead a sinful life. This is the condition
which has been described in the following saying of Prophet Muhammad (peace and
blessings of Allah be upon him):
“No adulterer commits adultery while he
has faith. No thief commits a theft while he has faith. And no drunkard drinks
intoxicants while he has faith.”
In fact these sins are committed only at a time when due to one reason or
another the real faith of a man has dissipated or vanished from his heart. Faith
and righteous deeds are interdependent and each of them is essential for the
other. Righteous deeds, good morals and a lofty character are sine qua non of
true faith. This is why in Surah Al-Asr, after faith, righteous deeds have been
mentioned as a necessary condition of salvation.
The Real Meaning of
The phrase righteous deeds is commonly
translated as good actions. But, if we look deep into it, we would discover more
significance hidden behind it. The two locutions ‘action’ and ‘activity’
are generally taken to convey the same sense. But there is a subtle difference
in their meaning. Any kind of movement or work can be called activity, but the
word action usually implies some strenuous or arduous work. On the other side,
the word ‘virtuous’ or ‘righteous’ denotes something which had
developmental characteristics and potential for enhancement. By combining these
two, we would realize that the actual significance of this term is that it is
necessary for man to put up a hard struggle to achieve that real goat for which
he was potentially created, and he had to ascend certain heights to attain that
goal. All this is conveyed by the comprehensive word ‘righteous deed’.
Surah ‘At-Teen’ in
many respects resembles Surah Al-‘Asr. Verses 4, 5 and 6 of the surah state:
we created man of the best stature. Then we reduced him to the lowest of the
low, save those who believe and do good works, and theirs is a reward
unfailing.” (95: 4-6)
This means that, in reality, man was created for the most sublime rank,
and Allah conferred on him superiority not only over jinn (Genie) but also over
angels. He was even endowed with the vicegerency of God. But in his terrestrial
existence the spiritual self is imprisoned in his gross body of clay, wherein he
falls a prey to the clutches of his carnal nature and is reduced to the lowest
of low. Now to regain his lost status and sublime rank, it is necessary for him
to obtain real knowledge. He must illumine his inner self with the light of
faith and must perform good deeds, adorning his outer self with righteous
actions, observing the canonical law of Islam and following the Prophet’s
life. These are the prime prerequisites of his salvation.
The Meaning of Mutual
In the last part of Surah Al-'Asr, the word ‘tawasau’ has been used
twice. Its verbal noun is ‘tawasi, and it is derived from ‘wasiyyat’,
which means admonition, exhortation with persistent emphasis. Again, this
infinitive is formed from the stem of the verbal noun ‘tafaul’, whose first
attribute is mutual cooperation and the second is emphasis to the point of
exaggeration. It means that this action of exhortation is required with the
greatest fervor and intensity. This stage necessitates the establishment of a
collective community or Ummah based on the principles of mutual preaching of
truth and patience.
The Meaning of ‘Haqq’
Similarly, the connotation of the word Haqq
is very extensive. Its meaning includes everything which is actually real
(that is, it is not imaginary or based on presumption). It also connotes what is
acknowledged by reason or is necessary ethically, or is purposive and not
useless or vacuous. Hence exhortation to truth means confirming, acknowledging,
inviting to and preaching every thing which is factually true and real, is
ethically necessary and is proved by reason. Thus the spectrum of ‘truth’
encompasses on the one hand the testimony of the evident facts of our existence
and, on the other hand, the testimony of the ultimate metaphysical truths of
existence. Exhortation to truth includes a whole range of activities, from
giving personal moral advice to the clarion call of the greatest truth, the
truth that the real Rabb (Cherisher and Sustainer) and master of this universe
is Allah, and that it is He who deserves that His Commands should be promulgated
and that His laws should be enforced in this world. And this truth should not
merely be pronounced verbally, but a vigorous struggle should be launched for
its practical implementation and actualization.
Similarly, the comprehensive term ‘exhortation to truth ’embraces within itself concepts which underlie many technical terms of the Holy Qur’an, such as preaching virtues and holding back people from vices. It implies asking and inviting people to do good deeds and stop them from failing in the snare of every kind of evil, exhorting them to be merciful, to have compassion for each other and to be kind to each other; and calling people towards Allah ‘ persuading them to seek real knowledge and devotion before their Real Sovereign and Master, Allah. Also it includes efforts in the path of Allah, that is, struggling hard for the establishment of the supremacy of the true religion of Allah and spending one’s wealth for this purpose and sacrificing one’s life for this noble cause.
Meaning of Patience:
The meaning of patience is very comprehensive. Its real essence is that a person should continue to maintain himself upon the chosen path, without allowing any trouble, or temptation to deviate him from it. No amount of persecution or trial should cause him to desist. He must remain steadfast in every situation, and should display firmness, perseverance, bravery and fortitude. He must not only persevere in following the truth but must also continue to persuade others to accept it and comply with it.
to Truth and Exhortation to Patience are Co-essential:
faith and righteous deeds are inter-related; so are exhortation to truth and
exhortation to patience. This is because the invitation to truth is usually not
welcomed and it has often to face resistance. It is necessary for those who are
dedicated to truth to put up with oppression and persecution.
all of us have experienced that even a little
moral advice can be disliked by people. For example, if a person owes five
dollars to some one, and is putting off its payment and you ask him to pay that
amount to his creditor, he will frown at you. If he is in an angry mood, he may
warn you not to interfere in his affairs. Now you can well imagine how much
resistance would be offered and to what extent people will oppose the preaching
which demands from them the fulfilling of their major obligations and religious
this is the point where a person faces the real test of his character and
conviction. It is a fact that mere apprehension and recognition of truth is
not so difficult, as is adopting it for oneself and inviting others to act upon
it and to remaining firm in this struggle. In Qur’anic terminology, this is
called ‘istiqamat’ i.e., steadfastness. This is the acid test which proves
to what extent a person is committed to his objectives and whether he possesses
anything which can be termed stability of character and commitment.
This is why the Holy Qur’an lays so much emphasis on the fact that true believers necessarily have to face tests and ordeals, and the truthfulness of their claims to have faith is to be examined and tested in many ways. Only those are regarded as sincere in their faith who remain firm in the face of ordeals and provide concrete proof of patience and perseverance.
Interrelation of Faith, Righteous Deeds and Mutual Exhortation:
have seen that faith and righteous deeds are interdependent and also exhortation
to truth and exhortation to patience. Now, if we understand the relationship
between these two pairs, we will have a complete view of this surah.
Nothing and no one can avoid influencing his environment and being
influenced by it. The coldness of ice will
chill its surroundings and the heat of fire will surely make them warmer. The
same is true in the field of morality. If the spirit of righteous deeds is
really engendered in a person, it must have an impact upon his environment and
he will necessarily be a source of diffusing goodness and virtue. The natural
outcome of righteous deeds is the propagation of truth in society.
principle operates in ethics very forcefully. If the social environment favors
evil, it will necessarily bring about deterioration in the lives of its
citizens. The only possible way to escape from this is to change that environment
or at least to struggle vehemently to change it. Even if a person cannot change
it, he can at least in this way, act on the principle that the best defence is a
good offence, and repel it defensively. Thus the Holy Prophet (peace and
blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
any one among you observes a vice, it is his duty to change it by force. If he
is not able to do so, he should protest against it verbally. If he does not
possess even this much of courage, he should detest it by his heart and soul,
which means that his heart should regard it as bad, and that he should regret
that he could not stop it, and this is the weakest degree of faith’.
nobility of a man’s character demands exhortation to truth because the
goodness in any person who has discovered truth and adopted for himself
necessarily demands that he should present it to others, that the greatest
number of people may benefit from it, and should partake of its blessing. Thus
the Holy Prophet said :
one among you can be regarded a believer until he loves for his brother what he
loves for himself.”
The self-respect and ardent zeal of a man who has accepted truth demand
that he should preach it to others. He should uphold it, propagate it, and
should sacrifice his life and wealth in the struggle to make it supremely
established in society.
If a man adopts a particular way of life and his environment adopts
another, then there are only two possibilities. He must either adopt himself to
his environment, in that way, removing the discrepancies and resolving clash and
discords or, if he finds the environment totally against his wishes, he should
put up a tough resistance, should wage war against it, and should try to change
it, according to his point of view. Now it is obvious that for a man of dignity,
honor, and zeal, a man of earnest concern, the only course open to him is the
second one. He would be glad to sacrifice his life for the sake of truth, but
would never tolerate that by leading a life of ease and comfort, he should
distort and misrepresent the truth.
righteous deeds, exhortation to truth and exhortation to patience are
indispensable requirements for salvation, and also dependent upon each other.
All four are indivisible aspects of a unit, and are inseparable factors of one
single totality. In fact, what are all these four except an exposition or
commentary of the word faith? If faith has in reality penetrated a person’s
heart, it will necessarily result in the performance of righteous deeds and if
the habit of doing righteous deeds has become one’s second nature, its natural
outcome would be exhortation to truth., and if the preaching of truth is done
with real sincerity and dedication, it will necessarily lead to the stage
of exhortation to patience and endurance. The reverse order also holds good. If
the stage of preaching patience and endurance is not encountered, then this is a
certain proof that the preaching is not
the whole truth, but only of a harmless part of it. If the stage of taking up
missionary work is missing, then this implies that a man’s actions are not
righteous and that he lacks religious zeal. And if his actions are not being
performed on the right lines, then this is a categorical proof that genuine
faith has not entered his heart.
path of salvation which is pointed out by Surah Al-'Asr, the path of success and
triumph towards which it guides and directs us has four milestones: faith,
righteous deeds, exhortation to truth and exhortation to patience.
most perfect example of the pattern delineated above is the life-story of the
Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) wherein all
these four components are present in their utmost perfection. At first the Holy
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) tried to discover
the reality of his own identity and that of the cosmos. A Qur’anic verse asks:
did He not find thee perplexed (and unable to find the right course by yourself)
and so He guided (you)”?
Messenger believeth in that which hath been revealed unto him from his Rabb
(Cherisher and Sustainer), and so do the believers.”
life of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was the
perfect model of moral excellence and unparalleled example of sublime character.
The Holy Qur’an states: “And you (O Muhammad) stands on an exalted
standard of character”. After fulfilling these fundamental requirements of
faith and righteous deeds to perfection, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace
and blessings of Allah be upon him) spent twenty three years in the untiring
struggle of preaching the truth and declaring and promulgating the grandeur
and glory of Allah. He bravely tolerated all troubles for this purpose,
courageously suffered all afflictions and faced all the persecutions and
oppressions of his opponents. In the canyon of Bani Hashim, he endured severe
hardships during three long years of imprisonment. In the streets of Taif, he
was stoned and ridiculed by rascals and urchins. The lives of his dear relatives
and his beloved companions were sacrificed for the pleasure of his Rabb
(Cherisher and Sustainer) and in order to uphold divine truth. After
indefatigable efforts, struggling night and day for twenty-three years, finally
he made the truth reign supreme. And only after making the divine religion
‘Islam’ the dominant force in the Arabian peninsula, did he return to his
Divine Rabb (Cherisher and Sustainer), Allah. May the peace and blessings of
Allah be showered on him and on his companions. In short, the biography of the
Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) embodies the
contents of Surah
So, this is a concise explanation of the significance of Surah Al-Asr. Now you must have realized why I regarded it as the most comprehensive surah of the Holy Qur’an, and why Imam Al-Shafeii had said, that if people were to contemplate it seriously, this brief surah would be sufficient for their direction and guidance.
relation to the surahs before and after:
let us cast a glance on the surahs of the Holy Qur’an which precede and follow
I had stated that the righteousness of a man’s character is based upon the
establishment of the real criterion of success and failure in his heart and soul
and his willingness to act according to it always. If this criterion is not
established, then the aim of his life may be reduced to amassing wealth,
material comforts and luxuries. The desire for greater material well-being may
overwhelm and overpower his mind to such an extent
it makes him oblivious of the greater realities of his life and, the universe.
The curtain of this negligence and indifference is only lifted at the time of
death. This state of affairs has been described in Surah
that blessed surah of the Glorious Qur’an which precedes
Al-Asr. As a result of this negligence a man becomes unable to differentiate
between right and wrong, lawful and unlawful, approved, and forbidden. He sees
success as a matter of hoarding and piling up wealth, and he becomes bereft of
all good qualities of character and morals, and his personality becomes replete
with sins and vices. This picture has been revealed in Surah ‘Al-Humaza’
which comes after
Al-Asr. I seek refuge in
Allah, and pray to Him to protect us from such a grievous, dreadful and
disastrous end to our lives. Ameen.
[Da'wah] [Ideal Muslims]
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