Dimensions of the Quran – Al `Asr

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By Time
Quran Chapter 103 1-3

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

“By the token of time”

 Time: Our most valuable capital

This early Makkan revelation takes its title from the opening words “Wal ‘Asr’ ; which also constitutes an oath. ‘Asr means time, era, history, speedy passage of days, succession of ages, afternoon or declining day.

Allah swears by the token of time as witness and as proof of certain contentions. Time is a witness to what has passed in human history, witness to life and death, success and failure, rise and fall of individuals and communities. The evidence of Time has been presented for various possible reasons:

  1. The Clock of Age is reducing our life by the tick of every passing second. Tahe most valuable capital that we have; Time, is being lost in the process.

  2. Since life is a test of deeds (Q 67:2), the limited, yet fleeting Time is the ambit within which we operate.

  3. To call to mind the events of history.

  4. To emphasize the nearing of the end of human existence on earth. The holy Prophet is reported to have said: 

    “Compared to the communities that have passed on before you, life in this world is the same duration as the time between the prayer of ‘Asr and Maghrib." (Bukhari)

In a hadith Qudsi we are instructed not to abuse Time. We are not to accuse Time either; as the great jurist Imam al – Shafi’ie said, “We blame Time, though we commit the wrongs, Time has no evil except the sins we commit in Time.”

Time is wealth

There is an element of truth in the metaphor “Time is money” (implying that time is valuable). By utilizing time in a meaningful and productive way and through effectively employing our vast potential, much can be achieved. Yet, this metaphor also implies something about the very purpose of life itself; an implication that requires thorough examination. In the Space Age we live in, we have been able to invent things and develop techniques to speed up things and save time. The task that used to take months can be accomplished in minutes; yet there is something ironic about this progress. Despite the proliferation of timesaving devices, life is more hectic than ever before, and no extra time seems to be left for anything meaningful.

We must realize that time is the measure of life, time is a trust (amaanah), time is a gift from the Creator and its proper use will determine our outcome for eternity. We should take cognizance of the warning of the Prophet when he said; “There are two blessings that most delude people, free time and health” (Bukhari).

We should also seriously reflect on the following Prophetic advice; “Value five things before five others come to pass: Value Youth before Old Age, Health before Illness, Affluence before Poverty, Leisure before becoming too Busy and value Life before Death” (Tirmidhi).

Every moment that passes by is an opportunity gone, used or abused; never to return. Soon time will be up and we’ll have to leave this physical world (Q 3:185). What happens thereafter will depend on how we used our time that was available to us before that certain but unknown moment of death arrives (Q 18:56). Time is life and our eternal destiny is at stake.

“Surely humankind is in a state of loss”

We are constantly losing the capital of our existence; minutes, hours, days, months and years. Life is passing on rapidly, not a moment can be retrieved from the stream of the past. Spiritual and material potentialities decline while physical and mental abilities fade. Despite our technological advancements, humanity at large seems nonetheless lost in a quagmire of restlessness, insecurity, uncertainty, hostility, loneliness, stress, faithlessness and disillusionment.

(By the token of time, humanity is in a state of loss)


Once the situation of loss is recognized, we can extricate ourselves from it through the implementation of a universally applicable program that involves the theological, practical, personal, and social doctrines of Deen al – Islam.

Except, Those who have Faith, Those who do good deeds, Enjoining Truth, Exhorting patient perseverance

Four principles for salvation

1. "Those who have Faith" (al – Imaan – Theological Doctrine)

Imaan (Faith) usually forms the basis of conscious activity, since commitment to a cause and the actions that emanate there from often reflect a person’s belief and thoughts. Actual Faith is inherent in those who are true in thought, word and deed concerning their natural submission to the universal laws that govern the entire cosmos. The submission is not based on mythology, neither on blind acceptance of illogical doctrines, nor on fanatical emotionalism. It is structured on the compliance of the human being to the natural universal laws that govern all existence. Deen al – Islam is a Divine system based on reason, Truth, culminating in practical faith, expressed via beneficial action, emanating from sincere intention and manifesting goodwill for all humanity.

2. "Those who do good deeds" – (Practical Doctrine)

Righteous and beneficial actions are the worthy products of the fruitful tree of Faith. The term Saalihaat is mentioned particularly in the plural form throughout the Holy Qur’an, preceded by the definite article “a!”. This indicates generality, implying the fulfillment of any and all goods deeds.

‘Amal-us-Saalihaat therefore includes every worthy, pure action that contributes towards individual or social welfare; that can be applied in the way towards soul – perfection, moral improvement; affirmation of justice and alleviation of evil, impurity and oppression.

The Prophet is reported to have said that Faith and Good Deeds are partners and the one is incomplete without the other. Faith is thus not a mere thought or belief, free from effect. It changes and orientates the whole entity of a being to its own essence. One cannot escape the “loss” without Imaan (possessing True Faith in Divinely revealed, universal Truths) and manifesting ‘Amal-us-Saalihaat (adjusting his / her conduct in harmony with these Truths).

3. "Enjoining Truth" – (Personal, Conscience – evoking Doctrine)

The term Haqq connotes truth, reality, that which is verifiable, whatever is based on justice, rights morally incumbent or obligations legally demanded. Now for Faith and Goodness to be manifest and evolve in society it must be accompanied by an invitation to that which is Right, Real and True. It is expected of the Faithful to enjoin Haqq upon each other. This elicits the Faithful not to only abide by the Truth but also to actively realize their social and moral responsibility by exhorting others to do likewise. Needless to say, the Faithful should be administrators of Haqq in their own lives before preaching to and exhorting others.

To bring about a realistic and effective reformation, the all influential environment needs to be changed. Thus, the injunction not only to adopt right and good principles and ideals in themselves, but to convey these to others, thereby creating an atmosphere congenial to the implementation of Faith, Goodness, Justice and Truth.

4. "Exhorting patient perseverance" – (Personal and Social Doctrine)

Sabr means patience, strength of will, being steadfast amid tribulations, enduring trials and afflictions, constancy despite surrounding changes, forbearance, preparedness to sacrifice, determination in the face of opposition and courage in the face of oppression.

In our modem lifestyle where anxiety, stress and depression are more common than not, exhortation to Sabr is indispensable. Allah commands us:

“O you who Believe, seek assistance (and solace) through Patience and Prayer; Surely, Allah is with those who Patiently Persevere. Refer not to those who have been slain in the Path of Allah as being dead; no, they are alive though you perceive it not. Be rest assured that you will be tested with fear, hunger, loss of property, of lives and of fruits of your labor. Convey glad tidings to those who are patient; those who when affliction, trial or tribulation befall them, say: “Surely from Allah we come and unto Him is our return. ” Such are those on whom the blessings and mercy from Allah descends, such are they who follow the Path of Divine Guidance.” (Q 2:153 – 157).

The significance of Sabr in the Islamic Way of Life can be gauged from the fact that the holy Prophet considered it as half of Faith and as the key to Paradise.

From ‘Asr to Sabr

This surah, constituted of just four verses, is one of the shortest chapters of the Qur’an; but its meaning is as deep and vast its title. It conveys a brilliant source of Guidance; thereby directing individuals, communities, nations and successive generations to the Right Path. We are reminded that a purposeless life without ideals is a waste; that material property, scientific progress and technological advancement can not in themselves save humanity. Salvation lies in having a pure ideology, a practical philosophy, positive action and purposeful lives. The flight of Time provides the testimony that only those who do not waste the opportunity of doing good and being righteous that ultimately reap benefits of existence.

This chapter begins with ‘Asr and ends with Sabr; begins with the cyclical experience (Time) and concludes with the expression of constancy (Patience). When the 99 Names of Allah are recited or written, the Name As – Subur (the Eternally Constant) is usually the last. Perchance this Divine Attribute is the basis of creation and the element most required for its continued existence.

The four principles for salvation contained in this surah constitute a truly comprehensive program. Such is the significance of this surah, that whenever the companions of the Prophet met they would not leave until they recited Surah al – ‘Asr to each other. This, in order to remind each other, and themselves, of the eternal loss that everyone risks if Time is wasted or abused. The great scholar, jurist, swordsman and poet, Imaam Ash – Shafi’e said: “If Allah were to reveal no other surah besides this surah, it would have sufficed (as complete Guidance) for the Ummah."


Sadullah Khan is the Director of Islamic Center of Irvine. He has presented lectures on Islamic Civilization at California State University at Dominguez Hills. He is a frequent lecturer for the Academy of Judaic, Christian and Islamic Studies at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). He is also an advisor to the Chancellor’s Committee on Religion Ethics and Values at UCLA and serves as Director of Muslim Affairs at USC (University of Southern California).

You can watch his lectures on Empowerment and Hadith of the Day at IslamiTV

Dimensions of the Quran
The lucid and clear reflections of Sa’dullah Khan, his smooth sailing in the oceans of Quranic wisdom and beauty is most encouraging and pleasantly inviting the English reader of the Quran to plunge again into the ultimate source of enlightenment and empowerment that we have. 

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