Way to Attain Salvation, In The Light Of Surah Al-‘Asr. –
A very special and admirable topic been discussed below by the most honest scholar of todays world Dr.Israr Ahmed.
103.002 إِنَّ الإنْسَانَ لَفِي خُسْرٍ
103.003 إِلا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ
103.001 By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),
103.002 Verily Man is in a state of loss,
103.003 Except those who have Faith, and do righteous deeds, and join together in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy.
SURAH Al-‘ASR, a very early Makkan surah is one of the shortest surahs of the Quran. The words used in this surah are also commonly used in Urdu and are familiar to those who have fair knowledge about this language. This is why a sketchy meaning of the surah is grasped without much difficulty by every Urdu knowing individual. But studied and pondered upon at a deeper level, this surah opens up a treasure house of knowledge and wisdom.
As a matter of fact, there is a striking analogy between this surah and surah Al-Ikhlas. Surah Al-Asr sums up in a few concise words the way and practical guidance that leads to eternal success and salvation just as surah Al-Ikhlas delineates in a few words the nature and unity of Godhood in Islam. Though very short and compact, both the surahs are extremely rich in meaning relating to their respective themes. On this ground Maulana Hamid-ud-Din Farahi has categorized surah Al-Asr as an aphorism of great wisdom, whereas Imam Al-Shafeii maintained that a deep and thoughtful study of this surah alone provides adequate guidance for attaining one’s salvation.
This surah is composed of three verses. The second verse is of central importance in the meaning and significance. This verse express the painful and tragic state of Man generally, a state of loss and deprivation. The evidence for this is presented in the first verse, in the form of an Oath or adjuration. The third verse of the surah craves out an exception from the general condition of Man laid down in the second verse.
In this way, this surah us clearly divided into teo parts. Its first part – “By (the token of) time (through the ages), Verily man is in (or destined to be in) a state of loss” – consist of a statement and its proof and as such is of immense philosophical significance, whereas the second part of the surah – “Except those who have faith, and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of truth, and of patience and constancy” – is of utmost practical importance, giving the essential requirements and conditions of a successful life, a precise but nevertheless complete and comprehensive elucidation of the ‘right path.’
In the following discussion an attempt has been made merely at explaining some general principals of the surah and in particular, some crucial points of its second part so that a detailed and synoptic view of the obligations and duties that Islam enjoins upon us is put in bold relief.
If we look at this surah as a whole, we realize that the note of warning and admonition is much more pronounced then the conditions of hope given at the end. Firstly, its very opening statement produces a big impact on the reader. The words “By (the token of) time, verily man is in a state of loss” even if considered only in their vocal effect, are capable of giving a big jolt and arousing the listener from his slumber. A full realization of its meaning must produce a still more potent effect.
Secondly, “Verily man is in the state of loss”, has been laid down as an all compassing and categorical assertion. On the other hand, the verse starting with the words, “except those who have faith…“ grants an exception to the general statement. This is tantamount to saying that whereas the loss and doom of man is almost a universal truth, salvation is an exception to be achieved by only a few.
A statement very similar to these has been made in surah At-Teen (surah 95). The verse of this surah, “Then we reduced him to the lowest of the low” describes the depraved condition of mankind as a whole, while the next part of this verse “Except those who believe and do righteous deeds” marks out the persons saved from the state of depravity.
But in surah At-Teen two optimistic points have been made to lighten the note of warning. One, prior to “Then we reduced him to the lowest of the low” a re-assurance of the primordial goodness of man has been given in these words: “We have indeed created man in the best of moulds”. Two, immediately after the words “Except those who believe and do righteous deeds”, a heart-warming promise of eternal salvation has been made in the same verse, “For they shall have a reward unfailing”. In surah Al-Asr, on the contrary, not only there is no re-assurance of man’s creation “in the best of moulds”, but also it lacks a positive promise of an “unfailing reward”. It ends with a mere statement of the possibility of deliverance from loss and ruin. Further, whereas in surah At-Teen only two conditions have been laid that exempt one from falling into a depraved state i.e. belief and good deeds, surah Al-Asr demands for the exemption from the universal ruin, in addition to faith and good deeds, two stringent requirements of faith-exhorting one another to truth and exhorting one another to endurance.
A statement of Prophet JESUS (PBUH) is very helpful in understanding a subtle difference in the subject matter of Aurah At-Teen and Surah Al-Asr. In the famous sermon of the mount he said:
“Go in through the narrow gate; because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones who go in through it; whereas narrow is the gate and cramped the road leading to life, a few are the ones who find it.”
Surah At-Teen and Surah Al-Asr both contain a reference to the two paths alluded to by Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him). The main emphasis of Surah Al-Asr is on that broad path which the large majority of humanity is treading on in its blind worship of carnal desires, gratification of sex and hunger, belief in ‘wishful thinking’ and polluted traditions and inauthentic existence, coming nearer every moment to a dreadful end of an eternal doom. On the contrary, the light of Surah At-Teen is converging on the other type of path which, though narrow and followed by a handful of men, ultimately leads to ‘openness’ and eternal success and wellbeing.
When a thoughtful and sensitive person would think in the light of Surah Al-Asr about the wretched plight of so many and visualize the doom they shall meet, he may well be overwhelmed by a deep sense of dejection and hopelessness. It is just possible that he may lose faith in the natural and primordial goodness of man. In the darkness of this stark pessimism Surah At-Teen appears as a shining ray of hope and confidence. In its light we have a glimpse of some pious and saintly persons following the right path, and also of the evidence of man’s natural and original goodness and his potential for the pinnacle of excellence. And this quells the darkness of pessimism, giving a man self-confidence and hope about his future.
The universal truth, “Verily man is in a state of loss” has been supported by the equally comprehensive evidence, “BY (the token of) time” This is so because the substantive proposition of its evidence are both almost universal and open to common observation. On the other hand, the rather little known truth expressed in the verse “Surely we created man in the best of moulds” has been instantiated by a few holy persons who walked under the ‘fig and olive trees’ or conversed with the Lord on the Mount of Sinai, or were witness to the spiritual greatness of man in the city of security.
The thundering call of “By (the token of) time” jolts the mind of a sensitive and thoughtful person out of absorption in his pity personal involvements, and presents to him the vast panorama of world history as unfold in time. The primary purpose of this adjuration, therefore, is to make the reader ponder upon the deeper meaning and value of the vicissitudes of world history.
The truth of matter is that complete preoccupation with the demand of its immediate environments and personal problems is a manifestation of man’s intellectual bankruptcy. In this way the entire expanse of his conscious being is often confined to these demands, and he is rendered incapable of any intuitive illumination emanating from his inner most self or comprehension of the astounding signs (‘ayat’ in Quranic terminology) present throughout the universe. Very insignificant and minor issues of daily life are blown quite out of proportion, and he exhausts all his time and energy in struggling for trifles and petty desires. The Holy Quran has delineated two ways that help a person in coming out of his mental and psychological confinement. First, the way of attaining the ultimate truth through a deep soul search, a listening to the affirmation of one’s inner self. Second, the way of reflecting and mediating on the signs found in the cosmos and the clear testimonies provided by the history. The contents of Surah Al-Asr guide us to this latter way.
It is only due to sheer negligence or insensitivity that we take time to be static. On the contrary, everything which exists today in the world will perish before long. Similarly, human beings who are busy now in managing the manifold activities of a full life, will in a matter of few years yield place to other generations. The fleeting passage of time in itself is a warning to unmindful persons and should be sufficient to bring home to them that they and all their worldly pursuits will shortly come to an end. Our short lease of life is expiring rapidly, and after a little while we will disappear in the mist of the past.