By Raiiq Ridwan
Today we live in a materialistic world, where the aim of society is to gain as much wealth as possible, for this is the way to success. Success is defined by how many college degrees you have, how much property you own, how much money you have, and so on.. In short, the more dunya you have, the more successful you are. This shows the real narrow-mindedness and heedlessness. It is as if only the rich, powerful and famous are successful while everyone else is not. In fact, this is a form of discrimination.
Allah in His Glorious Book revealed a different formula for success. It is contained in one of the shortest surahs (chapters) in the Qur’an, a chapter most Muslims have memorized and frequently recite in their prayers. The great tragedy is that the meaning this surah should have in our lives has been lost.
The surah is Surat al-`Asr – the chapter entitled “The Declining Day”:
“By time, indeed humanity is in loss, except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.” (Qur’an, 103)
This surah is the 103rd chapter of the Qur’an. It is one of the shortest chapters, but it is also among the most comprehensive and discussed. The surah before it is Surat at-Takathur and after it is the Surat al-Humazah. One of the miracles of the Qur’an is the sequence of chapters; although they were revealed at various times and places, every surah has a connection to the surah before it and after it. It seems as if they were actually revealed together. Subhan’Allah, such consistency can never be found in human speech. The chapters before and after Surat al-`Asr mention that the human being has been deluded by their search for wealth; money has given them a false security of being successful.
Allah (swt) mentions in the last verse of Surah at-Takathur that, “Then, on that Day, you shall be asked about the blessings you enjoyed” (Qur’an, 102:8). Surat al-`Asr starts with the greatest blessing that we as human beings regardless of age, sex, color, caste, religion enjoy—TIME. Allah (swt) swears by time, which shows that:
- Time has a lofty status in the sight of Allah;
- Allah is asking us to contemplate on the passage of time;
- The time which we waste will never come back;
- Time is a witness to many human beings being in a state of loss;
- In concordance with the last verse of Surat at-Takathur, it shows that by time people become distracted by the dunya and forget their real purpose in life.
As we move into the second verse, we find another correlation between the previous surah and this one. The central theme of the previous surah was at-Takathur which essential means the following:
- The desire to have more;
- Competing with others to get more;
- Utilizing inappropriate means to win others over;
- Taking pride in what you have.
So essentially, it is gaining in this “life” that is meant by takathur. However, the central theme of Surat al-`Asr is khusr (loss). Khusr essentially means losing everything. Subhan’Allah, Allah shows us in a subtle yet powerful way that seeking the dunya is one of the main causes of loss. If you reflect on this verse, it seems to be referring directly to this day and age, another miracle of the Qur’an. By default, human beings are losers, and on the path to destruction. However, Allah is the Most Merciful; as a sign of His Mercy, He revealed the secret to success in the final ayah (verse) of Surat al-`Asr.
This last verse essentially shows the minimum that we need to do to attain the pleasure of Allah. This verse also removes the doubts in the minds of many Muslims that just believing is enough. Even Shaytan (Satan) believes in God, so how can just believing be enough? The four criteria for going to paradise by earning Allah’s Mercy are the following:
1. Belief. Believing in Allah, His Books, His Prophets and Messengers, His Angels, the Day of Judgment, and divine decree. This belief is based upon sure knowledge; therefore we should strive to attain the necessary religious knowledge.
2. Righteous deeds. Belief mandates knowledge, and knowledge mandates action. We should accompany our belief with righteous deeds done for the sake of Allah. Prayers, fasting, hajj and all the other obligatory acts of worship should be done only for the sake of Allah and in the way that was demonstrated by Muhammad ﷺ. However, every good that Allah loves and is pleased with is also considered an act of worship, and therefore is rewardable insha’Allah. The obligatory deeds are the minimum.
3. Calling others to the truth. The use of “wa tawaasi (and advise)” in the verse shows continuity. We should be calling others to the truth at all times, regardless of whether they accept it or not.
4. The straight path is not easy. There will be difficulties, which causes some people to leave the path. We should be patient in calling to them, asking them to be patient, and persevere through the troubles. Patience is in obeying Allah, not disobeying Him, and persevering through calamities over which we have no control.
This surah is a conclusion to the message in the four surahs preceding it:Surat al-Zalzalah, Surat al-`Adiyat, Surat al-Qari`ah and Surat at-Takathur. Surah al-`Adiyat and Surah at-Takathur show the sorry state of the human beings, while Surat al-Zalzalah and Surat al-Qari`ah show the reality of the Day of Judgment. The conclusion is that human beings are in loss, except for those who follow the prescription in Surat al-`Asr. Therefore, this chapter has been precisely placed in the Qur’an as miraculous guidance. The irony of the surah is that this is the surah we often read when we are “too busy,” when we just need to get our prayers out of the way and do “more important” things. We are reciting that time is passing and mankind is in loss – and we are also demonstrating that very well! May Allah save us all.
This surah also places a great emphasis on da`wah (calling to the truth) and patience. Even though da`wah and patience are already righteous things, they are mentioned separately as they are sometimes neglected. Islam is a social religion. Not only should we do what is proper, but we should also encourage others to do so. At times, we justify not doing da`wah. Start doing da`wah – it’s a must. You can share the message of this surah with everyone, to start!
We need to fulfill all four conditions to meet the criteria for success. Human beings are losing, but we have the formula to the exceptions! We might think this formula strange, but a famous saying of Muhammad ﷺ can serve as motivation to us all, “Islam began strange, and it will become strange again just like it was at the beginning, so blessed are the strangers.” [Muslim]
Let us reflect on Surat al-`Asr the next time we recite it. Let us study a tafsir (explanation) of the Qur’an. We ask Allah to grant us barakah (blessings) in reciting and pondering upon the Qur’an, and we ask Allah to make us among those for whom the Qur’an will intercede on the Day of Judgment. Ameen.