Tafsir: Sura Al-Asr
وَالْعَصْرِ إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَفِي خُسْرٍ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ
I swear by the time, Most surely man is in loss, Except those who believe and do good, and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience. TMQ[103:1-3]
This chapter is placed between two other chapters that mention loss. In the previous chapter, Sura Al-Takathur, man is a loser because he was diverted by worldly gains until he visits the grave and he will then see hellfire (الْجَحِيمَ), and this is loss.
Allah ﷻ says:
لَتَرَوُنَّ الْجَحِيمَ ثُمَّ لَتَرَوُنَّهَا عَيْنَ الْيَقِينِ
You should most certainly have seen the hell; Then you shall most certainly see it with the eye of certainty
In the following chapter Al-Humaza where people will be hurled into ‘the crushing disaster’ (الْحُطَمَةِ), Allah ﷻ says:
كَلَّا ۖ لَيُنبَذَنَّ فِي الْحُطَمَةِ
Nay! he shall most certainly be hurled into the crushing disaster
Therefore, there is a natural progression which is seeing the hellfire before entering it. Also, Sura Al-Qaria which is before Sura Al-Takathur mentions that people will be like scattered moths on the Day of Judgement and the mountains shall be as loosened wool. This is their state before seeing the Hellfire.
It came in Roohul Al-Maanee:
“In it is an indication of the situation of those who were not diverted by mutual rivalry of worldly gains, because of that [this sura] was placed after it [Sura Al-Takathoor]”
وَالْعَصْرِ “I swear by the time”
Allah ﷻ swears by Al-Asr. There are many opinions as to what is the meaning of Al-Asr. Some have said it is Al-Dahr (time), and Al-Dahr is the best witness upon the complement of the oath, which is man is in loss except whom Allah ﷻ has saved from loss.
It came in Tafseer Ibn Al-Katheer: “Al -Asr is the duration in which the good and evil activities of the sons of Adam take place”
It was so interpreted that Al-Asr is the afternoon prayer (صلاة العصر).
And it was said, it is the era of the Messenger ﷺ and the remaining time until the Day of Judgement, where the remaining period until the Day of Judgment is the period from the time of Al-Asr prayer and sunset. The Messenger ﷺ said:
إِنَّمَا بَقَاؤُكُمْ فِيمَا سَلَفَ قَبْلَكُمْ مِنَ الأُمَمِ، كَمَا بَيْنَ صَلاَةِ الْعَصْرِ إِلَى غُرُوبِ الشَّمْسِ
“The remaining period of your stay (on the earth) in comparison to the nations before you, is like the period between the `Asr prayer and sunset.”
(Sahih al-Bukhari 7467)
It was also said:
“It is the time of the world in which the day of judgment is approaching while you have not prepared.” (Tafsir Al-Razi)
Indeed, Allah ﷻ swore here by Al-Asr (afternoon) and not by any other times like Al-Fajr (dawn) or Al-Maghrib (sunset) or Al-Duha (forenoon) or any different times.
The reason for making Al-Asr the object of the oath is that sufficient time has passed for time to be a witness upon man. Therefore, Al-Asr is the most indicative of what the oath was taken for, unlike other times of the day. This is because Al-Asr indicates drawing closer to the end of the day which is an indication of the nearing of the Day of Judgment.
The time which has already passed is sufficient as a witness against previous nations before the final messenger. History is a proof about the loss of humanity.
It is noticed that when nations are mentioned after an oath with times, then there is a connection between what preceded the time and the named nations.
For example, when He ﷻ swore by Al-Fajr, ‘Ad was mentioned.
Allah ﷻ said:
أَلَمْ تَرَ كَيْفَ فَعَلَ رَبُّكَ بِعَادٍ
Have you not considered how your Lord dealt with ‘Ad
The people of ‘Ad were from the ancient nations, and they were after the time of Nuh (peace be upon him).
When Allah ﷻ swore by the sun and its brilliance then Thamud was mentioned.
He ﷻ said:
كَذَّبَتْ ثَمُودُ بِطَغْوَاهَا
Thamud denied in their excessive tyranny
Thamud were after ‘Ad. So there is compatibility between the mentioned nations and the object of the oath.
Imām Farāhī has explained the reason for taking an oath by time in the following words in his Majmū‘ah Tafāsīr:
“The judgement of Allah ﷻ enforced on the previous nations [of the Prophets] was an exact recompense of their deeds. If they did virtuous deeds, the Almighty blessed them with ascendancy. If they took to oppression and spreading disorder, the law of Allah ﷻ destroyed them after giving them respite for a time in which the truth was made evident to them to the extent that they could not deny it. It is to remind people of this reality that an oath was sworn by time so that people remember that one day they will also have to face this law of retribution.
Moreover, there is another delicate point hidden in this oath: the real investment a person has is that of time and the primary feature of time is that nothing can outdo its briskness and speed. How naive is a person who in spite of being aware of this disloyalty of time trusts it and becomes indifferent to the transience of this world and to the accountability of the Hereafter.”
Imām Farāhī cites an example to explain this reality:
“In this matter, man is much like a merchant who trades in ice. However, instead of trying to sell it as soon as possible and gain some profit from this transaction, he stacks it in a place and merrily views its shine relishing the coldness it provides. It is obvious that very soon such a short-sighted merchant would end up lamenting his indifference.”
Times such as Fajr (dawn) and Al-Dhua (forenoon) are not appropriate to conclude for loss because sufficient time has not elapsed for it. As for Al-Maghrib, then it is the end of the day when the people wind down, and it is not suitable for consideration of a conclusion either.
إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَفِي خُسْرٍ Most surely man is in loss
The meaning of this verse is that evidently. man has fallen in loss, surrounded by it from all sides except that Allah ﷻ has excluded him from it.
He ﷻ said فِي خُسْرٍ and did not say خاسر in order to indicate the magnitude of the loss which surrounds man.
It came in Tafsir-Al-Razi:
“And know that Allah تَعَالَى linked this verse with clues to indicate His تَعَالَى emphasis in explaining the existence of man in a loss.
Firstly: He said –لَفِي خُسْرٍ – which suggests man being buried in loss, and it surrounds him from every side.
Secondly, the word إِنَّ is for emphasis and thirdly, the particle اللَّامِ (for emphasis) in لَفِي خُسْرٍ.”
Indeed the loss الخُسْر was made indefinite and not definite. This is to indicate absolute loss whether the loss was big or small, major or minor according to man’s action and his enjoining the truth and patience.
The word الخُسْر was used here instead of الخُسْرَان and الخَسَار. Each word is used according to its context and position in the Qur’an.
The word الخُسْر is used for general loss, whether it is a lot or few.
The word الخَسَار is used to indicate an increase in loss, like His ﷻ saying:
وَنُنَزِّلُ مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ مَا هُوَ شِفَاءٌ وَرَحْمَةٌ لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ ۙ وَلَا يَزِيدُ الظَّالِمِينَ إِلَّا خَسَارًا
“We send down in the Qur’an that which is a healing and a mercy to the believers, but it only increases the wrongdoers in loss.”
The word الخُسْرَان is used for the greatest of losses and not for minor loss. For example, His ﷻ saying:
فَاعْبُدُوا مَا شِئْتُم مِّن دُونِهِ ۗ قُلْ إِنَّ الْخَاسِرِينَ الَّذِينَ خَسِرُوا أَنفُسَهُمْ وَأَهْلِيهِمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ۗ أَلَا ذَٰلِكَ هُوَ الْخُسْرَانُ الْمُبِينُ
“so worship anything you will apart from Him!’ Say: ‘The real losers are those who lose themselves and their families on the Day of Rising.’ Is not that clear loss?”
Therefore, in the context of the chapter which is about the general loss, it was appropriate to use the word الخُسْر.
إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ Except those who believe and do good, and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience.
It came in Tafseer Abi Saud:
“His saying: إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ “Except those who believe and do good”, this explanation is about the perfection of themselves and His ﷻ saying: وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْ “and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience”, is an explanation of their perfection of others i.e. some of them enjoin on others to be steadfast upon matters that can’t be denied nor cease to exist in the two worlds because of its good effects, and that is everything which is good due to believing in Allah ﷻ, following His Books and His Messengers in every contract and action.”
It came in Tafsir-Al Razi:
His ﷻ saying: وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ “the verse indicates the truth is heavy and the tests will accompany it. Therefore, counselling one another التَّوَاصِي was connected with it.”
Counselling one another with patience was mentioned after counselling one another with truth, because the counselling one another to the truth and calling to it is a burden upon the person and on others and the counsellor of the truth may encounter harm, so the counselling one another with patience was mentioned.
The verb of counselling تَوَاصَوْا was repeated using the preposition particle بِ with the truth and patience to emphasise both of them.
It is possible to say: وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِ وَ الصَّبْرِ or: وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِ وَ بالصَّبْرِ and that would have given the emphasis by repeating the preposition particle بِ. However, He ﷻ said وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ – where the verb with the preposition particle was repeated. The reason for this was for added importance and emphasis.
The meaning of enjoining patience is general. It could be being patient from doing sins, patient in obedience and in times of difficulty, and being patient in calling to Allah ﷻ and the Truth.
It came in Al-Khashaaf:
“and enjoin on each other patience وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ from sins and patience upon obedience and whatever Allah ﷻ tests his servants with.”
It came in Roohul-Al Maanee:
“and enjoin on each other patience وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ from sins which the human soul is predisposed to. Patience upon obedience which is difficult upon it [soul] to fulfill and patience upon whatever Allah ﷻ tests His servants with. The mentioned patience is included in the meaning of Al-Haq, but it was repeated after it with a preposition and the verb was linked to it for the sake of complete attention and care for it.”
It may be asked why did Allah ﷻ not mention enjoining of truth and patience in other places with having faith and doing righteous actions. For example, in Sura Tin, He ﷻ said:
ثُمَّ رَدَدْنَاهُ أَسْفَلَ سَافِلِينَ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ فَلَهُمْ أَجْرٌ غَيْرُ مَمْنُونٍ
Then We reduced him to the lowest of the low, except for those who have iman and do right actions: they will have a wage which never fails.
What is the difference? The difference is that the verse of Al-Asr is about explaining the loss that inflicts man, whereas Sura Al-Tin is about being saved from the depth of hellfire. So it demonstrated that having faith and doing righteous actions prevents from being the lowest of the low, although that may not prevent him from being in a loss if he does not enjoin the truth and patience. If he abandons something of that, he loses something from the reward which he could have profited from had he done it.