The Arabic word “Asr”, that Allah swears by, has another connotation. It refers to the time at the end of the day, in other words the late afternoon. It is also used for the end of the harvest season. Our late afternoon prayer is called the `Asr prayer, that Allah often refers to in the Qur’ân as the “middle prayer”.
The time of Muhammad’s followers is like the late afternoon of human history. It is the last period before the end of the world. The Muslim nation is the last and greatest of all nations. It is the most preferred nation with Allah and it will be the first nation in the Hereafter to be admitted into Paradise.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Our relationship to the people of the two previous scriptures can be likened to a situation where a man hires a number of laborers. He asks: ‘Who will work for me from morning until midday for a certain sum?’ The Jews are the ones to work at this time. Then he asks: ‘Who will work from midday to the late afternoon for the same sum?’ The Christians are the ones to work at this time. Then he asks: ‘Who will work from the late afternoon until sunset for double that sum?’ You are these people. This angers the Jews and Christians who say: ‘Why did we have to work more to receive less?’ He replies: ‘Have you been deprived of any of your right?’ They answer: ‘No.’ He says: ‘This is my favor that I give to whom I please.’” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (8622)]
Since we are the nation of the late afternoon of the Earth, we must be witnesses over humanity. We should therefore be the most knowledgeable of people as well as the best in character. We should be the most civilized and most acquainted with what is best for humanity in both their worldly and spiritual lives. However, today, we are a wasted, exploited nation, with a number of lands and countries under foreign occupation.
Of the worlds poor, 65% are Muslims. Likewise, Muslims comprise 80% of the world’s refugees. In spite of the fact that Muslims make up from one-fifth to one-fourth of the world’s human population, they collectively possess no more that a 6% share of the world’s economy. Moreover, Muslims are seriously maligned in the world media.
A young Muslim woman today will know about hundreds of actresses, singers, dancers, fashion models, and even nude models, but we find it difficult to produce a contemporary wholesome role model for women to emulate. We end up having to speak about the Prophet’s wives.
Why, when we are the nation of Earth’s late afternoon, does our society not have good role models for its men and women? The answer is that, in spite of the poverty, weakness, and all the problems that we face, we seem to be working very hard to destroy one another.
In our desperation and our desire to run away from our problems, some of us turn to fancies and dreams. We must be wary of this. Many quite unscholarly books are being written about the end of time and the signs of the Hour, some even specifying when the end of the world is supposed to be. It may be that these books are being written with the best of intentions, but they speak without knowledge about the Unseen. They also lull people into a state of inaction and bring about a lot of negativity.
2. The human being
When Allah says: “Surely the human being is at loss”, He is speaking about every human being. In the Qur’ân, the human being is often threatened with loss. Allah says: “Verily, We have created the human being in the best of molds. Then We have brought him to the lowest of the low, except for those who have faith and do righteous deeds, for they shall have an unfailing reward.” [Sûrah al-Tîn: 4-6]
Allah created the human being, chose him, taught him, and even had the angels prostrate themselves before him. When the angels said: “Will you create therein who will spread mischief therein and spill blood while we celebrate your praises and glorify your holiness?” Allah says: “I know what you know not.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 30] This is a clear commendation for humanity and a clear statement of the uniqueness of the human being and the special responsibility that he carries.
Allah says: “We have honored the descendants of Adam, provided them with transport on land and sea, given them for sustenance things good and pure, and favored them above a great part of Our Creation.” [Sûrah al-Isrâ’: 70]
We must keep in mind, however, that our possible abasement and punishment are directly proportional to this responsibility.
People will be at loss to varying degrees. Some, like the unbelievers, are completely at loss. Their works will profit them nothing on the Day of Resurrection. Allah says: “And in the hereafter theirs will be the greatest loss.” [Sûrah al-Nahl: 5] Others will be partially at loss with little or no profit to their credit. Some on that Day will have debts to others.
Life is a form of business and trade. Allah says about some of the Unbelievers: “Those are the ones who purchased misguidance with guidance, so their trade did not profit them and they were not of those who were guided.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 16]
The Prophet (peace be upon him said): “Every person goes forth in the morning trading in his own self. He either earns its freedom or consigns it to perdition.” [Sahîh Muslim (322)]
The human being is by nature a creature of action and of concern. He does not sit idle. Every person is going forward, but not every person is headed in the same direction. Some people are headed towards greater perfection and towards salvation, while others are headed towards their own ruin.