Alḥamdulillah, most college and university students are currently enjoying winter break. Oftentimes, winter break provides much-needed time off from the pressure, stress, anxiety, and hectic-ness of classes, lectures, projects, studying, midterms, finals, and everything else related to student life. Many students get to travel back home and spend time with their family and friends, unwind, and relax. When I was a student at UCI, winter break was great. I had absolutely no responsibilities whatsoever. It meant I could sleep in and spend endless hours hanging out and playing ball. Looking back at my college years however, I can now honestly say that that definitely wasn’t the best use of my time. As a matter of fact, there is a lot of regret over wasted time and opportunity. For a lot of students, not having a set schedule and routine, not having the structure of lectures and classes, leads down to a path of wasting time.
Ṣūrah al-ʿAṣr and the Virtue of Time
Time is one of the most valuable and unique gifts that Allah ﷻ has bestowed upon us. It is also a blessing that we take for granted. As human beings, when we receive something without any effort, struggle, sacrifice, or hard work, we generally take it for granted. In this article I want to briefly reflect upon a particular chapter from the Quran, Ṣūrah al-ʿAṣr, which can help us appreciate the value of time and create a sense of urgency in our lives.
The Quran, the un-created, eternal speech of Allah ﷻ, the last and final revelation sent for the guidance of humanity until the end of times, the greatest miracle given to the Prophet ﷺ, is extremely profound, powerful, eloquent, and beautiful. In order for us to understand its power, eloquence, and beauty Allah ﷻ gives us an example, He ﷻ tells us,
“If we had sent this Quran down upon a mountain you would have seen it humbled, burst apart from the fear of Allah. These are the examples we set forth for mankind, so that they may reflect.” [Surah Al-Hashr: 59;21]
A mountain is the strongest and largest naturally occurring object we can see with our eyes. It is used as a symbol of strength and power. Before the advent of modern technology, a mountain was considered to be indestructible and unconquerable. Allah ﷻ is telling us that if the words of the Quran were revealed upon a mountain, that mountain itself would be humbled, and would burst apart and explode into fine particles of dust, out of the fear, awe, and reverence of Allah. If that’s the effect that it can have upon a mountain imagine the effect it can have upon our hearts.
When we recite the Quran, when we listen to the Quran, it should do something to us. It should move our hearts. We should feel a range of emotions. We should feel hope and fear. We should be intellectually stimulated and inspired by the words of Allah ﷻ.
Sūrah al-ʿAṣr is a very short Makkan Sūrah, meaning it was revealed before the migration of the Prophet ﷺ from Makkah to Madinah, and is made up of three verses. However, despite its brevity, it’s extremely deep and comprehensive. In three short verses Allah ﷻ outlines a complete way of life based on the principles of Islam. This is the eloquence that only Allah ﷻ alone is capable of. In a few short verses, He ﷻ captured and outlined the essence of human life. That’s one of the reasons why whenever two Companions met, they wouldn’t part company until one of them had recited Sūrah al-ʿAṣr to the other. Similarly, Imām al-Shāfiʿīsaid, “If people reflected upon Sūrah al-ʿAṣr carefully it would be enough for their guidance.” In this Sūrah, Allah ﷻ takes an oath by time to emphasize that mankind is at loss except for people with four qualities: 1) Faith 2) Righteous deeds 3) Advising each other with the truth and 4) Advising each other with patience. This is the only path to salvation in this world and the next. The Sūrah makes it clear that through the history of mankind there has only been one worthwhile and useful path; the one described by the Sūrah. The path of faith and righteous deeds; real and practical faith.
Allah ﷻ opens the Sūrah by taking an oath by time. “By time.” The word ʿaṣr can have several different meanings. It can be understood to mean the late afternoon, the last hour of the afternoon, the entire afternoon, the later afternoon prayer, or a period of time in general. It’s derived from the verb ‘aṣara, which means to squeeze. That’s how it’s related to time; it’s being squeezed from us and is declining and fading quickly. The most common meaning given is, I swear by time, which is one of the most intriguing and complex creations of Allah ﷻ.
Time is the medium of life; it’s what we live in and what we pass our lives through. It’s literally the essence of life. We see and experience time pass through various cycles; life and death, health and illness, night and day, darkness and light, wealth and poverty, happiness and sorrow, honor and disgrace. We have seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. All of these things prove the existence and ultimate power of the One who created them, Allah ﷻ.
Allah ﷻ is swearing by time to show us and prove to us its value and worth. Time is a priceless commodity; there’s no way possible to assign a value to it. There’s a famous saying that you can spend money to make more money but you can never spend time to make more time. Once it’s gone it’s gone and there’s no way to get it back. That’s why our tradition teaches us to value time and take advantage of it.
The reason why Allah ﷻ is swearing by time itself is to emphatically state a truth. “Truly mankind is in loss.” Allah ﷻ is telling us that we’re in a state of loss unless we do the four things mentioned next. Now the question arises, why are we at a loss? Some commentators mention that all stages of human life, growth, development, movements, actions, and morality take place in the space of time. Time is the capital of life. Hours, days, months, years, minutes, and seconds move quickly. We possess a lot of this capital but every single day a portion of it disappears; and it disappears on its own. A poet once said, “Your life is a few breaths that can be counted, every time one passes a part of your life decreases.” Time is capital just like money is capital. When it comes to business we’re all very smart and cautious. We do our homework and make sure that there’s a high rate of return. We know that if we make smart investments we’ll profit and if we make bad investments we’ll be at a loss. Allah ﷻ has given us this capital, the capital of time, so that we can invest in something profitable, something that will give us high returns. If a person invests their time in faith and righteous deeds then the return on that investment literally can’t be quantified; it’s unlimited. However, if they invest it in disobedience and sin then there’s nothing but complete loss and bankruptcy.
This isn’t just some poetic metaphor that the commentators came up with, but it’s based on a hadith of the Prophet ﷺ.
عَنْ أَبِي مَالِكٍ الْحَارِثِ بْنِ عَاصِمٍ الْأَشْعَرِيِّ رَضِيَ اللهُ عَنْهُ قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه و سلم “الطَّهُورُ شَطْرُ الْإِيمَانِ، وَالْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ تَمْلَأُ الْمِيزَانَ، وَسُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ وَالْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ تَمْلَآنِ -أَوْ: تَمْلَأُ- مَا بَيْنَ السَّمَاءِ وَالْأَرْضِ، وَالصَّلَاةُ نُورٌ، وَالصَّدَقَةُ بُرْهَانٌ، وَالصَّبْرُ ضِيَاءٌ، وَالْقُرْآنُ حُجَّةٌ لَك أَوْ عَلَيْك، كُلُّ النَّاسِ يَغْدُو، فَبَائِعٌ نَفْسَهُ فَمُعْتِقُهَا أَوْ مُوبِقُهَا”.
From Abū Mālik al-Ḥārith ibn ʿĀṣim al-Ashʿarīwho said: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Purity is half of īmān (faith). ‘Al-ḥamdu lillah fills the scales, and subḥān-Allah and al-ḥamdulillah fill that which is between heaven and earth. Prayer is a light, charity is a proof, patience is illumination, and the Quran is a proof for you or against you. Every person starts his day as a vendor of his soul, either freeing it or causing its ruin.” [Muslim]
Every morning a person wakes up, they engage in a transaction with their soul; either they free it or destroy it. A person who doesn’t invest the capital of time in the four things that are mentioned in this Sūrah is at a loss. A person who doesn’t take advantage of his time has lost out. As the Prophet ﷺ told us in another ḥadīth,
“Take advantage of five before five; youth before old age, health before illness, prosperity before poverty, free time before being occupied and life before death.”
قالَ رسُولُ اللَّهِ صلَّى اللَّهُ عليهِ وسلَّمَ لرجُلٍ وهوَ يعِظُه اغتَنِم خمسًا قبلَ خمسٍ شبابَك قبلَ هَرمِك وصحَّتَك قبلَ سَقمِك وغناكَ قبلَ فقرِك وفراغَك قبلَ شُغلِك وحياتِك قبلَ موتِكَ
The Prophet ﷺ took ibn ‘Umarby the shoulder and said, “Be in this world as if you are a stranger or a traveler.” After that he used to say, “When you go to sleep at night don’t expect to wake up in the morning, and when you wake up in the morning don’t expect to make it till the night. Take advantage of your health before you become sick and take advantage of your life before death.”
One of the greatest deceptions that we constantly fool ourselves with is that we have time. That time is abundant and will always be there. The Prophet ﷺ told us, “There are two blessings that have deceived most people; health and free time.” People who don’t use their time properly are in a constant state of loss. Another possible reason for swearing by time, is that time itself, meaning history, bears witness to the fact mentioned in the Surah.
Allah ﷻ then mentions the exception to this rule, those who aren’t in loss. “Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.” In this verse, Allah ﷻ highlights four qualities or characteristics that take mankind out of this state of loss.
- Righteous Deeds
- Advising each other with the truth
- Advising each other with patience
In summary, this Sūrah is explaining the purpose of life to us; which is rooted in faith. Faith is the most important possession that each of us has; it’s the single greatest blessing that Allah ﷻ has given to us. According to the Muslim worldview, faith and religion are the most important things in a person’s life. They take precedence over everything else. We’re told to love Allah ﷻ and His Messenger ﷺ more than anyone and anything else in this world. Faith plays a central role in every single aspect of our lives; how we worship, how we behave, how we do business, how we treat our neighbors, how we dress, what we eat and how we view the world. Faith drives our character, behavior, and morality. Faith is what liberates us, gives us freedom and the strength to face whatever life sends our way. Faith is the basis of our ideas, values, morals, ethics, thoughts and philosophies; it shapes how we view the world and everything that takes place in it. It is this faith that will drive us to take advantage of the very little time we have in the life of this world.
Practical Tips for Time Management During the Break
- Organize your day around the five daily prayers – Don’t just fit your prayers into whatever you are doing. Rather, organize your day and your activities around the five daily prayers. Try to dedicate at least 30 minute blocks to each prayer where you prepare for ṣalāh mentally, physically, and spiritually. Take your time to perform wuḍū’, go to the masjid, pray your sunan, and recite your adkhār and supplications after prayer.
- Have a daily schedule – As the saying goes, if you fail to plan you plan to fail. Write down what you plan on doing throughout the day. Have a schedule that you are going to follow. Try to fill most of it with beneficial activity. There’s nothing wrong with relaxing, unwinding, and entertainment as long as they are within the boundaries of what’s permissible. Play your video games, watch your shows and movies, and hangout with your homies but with balance and moderation. Make sure you schedule daily time with the Quran.
- Enroll in a winter intensive – Alḥamdulillah, several organizations are offering amazing intensives throughout the winter that are available in-person and online.
May Allah ﷻ grant us the discipline to use our time wisely!
Source: Muslim Matters