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al-'Asr
 

bismillah

sura 103

In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

 
By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),
 Verily Man is in loss,
Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds,
and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth,
and of Patience and Constancy.

  
                          
                                 -  translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali
 

This sûrah was one of the earliest revelations which the angel Gabriel delivered to the Prophet Muhammad. In sûrah al-Fâtiha, Allâh has taught us to seek the straight path, as-sirât al-mustaqîm, and in sûrah al-'asr the essence of that straight path is revealed to mankind.

In this sûrah we learn that we should always be filled with belief in the power and wonder of Allah, perform righteous works, encourage one another toward the Truth, and encourage one another to patience.

Anyone who successfully follows this divine guidance will find themselves on the straight path, and their life will be filled with the glory of Allâh, while those who fail to follow this guidance will be at a great loss.

These seemingly simple lines of divine guidance tell us how to live our entire life. Many books, with thousands of words, cannot say as much as is contained in these three short verses. There are many laws and rules and regulations that appear in al-Qur'ân as specific guidance, but this early surah is much grander in scale and portrays the fundamental character and moral values which are essential for the righteous life. This sûrah shows us "the big picture", and undoubtedly anyone who truly understands and lives by these ideals will be on the straight path.

According to the tafsir of Ibn Kathir:

At-Tabarani recorded from 'Abdullah bin Hisn Abi Madinah that he said, "Whenever two men from the Companions of the Messenger of Allah used to meet, they would not part until one of them had recited surah al-'Asr in its entirety to the other, and one of them had given the greetings of peace to the other."

Ash-Shafi'i said, "If the people were to ponder on this surah, this [alone] would be sufficient for them."
 

Translation:

line1

          bismillâh ir-rahmân ir-rahîm

In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful.

 

line2 

         wa al-'asri

Yusuf Ali: By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),
Pickthall: By the declining day,
Shakir: I swear by the time,
Muhammad Ali: By the time!
Malik:
By the time through the ages!


 

line3

         inna al-insâna la fî khusri

Yusuf Ali: Verily Man is in loss,
Pickthall: Lo! man is a state of loss,
Shakir: Most surely man is in loss,
Muhammad Ali: Surely man is in loss,
Malik:
Surely mankind is in loss,


 

line4

          illâ al-ladhîna amanû wa 'amilû as-sâlihâti

          wa tawâsaw bi al-haqqi wa tawâsaw bi as-sabr


Yusuf Ali: Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.
Pickthall: Save those who believe and do good works, and exhort one another to truth and exhort one another to endurance.
Shakir: Except those who believe and do good, and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience.
Muhammad Ali: Except those who believe and do good, and exhort one another to Truth, and exhort one another to patience.
Malik:
except those who believe and do good deeds; exhort one another to the truth and exhort one another to patience.
 

Going even deeper into 'The Time' ....


No simple literal translation can capture the magnificence or the delicate nuances of these Arabic verses. Every word has multiple levels of meaning, and each line brings new insights and inspirations with every reading. To begin to discover the deeper meanings of these verses, let's look at the deeper meanings of the words, line by line:

(Pronunciation guide: i as in sit, a as in bat, u as in put,  â as the a in father, î as the ee in reel, û as the oo in moot.)
 

bismillâh ir-rahmân ir-rahîm

bismillâh = for the glory of Allâh, in the name of Allâh, by means of the Light of Allâh
   Root: There are three parts to this beautiful phrase:  (see also the bismillah web page)
      1) bi : by, for, by means of, with the aid of, through (pointing towards the idea of what happens next)
      2) ism :  name, reputation, glory (root indicates light, vibration, essence)
      3) Allâh

ir-rahmân = the beneficent, the merciful, the compassionate, the One who continually showers all of creation with blessings, nourishment and prosperity
   Root r-h-m: womb, kinship, mercy, compassion, tenderness requiring the exercise of beneficence.

ir-rahîm = the compassionate, the merciful, the One who gives even more to those who live in loving harmony and righteousness
   Root r-h-m:  womb, kinship, mercy, compassion, tenderness requiring the exercise of beneficence.

 

wa al-'asri

wa = and, and also, while, whilst, but, together, with

al-'asr = time passing, time that cannot be recaptured, the flight of time, succession of the ages, the days of the Prophet, late in the day, afternoon
  
 

inna al-insâna la fî khusrin

inna = (introductory particle) behold, verily, truly, surely

al-insân = one having attachments, man, mankind, human being
  Root a-n-s: to be sociable, familiar, polite, friendly, keep company, be on intimate terms

la = (intensifying particle) truly, verily

fî =  (prep) in, at, on, near, by, within, concerning, regarding, according to

khusr = loss, damage, deception, straying from the right path, punishment for a sin
  Root kh-s-r: to wander from the right path, to be deceived, to miss the right path, to err, to become lost, to suffer loss, lose, perish, suffer damage

 

illâ al-ladhîna âmanû wa 'amilû as-sâlihâti wa tawâsaw bi al-haqqi wa tawâsaw bi as-sabr

illâ = but, except, if not

al-ladhîna = those who, whoever

âmanû = they believe, they have trust in, they have confidence in
  Root a-m-n: to trust, be secure, be in safety, have confidence in, believe in

wa = and, and also, while, whilst, but, together, with

'amilû = workers, doers
  Root 'a-m-l:  to make, work, operate, construct, practice

as-sâlihât = righteous deeds, good works
  Root s-l-h: to be righteous, good, sound, upright

wa = and, and also, while, whilst, but, together, with

tawâsaw = they enjoin each other, urge one another, admonish each other
  Root w-s-y: to enjoin, recommend, urge, advise, admonish, prescribe, direct, encourage

bi = by, for, by means of, with the aid of, through; also gives causative meaning to a verb

al-haqq = the truth, that which is real, proper and authentic
  Root h-q-q: to be right, true, genuine, real, proper, suitable, authentic  (see also al-Haqq)

wa = and, and also, while, whilst, but, together, with

tawâsaw = they enjoin each other, urge one another, admonish each other
  Root w-s-y: to enjoin, recommend, urge, advise, admonish, prescribe, direct, encourage

bi = by, for, by means of, with the aid of, through; also gives causative meaning to a verb

as-sabr = patience, steadfastness, bearing calmly, perseverance
  Root s-b-r: to be patient, enduring, steadfast, contented  (see also al-Sabur)

 

Interpretation:

Armed with these definitions and your own inner guidance, you can create your own poetic rendering of surah al-'Asr... just go through the surah word-by-word, inserting the definition of each word that seems to speak to your heart, such as:

For the glory of Allah, the Merciful One Who is endlessly Beneficent, and Who Graciously rewards those who live in Divine harmony,

1) There is no time to waste!

2) Truly any person has strayed from the [straight] path

3) unless they believe [in Allah], do works of righteousness, encourage one another by means of divine Truth, and encourage one another through patient perseverance.

                  - a rendering by wahiduddin

For the first verse, various commentators have offered different viewpoints of the meaning of al-'asr:  a) that it metaphorically indicates that there is no time for us to waste; b) that it indicates bygone days wherein mankind has already shown these truths; or c) that it specifically indicates the days of the Prophet as demonstrating these truths. While all of these interpretations have merit, in the rendering above al-'asr is interpreted to be telling us that there is no time to waste, which arises from a literal interpretation such as:  "I swear it is very late in the day and the end of the day is approaching."

In the third verse, many common translations suggest that the proper path is to tell other people what to do by telling them to go to the Truth, and telling them to have patience, but this is all too typical of the human ego which likes to point out everyone else's errors while neglecting it's own faults. Therefore, the rendering above offers an alternate interpretation wherein the greatest challenge is to correct one's own behavior and then allow that perfected behavior to become an encouraging example, a guiding light, for others to learn from and to follow. We all learn from one another, and therefore we should always strive to assure that our own behavior is righteous, lest we set a bad example and thereby lead others astray.
 

Recitation:

Click this link to hear surah al-'Asr recited by the renowned Saudi qari Shaykh Saad al-Ghamdi.

References:
   Tafsir Ibn Kathir (10 Volumes; Abridged), commentary by ibn Kathir, in English
   Dictionary of the Holy Quran, by Abul Omar Mannan

     

with love,
     wahiduddin

updated: 18-Oct-2005

al-quran al-'asr  al-asr
bismillah ir-rahman ir-rahim
wa al-'asri
inna al-ins
ana la fi khusri
illa al-ladhina amanu wa 'amilu as-salihati wa tawasaw bi al-haqqi wa tawasaw bi as-sabr