PART 1: COMPREHENSIVE LECTURES
CONDITIONS OF SALVATION
In the shade of Surah Al-’Asr (101)
وَالْعَصْرِ (103:1) إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَفِي خُسْرٍ (103:2) إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ (103:3)
By the time through the ages! Surely mankind is in loss, except those who believe and do good deeds; exhort one another to the truth and exhort one another to patience.
Surah Al-’Asr is the first presentation in the continuing lectures of the Selected Syllabus of the Study of the Quran-e-Kareem. In fact, the whole syllabus revolves around this Blessed Surah. This is because, in this Surah, Allah (swt) has declared very precisely, yet very comprehensively, the requirements for humankind’s salvation – the conditions for their success and welfare .These conditions are:
(2) the Righteous Deeds;
(3) Exhortation towards the Truth; and
(4) Exhortation towards Self-Perseverance.
These conditions for salvation are explained and classified in other places in the Quran-e-Kareem. Some of these other passages are included in this Selected Syllabus. The Selected Syllabus comprises of six parts:
(1) Part I: Surah Al-’Asr and some other selected verses which comprehensively describe all the ingredients of salvation.
(2) Part II: Detailed discussions of ‘Belief’.
(3) Part III: Details about ‘Religious Deeds’. The topics in this part are: Individual Character Building; Domestic and Family Life; Directives about the Cultural and Social Life; and lastly Guidance and Directives about the Community and Political Aspects of Life.
(4) Part IV: The exalted stages of ‘Tawâsî bil Haqq’. This has two main sections: (a) ‘Shahadah ’alan-Nas’; and (b) The Efforts for and Domination of the Deen-i-Haqq (which the Quran-e-Kareem calls ‘Jehad fi Sabilillah’).
(5) Part V: The Quranic persuasions towards ‘Sabr’ and ‘Musabirah’.
(6) Part VI: The comprehensive Surah Al-Hadeed in which all these instructions and directives are comprehensively consolidated together.
1. Four Introductory Points
After the above brief introduction we start, in the name of Allah (swt), the contemplation and discussion of Surah Al-’Asr . We first note the following four introductory points:
(1) This Blessed Surah is one of the shortest surah of the Quran-e-Kareem, containing only three verses. In the whole Quran-e-Majeed, no surah contains less than three verses. There are three surahs containing three verses. Astonishingly, among these three surah, in Surah Al-’Asr, the first verse of these three short verses contains only one word, that being Al-’Asr .
(2) According to the sequence of revelation, this surah was revealed in the early (Makkan) period. The Quran reveals about itself:
الَر كِتَابٌ أُحْكِمَتْ آيَاتُهُ ثُمَّ فُصِّلَتْ مِن لَّدُنْ حَكِيمٍ خَبِيرٍ (11:1)
Alif L’ãm R’ã. This Book, whose verses are perfected and issued in detail by the One Who is All-Wise, All-Aware,
It means that in the beginning, the comprehensive verses and surahs were revealed. Then the details about these matters were revealed in the long surahs in the later periods. In this context, Surah Al-’Asr is considered a very comprehensive surah that was revealed in the beginning of the mission.
(3) Obviously, the Quran-e-Majeed itself is a miracle in its eloquence and rhetoric. But the Quranic scholars know well that specific parts of the Quran possess unique characteristics of their own, in their elegance, eloquence and rhetoric.
“Every flower has a variant colour and fragrance.”
Considering this aspect, Surah Al-’Asr is unique because it is the highest example of an ‘ultimately easy style’ (‘Sahl-e-mumtane’). The most intricate and superb text has been expressed in very simple words. No cumbersome word or complex terminology has been revealed in this Surah. Still, in the garb of its flow and simplicity, streams of encyclopaedic knowledge are hidden in this surah. Thinking more deeply about the eloquence and greatness of the Quran-e-Majeed, a human being bows down before the Almighty Allah (swt).
(4) The Most Comprehensive Surah: The fourth but most important point is that this surah is the most comprehensive surah in the Quran. This is because this surah serves the main purpose of the Quran’s revelation: to guide towards the straight and middle path for living righteously in this world. Truly, this surah is like the seed that has grown into the whole tree tree of the Quran-e-Majeed.
Because of this, Abu Muzzayyina Darmi (ra) has narrated the following event about the Prophet’s Companions in Ma’jam-ul-Awsat of Tibrani and in Sh’ab-ul-Iman of Imam Baihaqi:
“….whenever two companions of the Prophet (saws) met each other , they never separated without reciting surah Al-’Asr to each other and then departed after greeting salaams; to each other.”
This shows that the Companions (ra) had such a great hearty affection with this surah.
Of the four Imams, a saying of Imam Shafi’i was referred to by Hafiz Ibn Katheer in his exegesis. Imam Shafi’i says:
“If people just ponder over this surah, it is sufficient for them to get guidance for righteousness.”
Another saying of Imam Shafi’i has been referred to by Sheikh Mohammad Abduh in his commentary on Juz ’Ammah. Imam Shafi’i says:
“If nothing else but this (Surah Al-’Asr) would have only been revealed and nothing else, then this was enough for guidance and righteousness.”
These two sayings depict what a great value and respect this surah had in the eyes of Imam Shafi’i (ra).
In the contemporary period, many great scholars have identified the value of this blessed surah. So Maulana Abdul Bari Nadwi has authored a voluminous book about it, The Evaluation and Training System for Muslims. Imam Hamiduddin Farahi has graded this surah among the comprehensive pieces of the Quran-e-Majeed. Surah Al-Ikhlas has the highest rank on the topic ‘Oneness of Allah’. Similarly in my opinion, as the milestone for the Straight Path and the best portion in the Quran for the guidance and exploration of the Truth, Surah Al-’Asr stands the best in comprehension and rank in the Quran.
2. The Analysis of the Text
If this surah is translated into any language, we will see, by considering the three verses, that one simple statement emerges.
Its middle verse is not only the middle verse number-wise, but it serves as the central key point of this surah as well. A very desperate picture of destruction and damage becomes clear. The first verse is an oath to emphasise the statement in the second verse. In the described reality of the second verse, the emphasis has come to the forefront.
Thus the first and second verses, when combined, narrate an axiom, a basic principle, and the exception from this axiom is expressed in the third verse.
In other words, the first verse is only an oath. Its purpose does not become clear until it is combined with the text of the matter for which the oath has been expressed. Similarly, there is an exception in the third and last verse. Without the second verse, it is not clear for whom this exception is meant, and what is the principle axiom from which this exception has been given. Thus these three verses form a simple sentence.
‘The oath is of time; all human beings are at a loss, except those who took the belief, acted upon righteous deeds, exhorted each other towards truth and exhorted each other towards steadfastness.”
Now if this simple long sentence is fixed upon our hearts and we keep on thinking upon it, four spontaneous ideas come to mind.
A. Emphatic Statement: Extreme Urge
The axiom has been expressed very emphatically. The very beginning, containing an oath, denotes the seriousness of this axiom. The taking of an oath by Allah, in itself, makes a believer become serious and attentive to the statement.
Then, just after the oath, the sentence starts with the Arabic word ‘inna’. Even a beginning learner of the Arabic language knows that ‘inna’ is used for emphasis. It means surely or undoubtedly.
Further, after ‘inna’ in this very sentence, the prefix ‘la’ is attached with ‘fi-khusrin’ to give more emphasis. Other modes of emphasis are also applied in this Blessed Surah, which may become too technical if they are all explained. The scholars in Arabic know well that almost all the modes of emphasis are applied in this precise and comprehensive simple sentence.
B. The Quranic Standard of Success and Failure
The second point that becomes clear after pondering over this verse, rather which spills out of this bowl of reality, is that this surah expresses a standard for the success and failure of a human being.
Every person in this world is engaged in some activity, effort and some sort of struggle using their own standard of success. On analysis, we find that most often, the well-known scales of human success are money and wealth, position and status, fame and publicity, business and prosperity. Generally, success and failure are measured by such criteria. But quite contrary to this, the picture expressed in the Blessed Surah is that a person’s success should be neither wealth and material prosperity, nor fame and publicity nor worldly influence nor any charismatic attainment.
Rather, four ingredients are mentioned for human success:
(2) Righteous deeds;
(3) Mutual counselling for truth and truthfulness; and
(4) Continuous encouragement for perseverance and steadfastness.
In other words, a person may not have provision to have food for a day, clothes to cover the body properly and shelter for sleep. But if he has the wealth of belief, the asset of righteous deeds, the satisfactory exhortation of the truthfulness and the satisfactory exhortation of steadfastness, then he is considered a successful person according to surah Al-’Asr .
Contrary to this, a person may possess a kingdom like that of Pharaoh or Nemesis or the treasure of Qarun – and take advantage of most of the comforts of the world in plenty. But if he is devoid of the wealth of belief, the treasure of righteous deeds and the opportunity of exhortations of truthfulness and steadfastness, then he is the unsuccessful, the loser and the wretched one according to surah Al-’Asr .
As the Quran is the Absolute Truth, the above criterion of success and failure is the Absolute Reality and the truth. To understand this reality is not difficult. But to have full belief in it is very difficult, because a person becomes influenced by his surroundings and environment.
If a new model, shiny, elegant car passes by a person, it creates a sensation to his nerves. Similarly, if anyone comes across a palace having all manner of comforts, the human personality is influenced by this experience. Being influenced and empowered by the glittering and the materially pleasant comforts is one of the innate weaknesses of the people.
Hence, it is essential that once we understand and accept the Quranic standard of success and failure, we should repeat this axiom often, and remember it with full consciousness. We should direct our mind towards this unique reality by repeating it in practice very frequently. This is why the Companions (ra) would recite surah Al-’Asr to each other whenever any two of them used to meet. They were very keen that this reality should penetrate in their hearts and minds: that a person’s success is not in attaining wealth, prosperity, worldly power, privilege and fame and publicity. Rather, the criteria of success are entirely different: belief, righteous deeds, exhortation of truth and exhortation of steadfastness.
C. Statement of the Minimum Conditions for Salvation.
The third part that becomes obvious just by concentrating a little on the text of the Blessed Surah is that the conditions for attaining success are not lofty exalted ideals. Rather, they are minimum conditions that we must attain – specifically mentioned prerequisites for saving ourselves from loss and failure. To have a clear understanding, these are the essential ingredients for salvation, and the main conditions for a person’s success. There is no possibility of having salvation on anything less than these conditions.
If the words of the text had been that attaining these four virtues would result in high ranks for the person, then a person could save himself from failure by attaining less than these four virtues. A person could aim to attain just two or three conditions, for example. But here, the style of expression quite evidently directs that these four conditions mentioned in the Blessed Surah are the main requirements for success and salvation of the human being.
D. All four conditions are essential for success.
The fourth point is to remove any ambiguity about the minimum conditions of success. The very style and expression of the statement very clearly spells out that all four conditions are essential for success. None of these can be neglected, as these all are the Divine Command. We should never assume that the statement has been exaggerated just for the sake of rhetoric or being poetic. Its each and every word is definite, and cannot be modified or twisted or interpreted wrongly. It is the Reality, the Word of Allah!
Let us make it very clear by an example. If a doctor writes a prescription for a combination of four medicines, it is obvious that all these four are essential ingredients of the whole prescription. Sometimes it may happen that these four, when combined together, bring a balance in which the medicines overcome each other’s side effects. Thus, if the patient of his own sweet will eliminates or discards one of the four medicines, it does not then remain as the prescription written and proposed by the doctor. Now the responsibility for the effects of this prescription rests with the patient and never with the doctor. It may further be possible that every change in this prescription by a person other than the doctor transforms this prescription from being a prescription for a cure to being a prescription that would make the sickness worse.
3. Revoking a delusion
Let us understand the implication of the most important point made clear above: that all these four conditions are essential and inevitable, without changing any one of these. This point is very striking as, at present, the Muslim Ummah is in a state of degradation and deterioration. The main cause for this state of the Ummah is that people have wrongly been indoctrinated that belief alone is sufficient for salvation. Some people claim that the legal aspect of the belief, that is, commitment by tongue (Iqrar bil-lesan), is sufficient to enter Paradise. This delusion is entrenched among the vast majority of the Ummah Muslimah that a Kalimah-reciter will eventually get salvation – even if this Kalimah has been inherited without any care or effort and without caring to practically fulfil the declaration of the Kalimah.
Once the mind is satisfied that the person is already forgiven and success and salvation are his inherited right by virtue of birth, then there is no need to go through the trouble of knowing and acting upon the Kalimah’s practical implications. This very fatal delusion has relieved the Ummah Muslimah from performing any action corresponding to this Kalimah.
“Difficult to assign God-deception or Self-deception
relieved the Muslims from the action on the pretext of destiny”
As far as the exhortation of truth and steadfastness is concerned, the Ummah Muslimah has collectively put aside its responsibilities pertaining to these two conditions. Dawah ilallah (call to Allah); Tabligh-e-Deen (invitation to Islam); Amr bil Ma’ruf wa Nahi ‘Anil Munkar (enjoining toward good and avoiding the prohibitions); Jehad fi Sabilillah (struggle for the path of Allah) and Shahadah alan-Nas (evidence of the masses): all these have been exterminated from the Muslim’s concept of religion. We take for granted that these responsibilities are for a special class of Muslims. General Muslims are not burdened with these tasks, nor are they obliged to perform them. This Blessed Surah fully negates these wrong ideas .
Just to remove this misunderstanding, the learned scholar Imam Razi has very explicitly written the following statement in his renowned commentary (tafseer) about Surah Al-’Asr .
“Know it! There is a very strong warning in this verse. As Allah (swt) has declared the decree for the loss and destruction of the whole universe except the excluded ones who have taken care of the four injunctions (fulfilment of the four conditions), i.e. belief, righteous deeds, exhortation to truth and exhortation to steadfastness. Hence the guidance is received that the attainment of salvation depends upon the combination of these four commands.”
4. The Demand for Credibility
Let us understand the logical inter-relationship between the four factors through a common example.
Whenever a person comes across any serious issue in this world, he takes the following actions.
1. First of all, he will try his best to find out the reality of the issue.
2. Secondly, after knowing the reality, the reasonable person will accept it. Since the reality has been exposed to him, he should not hesitate in accepting it even if he has to undergo someone’s disapprobation or bear some personal loss.
3. His next step will then be to declare the truth that has been made clear to him, and invite other people to become convinced and accept it.
4. Finally, he will keep himself firm on his stand and go on calling people to accept and follow the truth, even if he is opposed tooth and nail, or severely ridiculed, or even if he has to give his life for the cause.
The episode with Socrates is well-known. Some truths or realities were exposed to him. He not only accepted them, but he also declared these truths to the people. Eventually he had to drink a cup of poison because of his pursuit of declaring the truth, but he preferred to sacrifice his life rather than be deflected away from declaring the truth. This is the line of action for every reasonable person of noble character and conduct. If a person demonstrates the faint-heartedness of his character and conduct by relinquishing this reasonable action at any stage, he will prove himself a human being in form only, without having real humanness in him.
So these are some realities that are obviously flowing out of this blessed surah. A person can easily understand these realities through a little reflection and thinking over the meaning of this surah. Hence, this is the basic guidance that is achieved by the reminder of the text of this blessed surah. Then onward we have to go deeper to extract more explanation of these verses.
5. Two Methods for Understanding the Quran
It must be kept in mind that there are two methods for understanding the Quran.
The first is tazakkur bil Quran (reminding by the verses of the Quran), and the other is tadabbur bil Quran (contemplation over the verses of the Quran). Tazakkur is to find out the main lesson and essence of the verse or the surah. From this aspect, the Quran-e-Majeed is an easy open book. The Quran itself claims:
وَلَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِن مُّدَّكِرٍ (54:17)
We have indeed made the Qur’an very easy to understand the admonition: but is there any who would take admonition?
Tadabbur is an Arabic word which means contemplation and ponderance. In other words, it means to analyse each and every word literally from a standard dictionary and select the most appropriate aspect of the different meanings in relation to the context of the text. So from this point of view, the Quran-e-Majeed is too deep, and no human being can fully accomplish the required contemplation of the Quran. Even after devoting one’s whole life to studying the Quran, no person can claim that he has totally fathomed the Quran.
6. The Tragedy for the Human Species: Dealing with a Great Loss
The contemplation of Surah Wal-‘Asr manifests a tragic situation for people. The end of humans, being a human, looks very horrible from this surah. In Arabic words, the prefix ‘al’ with the word ‘insan’ is a definite article which specifies the living beings. So here ‘al-insan’ is used for the whole human species. The words ‘lafi khusrin’ are generally translated as ‘is undoubtedly at a loss’. But the word ‘khisarah’ does not connote ordinary losses of a monetary nature. Rather, it means full ruin, destruction and a sort of annihilation. The Quran uses only one word, ‘khusran’, as the antonym for all the words ‘fauz’, ‘falah’, ‘sa‘adah’, and ‘rushd’.
وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَعْبُدُ اللَّهَ عَلَى حَرْفٍ فَإِنْ أَصَابَهُ خَيْرٌ اطْمَأَنَّ بِهِ وَإِنْ أَصَابَتْهُ فِتْنَةٌ انقَلَبَ عَلَى وَجْهِهِ خَسِرَ الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةَ ذَلِكَ هُوَ الْخُسْرَانُ الْمُبِينُ (22:11)
There are some people who worship Allah standing on the verge of faith (half faith and half disbelief). When such a person is blessed with good fortune he is content; but if he encounters a trial he turns back headlong; thus losing both this world and the Hereafter, which is a clear-cut loss.
The human tragedy depicted in surah Wal-‘Asr can be considered in two ways. Firstly, we observe that efforts and struggles are assigned to every person. People face atrocities and calamities of different types. The majority of people work day and night, and even then they are unable to provide the basic needs for themselves and their families. On top of these, there are other types of sorrow that people comes across: the loss of a child, the craving for the mother, desires not being fulfilled. Thus a human undergoes much frustration and conflict. Frankly, forgetfulness and oversight are reliefs for a person. The ointment of time heals human wounds. Many sorrows and calamities are faced by humans but, somehow or the other, people bear them and the caravan of life goes on its journey.
But what about the feelings that observer of these calamities takes upon his heart? Just remember what happened with Gautum Buddha. He, after observing the physical sufferings of humanity, left all his throne, comforts, palace and servants. He determined to find out the cause of all this pain and trouble and then to find out their solutions. The Quran has narrated all this rapture comprehensively.
لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ فِي كَبَدٍ (90:4)
“..Certainly, We have created man to be in stress.
Some people may have the deception that rich people don’t suffer at all and they are living in comfort and luxuries. But the reality is that the psychological complexities and mental agonies which they suffer are not observed and felt by common poor and labour-class people.
All this suffering that people experience in this world is only the first suffering. After going through all these severe atrocities, the climax of human tragedy will occur when the person’s eyes will open in the next world where the person will find himself in front of his Rabb (the Provider) for the grand accountability. This aspect of human tragedy is not destined for animals. This arduous crisis will not be faced even by the most burdened animal in the world. The Quran narrates:
يَا أَيُّهَا الْإِنسَانُ إِنَّكَ كَادِحٌ إِلَى رَبِّكَ كَدْحًا فَمُلَاقِيهِ (84:6)
That will be the Day of your accountability, O mankind! Surely you must strive towards your Rabb, a hard striving, then you shall meet Him.
This is the episode which, just by imagining it, causes the cream of the human species to start shivering and become nervous.
رِجَالٌ لَّا تُلْهِيهِمْ تِجَارَةٌ وَلَا بَيْعٌ عَن ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ وَإِقَامِ الصَّلَاةِ وَإِيتَاء الزَّكَاةِ يَخَافُونَ يَوْمًا تَتَقَلَّبُ فِيهِ الْقُلُوبُ وَالْأَبْصَارُ (24:37)
By such people whom neither business nor business profit can divert from the remembrance of Allah, nor from establishing Salah (prayers) and nor from paying Zakah (obligatory charity), for they fear the Day of Judgement when hearts will be overturned and eyes will be petrified.
Being overpowered by the feeling about that Day, Abu Bakr Siddique (rah) used to utter very passionately:
‘Would that I had been a chirping bird on a tree that shall not face any accountability on that day! Or I might have been a straw of grass to be burnt and turned into ashes but not having any accountability or scrutiny.”
Similar words have been mentioned at the end of Surah An-Naba in the Quran that a person bewildered on the occurrence of that day will cry out
إِنَّا أَنذَرْنَاكُمْ عَذَابًا قَرِيبًا يَوْمَ يَنظُرُ الْمَرْءُ مَا قَدَّمَتْ يَدَاهُ وَيَقُولُ الْكَافِرُ يَا لَيْتَنِي كُنتُ تُرَابًا (78:40)
Indeed We have forewarned you of an imminent punishment which lies close-at-hand, on the Day when man shall see what his hands have sent forth and the unbeliever will cry: “I wish! I could remain merely dust.”
In other words, he would have preferred to be just soil instead of being human, the best of creation. This is the most grievous destiny and most destructive extermination that the whole human species has to face collectively. This is the inevitable occurrence about which an oath has been taken in the first verse of this blessed surah: ‘Wal-‘Asr’.
7. The Purpose of the Oath
The main purpose of taking an oath is evidence and attestation. That is, the oath of a thing or person is taken to present it or him as an evidence for one’s case. Hence when we take the oath of Allah for any matter we mean to say this verdict by making Allah as our witness.
People take oaths of some great being in order to give emphasis and make their point forceful. But the oaths that Allah takes in the Quran-e-Majeed are of a different nature. As there is no being more pure and honourable then Allah (swt) Himself, it is useless to find the aspect of purity or honour in the oaths by Allah (swt). The oath of Allah (swt) in the Quran is mainly used as the most authoritative and correct evidence. Thus ‘Wal-‘Asr’ means ‘The Time is Evidence’. The time is put forth as evidence about the information given in the later verses of this surah.
8. The Reality About “ ‘Asr”
Let us explore the word “ ‘Asr”. It is generally translated as ‘time’. Two other Arabic words, ‘zaman’ and ‘waqt’, also mean time, but strangely the Quran never uses ‘zaman’, and uses ‘waqt’ at only two places. In the Quran, mostly two Arabic words ‘‘Asr’ and ‘Dahr’ are used to mean time.
Those who are interested in Physics know well that zaman (time) and makan (space) are not two contrary realities, but are interrelated. According to Einstein, time (zaman) has the same domain as space (makan), though there is a slight difference between the two. The word ‘Dahr’ indicates of the spread of time, while the word ‘‘Asr’ mostly refers to the passing and speed of time. In the Arabic language, the word “A‘sar” is used for wind (tempest). Similarly, in the day-time “‘Asr” is that period in which the time passes fast and the day is going to finish.
9. The Concept of Wal-‘Asr
The meaning of ‘Wal-‘Asr’ is that the fast-passing time is the evidence. This is a very startling style. This is giving alarm to people that this apparently stationary time is passing very fast. Your true asset – your age, your duration of life – is diminishing very fast.
O Care-free! The tower makes the announcement
Providence has minimised a lapse of your stay.
Someone has proposed a simile that a person is like a seller of ice. If the ice is not sold in time, then not only will he not gain any profit, but his main asset will vanish, having melted during this time. This is also happening in relation to people. Our asset is our age, the duration of our time in this world for performance. Our permanent future rests upon this time. Whatever we have to earn, we have to do so only in this life.
The day-night chain resembles the two-colour silk by which a person weaves a cloak of adornment.
In short, the main asset and capital of a human being is melting like ice.
Arise! Nigh is the resurrect,
Run! time is bent upon defeating you.
The audio melody of “Wal-‘Asr’ also produces an alarming feeling. Thinking deeply, time seems like a continuous sheet stretched from the beginning to eternity. Thus this ‘time’ is an eye-witness testimony of the rise and fall of various nations. All the occurrences of the human species are in the purview of ‘time’. The end of the nations of Nooh, Hud, Aal-e-Firaun: all these admonitory events have been screened on ‘time’. ‘Time’ has observed the rise and fall of nations as well as the development and downfall of civilization. This ‘time’ is, at one end, the eye-witness of the story of Adam and Iblees, and at the other end, will also have personal evidence of the final and last occurrence with humans.
Thus, from this historical aspect as well, the most authentic evidence of will be the evidence given by this very ‘time’.
10. The One Beam of Illumination
Now let us take the third and final verse. This verse shoots out as the beam of hope from the intense darkness of helplessness. As a sum-total, the destiny of the whole human species is ruin and destruction, but there is one exception to this axiom. There is one possibility of salvation and relief from this loss. In this third verse, people are directed toward a straight path by means of which any person who follows it can save himself/herself from the most destructive outcome, and can enjoy success and welfare.
There are four milestones of this As-Sirat-ul-Mustaqeem or Seva-us-Sabil. We can also say these are four levels: the first one is Iman; the second one is “ ‘Aml-e-Saleh’; the third one is ‘Tawâsî-bil-haqq’ and the fourth one is ‘Tawâsî-bis-sabr’
The manner in which the Quran has used these four technical terms and the words that have been used for these have been considered as the basic terms of the Quran. Contemplating over them, we can form two pairs of these four. We will first consider ‘Iman’ and ‘Aml-e-Sualeh’ and their mutual relationship. Then we will deal with ‘Tawâsî-bil-haqq’ and ‘Tawâsî-bis-sabr’ and their mutual relationship. Then lastly we will explore the rational and logical relationship between the two pairs.
11. The Concept of ‘Iman’
A detailed discussion of ‘Iman’ will involve a consideration of its literal meaning, its ingredients, the sources for procuring those ingredients and so on. These matters will, insha Allah, be considered at their proper places in this Selected Syllabus. Here we will deal the essentials in brief.
In essence, Iman is to accept the basic realities about the Universe of which we have been informed by the Prophets (as). The Prophets informed us that certain information about time and about the basic realities of the Universe, unseen by humans, has been received by them through a source of knowledge which is not available to common people. This source is termed ‘Wahi’.
The existence of Allah (swt), His Attributes, Resurrection after Death, Accountability, Reward and Punishment and Paradise and Hell: these are the matters which people cannot discover and comprehend through their own senses. Definite knowledge about these matters has been given to us by the Prophets (as). Iman is the terminology used for persons who accept and attest the information given by through these Prophets.
There are two levels of Iman. One is to accept these matters verbally through the tongue. This is called in Arabic ‘Iqrar bil-Lisān’. This is the initial or legal level of Iman. By achieving this level, the person who has accepted these matters verbally has been differentiated from those who do not accept.
The second level of Iman is ‘Tasdeeq bil-Qalb’. It is the situation in which a firm belief is generated in a person’s heart. This is the real essence of Iman. Thus in reality Iman is the combination of Iqrar bil-Lisan and Tasdeeq bil Qalb.
As an outcome of belief in the heart, the person’s actions will be affected. In other words, if a person believes something, his action will not be different from that belief. We believe that the fire burns our hand and therefore we are not willing to put our hand in the fire. Sometimes something less than belief, perhaps even a mere presumption, affects human action. We know that all snakes are not poisonous. But we imagine that the snake which we have come across may be poisonous, and so we make an effort to be away from the snake.
Hence, if a person believes in Allah, the Day of Resurrection and the punishment and the accountability, the outcome of these beliefs is inevitably reflected in the person’s actions. And the term used by the Quran for the actions resulting from those beliefs is “ ‘Aml-e-Sāleh’ ”.
It means that a person with firm belief will abide by the directives of Allah (swt), will use halal (prescribed) commodities and will avoid haram (forbidden) things. The person will not indulge in evil actions. All these are the outcomes of the truthful Iman.
12. Mutual Relationship Between Iman and ‘Aml-e-Saleh
Legally, Iman and ‘Aml-e-Sāleh are two different matters, but in the real sense both form one unit. These two complement each other to the extent that they cannot be separated. This conclusion has been clarified by a hadeeth (tradition) of the Prophet (saw).
“No fornicator fornicates while having Iman; No thief steals while having Iman and no drinker drinks wine while having Iman.”
(Muslim & Bukhari, narrated by Abu Hurairah)
If one performs any wrong action, at that moment the real belief in the person’s heart is vanished. If that belief had existed, it would not have been possible to perform such actions. When we see a red light signal on a crossing, we automatically stop our car because we know that some record may be kept somewhere to trace our faults of crossing on a red light. Similarly if I have belief that Allah is seeing me performing this wrong action, how can it be possible for me to disobey any of His rules?
There is another blessed hadeeth (saying of the Prophet)
“By Allah, that person does not believe; By Allah, that person does not believe; By Allah, that person does not believe.”
The Companion shivered and asked fearfully: “About whom? O Rasullullah!” The Prophet replied: “The one whose neighbour is afraid of his calamities.”
This is the relationship between Iman and ‘Aml-e-Sualeh or between Iman and righteous deeds. Another hadeeth narrated by the personal attendant of the Prophet Anas bin Malik (rah) tells us:
“Rarely it happened that the Prophet (saw) at the occasion of the deliverance of Ka‘ba didn’t say: ‘The one who is not trustworthy has no Iman and the one who doesn’t keep his promise, he has no deen (e-Islam)”
Thus the Iman and ‘Aml-e-Sualeh are sine qua non of each other. If real Iman is permeated in the human heart, it is impossible that its reflection is not observed in the character and conduct of that person. In one way it is the same thing Socrates told us: ‘Knowledge is untrue and ignorance evil.’ Iman is another name for real knowledge. Righteousness of action is its inevitable outcome.
13. The Concept of Tawâsî
Let us now come to the last two parts: The word ‘Tawâsî’ has appeared twice in this expression. Why so? This word is derived from the root letters ‘w’, ‘s’ and ‘y’, which means to give direction or advice. The derived verb ‘Tawâsî’ belongs to the class VI Form ‘Tafa‘ul’. This verb form has the characteristic of exaggeration – to perform a work with special attention and care and to secure a cooperative interaction between two or more people. Hence the word ‘Tawâsî’ (a verb which is in the form of the plural for 3rd person) means that the referred people are admonishing each other very seriously for a particular idea or action. In this verse, the admonitions are of two types: the first for adherence with ‘Haqq’, and the other for ‘Sabr’.
14. Haqq: A Word of Broad Connotation
Haqq is an Arabic word with an extensive meaning. It contains four basic aspects:
1. Every thing that really exists is termed Haqq. Contrary to this if a thing doesn’t exist and appears as a mirage, it is called Batil.
2. Every thing that is rationally acceptable is Haqq.
3. Everything that is morally essential is Haqq.
4. Everything which has a purpose is termed Haqq.
Hence, the use of the word Haqq results in extensive meanings for the phrase Tawâsî-bil-haqq. From the acceptance and declaration of the minutest reality, and its advocacy and admonition, to the recognition of the major realities of this Universe, all of these are included in Tawâsî-bil-haqq.
If a person is not paying back an amount owed by him to another person and you go to the first one to remind him to repay the amount to the second person, then it is an act of Tawâsî-bil-haqq. Similarly, if a youth is not fulfilling the rights of his parents and you admonish him to have regard for his parents, this is also an example of Tawâsî-bil-haqq. Thus, the acceptance and declaration of the greatest reality of this universe that Allah is the only Creator and Rabb, and He is the only One who deserves to be obeyed, and only He has the right that His laws and directives should be implemented: then this is the loftiest rank of Tawâsî-bil-haqq.
15. The Inseparable Tawâsî-bil-Haqq and Tawâsî-bis-Sabr
Tawâsî-bis-Sabr is an expression that is attached to Tawâsî-bil-Haqq. We all know well that that the truth is bitter.
Even if a person reminds others of a small affair of truth, it is common for that person to face opposition. As in the previous example, if a person has to pay a debt to another person and you politely remind him to pay that, there is a high probability that you will get a harsh reply back: ‘Who are you to interfere in my personal affairs?’ This shows that declaring even a small truth is not an easy task. Especially difficult, then, is declaring high-level truth and realities, and then advocating these truths publicly: all these are very difficult and painstaking tasks.
All this is not possible unless one is mentally prepared to bear all kinds of calamities, and realises that the determined fulfilment of this great commitment is not a floral wreath but a bed of thorns.
16. Relationship of Iman and Righteous Deeds with Tawâsî-Bil-Haqq and Tawâsî-Bis-Sabr
After going through the complementary nature of the two pairs – one Iman and Righteous Deeds, and the other Tawâsî-bil-Haqq and Tawâsî-bis-Sabr – let us now throw light on the relationship between these two pairs. Then the discourse will be complete.
It is a natural principle that a thing neither remains as it is without being influenced by its environment, nor without influencing its environment as well. The coldness of ice is transformed to the state of its surroundings, and the heat of fire will warm its environment.
The same phenomenon applies in the field of morality, but even more strictly. If ‘Aml-e- Sāleh is truly inculcated in a person, then it will definitely affect the person’s environment, spreading goodness and nobility. In other words the natural outcome of ‘Aml-e-Sāleh will be manifested as Tawâsî-bil-Haqq.
If the social environment is unpleasant, its deficiency will permeate the lives of individuals. There is only one possible way to be safe-guarded from this effect – to have a continuous endeavour to change the environment, whether that endeavour is successful or not. If the environment is not changed, an individual will save himself from being affected by the environment by following the principle of ‘offence is the best defence’.
The Prophet (saw) stated:
“One who observes any evil, it is incumbent upon him to change it (into goodness) by force. If he doesn’t have the ability to do so, he should change it through tongue. If he can’t do even this, then he should at least try by heart (consider it wrong in the heart and feel sorry for not changing it) and this is the lowest level of Iman.”
(Kitabul Iman, Sahih Muslim)
Tawâsî-bil-Haqq is also the obligatory demand of the human’s noble nature. Because a person has realised the haqq (truth) and has resolved to act upon it, it is an inevitable duty of the person’s human friendship to persuade others to become involved. In this way, a greater number of people are benefited by the haqq and enjoy its blessings. Therefore the Prophet (saw) stated:
“None among you can be termed a believer till he/she selects the same stuff for others that he likes for himself.”
(Kitabul Iman, Sahih Bukhari)
It is also the duty of a person’s modesty and sense of honour that he should advocate the truth that he has himself accepted, and then he should be involved with full devotion for its prosperity.
If a person adopts a particular style of life, and the environment is of a different type, then only one of two possibilities can occur. Either, the person will follow the principle, ‘if the atmosphere doesn’t conform to you, then you should change yourself according to the atmosphere’. In this case, the person will colour himself according to the environment to avoid duality and conflict. Or, the person will follow the principle, ‘if the atmosphere doesn’t conform to you, then you should engage in combat with the atmosphere’. In that case, the person will struggle against the environment and ultimately overcome it to mould it in conformity with him or he might not be successful in moulding it. So obviously a noble, sensible, honourable person, who is a person of principles and courage, will choose the second alternative and not the first one. Such a person will steadfastly accept that he may have to sacrifice his life for the true cause. But he will not yield to committing treachery against the Truth because of indolence and safe-living.
Hence, it becomes evident that Iman, righteous deeds, Tawâsî-bil-haqq and Tawâsî-bis-sabr are the unavoidable conditions for ultimate salvation on one hand, and they are themselves complementary to each other on the other hand. Going deeper in thinking, we realise that these four are indivisible aspects of one line of action to the extent of being part and parcel of one bold firm step. In the words of a great Islamic Philosopher and poet Iqbal these are ‘the offshoots of one basic entity Iman’.
The real genuine Iman will definitely generate ‘Aml-e-Sualeh. The non-wavering practice of ‘Aml-e-Sualeh will prompt towards the performance of Tawâsî-bil-Haqq. Again, then, the continuous practice of Tawâsî-bil-Haqq will eventually push the believer into engagement with the last stage of Tawâsî-bis-Sabr.
This absolute truth also works with the opposite proposition. If a believer does not come across the stage of Tawâsî-bis-Sabr, this proves that the whole line of action has some flaw in it, and it is not the full accomplishment. This therefore leads to the conclusion that there is a lack of genuine, real Iman.
In other words, the highway toward which Surah Al-‘Asr leads people points towards As-Sirāt-al-Mustaqeem that comprises of these four milestones:
17. The Perfect Human – Muhammad (saw)
The only practical ideal for inspiration and practice by believers is the Blessed Life of the Prophet (saw) that encompasses all these four ingredients par excellence.
1. The Prophet (saw) came into existence in the universe.
وَوَجَدَكَ ضَالًّا فَهَدَى (93:7)
Did He not find you lost and gave you guidance?
2. At the time when the Archangel Jibrail (as) manifested the Reality to the Prophet (saw), the Prophet (saw) attested and totally believed in all the manifested Reality.
آمَنَ الرَّسُولُ بِمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْهِ مِن رَّبِّهِ وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ كُلٌّ آمَنَ بِاللّهِ وَمَلآئِكَتِهِ وَكُتُبِهِ وَرُسُلِهِ لاَ نُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِّن رُّسُلِهِ وَقَالُواْ سَمِعْنَا وَأَطَعْنَا غُفْرَانَكَ رَبَّنَا وَإِلَيْكَ الْمَصِيرُ(2:285)
The Rasool has believed in the Guidance which has been revealed to him from his Rabb and so do the Believers. They all believe in Allah, His angels, His books and His Rasools. They say: “We do not discriminate against anyone of His Rasools.” And they say: “We hear and we obey. Grant us Your forgiveness, O Rabb; to You we shall all return.”
3. The whole life of the Prophet (saw) was a perfect example of superb morality and the masterpiece model of the ‘khuluqin ‘Azimin’
4. وَإِنَّكَ لَعَلى خُلُقٍ عَظِيمٍ (68:4)
You are of the highest noble character.
Together with fulfilling the basic injunction of Iman and ‘Aml-e-Sualeh’, the Prophet (saw) spent twenty three years continuously engaged in the call towards Allah for surrender to Him as the Khaliq and Rabb. During this whole period, he endured all kinds of calamities and tribulations, and faced all agonies and pains courageously.
The Prophet (saw) tolerated the severe barricade in the valley of Shi ‘b Bani Hashim for three years. He was victimised through the abuse and stone-pelting of the hooligans in the streets of Taif. The Prophet (saw) offered the sacrifice of the lives of his close relatives and most loved followers, together with the episode of his wounds and loss of teeth in the battles of Badr and Uhud, for the sake of seeking Allah’s pleasure. Eventually the Prophet established the kingdom of Allah in the Arabian Peninsula after strenuous struggle and efforts for twenty three years so that Islam could prevail, and then he (saw) returned back to his Exalted Master and Companion Allah (swt).
In other words, the honourable life of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) is the physical emblem of the tafseer ( explanation) of Surah Wasl- ‘Asr’. ‘Fedaho Abee wa Ummi.’
So Friends! This is the short explanation of the comprehensive Surah Wal-‘Asr. I am sure that now you understand my claim that this Surah is the most comprehensive surah of Al-Quran. The revered Imam Shafai stated:
If people ponder deeply, this single surah is sufficient enough for their guidance and success.
WA AKHIRU DA‘WANA
ANIL HAMDO LILLAHE RABBIL ‘ALAMIN.
QUESTIONS FOR HOMEWORK AND CLASS-DISCUSSION
(1) Enumerate the four introductory points for Surah Al-‘Asr with evidence, if any.
(2) What is the standard for the success and failure of a person in this surah?
(3) What are four spontaneous ideas that come to mind, just by having one simple sentence as the message of this surah?
(4) Are the requirements for salvation minimum or maximum? Explain with evidence.
(5) Describe the logical inter-relationship among the two pairs for the conditions of salvation.
(6) How are the four conditions connected with each other. If they are in the same sequence to follow, explain or otherwise, give your opinion for their practical steps.
(7) What is the significance of Allah having an oath in the name of Al-‘Asr.
(8) Explain the word “Tawâsî” and its function with “Haqq” and “Sabr”.
(9) How closely is Iman is related with ‘Amal Saleh.
(10) Give some examples of Prophets’ practice towards Tawâsî bis Sabr.