Sūrah al-ʿAṣr: The Path of Salvation

Sūrah al-ʿAṣr: The Path of Salvation

Every verse of the Quran is a miracle and a proof of Islam. Sūrah al-ʿAṣr is one of those clearest proofs of the inimitable nature of the Quran. In just three short powerful verses, Allah summarizes the message of Islam and the path of salvation. The challenge to produce one Sūrah like it went unmet by the pagans of Makkah. This is a clear evidence that the Quran is inimitable.

Sūrah al-ʿAṣr is a Makkan Sūrah and has only three short verses. Its theme is the path of salvation. Sūrah al-ʿAṣr begins with an oath, followed by a warning, followed by an explanation of how to save oneself from destruction. Its core message is summarized in the five points listed in verse three.

By Time

There are various opinions regarding the meaning of al-ʿAṣr in this oath. Scholars agree that Allah is taking an oath on al-ʿAṣr to draw attention to what He says next. But they differ over the meaning of al-ʿAṣr in this verse. The word al-ʿAṣr could refer to Ṣalah al-ʿAṣr and its importance in Islam. It could also refer to time as a whole, or time as a concept. A fourth opinion is that it refers to Islam because Islam is the final religion sent before the end of time. Allah knows best.

Perhaps the concept of time is most suitable here. Allah states in the next verse that the disbelievers are at a loss. Linking this to the oath on time, we could conclude that they are running out of time to repent and convert to Islam. If they do not do so soon, then they will find themselves in complete loss in the Afterlife.

The concept of time is a unique gift from Allah that we take for granted. Allah created the sun and the moon. These huge spheres move in systems set by Allah to give us a means to calculate time. Imagine if neither the sun nor the moon existed. How then would we keep track of day and night, or the passage of months and years? Simply look at how time passing differently outside of earth and on other planets, this will drive home the importance of time as a gift from Allah.

Time is part of the Rizq (sustenance) that Allah has given us on this earth. However, unlike other types of Rizq, we do not know how much we have and have no way to recover lost time. It is crucial that we spend our time wisely, as each day wasted can never be recovered. The believer is aware of this fact. Based on this knowledge, the true believers never waste their time and are always conscious about how they spend their lives.

The Path of Truth

After taking an oath on time and warning that the disbelievers are headed for destruction, Allah summarizes the path of salvation. If people end up in a loss in the Afterlife, that is their own choice. Allah has warned us and clearly shown us the straight path. The path of belief, good deeds, community, truth and patience is listed clearly in this Sūrah as the way to Paradise. This is why some early scholars regarded this Sūrah as sufficient for the guidance of mankind.

The first two points mentioned are repeated multiple times throughout the Quran; believe and do righteous deeds. These two forms the core components of salvation. Salvation in the Afterlife is exclusive for those who believed in the message of truth when it came to them. There are exceptions to this rule for those who did not receive the message and a few other categories. But for the bulk of humanity, believing in the message of Islam is the single most important step to earn one’s salvation and enter into Paradise.

Belief on its own is not enough though, it must be followed by righteous actions. Righteous actions are the proof of belief. They show that a person truly believes in Islam and takes it seriously. However, righteous deeds is secondary to belief. This is because a person who believes but does not do righteous deeds can still enter Paradise. But a person who rejects the truth and does good deeds will find his deeds without value on the Last Day.

After these two qualities, Allah mentioned three more; working together, truth and patience. The term ‘working together’ is mentioned in this verse, indicating that both preaching the truth and being patient with the tests of life are communal efforts. A believer is not expected to go through life on his own. We must surround ourselves with other believers and work together in propagating the truth and being patient when the enemies of Islam try to harm us.

Truth in this verse refers to every act that helps to spread Islam. This includes seeking knowledge to know the truth, calling to the truth by inviting people to Islam, and even defending the truth through Jihād and debate. All of these are communal efforts. Every Muslim community needs people of knowledge, preachers and defenders to keep the truth alive and flourishing.

The final point mentioned in this verse is Ṣabr. Ṣabr is a deep concept in Islam and one of the most important acts of worship. It separates the true believers from the weak, and is the key to success in both worlds. Ṣabr means to be patient with the trials of life, persistent in preaching the truth, constant in doing good deeds, and to restrain oneself from committing sins. The word Ṣabr encompasses all of these actions. It is the fundamental characteristic of the true believer. The true believer is committed to Islam and does everything possible to reach Paradise. This includes living life in a way that includes every meaning of Ṣabr.

It is narrated that many of the early Muslims would recite this Sūrah whenever they parted ways. This, over time, developed into the practice of ending gatherings with a recitation of this Sūrah. There is no harm in this practice, as it has its evidence, even if people differ over it.

Abū Madīnah al-Dārimī said, “When two men among the companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) met, they did not part until one of them recited to the other: 1. “By al-ʿAṣr (the time). 2. Verily, man is in loss” [i.e. Sūrah al-ʿAṣr], then one would say Salām to (greet) the other.”

Abū Dawūd 417
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Sūrah at-Takāthur: The Test of Wealth

Sūrah at-Takāthur: The Test of Wealth

This is the fourth Sūrah in a row dealing with the theme of the Last Day. Sūrah at-Takāthur is a Makkan Sūrah according to the majority of scholars. Although some scholars view it Madinan, its theme and style indicate that it is Makkan. The Sūrah has eight verses, and revolves around the theme of wealth and its distracting nature.

Sūrah at-Takāthur teaches us that humans are often distracted from their purpose by their pursuit of wealth and pleasure. This distraction lasts until they pass away. It is only then, when it is too late, that they realize that they had wasted their lives. It ends with a severe warning that on the Last Day, we will be asked about every blessing Allah had given us in this world.

The Rat Race

The Sūrah begins with a warning that people are distracted by at-Takāthur. This word can be translated in many ways. There isn’t a single English word that equals it in meaning. If summarized as a sentence, at-Takāthur means a constant competition to pile up the wealth of this world.

Humans, throughout history, have been obsessed with wealth. This is why warnings about this obsession pop up multiple times in the final part of the Quran. Sūrah al-ʿĀdiyāt also warned that mankind is too extreme in their love of wealth. The main problem with this obsession is that it is a distraction from the things that really matter. When a person’s sole focus is piling up wealth, such a person rarely has a thought to spare for things like the purpose of life or the Afterlife. Life becomes one big race to pile up more and more.

This was the case of the pagans of Makkah at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him). But it is also the case of the majority of Capitalists today. Capitalistic society pushes the idea of the ‘pursuit of happiness’ and by happiness it means wealth and power. People spend all their time trying to pile up as much wealth as possible, and their greed is never satisfied.

The average person chases millionaire status. The millionaires work all day and night to become multi-millionaires. The Multi-millionaires are obsessed with billionaires. And the billionaires compete for the status of wealthiest person on earth. This deep obsession with more has distracted people from their purpose in life. When money is the only thing on one’s mind, there is no room left in it for God or anything else.

The way back is simple. Take a step back and reevaluate your priorities. There is nothing wrong with wealth in Islam. Allah even refers to it as Khair (good) in Sūrah al-ʿĀdiyāt. It is man’s obsession and love of wealth that is criticized. Pure hard earned wealth that is used to worship Allah and uplift society is a blessing from Allah. Allah does not ask us to give up wealth in this Sūrah. He is warning us instead to prioritize the Afterlife.

The Destroyer of All Pleasures

The Sūrah continues and states that people remain in this state of obsession and neglect until they ‘visit the graves’. The common interpretation of this is ‘until they die’. This interpretation fits in perfectly with the rest of the Sūrah so it is the one we will stick with here. The Prophet (peace be upon him) called death the destroyer of pleasures.

Death is an inescapable reality. Every human has to face the reality of their own mortality at some point in their life or another. Remembering death is considered a good deed in Islam because it humbles the heart and causes people to repent. Death is the one reality that nobody can escape from. Every millionaire and billionaire will find their wealth worth nothing in the grave, except those who spent it in righteous causes.  

Too many people waste their lives in pursuit of wealth and pleasure, thinking it will bring them happiness. But that happiness never arrives. It is only on their death beds that they reflect, look back, and regret at how they wasted their lives. We can avoid these regrets by thinking about death often, reflecting on its reality, and using that to help us prioritize the Afterlife over this life.

The Test of Wealth

The Sūrah continues by describing the Afterlife of the one who died in this state. It states that they will see the Hellfire with their own eyes, then stand in account for what they did with the blessings that they were given. Hellfire is a reality and a day will come when people will see it with their own eyes. This will be on the Last Day when it is dragged forth and displayed before all of humanity. On that day, there will be no skeptic or atheist. Every human will see the reality of the Afterlife.

The Sūrah ends with a warning that people will be asked on that day about the blessings they enjoyed in this world. This ending should hit hard. Too many people view their blessings in this world as a reward or sign of acceptance. They see it as something they earned and something they can do whatever they will with. All of these are mere delusions.

When a person is given any blessing in this world, whether it is wealth, power, intelligence or beauty, it is all a test from Allah. Allah tests some people by depriving them of these blessings and witnesses their reactions. He tests others by blessing them with worldly success after worldly success. But each of these successes are actually a test in disguise. This is the test that more people fail.

It is easy to be pious and humble when a person lacks worldly possessions and wealth. Life keeps a person down, and they have to turn to Allah for help. The majority of humans become more spiritual and religious during times of difficulty and hardship. But the test of wealth is harder.

Wealth blinds the heart and distracts the soul. It consumes time and attention. It creates pride, and opens the doors of unlimited entertainment. Sins that were previously impossible become easy to access for the wealthy. Wealth is one of the biggest tests a person can ever face in this world, and it is the one test the Prophet (peace be upon him) feared most for his nation.

This test can be passed by doing three things; earning our wealth in a permissible way, being grateful for our wealth, and spending it in a way that is pleasing to Allah. If a person does these three things, then wealth becomes a blessing in both worlds. Such a person will not be afraid to answer on the Last Day about what he did with his blessings.

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Sūrah al-ʿĀdiyāt and Sūrah al-Qāriʿah

Sūrah al-ʿĀdiyāt and Sūrah al-Qāriʿah

These two Sūrahs continue the theme of warnings about the Last Day. The topic remains the same; mankind is warned that this life will end and we will have to answer to Allah for how we spent it. These Sūrahs should build in our hearts a fear of the Last Day and a sense of accountability for our lives. Anyone who reflects on these descriptions of the Last Day should emerge transformed and reformed.

Scholars differ regarding whether Sūrah al-ʿĀdiyāt is a late Makkan or early Madinan Sūrah. The majority of categorize it as Makkan. Its content leans both ways, the oath on war horses seems more in line with the Madinan theme of Jihād, while its focus on the Last Day is a Makkan theme. It is possible that it was revealed towards the end of the Makkan phase, as one of the last few warnings to the Quraysh about the Last Day, as well as a hint at the war that would soon occur between the two nations. Allah knows best.

Sūrah al-Qāriʿah is a Makkan Sūrah by consensus. Scholars differ over its number of verses, but agree that it was revealed during the Makkan Era. Its content is clearly Makkan in nature, focusing on short powerful imagery and warning about the Last Day. A unique focus of this Sūrah is on the concept of the weighing of the scales on the Last Day.

The Image of the War Horses

Sūrah al-ʿĀdiyāt begins with a detailed description of war horses and their galloping into the battlefield. Allah takes an oath on these horses, before mentioning the two main points of this Sūrah, the ingratitude and materialistic nature of mankind. There are many possible reasons why war horses are the focus of this oath.

It could be because the Arabs were familiar with war horses, their usage, their loyalty and their courage. So Allah draws a parable that they can understand. Horses are courageous and loyal to their masters. While the Quraysh were being cowardly, and ungrateful to their Creator. The detailed image of the war horse could be to draw this parable in the mind of the disbeliever, so that they may reflect.

An alternative interpretation is that this was a warning of things to come. The passive resistance era of early Islam was ending. Soon the migration would take place, Allah would reveal the permission to fight back, and the Jihād against Makkah would begin. This oath could have been a warning of things to come; if you do not prioritize the Afterlife then prepare for war in this life. This may have been the message to the Quraysh in these verses, and Allah knows best.

The Weaknesses of Man

This oath is followed by the core message of this Sūrah, mankind is ungrateful and materialistic. These two qualities cause humanity to reject the truth, ignore the Afterlife and indulge in this world. The Quraysh were ungrateful to Allah for all His Blessings upon them. This theme is raised again in later Sūrahs. They were also worried that they would lose their financial privileges if they embraced Islam.

These two qualities are found even among Muslims today. Complaining has become a hobby for many people, even when they live lives of privilege and luxury. People are always looking for the smallest thing to complain about, inventing all kinds of new grievances in the process. Ingratitude is linked to disbelief in Islam to such an extent that the Arabic word for both is actually the same; Kufr.

But ingratitude is not the only thing causing Muslims to stray. Materialism and Capitalism have made Muslims extremely greedy. In our greed, we have thrown out the Fiqh of Business, and embraced every prohibited transaction. Money has become the new god, and our craving for wealth never seems to end. In order to return to righteousness, we need to break away from these two negative emotions. Ingratitude needs to be replaced with gratitude, and materialism needs to be replaced with Zuhd (asceticism).

The Sūrah ends with a strong warning to those who are distracted by ingratitude and greed. This world will end, we will answer for how we lived our lives, and our Lord knows everything that we have done. There is no escaping the reality of the Afterlife. The wise believer spends their life in gratitude and worship, knowing well that this world will end and preparing for the Afterlife is the priority.

The Scales of Justice

Sūrah al-Qāriʿah begins with a powerful image of the end of the world. Loud noises, crumbling mountains and people scattered like moths. This image is meant to create awe and fear of the Last Day in the hearts of the believers. The image builds a picture of mass panic among humanity on that day.

After building up this image and drawing the attention of the listener through it, Allah then informs us of the central theme of this Sūrah. On that day, our deeds will be weighed on a scale. Whoever’s good deeds outweigh their bad deeds will have a happy life in eternal bliss. But whoever finds their scale of good deeds light may find himself in the abyss of Hell.

Although the Sūrah ends on a point of fear and dread, there is much hope we can gain from this concept. The weighing of the scales is not done equally. While every sin will equal to one sin on the scale, a good deed is multiplied between ten and seven hundred times on the scale. Some good deeds like pure monotheism, fasting and patience will be even heavier on that day.

Knowing this, how does a person end up with a light scale on that day? The answer lies in the previous and following Sūrahs, both of which highlight the materialistic nature on man. People are so caught up in chasing this world that they fail to build up even a small record of good deeds. When Allah has made the weighing of the scales tilted in our favor, who can we blame besides ourselves if we end up with a light scale on that day?  

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Sūrah az-Zilzāl: Every Deed Counts

Sūrah az-Zilzāl: Every Deed Counts

This is the first of four short Sūrahs focused on reminding us about the Last Day. These four Sūrahs are grouped together because of their common theme. Each Sūrah is very brief (eight to eleven verses), poetic and powerful. The focus in each Sūrah is one a different image of the Last Day. This Sūrah focuses on the image of the earth shaking and speaking, and spilling its secrets.

Scholars differ over the name of this Sūrah. It is commonly referred to either as Sūrah az-Zilzāl or Sūrah az-Zalzalah. Both of these names reference the earthquake mentioned in the first verse of the Sūrah. Scholars also differ on whether this is a Makkan or Madinan Sūrah. The content seems Makkan, but some scholars believe it was an early Madinan Sūrah revealed soon after the migration. Allah knows best.

The theme of the Sūrah is the end of the world, the gathering of the Last Day, and the judgment of our deeds. This is a common theme in the short Sūrahs of the Quran and of Makkan revelation in general. The Sūrah is short, precise and powerful in its reminder about the Last Day. The goal is to remind us that the Day of Judgment is coming, so let us prepare for it.

The World Will End

The end of the world is a reality. This world was not created to last forever. It is a temporary abode to test us. One day, this earth will shake and shatter and come to an end. Then every creature will be resurrected for Judgment. It is on that Day of Judgment that our final destination will be decided.

The wise believer is the one who lives their life preparing for that day. Nobody knows when the Day of Judgment will occur. Nobody knows when their own life will end. Some people live in this world for ninety years, while others leave this world at a very young age. This uncertainty should keep us focused on what matters most; preparing for the Last Day.

The reason why so many Sūrahs revolve around the concept of the Last Day is because it is the most important day in our lives. It is the one day that every human is guaranteed to experience, and our entire Afterlife depends on the results of that day. It is foolish to live one’s life in a way as if that day will never come. This Sūrah is a firm reminder to prepare for that day.

Everything Will Be a Witness

One of the scarier aspects of the Last Day is the fact that everything will be a witness to our deeds. In this Sūrah, Allah informs us that on that day, the earth will speak and testify to the actions committed on it. There will be no secrets on the Last Day, no deeds that can remain hidden, except what Allah chooses to keep hidden.

The earth is not the only creature that will bear witness on that day. Other verses of the Quran inform us that even our own limbs will testify against us. These verses should make us think twice about committing sins. Sometimes we feel bold to commit a sin when it seems like nobody is watching. But Allah is always watching, and He has surrounded us with witnesses.

When a person sins with their eyes and hands in a quiet empty room, then the room, the eyes and the hands all become witnesses against him. There is no such thing as a sin that goes unwitnessed. Not only do these things witness and testify against us, but so do the angels who record our deeds. There is no escape from Allah, and no deed that is not witness by a creation of Allah. So let the sinner beware.

Every little deed counts

The Sūrah ends with a reminder that on that day every small deed we ever did will count, either for us or against us. Even a good deed the size of an atom can make the biggest difference on our scale. Likewise, minor sins the size of atoms can also weigh heavy on the scale if they were committed often. These verses serve as a warning against minor sins, and an encouragement to small acts of kindness.

We tend to look at minor sins as insignificant. Yet these can count against us on the Last Day, if they are accumulated without good deeds to balance the scales. Reality is that it is impossible to live a life without any minor sins. Allah created humans weak and part of that weakness is that committing minor sins is inevitable. Minor sins like looking at the opposite gender with lust, using vulgar language, lying and hurting people’s feelings are committed daily without even realizing it. This is part of human weakness.

To balance this, He created many means of forgiveness for minor sins. Praying five times a day, giving charity, fasting the month of Ramadan, Hajj, Umrah and seeking forgiveness all wipe away minor sins. With so many opportunities to have our minor sins wiped away, it will only be our own fault if we come on the Last Day with our minor sins piled up. This verse should make us think twice about committing minor sins, or at the least, remind us to seek forgiveness whenever we fall into minor sins.

It is equally important not to undermine any good deed. There is no such thing as a good deed that is too small. Nobody knows which good deed could earn them Paradise or serve as a means of forgiveness for their sins. There are many popular stories of people who were forgiven for their sins due to small good deeds.

Whether it was feeding a thirsty dog or giving a date in charity, every good deed done with sincerity counts. This should encourage us to do every good deed we can possibly do because we do not know which good deed will weigh heaviest on our scale on the Last Day.

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Sūrah al-Bayyinah: The Evidence

Sūrah al-Bayyinah: The Evidence

The scholars differ over when Sūrah al-Bayyinah was revealed. Some classify it as a Madinan Sūrah, while others classify it as Makkan. I am of the opinion that this is a Madinan Sūrah, because it directly addresses the issue of the Ahl al-Kitāb and their response to the revelation. This is a theme of Madinan revelation as there weren’t many Ahl al-Kitāb living in Makkah.

The scholars also differ over the name of this Sūrah. There are at least six names recorded for this Sūrah including Sūrah Lam Yakunil, Sūrah Ahl al-Kitāb, and Sūrah al-Barīya. Each of these names is taken from different words in the Sūrah, as is the standard practice for naming a Sūrah. The names of Sūrahs were not revealed, for most of them. The companions and later scholars simply named Sūrahs after words that are unique or important to them. This is why scholars often differ over the names of many Sūrah.

The theme of Sūrah al-Bayyinah is the reaction of the Ahl al-Kitāb (People of the Book, Jews and Christians) and the pagans to the proofs of Islam. In this Sūrah, Allah informs us that these groups split up upon hearing the message and seeing the evidences. A group became believers, whom Allah calls the best of creation in this Sūrah. While others rejected the message and disbelieved, so Allah called them the worst of creation. Allah ends the Sūrah with a promise of punishment for the disbelievers and reward in Paradise for the believers.

The Clear Proofs

At the beginning of the Sūrah, Allah mentioned that these groups differed and many of them disbelieved after they received the Bayyinah (clear proofs) of Islam. Allah did not just send down revelation claiming that Islam is the truth. The revelation came with clear evidence that it is from Allah. It is this evidence that separates Islam from false religion.

The clear evidences of Islam mentioned in this Sūrah are two; the Messenger and the Quran. The life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is itself a proof of the truthfulness of his message for any sincere seeker of the truth. When someone studies his life, his teachings, his character, his sacrifices, and the impact of his message, then it becomes clear that he was indeed a true messenger from Allah. Therefore, the message he brought is the truth from Allah.

The Quran is also a clear evidence that Islam is the truth. There is nothing like the Quran in existence. It is a miracle in many different ways, and entire books have been written explaining the miraculous nature of the Quran. The Quran is a miracle linguistically, poetically, historically, scientifically, and in its inimitable nature. Any sincere seeker of the truth who studies the Quran will realize that it is indeed a miraculous message from the Creator and will submit to its message.

The Worst of Creation

Because the revelation came with such clear proofs, those who disbelieved after seeing the evidences are condemned in the strongest of terms. For the people of the book who did not receive the message of Islam, they may still have an excuse for following the older scriptures. But once it is clear to an individual that Islam is the truth, then there is no excuse for rejecting it.

Despite knowing that Islam is the truth, many of the people of the book still rejected it. They recognized that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was a true prophet and his message was from Allah. However, either due to arrogance or blind following, they still chose to reject him. These people were condemned in the worst of terms. Allah called them the worst of creation.

The reason that disbelievers are considered the worst of creation is because they are the only creation that does not serve the purpose they were created for. Every other creation in existence serves its purpose. It does what Allah expects it to do, except the disbeliever. The disbeliever has abandoned the purpose of life and chosen to serve false gods. Without a purpose, the disbeliever chooses the worst of paths, the path to Hellfire. This makes him the worst of creation.

It is important that we do not take these verses as permission to mistreat people. This Sūrah deals with theology, not character. The categorization of people into the best of creation and worst of creation relates to their status in the Afterlife, not how we treat them. In this world, kindness and gentle preaching is needed from us as we do not know whom Allah will guide in the future.

The Best of Creation

The Sūrah ends with a reminder that those who choose to believe in Islam and follow its message are the Best of Creation. The reason is because while the majority of creation fulfills its purpose without free will, the believer chooses to fulfill his purpose through free will. This elevates the practicing believer to a station higher than that of the angels.

Allah ends the Sūrah with a promise of Paradise for those who choose Islam. Islam is not a cultural heritage that someone inherits from their parents. Islam is an active choice to submit to the Creator and follow His Laws. Every believer must consciously choose to submit to Allah and follow His Law. This elevates a person’s status from that of a Muslim to a Muʾmin. There are various levels of faith in Islam. The lowest level is Islam i.e. to identify as a Muslim. Higher than that is for true faith to enter the heart. This is called Imān. The highest level is Iḥsān (perfection) which is defined as to worship Allah as if you can see Him, knowing that He sees you.

For the believer, life is a spiritual journey. In this journey, we go through various stages on our path to Paradise. The goal is to leave this earth in as high a stage as possible. While being Muslim is enough to save a person from eternal damnation, there exist special rewards and levels in Paradise for those who strive for Iḥsān. This should motivate us to be our best and continuously work on improving our spiritual state. So that we too can be among those whom Allah is pleased with them, and they are pleased with Him.  

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Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 2 comments