Lessons from Al-‘Asr

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By Al-‘Asr (the time).

Indeed, man is surely in loss,

Except those who believe and do righteous good deeds, and recommend one another to the truth, and recommend one another to patience.

— Qur’an Surah Al-‘Asr (103):1-3

Surah Al-‘Asr has a very powerful beginning. Allah (swt) is making an oath by which he commands us to reflect on the passage of time. Notice how this creates a sense of urgency. It is as if Allah (swt) is telling us to hurry towards something before we are no longer able to. ‘Asr itself is a word associated with urgency, different to other ‘times’ He has mentioned and sworn by in the Qur’an. And the urgency of this reference has been described as if we have ice that is melting away.

Man is always in loss. Not one of us can stop time as it goes on, unable to regain any time that we have lost – we are in loss to time. ‘Man’ has been translated from ‘insaan’ which comes from the root word ‘nisyaan’ literally meaning forgetfulness. Insaan categorises the entire human species so with this verse Allah (swt) is effectively describing a default state for any forgetful human. It signifies the fact that they are contained within such a loss, where their forgetfulness disables them from taking heed of reminders – as if they are drowning in loss.

But of course Allah (swt) is most merciful and kind and tells us exactly what to do to switch off this default state and escape the pool of loss.

  • Believe
  • Do righteous good deeds
  • Recommend one another to the truth
  • Recommend one another to patience

Do righteous good deeds. In this verse the adjective (i.e. righteous, good) has plural properties thus creating an abnormal adjective. The intentional use of this in Arabic in fact signifies ‘small plural’ hence describing deeds are more than 1 action but not plenty but in small numbers such as 3-10. So what does this mean for us? It demonstrates a focus on the deed itself rather than the number, and this should particularly resonate with us now when we have become people of numbers and measure. In a world where are trying to count everything and measure success by quantity, Allah (swt) tells us that actually, it is not about how much you can do as quickly as possible – but about how right a thing you can do, how much quality there is to your action or deed within our limited times.

We should not wait to become good people in order to do good deeds. But in order to become good people we must do good deeds. And these deeds need to be done in the correct manner with our full presence in them, no matter how small or few in number they are.

Recommend one another. It is only fitting for us to remind each other when the very nature of man is to forget. This patience is about finding consistency and helping each other to do so as well. A consistency where there remain no internal troughs or lows. A patience where even if circumstances are not optimal, that you push through with perseverance to continue doing good.

It is an important issue not only when we over-indulge in worldly delights but also when we become preoccupied in our worldly problems. When we encounter such phases in the courses of our lives we feel a real dip, a trough. These points are very uncomfortable for us as these preoccupations make us forget Allah (swt) and His creations, and we avoid dealing with the real problems of our disconnect with Allah (swt) and dwindling relationship with Him. We are thus reminded of the need for consistency independent of the ups and downs of dunya. With consistency and quality, we can push forward with patience towards true success. Rather than trying to work against time to seek worldly contentment, we need to struggle to resolve our deeper issues and relationship with Allah (swt) and become conscientious believers where not a day goes by but we used it productively to performs deeds of quality.

“Truly, Allah will admit those who believe and do righteous good deeds, to Gardens underneath with rivers flow (in Paradise), wherein they will be adorned with bracelets of gold and pearls and their garments therein will be of silk.”

— Qur’an, Surah Al-Hajj (22):23

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