Quran & Sunnah

Sura Al-‘Asr (سورة العصر) as I see it…..

وَالْعَصْرِ – إِنَّ الْإِنْسَانَ لَفِي خُسْرٍ – إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ

As Time is a witness: Verily the human, surely, is in veritable loss – except only those who believed and behaved righteously and passionately urged each other the Truth and passionately urged each other to Endure

Scribed above is the 103rd chapter of the Holy Quran. I don’t beat about the bush so I’ll get to my point right away. I think the surah (سورة, also written as sura sometimes, which can figuratively be called as Chapter) was revealed to stress upon one point, and one point only; i.e. to Preach. Allow me to explain…..

I think the sura was revealed in a time whence the struggle to preach the Truth, i.e. Islam, had commenced. In such a time, sincere people were faced with two choices: They could choose to believe and do righteous deeds, but owing to excruciating persecution and fear of extreme retaliation, they could choose to wait out and see if the boat of Islam could manage to endure through the storm and not preach or be identified with the believers, and once everything was hunky dory, or at least, less challenging, join in with the victors; Or, alternatively, they could plunge headlong into the stormy sea with the Holy Prophet and a handful of believers and fight their way out of it or die with them in it. It was this choice that was made easy for them through this sura.

We come to know through the traditions that whenever any two companions (رضي الله عنهم) of the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) met, they wouldn’t depart till the time they would not read it to each other. It was as if they were narrating to each other that brother hold on to preaching the religion and enduring through the pain, as salvation has only been promised for such a people. It depicts, how they sought refuge in this sura, as if they had nothing else to hold on to.

If we think dispassionately, if someone believed and did righteous deeds in his own life, the tendency to wait and see, is something that seems perfectly legitimate. In fact, it might seem the wiser thing to do. I am not talking about the hypocrites and charlatans herein. I am referring to those who believed sincerely, but in order to make them push an agenda in such desolate surroundings, another ‘push’ was required. Allah, thus brought about a ‘push’ in the most definitive and critical of words possible. He clarified it, that no one should be in doubt that after accepting the faith and committing good deeds, he has been absolved. It was made absolutely clear, that Allah’s promise of salvation is limited to those people only who tread down this thorny path unconditionally and spread what has been revealed to be spread.

Hence, the 3-dimensions required to be exhibited for salvation have been laid out, unequivocally, in this sura. The 1st dimension, call it the Y-axis, is one’s own belief. The 2nd dimension, call it the X-axis, is one’s actions, as this belief is required to be manifested in all of one’s deeds. And the third dimension, call it the Z-axis, is one’s effort to preach it and spread it. Unless a person comes in the hereafter, with all 3 of these dimensions exhibited by him in this worldly life – Allah has no promises with him. Yeah, he might still make it through to heaven, but only Allah knows, how much would be his waiting period and what would be his tale of woe on the judgement day.

Now let’s analyze the sura so that everything I said above could make sense to the average reader. The first point to note here is that there are 3 requirements stated by Allah, and not 4. The 3 are: Belief, Good Deeds and Preaching. As you can see the word Preaching, or any other word with similar meaning, is not there in the verse. That is because, Preaching has been explicated by spelling out it’s two constituent absolutes. Thus instead of preaching, two expressions – exhorting the truth and exhorting to endure – have been used. This method of expanding the predicates of this practice is adopted to lay stress on its importance and make it the raison d’etre of this sura. Also accrued from this usage is the benefit that both stages, i.e. the preaching of truth and enduring the persecution have been shown to be an inseparable pair, like cause and effect. This is as if Allah is saying to us that whosoever thought that these two can be separable? and also showing that Allah is cognizant of the way preaching goes about in this world, so be steadfast: it is the whole nine yards that Allah demands when he says preaching. The similar manner for both exhortations has been adopted, to show that they are both part of one single process, and to show that they are cause and effect. Notice also, that how due to this usage, this last portion enjoining preaching has been lengthened in speech. I’m astonished that no one else has realized it, but if you don’t keep this angle in mind, the recitation of the last verse of this sura, becomes somewhat cumbersome and non-eloquent. But Allah wants us to read this last verse in one breath so that we can be sure that all three of these predicates are equally important and non-optional. It is a marvelous technique employed by our Lord, by intentionally keeping a bump in the road, to point to us that there is something to focus on here. This, therefore, allows us to focus deeply on this last part.

Therefore, by using Preaching along with Belief and Good deeds, Allah has very shrewdly equated all three as requisite ingredients for salvation. I intentionally sounded a bit over-dramatic in the beginning, when I said that it has only been revealed to stress on one thing alone; but that was only to make this interpretation stand out. Commentators in the past, and present, seem to have jumped through all kinds of hoops to describe the comprehensiveness of this sura. It seems like they had a hunch that it was comprehensive, but were unable to find the exact reasons as to why was it comprehensive, so they started narrating all kinds of stories and reasons, much of which seem superfluous, at least to me. But after the above clarifications, I am sure, you’ll find this sura, not only to be most comprehensive, but also, a work of art!

2 thoughts on “Sura Al-‘Asr (سورة العصر) as I see it…..

  1. While I value your good intentions, you seem not to be trained in Islamic Sciences. Good intentions alone are not enough. They say “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”!
    Is it OK according to the Muslim beliefs to describe God as “shrewd” (ma’adhallah) or to write “God is trying to say” something (ma’adhallah)?
    “Shrewd” is a human attribute, and God is above the accusation that he needs to “try” to do something.
    Writing on faith issues is not a journalistic activity. It requires extreme care, training, knowledge, and above all – fear of God!

    • Thankyou for your comment. Your opinion on the usage of words must definitely seem convincing to you. I also concede that it would resonate with many among our traditional school of thought. I value this opinion and know that it is only the result of a code many people adhere to derived from God’s reverence and respect. Despite that, I disagree!
      Shrewd is a human attribute, just like Hakeem, Aleem, baseer etc. That doesn’t mean these cannot be applied to God. Of course, when applied to God they acquire an unprecedented height and totality. And ‘try’ to say or do something is a figurative usage of expression to make people understand. Such literary devices have commonly been used by our traditional and renowned scholars from yester-years.
      Salam

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