COMMENTARY OF SURAH AL-ASR
by the late
Hazrath Maulana Abdul
Qadir Sahib of
Allah, the Exalted, says:
BY THE FLIGHT OF TIME! VERILY MAN IS IN A LOSS UNLESS HE BE OF THOSE WHO HAVE FAITH (IMAN) AND DO GOOD WORKS; AND ENJOIN UPON ONE ANOTHER THE TRUTH (HAQ); AND ENJOIN UPON ONE ANOTHER PATIENCE (SABR). (Surah Al-Asr: 1-3)
SUMMARY OF ITS COMMENTARY
In this small chapter of the Glorious Quran, Allah takes an oath of the Flight of Time (i.e. TIME that is moving fast) in which man spends his life on earth. This limited Time is very valuable and crucial to man and it all depends on how he spends it. After taking an oath of this Flight of Time, Allah, the Exalted says that man is indeed in a loss by spending this time without being obedient to Allah. But, on the other hand, Allah the exalted also makes an exception under the same oath that those who have firm faith in Him and do good deeds are not in a loss. They are the people who have perfected their souls. They not only do good deeds to uplift themselves but also continuously exhort one another with truth and patience. These people are not in a loss but instead they are in great success and have profited a lot by spending their Time in this manner.
ITS VIRTUE AND SIGNIFICANCE
It is recorded in the Hadeeth collection of Tabrani that Hazrat Ubaidullah bin Hisn (May Allah be pleased with him) said: ‘There were two companions of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) whose normal practice was that whenever they met they never separated unless they read Surah Al-Asr to one another thereby reminding each other of their duties laid down in this chapter.’
It is also reported by Ibn Katheer, a great Quraanic commentator (mufassir), that Imam Idrees ash-Shafe’I (May Allah have mercy on him) used to say that if people only had the foresight and pondered over this chapter alone, then this would have been sufficient for them for success both in this world and the hereafter.
A DETAILED COMMENTARY
In this small but important chapter of the Glorious Quran Allah, the Most High, takes the oath of the FLIGHT of TIME and says that mankind is in a complete loss except those who establish four things in their daily life:-
Good Deeds (Amal-e-Salih)
Exhort one another with truth (Haq)
Exhort one another with patience (Sabr)
To save oneself from the loss of this world and the hereafter and to gain maximum benefit, Allah points us to four major areas of concern. The first two concern one’s self and the other two relates to the guidance and upliftment of the Muslim Ummah.
At this point, let us ponder and see what is the connection of TIME with the topic of discussion in this chapter. Why is Allah, the Exalted, taking an oath of the Flight of Time. All the great scholars and commentators of the Quran are unanimous in saying that the growth and development of man, his activities, deeds and the framing of his character are all done within the framework of Time. The actions and deeds which we are commanded with in this chapter are carried out and executed during the days and nights of this Flight of Time. It is precisely for this reason alone that an oath of TIME is taken. To explain it more manifestly, the CAPITAL of man which he uses to uplift himself is the TIME of his life he spends in this world. If one ponders very carefully, the years, months, days, hours and minutes put together constitutes man’s CAPITAL. It is with this CAPITAL that he can either attain great success in this world and the hereafter or he can destroy himself by spending this CAPITAL in committing evil. It all depends on how he uses his CAPITAL. Many scholars and saints have said very rightfully that man’s life on earth is made of a limited number of breaths. If one breath expires then one vital part of his life is lost which he can never get back. Allah has created man and has given him his life on earth as his CAPITAL and placed him in a special kind of business. Man is supposed to use his intelligence and skill to use this CAPITAL to produce the maximum benefit with it. If he uses this CAPITAL wrongly, he will incur loss and harm to himself and is bound to lose this CAPITAL as well. This is not just a poetic comparison but is explained as such by the Quran and Ahadeeth. To give examples, I quote two examples of which one is from the Quran and the other from the Ahadeeth.
Allah, the Exalted, says in the Glorious Quran:
O YOU WHO BELIEVE! SHALL I POINT OUT TO YOU A TRADE THAT WILL SAVE YOU FROM A SEVERE PUNISHMENT?- THAT YOU BELIEVE IN ALLAH AND HIS MESSENGER AND THAT YOU STRIVE (YOUR UTMOST) IN THE CAUSE OF ALLAH WITH YOUR PROPERTY AND YOUR LIVES. (Surah As-Saff:10)
The following hadeeth of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also brings out the same concept:
“Whenever a person wakes up in the morning he puts the CAPITAL of his life on a trade. Some free this CAPITAL from loss and harm while others destroy it completely.”
The great commentators have also said that this CAPITAL is not something ‘solid’ which one can keep for a few days and then use it afterwards for one’s benefit. This CAPITAL is so ‘liquid’ that it is flowing away from a person every minute and second. That part of the CAPITAL which has flowed away cannot be regained. Therefore man has to be very intelligent to use this ‘liquid’ and ‘continuously flowing’ CAPITAL for his maximum benefit.
It has been reported that one pious Alim (scholar) visited the market-place and saw a man selling ice-cubes. After a while, he went to his people and said that he has now fully understood the real tafseer of Surah Al-Asr by just looking at the man selling ice-cubes. If that man had become a little negligent about his CAPITAL (i.e. the ice-cubes), then he would have lost a huge part of his trade including the CAPITAL because it would have melted and flowed away as water.
Similarly, the FLIGHT of TIME in man’s earthly life bears the same significance. Allah, the Exalted, takes an oath of this flight of Time and draws man’s attention towards four things which, if established firmly, will save him from the loss in both worlds. The four things which mankind is asked to be steadfast and firm in are as follows:
Good deeds (Amal-e-salih)
Exhort one another with truth (Haq)
Exhort one another in Patience (Sabr)
The first two are self-explanatory and need no further explanation. These two relate to man’s own self and his betterment. The last two needs further explanation and are worth noting. The word TAWAASAW in this chapter is derived from WASIYYAH. WASIYYAH is the terminology given to the advice and guidance given with emphasis and in an effective manner to a person to do some good deed. It is for this reason that the instructions left by a deceased to be carried out on his behalf is called WASIYYAH. Thus, the last two things mentioned are two parts of the WASIYYAH i.e. the Wasiyyah of Haq (Truth) and the Wasiyyah of Sabr (Patience). What are their real interpretations?
The Haq (truth) implies the correct beliefs (aqaa’id-e-saheehah) and the Sabr (patience) implies restricting oneself from committing evil deeds. Using the word TAWAASAW with HAQ (truth) is then interpreted to be AMR-BIL-MA’ROOF i.e. commanding others towards good. Similarly, using the word TAWAASAW with SABR (patience) implies NAHI-‘ANIL MUNKAR i.e. prohibiting others from committing evil. The Haq (truth) implies all the correct and true beliefs (aqaa’id) and the Sabr (patience) may be understood as being punctual and steadfast in doing all good deeds and continuously refraining from evil. Why? Because the real menaing of Sabr (patience) is to control and master one’s inner self (nafs). Therefore, one will always tend to do good and keep away from evil.
Many learned scholars (ulama-e-haqq) have said that there are two things which really prevent man from holding correct beliefs and doing good deeds:
1) DOUBT i.e. when a person has doubts on certain beliefs in Islam either by way of speculation or contemplation. This will result in the persons Imaan (faith) becoming weak and consequently ignores doing good deeds and will tend to be more attracted towards evil.
2) PERSONAL DESIRES i.e. when a person is over-powered by his lower self (nafs) and commits evil deeds inspite of him knowing that such deeds are evil.
Such scholars have then interpreted the Wasiyyah of Haq (truth) as the rectification of the beliefs of muslims by correct education. And the Wasiyyah of Sabr (patience) as the rectification of the deeds of muslims by calling them towards good and keeping them away from evil.
There is one very important fact that emerges from this chapter of the Glorious Quran. The fact that it is not sufficient to rectify and uplift one’s own self alone with good beliefs and deeds. To attain salvation, it is also necessary to make untiring efforts to encourage other muslims towards good and to keep them away from evil. Being negligent and consistently overlooking the evil ways of one’s family members, close relatives and friends is a means of closing the doors of salvation for one’s own self. It is for this very reason that the Quran and the Ahadeeth has made it compulsory for each Muslim, according to his or her capabilities, to invite others towards good and forbid them from committing evil. In this matter, many Muslims are unmindful and negligent. This also applies to our learned memmembers of the Muslim community as well. They feel it content to engross themselves only in good deeds whilst leaving their family members to live their lives in a non-Islamic manner.
Those who are learned but do not put their knowledge into practice are similar to what Allah, the Most High, mentions with regards to the Jews and their Mosaic Law (Tawraah). The Jews knew the Mosaic Law very well but did not obey it because of their love for the world and their wealth. Allah, the Most High, compares them to a donkey which carries huge books but cannot understand them. Allah, the Most High, says:
THE SIMILITUDE OF THOSE WHO WERE CHARGED WITH THE (OBLIGATIONS OF THE ) MOSAIC LAW BUT WHO THEN FAILED IN THOSE (OBLIGATIONS) IS THAT OF A DONKEY WHICH CARRIES HUGE BOOKS (BUT UNDERSTANDS THEM NOT)… (Surah Al-Jumu’ah:5)
Many great commentators (mufassiroon) have written that an Alim (scholar) who does not put into practice what he knows is similar to what Allah compares in connection with the Jews and their Mosaic Law mentioned in the Quranic verse above. In another verse of the Glorious Quran, Allah, the Most High, says:
O YOU WHO BELIEVE! SAVE YOURSELVES AND YOUR FAMILIES FROM A FIRE WHOSE FUEL IS MEN AND STONES; OVER IT (THE FIRE) ARE (APPOINTED) ANGELS STRONG AND SEVERE, WHO DO NOT DISOBEY ALLAH WITH WHATEVER HE COMMANDS THEM, BUT THEY DO (PRECISELY) WHAT THEY ARE COMMANDED. (Surah At-Tahreem: 6). It is therefore evident from this verse that it is compulsory (FARD) for each Muslim to save himself from the fire of Hell by obeying the commands of Allah and submitting himself or herself fully to the will of Allah. It is likewise compulsory (FARD) to save one’s immediate family members and close friends from the Fire of Hell by teaching them the commands of Allah and then making all efforts to ensure that they become obedient to those commands of Allah, the Most High.
(Translated from the Maulana’s Jumu’ah khutbahs by his son Abdul Haq). May Allah, the Exalted, give us all the tawfeeq and hidayah to sincerely put Islam into practice. Ameen!
Abdul Haq Abdul Kadir
Umhlanga Rocks, KZN, South Africa.