Al-Asr, meaning “The time” is the 103rd chapter (sura) of the Quran, and one of the shortest, with just four verses. The Companions of Prophet Mohammed, may Allah bless him and grant him peace nevertheless considered this sura significant to the extent that when they met, they would not depart until one of them had recited this sura in its entirety to the other. Imam As-Shafi said, “If people were to ponder on this sura, it would be sufficient for them”.
The sura starts with Allah swearing by time that mankind is in a state of loss or destruction.
Al-Asr or time is the trust given to mankind by Allah, and the most precious capital of an individual. This time reduces with every passing second, and every moment that passes by is an opportunity gone, used, or abused, never to return. Soon the allotted time will be up and the angel of death will take the soul away from this world.
The reckoning on the Day of Judgment will be based upon how we spend our time in this world. On this day the feet of the son of Adam (man) will not move till he is questioned about four matters: how he spent his lifetime, how he spent his youth; from where he acquired his wealth and how he spent it, and what he did with his knowledge” [Hadeeth in Sunan at-Tirmidhi, no. 2417].
Prophet Mohammed, may Allah bless him and grant him peace said, “There are two blessings that most delude people, free time, and health.” People who are heedless of time and fail to utilize time properly are wasting their lives and squandering the trust, and hence heading towards destruction.
The second part of the sura explains how to utilize time properly so that one can save himself from destruction. The only people who are exempt from the destruction caused by not utilizing time properly are those who fulfill four conditions. The first condition is having faith in the heart, the second condition is manifestation of this faith by doing good deeds, the third condition is exhortation of this truth to others, and the final condition is patience.
The foundation to utilize time properly lies in having faith and conviction in the heart – faith of the theological doctrines of Islam and belief in the one and only God Allah and his attributes.
Faith is not a mere thought or belief, free from effect. One cannot escape the destruction without manifesting faith by adjusting conduct in harmony with the Truth. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace said, “Faith and Good Deeds are partners and the one is incomplete without the other”.
Good deeds refers to performing the deeds stipulated in the Quran and sunnah, like Prayers, Fasting, Zakat, Hajj, Charity, kindness to orphans, taking care of parents and a host of other things. Good deeds also refer to abstaining from the prohibited like dealing in interest, fornication, lying, backbiting, eating impure food and others.
The third condition for salvation is to enjoin this truth on others. If man had faith and did good deeds, but lived only for himself, he would not fulfill his whole duty. Whatever good man has, especially in moral and spiritual life, he must spread among his brethren, so that they may see the Truth and stand by it in patient hope and unshaken constancy amidst all the storm and stress of outer life.
The fourth and final condition for salvation is Patience. The patience referred to is the patience required when encountering the plots, the evils and harms of those people who harm people due to their commanding them to do good and forbidding them from evil. The significance of patience in the Islamic Way of Life can be gauged from the fact that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace considered it as half of Faith and as the key to Paradise.
The most important truth flowing forth from this sura is that time is much more than money. Time is in fact life. This sura then reveals the real criterion of man’s success and failure. A person who does not possess all the four above-mentioned qualities will remain unsuccessful and be a loser, though he might be a billionaire or have the highest and the most powerful status. Conversely any one who has all these four prerequisites is successful and triumphant in the hereafter, even if he has no wealth, friends or recognition in this world.