‘Asr

Surah ‘Asr. There are, in total, 114 chapters in Al-Qur’an-il-Kareem: the Noble Qur’an. Each of these Surahs are of varying lengths, and explore different topics.

Surah ‘Asr is one of the shorter Surahs. Composed of three Ayahs (meaning verses, and otherwise translatable as ‘signs’) in contrast with Surah Baqarah’s 286, Surah ‘Asr is succinct, yet strong. Small and mighty, hard-hitting and enlightening.

As with many words in the Arabic language, so it would seem: the word ‘Asr has a number of contemporaneous meanings. ‘Asr (عصر) means Time. A period of time, whether this be a century, a season, a day, or a night. Another meaning this triliteral root word has is one that is related to the action of pressing. Squeezing, wringing, things out. Extracting the juice from a fruit. Indeed, one cognate form of the word ‘Asr is ‘Aseer (عصير) which means ‘juice‘.

We Muslims also refer to one of our five daily prayers as the ‘Asr prayer. It occurs right before the end of the day: when the sun begins to wane. The day loses its vitality, its عصير.

Classical (Qur’anic) Arabic is so fascinating, Subhan Allah. I love, love, love it.

Surah ‘Asr, then [an English translation]:

By [the passage of] Time. (1) Indeed, mankind is [certainly] in loss. (2) Except those who believe/have trust (have Īmān) and carry out righteous deeds/actions/work, enjoin [with one another] in Truth, and enjoin [with one another] in Patience (3)

Time. Like when you go to juice a fruit. You begin with a complete fruit: full and ‘youthful’. The juice gets squeezed out, until there is but a carcass form of the fruit left. Human beings. What do we have? Our wealth, our main concern, is Time. It is being wrung, juiced, out. Every second that elapses is another second

Lost. Another drip of juice, extracted from the fruit.

When it comes to Time – this wealth that each of us has been bestowed with… Are we spending it fruitfully?

[I much prefer the word ‘fruitful’ over the word ‘productive’ when it comes to reflecting upon whether or not we are using our time well. ‘Productivity’ as a value implies that time is spent well – or, best – when something is being produced. But that is not all we are: we are not merely, solely ‘producers’. I mean, I could spend all my time constructing… a toothpaste factory model. That, for instance, would be time spent ‘productively’, but not necessarily…

Fruitfully. The imagery of a fruit being juiced. Gradually, perhaps, but truly and undeniably, still. Drip, drip, drip.]

You know life: it is hard. It is ups and downs and squiggles and jagged lines. It is loss and gain; pleasure and pain. It is necessarily challenging. And, as Muslims, we know:

We begin with Īmān. Faith, recognition of our Creator. Next:

Righteous deeds and works. These may include, according to Qur’an and Hadith [I am just going to list some that I know of, off the top of my head…]

  • Offering our five daily Salah, with due attention and respect
  • Doing Dhikr (active remembrance of God)
  • Smiling [It counts as Sadaqah!]
  • Making Du’a
  • Helping someone in need
  • Saying “Assalamu ‘alaikum” to people
  • Seeking forgiveness from Allah
  • Reciting Qur’an
  • Expressing gratitude to Allah
  • Seeking beneficial knowledge
  • Passing on beneficial knowledge
  • Being good to one’s neighbour
  • Reconnecting with family members with whom the ties of kinship had been cut
  • Walking on the Earth in a humble manner
  • Responding to ignorance with words of peace
  • Maintaining good personal and spatial hygiene
  • Restraining anger
  • Being good to animals [e.g. an example from a Hadith: giving water to a thirsty dog]
  • Fasting
  • Visiting people who are unwell
  • Accepting invitations to others’ houses; inviting them to your house, too, and being a good host [post-Corona, Insha Allah]
  • Planting a tree [even if it does not end up growing]
  • Serving our parents
  • Can you think of any more examples of good works ( الأعمال الصالحة)? Please do drop them in the comments section, below!

Finally: Truth and Patience. Being bonded with others, in Truth (and encouraging one another toward it, and toward remembering Him). And, encouraging one another toward, engaging in, Patience: Sabr – which is otherwise translatable as: discipline, self-restraint, steadfastness, perseverance. Because life is a thing of struggle.

So, the four things that render our ‘spending’ of Time fruitful, and not, ultimately, a grave loss:

Belief. Good actions. Enjoining in Truth. Enjoining in Patience.

A good video about Surah ‘Asr, by Nouman Ali Khan. I would certainly recommend viewing his lectures on YouTube, if you are looking to (more deeply) explore the Qur’an and its contents.

May we all have a fruitful week, dear reader. And may we all have a fruitful Dunya-based life. Āmeen.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

Man as Machines

It has long been thought that man is in prolonged conflict with machines- they are stealing our jobs, our talents, and our livelihoods. It seems that, whilst machines are becoming increasingly anthropomorphized, humans are starting to resemble robots, too. Sullen-faced, square-eyed, and excessively concerned with productivity and efficiency, it is almost as if we are sculpting ourselves to become economic goods on conveyer belts; everything is about maximising output and minimising procrastination, and schools with liberal and creative outward appearances are on the brink of becoming de facto exam factories. Students are becoming the unsuspecting victims of an academic dystopia, and our souls are paying the price for it.

Constantly being occupied with something of prudence to do has become the new norm for students; we tend to be inundated by tasks to complete, goals to strive for, and guilt to be absorbed by when our bodies insist that we need a break. With incessant advancements in technology, as well as the growing accessibility of education, the world is progressively becoming more fast-paced and frenetic, resulting in restlessness and overall dissatisfaction amongst pupils. Excuse this cliché statement, but it seems as though we are gradually declining into human doings instead of human beings.

In this game of academic and professional ‘survival of the fittest’, we are told that lacking in ambition will get us nowhere in life, which is, no doubt, true, however the present moment is not just a seed of the future, nor is it exclusively a culmination of the past. Life, believe it or not, is short. Time passes. Although, in modern society, it is highly advisable (necessary, even) to invest in the future, it is also important to focus on your own wellbeing and enjoyment, in the present. Not everything should be done with a future objective in mind; unlike with machines, the value of people is not derived from the value of what we can produce, in a given period of time.

Formal education is very demanding; every student is aware of this. We are forever drowning in oceans of to-do lists, assignments, deadlines, and worries about the future. It is essential that we are willing to let ourselves relax and have fun, from time to time. Self-improvement is dependent on the maintenance of every component of the self: the mind, and also the body.

In my view, although it has come to be a dirty word in academics, procrastination can often be beneficial. It comes from the Latin word procrastinat, which means ‘deferred till the morning’. Sometimes it is necessary to defer things until the morning, to just step away from the monsters of scholastic stress. Chronic anxiety can lead to burnout and depression- hence, as an example of situational irony, immoderate ‘productivity’ can lead to academic fruitlessness. The majority of us are living, sentient beings, not metal, unfeeling ones: we require adequate time to sleep, socialize, and rejoice in our capacity to feel things.

The obsession with efficiency and getting things done in the least amount of time possible is accompanied by an unhealthy obsession with the future, in terms of academia, careers, and other goals. An apt analogy can be drawn from this: students and career-minded individuals are climbing a gargantuan mountain, chasing one marker point after another, never quite stopping to appreciate the gifts- the remarkable view- of the present, for fear of being labelled ‘procrastinators’. They forget that there is beauty around them, not just in front of them, and they also forget that the summit itself is an illusion. The harsh reality of the matter is that we climb this mountain, and then we drop dead somewhere along the way.

As with many things, the solution is simply to strike a balance- the flowers of productivity can be nurtured alongside the flowers of enjoying a soulful and content life (yes, I enjoy using metaphors to convey my ideas). As the saying goes, work hard, but also play hard: time is a finite resource, and it is constantly slipping from beneath our fingertips, like loose grains of sand. Men will never be machines, and it is futile to place such pressure on ourselves, pretending to be something we are not.

Though we may not rust like machines, our cells are always ageing, and soon we will grow old; we will grow up, and we will yearn for our youth and its many joys to return to us, but it never will.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017