Allah says: “By time! Surely the human being is at loss. Except for those who have faith and do righteous deeds and exhort one another to truth and exhort one another to patience.” [Sûrah al-`Asr]

Love for the sake of Allah is the elixir that dissolves barriers and binds the hearts of people together. It does not matter how far apart those people might be, or how much their activities and concerns lead them down different paths. Let us always raise the banner of love whenever the tempest of hate and anger begins to swirl up around us.

The age in which we live is one where oppression, injustice, killing, and violence are sometimes perpetrated in the name of freedom, or in the name of democracy, or in the name of peace, or in the name of Islam. We can only overcome this by raising the banner of love between us built upon our love for Allah and our love for His Messenger (peace be upon him).

This type of love is a particular quality of the believers. Allah says: “O you who believe! If any of you turn back from his faith, soon will Allah produce a people whom He will love as they will love Him – having humility among the believers but mighty in front of those who reject faith, striving in the way of Allah and never fearing the reproaches of those who scoff. This is the grace of Allah which He bestows upon whom He pleases. And Allah encompasses and knows all things.” [Sûrah al-Mâ’idah: 54]

We should realize that the hardships of life are transient, preceded and followed by times of ease. Allah says: “Verily with hardship comes ease; verily with hardship comes ease.” [Sûrah al-Sharh: 5-6]

Just like life is filled with obstacles, it is also filled with opportunities. Indeed, the message given by Sûrah al-`Asr is one of glad tidings of love, relief, and ease brought by Allah.

When the Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to meet one another, they would not depart until one of them recited Sûrah al-`Asr to the other and they bid peace upon one another. [Awsat al-Tabarâni (5124) and Shu`ab al-Imân (8639)]

The Companions used to remind one another of Sûrah al-`Asr because of the fundamental issues that this small chapter of the Qur’ân addresses and that all Muslims should be concerned with. We can acquire wisdom from the fact that the Qur’ân pays such careful attention to major and important issues, since we too often focus our attentions on minor issues that should be very low on our list of priorities. Our limited energies get distracted from what is important.

Becoming preoccupied with insignificant matters while forgetting what is really important is a major pitfall. The Companion Ibn `Umar once said to the people of Iraq: “How concerned you are with minor things and how neglectful you are of what is serious! You kill al-Husayn, the Prophet’s grandson, and then ask about the blood of a mosquito.”

We have another example of such an imbalanced focus in the executioners who flogged the great scholar Ahmad b. Hanbal. They used to ask him about the blood that splattered on their clothes and they used to question his praying seated while his arms and legs were bound in irons.

We will, in this article, focus on three major topics: time, the human being, and deeds. These three topics are the key to success in this world and salvation in the Hereafter. We will discuss these topics one at a time.

1. Time

We must realize that though time is innocent, people so often wrongly accused it of all the hardships and wrongs that they experience. Time is a mere receptacle for these happenings. It is neutral. This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) prohibited us from censuring the course of time. He related that Allah said: “The son of Adam does me wrong when he curses the course of time. I am the course of time, for the affair is in My hands as I turn the day and night over one another.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (4826) and Sahîh Muslim (2246)]

The statement “I am the course of time” is telling us that what people attribute to time is only by the will and decree of Allah, the wise and all-knowing. Allah is the Creator of everything and nothing that happens in His Creation happens in vain.

In Sûrah al`Asr, Allah swears an oath by time, indicating its seriousness and importance. Time is the receptacle within which our deeds are carried out. It is a factor in our success in this world and the Hereafter. Allah says: “He it is who made the night and the day to follow each other for such as have the will to remember Him or to give thanks.” [Sûrah al-Furqân: 62]

Ibn `Abbâs said: “Whoever missed performing any of the deeds of the night should make them up during the day, and whoever missed performing any of the deeds of the day should make them up at night.”

Allah says regarding the unbelievers in Hell: “Therein they will cry: ‘Our Lord! Bring us out. We shall work righteousness, not the deeds we used to do.’ Did We not give you long enough lives so that he who would receive admonition could do so? Moreover, a warner came to you. So taste what comes to you. For the wrongdoers there is no helper.” [Sûrah Fâtir: 36-37]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “A man has no excuse if Allah extends his life until he reaches sixty years of age.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (6419)]

Allah swears an oath by time because, in the course of time, changes and transformations take place. Summer turns to winter. Cold weather replaces heat. Strength turns to weakness. Victory turns to defeat. A person goes from rags to riches. Hardships are replaced by ease. Sicknesses are cured.

History is a testimony to this changeability. Today, the Muslim world is weak and divided and subdued by its enemies. Its intellectual life is superficial. It is wracked with despair and hopelessness. This can be remedied if the Muslims become forward thinking and work towards constructive change. We should not assume that the present circumstances are forever etched in stone.

Allah says: “Did you not swear aforetime that you would never suffer decline?” [Sûrah Ibrâhîm: 44] I used to wonder who could possibly believe that they would never suffer decline. Must not everyone realize that their lives must inevitably come to an end? Who could possibly swear such an oath?

I got my answer to this question when I read Francis Fukuyama’s book entitled The End of History. The book was written in celebration of the fall of Communism. He declared that the West had won and that Western democracy was the victor. The long-awaited event had happened that marked an “end point of mankind's ideological evolution” and the “final form of human government” and deserved to be called “the end of history.”

Allah says: “Did you not swear aforetime that you would never suffer decline? And you dwelt in the dwellings of men who wronged their own souls. You were clearly shown how We dealt with them and We set many examples before you.” [Sûrah Ibrâhîm: 44-45]

The word for time used in Sûrah al-`Asr is the Arabic word `asr which refers to the current time or age, as opposed to some more eternal and abstract notion of time. By swearing an oath by this aspect of time, Allah is indicating to us the importance of being up to date, of living in the present, and of understanding the contingencies of the era in which we live. We need to understand the age in which we live and actively engage the changes and challenges that it presents to us.

The epitome of virtue is to respond to these changes and challenges appropriately while remaining completely within the limits set down by Allah. We see that the Prophet (peace be upon him) offered the following supplication to Allah: “O Allah! Lord of Gabriel, Michael, and Ariel, Creator of the heavens and the Earth, Knower of the Unseen and the evident! You judge between your servants in what they differ about. Guide me, by your grace, to the truth in what they differ. Truly, You guide whom you please to a path that is straight.”

This is why Allah commands us to say in every unit of prayer that we perform: “Guide us to the Straight Path”. This shows us that there will always be new matters for which we will need guidance. We need to always beseech Allah to guide us in all matters and never assume that what we presently know is sufficient for us. We cannot assume that we have arrived at the final, immutable truth for every matter. We must understand that we will always need to learn how to respond to changing times and circumstances without compromising the immutable truths that our religion teaches us.

Some people are rigid in their adherence to a narrow set of ideas and opinions, though what they adhere to is not above reproach or criticism. Such people treat their ideas as if they were immutable, absolute truths, and sometimes even go so far as to reject an authentic Sunnah that had previously been unknown to them.

By contrast, there are others who begin to doubt the truly eternal and immutable teachings of our faith. When we review what is being said about Islam on the air and on the Internet, we can find people who call into question the most fundamental teachings of Islam. We can even find them disputing about Allah, the Qur’ân, revelation, the Prophet (peace be upon him), and the relationship between religion and politics. We hear people who advocate secularism and wholesale Westernization. There are those who wish to wholly adopt American culture and values.

Faced with these extremes, we must recall Allah’s words: “Those who, when they spend, are neither extravagant nor niggardly, but maintain a just balance between those (extremes).” [Sûrah al-Furqân: 67]

The American Muslim, Muhammad Ali, once said: “If I say today at forty what I said when I was twenty, then I have wasted twenty years of my life.”

Changing circumstances brings to the surface the true mettle of people. It shows who has the ability to move forward. There are those who are held captive by their lusts and desires. Others are held captive by their rulers or by their follows. A free person is one who can escape all of that.

Allahs’ Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “The slaves of gold, silver, and finery are wretched. If they are given what they want, they are pleased. If not, they become discontent and bitter and sink into wretchedness. If they come to any harm, they do not recover.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (2887)]