Qur'an / Tafsir

Tafsir Surah al-Asr

 103. Tafsir: Surat al-`Asr 

  • Allah says in the noble Qur’an

{By [the Token of] Time [through the ages],

Verily Man is in loss,

Except such as have Faith, and do righteous deeds,

and [join together] in the mutual teaching of Truth, and of Patience and Constancy}.

  • Imam al-Baydawi writes in his commentary:[1]

1. [wa ’l-`asr]: “Allah (glory be to Him!) swears an oath by the late-afternoon prayer on account of its excellence or swears by the time of the Prophethood (nabuwwa) or by Time itself (al-dahr) which encompasses all kinds of marvels and allusions by negating any and all loss ascribed to it.

2. [inna ’l-insana la-fi khusrin]: humankind is in loss and [destruction] in their efforts and endeavours as well as of what they seek in their lifetime. The definite article here denotes the genus (jins) and the indefinite form (al-tankir) is for additional effect.

3. [illalladhina amanu wa `amilu al-salihat]: they are those who have traded the world for the Hereafter and enjoy supreme and everlasting success and joy.

4. [wa tawasawu bi ’l-haqq]: i.e. what is established [and firm] which may not be denied in doctrine and deed. [wa tawasawu bi ’l-sabr], i.e. from disobedience or enjoin each other with the Truth or enjoin each other [to be steadfast] in the face of the trials Allah puts over his servants.

This is an instance of the conjunction of specific over the general (`atf al-khass `ala ’l-`amm) in order to generate heightened emphasis in that deeds are specified by that which is restricted in its completeness. It is as though Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He!) perhaps mentioned the reason for the success without the [reason] for the loss being sufficient to explain what is intended […].

The Prophet (saw) said: “whoever recites the chapter of al-`Asr Allah forgives him as well as those who enjoin each other to the Truth and enjoin each other to be steadfast and patient.”[2] 

{ وَالْعَصْرِ } أقسم سبحانه بصلاة العصر لفضلها، أو بعصر النبوة أو بالدهر لاشتماله على الأعاجيب والتعريض بنفي ما يضاف إليه من الخسران.

{ إِنَّ الإنسَـنَ لَفِى خُسْرٍ } إن الناس لفي خسران في مساعيهم وصرف أعمارهم في مطالبهم، والتعريف للجنس والتنكير للتعظيم.
الَّذِينَ ءامَنُواْ وَعَمِلُواْ الصَّـلِحـتِ } فإنهم اشتروا الآخرة بالدنيا ففازوا بالحياة الأبدية والسعادة السرمدية.

{ وَتَوَاصَوْاْ بِالْحَقّ } الثابت الذي لا يصح إنكاره من اعتقاد أو عمل. { وَتَوَاصَوْاْ بِالصَّبْرِ } عن المعاصي أو على الحق، أو ما يبلو الله به عباده.

وهذا من عطف الخاص على العام للمبالغة إلا أن يخص العمل بما يكون مقصوراً على كماله، ولعله سبحانه وتعالى إنما ذكر سبب الربح دون الخسران اكتفاء ببيان المقصود، وإشعاراً بأن ما عد إما عد يؤدي إلى خسر ونقص حظ، أو تكرماً فإن الإبهام في جانب الخسر كرم. عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم :

“من قرأ سورة والعصر غفر الله له وكان ممن تواصوا بالحق وتواصوا بالصبر”.


  • Imam Ibn Kathir comments:

“(The Time) meaning the ages during which the good and bad deeds of the sons of Adam take place. Malik said from Zayd b. Aslam that it refers to the evening although the first is more well-known.

He Most Exalted swears an oath by [Time] that mankind is in loss, i.e. misfortune and ruin; (Except such as have Faith and do righteous deeds) who have been excluded from the category of people who are in misfortune [and ruin] who are those who have true belief in their hearts and those who perform righteous actions with their limbs; (and exhort one anther to the Truth) which is adhering to all acts of obedience and leaving all that is unlawful; (enjoining one another to patience) meaning in the face of calamities and what has been ordained and the harm that arises out of one who seeks to harm those engaging in commanding right and forbidding wrong…

This is the end of the commentary on the Chapter of al-`Asr. Praise be to Allah and from Him proceeds all Grace”.[3]

العصر: الزمان الذي يقع فيه حركات بني آدم من خير وشر، وقال مالك عن زيد بن أسلم: هو العشي، والمشهور الأول. فأقسم تعالى بذلك على أن الإنسان لفي خسر، أي: في خسارة وهلاك { إِلاَّ الَّذِينَ ءامَنُواْ وَعَمِلُواْ الصَّـلِحـتِ } فاستثنى من جنس الإنسان عن الخسران الذين آمنوا بقلوبهم، وعملوا الصالحات بجوارحهم، {وَتَوَاصَوْاْ بِالْحَقّ } وهو أداء الطاعات، وترك المحرمات، { وَتَوَاصَوْاْ بِالصَّبْرِ } أي: على المصائب والأقدار، وأذى من يؤذي ممن يأمرونه بالمعروف وينهونه عن المنكر.

آخر تفسير سورة العصر، ولله الحمد والمنة.


  • Chapter 103 of the Noble Qur’an.
  • It has three verses.
  • It is Meccan according to the majority of scholars and Medinan according to Qatada and others.
  • Imam al-Suyuti mentions:

أخرج ابن مردويه عن ابن عباس قال: نزلت سورة { والعصر } بمكة.

“Ibn Mardawayh mentions from Ibn `Abbas who said: ‘the Chapter of al-`Asr was revealed in Mecca’…”[4]

  • The letter (waw) is that of the oath (qasm). > This indicates solemnity, seriousness and gravity, i.e. Allah wants us to take heed.[5]
  • The word `asr has many meanings here according to the eminent mufassirun (Qur’an commentators). It can mean: 
  • The late-afternoon prayer.[6]
  • The time of the Prophet’s revelation.
  • Time itself.
  • The Lord of time (rabb al-`asr).
  • The particle inna (’verily’, ‘indeed’, ‘surely’) is emphatic (li-ta’kid) and suggests that the fact of loss is a reality; inescapable and inevitable and its trailing letter lam here for the particle inna is for additional emphasis. Thus, the verse carries a double emphatic indicating the seriousness of the statement.[7]
  • The definite article (al-) grammatically denotes the entire genus (li-istighraq al-jins) and hence means ‘all human beings will be in serious loss’. > every-one, Muslim and non-Muslim without exception.[8]
  • The basic meaning is that human beings will be in misfortune and ruin and the Arabic word khusr is in the indefinite and non-specific sense hence denoting generality.[9]
  • The definite article (al-) is also grammatically said to be that denoting ‘familiarity’ and ‘proximity’ (li ’l-`ahd) because it was said to have been revealed to a group of polytheists such as Walid b. Mughira, al-`As b. Wa’il, al-Aswad b. `Abd al-Muttalib and thus the direct referents were these Meccans.[10]
  • Grammatically, verse 1 is the ‘oath’ (qasm) and verse 2 is the ‘oath response’ (jawab al-qasm).
  • An exception is made from everyone who is going to be in loss, namely: ‘those who believe and do good actions’ which also includes ‘mutually enjoining good and enjoining patience’.
  • Belief (iman) and right/good (salihat) actions come together as belief entails praxis.
  • All four things are obligatory because without them there is no salvation, no rescue but only loss and ruin.
  • Grammatically, the phrase ‘good deeds’ (`amal salih [occurring in the plural form in the verse]) is general (`amm) and one of the types of good deeds includes ‘enjoining one another to truth and patience’ which is specific (khass); this ‘specific after the general’ is so in the sura in order to emphasise the importance of the former. > Roughly, it means: ‘those who do good actions – especially enjoining one another to truth and patience’.
  • Patience (sabr): This is especially necessary for anyone engaged in the da`wa and in bringing the din of Allah to the people. Why? Because:
    1. Entering the faith is easier than remaining correctly upon it.[11]
    2. People will ridicule, attack and slander.
    3. The Believers striving in Allah’s way will seem strange to the people especially in trying to revive the Islamic tradition from its demise.
    4. Allah will test them to see if they are sincere and true to their commitment.


    • Thus, working for the highest obligation of khilafah will inevitably bring with it hardship.
    • An interesting point is that the verb tawasaw [وَتَوَاصَوْاْ] is reciprocal in its sense meaning believers should remind one another and encourage one another to do good, to be on the Truth, to have patience, i.e. collectively.
    • It also precludes any form of solitary living, individualism, being recluse, withdrawal, etc. as salvation in prefaced on collective action not individual action. Thus, Muslims as a community, umma, etc. must collectively adhere to and counsel each other to the Truth. How is this best realised? Through satellite communities? Isolated communities in non-Muslim countries? > perhaps a state that will allow the society to live according to the verses of the Qur’an and its demands?
    • Patience follows from the Truth in that belief in and commitment to the Truth require perseverance in upholding it.[12]
    • Imam al-Shafi`i said [لو فكـر النـاس كلهـم في هذه السورة، لكفتهم…] that if people were to ponder deeply about this sura, then it would suffice them. Why? Because as Imam Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya wonderfully explains:[13]

    “…al-Shafi`i said that if people were to ponder deeply about this sura, then it would suffice them. The meaning of that is there are four degrees or levels the completion or attainment of which will lead a person to utmost perfection [of character]. The first is knowledge of the Truth; the second is acting in accordance with the Truth; third is teaching the Truth to one who does not know it and fourth is having patience over learning, acting on and teaching the Truth. He (Most High) has mentioned four levels in this sura. He (Most High) has sworn an oath by Time that all of mankind is in loss except {those who believe and perform good actions} i.e. those who know the Truth and have utter conviction in it. This is one level. And they are those who carry out what they have learned of the Truth, and this is the second level. {they enjoin one another to the Truth} i.e. advise, encourage and counsel one another with instruction and guidance, this is the third level. {they enjoin one another to patience}, i.e. they have patience over the Truth and advise, encourage and counsel one another with patience and steadfastness upon the Truth, this is the fourth level. This is the limit of perfection for perfection is when an individual is complete in himself and helps others to perfect [themselves]. Perfection is realised through correcting two ‘powers’ or strengths: knowledge and action. The strength of knowledge is corrected through true belief and strength of actions is corrected through performing praiseworthy deeds, its perfection dependent on teaching it to others and patience over it and advice and counsel on patience in knowledge and actions. Therefore, this sura concisely but excellently combines many suras of the Qur’an.

    Praise belongs to Allah Who made His Book sufficient over everything else, a healing for all maladies and guidance to all things good…”[14]

    قال الشافعي رضى الله عنه لو فكر الناس كلهم في هذه السورة لكفتهم وبيان ذلك ان المراتب اربعة وباستكمالها يحصل للشخص غاية كماله احداها معرفة الحق الثانية عمله به الثالثة تعليمه من لا يحسنه الرابعة صبره على تعلمه والعمل به وتعليمه فذكر تعالى المراتب الاربعة في هذه السورة واقسم سبحانه في هذه السورة بالعصر ان كل احد في خسر الا الذين آمنوا وعملوا الصالحات وهم الذين عرفوا الحق وصدقوا به فهذه مرتبة وعملوا الصالحات وهم الذين عملوا بما علموه من الحق فهذه مرتبة اخرى وتواصوا بالحق وصى به بعضهم بعضا تعليما وارشادا فهذه مرتبة ثالثة وتواصوا بالصبر صبروا على الحق ووصى بعضهم بعضا بالصبر عليه والثبات فهذه مرتبة رابعة وهذانهاية الكمال فإن الكمال ان يكون الشخص كاملا في نفسه مكملا لغيره وكماله باصلاح قوتيه العلمية والعملية فصلاح القوة العلمية بالايمان وصلاح القوة العملية بعمل الصالحات وتكميله غيره بتعليمه اياه وصبره عليه وتوصيته بالصبر على العلم والعمل فهذه السورة على اختصارها هي من اجمع سور القرآن للخير بحذافيره

    والحمد لله الذي جعل كتابه كافيا عن كل ما سواه شافيا من كل داء هاديا الى كل خير

    •  Thus, there is a sequence of requirements in the chapter that perfects an individual or leads him to perfection/completeness which are:
      1. Knowing the Truth.
      2. Acting on the Truth.
      3. Teaching the Truth to one who does not know it.
      4. Patience when it comes to learning the Truth, teaching it to others as well as acting upon it.[15]
    • In the verse, al-haqq (‘The Truth’) is said to be whatever accords with the Book of Allah or the Book itself[16] or Islam and whatever is connected with it[17] thus negating anything un-Islamic in actions, thoughts, ideas and belief, e.g. secularism, democracy, etc.
    • Imam Ibn al-Jawzi comments on vv.2-4 as follows:

    “{…except those who believe} meaning those who have utter conviction in Allah and His Messenger and act obediently; {…enjoin one another to the Truth} meaning to Tawhid, the Qur’an and to following the Messenger; {and enjoin one another to patience} in obeying Allah and implementing His Law.”[18]

    { إلا الذين آمنوا } أي: صدَّقوا الله ورسوله، وعملوا بالطاعة { وتَواصَوْا بالحق } أي: بالتوحيد، والقرآن، واتباع الرسول { وتواصَوْا بالصبر } على طاعة الله، والقيام بشريعته.


    And Allah knows best.



    [1] See Imam al-Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzil, vol.2, p.381.

    [2] It is also reported from al-Tabarani as cited in al-Suyuti’s al-Durr al-Manthur, vol.8, p.620 that: 

    “al-Tabarani mentions in [al-Mu`jam] al-Awsat as well as al-Bayhaqi in Shu`ab al-Iman from Abu Malika al-Darimi who was a companion say: ‘whenever two companions of the Messenger of Allah (saw) would meet, they would not separate until one would recite to surat al-`Asr to the other [beginning with] {by time, verily mankind is in loss…} to the end and one would also send greetings upon the other’…” See also Tafsir Ibn Kathir: Juz’ `Amma (tr. S. Strauch), p.266.

    وأخرج الطبراني في الأوسط والبيهقي في شعب الإِيمان عن أبي مليكة الدارمي وكانت له صحبة قال: كان الرجلان من أصحاب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إذا التقيا لم يتفرقا حتى يقرأ أحدهما على الآخر سورة { والعصر إن الإِنسان لفي خسر } إلى آخرها، ثم يسلم أحدهما على الآخر.

    [3] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-`Azim, vol.7, pp.365-366.

    [4] See al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur, vol.8, p.621.

    [5] al-Suyuti, al-Mu`tarak al-Aqran  fi I`jaz al-Qur’an, vol.1, pp.449-455.

    [6] According to Ibn `Abbas (ra).

    [7] See al-Tayyib, I`rab Juz’ `Amma, vol.2, p.212 and Abu `Ubayya, Mu`jam I`rab Alfaz al-Qur’an al-Karim, pp.820-821.

    [8] al-Darwish, I`rab al-Qur’an al-Karim wa Bayanuhu, vol.10, p.572.

    [9] See Tafsir Ibn Kathir: Juz’ `Amma (tr. S. Strauch), p.265.

    [10] al-Tayyib, I`rab Juz’ `Amma, vol.2, p.212.

    [11] See al-Qasimi, Mahasin al-Ta’wil, vol., p.6250.

    [12] al-Qasimi, Mahasin al-Ta’wil, vol., p.6251.

    [13] Ibn al-Qayyim, Miftah Dar al-Sa`ada, vol.1, pp.105-106.

    [14] Ibn al-Qayyim, Miftah Dar al-Sa`ada, vol.1, pp.105-106.

    [15] al-Qasimi, Mahasin al-Ta’wil, vol., p.6250

    [16] al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur, vol.8, p.621.

    [17] Ibn Juzay al-Kalbi, Kitab al-Tashil, pp.806-807.

    [18] Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir, vol.9, p.225.


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