Nothing and no one can avoid influencing his environment and being influenced by it. The coldness of ice will necessarily chill its surroundings and the heat of fire will surely make them warmer. The same is true in the field of morality. If the spirit of righteous deeds is really engendered in a person, it must have an impact upon his environment and he will necessarily be a source of diffusing goodness and virtue. The natural outcome of righteous deeds is the propagation of truth in society. This principle operates in ethics very forcefully. If the social environment favors evil, it will necessarily bring about deterioration in the lives of its citizens. The only possible way to escape from this is to change that environment or at least to struggle vehemently to change it. Even if a person cannot change it, he can at least in this way, act on the principle that the best defense is a good offense, and repel it defensively. Thus the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“If any one among you observes a vice, it is his duty to change it by force, If he is not able to do so, he should protest against it verbally. If he does not possess even this much of courage, he should detest it by his heart and soul, which means that his heart should regard it as bad, and that he should regret that he could not stop it, and this is the weakest degree of faith”.
The nobility of a man’s character demands exhortation to truth because the goodness in any
person who has discovered truth and adopted for himself necessarily demands that he should
present it to others, that the greatest number of people may benefit from it, and should partake of its
blessing. Thus the Holy Prophet said:
“No one among you can be regarded a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves
The self-respect and ardent zeal of a man who has accepted truth demand that he should preach
it to others. He should uphold it, propagate it, and should sacrifice his life and wealth in the struggle
to make it supremely established in society.
If a man adopts a particular way of life and his environment adopts another, then there are only
two possibilities. He must either adopt himself to his environment, in that way, removing the
discrepancies and resolving clash and discords or, if he finds the environment totally against his
wishes, he should put up a tough resistance, should wage war against it, and should try to change it,
according to his point of view. Now it is obvious that for a man of dignity, honour, and zeal, a man
of earnest concern, the only course open to him is the second one. He would be glad to sacrifice his
life for the sake of truth, but would never tolerate that by leading a life of ease and comfort, he
should treacherously distort and misrepresent the truth.
Faith, righteous deeds, exhortation to truth and exhortation to patience are indispensable
requirements for salvation, and also dependent upon each other. All four are indivisible aspects of a
unit, and are inseparable factors of one single totality. In fact, what are all these four except an
exposition or commentary of the word faith? If faith has in reality penetrated a person’s heart, it will
necessarily result in the performance of righteous deeds and if the habit of doing righteous deeds
has become one’s second nature, its natural outcome would be exhortation to truth; and if the
preaching of truth is done with real sincerity and dedication, it will necessarily lead to the stage of
exhortation to patience and endurance. The reverse order also holds good. If the stage of preaching
patience and endurance is not encountered, then this is a certain proof that the preaching is not of
the whole truth, but only of a harmless part of it. If the stage of taking up missionary work is
missing, then this implies that a man’s actions are not righteous and that he lacks religious zeal. And
if his actions are not being performed on the right lines, then this is a categorical proof that genuine
faith has not entered his heart.
The path of salvation which is pointed out by Surah Al-’Asr, the path of success and triumph
towards which it guides and directs us has four mile-stones: faith, righteous deeds, exhortation to
truth and exhortation to patience.
The most perfect example of the pattern delineated above is the life-story of the Holy Prophet
Muhammad (peace be upon him) wherein all these four components are present in their utmost
perfection. At first the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) tried to discover the reality of
his own identity and that of the cosmos. A Quranic verse asks:
“And did He not find thee perplexed (and unable to find the right course by thyself) and so
He guided (thee)”?
The angel Gabriel revealed to him the truths he required. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him)
confirmed them and affirmed his faith in them, as stated in the Glorious Quran:
“The Messenger believeth in that which hath been revealed unto him from his Lord, and so
do the believers.”
The life of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was the perfect model of moral excellence and
unparalleled example of sublime character. The Holy Quran states: “And thou standest on an
exalted standard of character”. After fulfilling these fundamental requirements of faith and righteous
deeds to perfection, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) spent twenty three years in the
untiring struggle of preaching the truth and declaring and promulgating the grandeur and glory of
Allah. He bravely tolerated all troubles for this purpose, courageously suffered all afflictions and
faced all the persecutions and oppressions of his opponents. In the canyon of Bani Hashim, he
endured severe hardships during three long years of imprisonment. In the streets of Taif, he was
stoned and ridiculed by rascals and urchins. The lives of his dear relatives and his beloved
companions were sacrificed for the pleasure of his Lord and in order to uphold divine truth. After
indefatigable efforts, struggling night and day for twenty-three years, finally he made the truth reign
supreme. And only after making the divine religion ‘Islam’ the dominant force in the Arabian
peninsula, did he return to his Divine Lord, Allah. May the peace and blessings of Allah be
showered on him and on his companions. In short, the biography of the Holy Prophet Muhammad
(peace be upon him) embodies the contents of Surah-Al-’Asr in action.
So, this is a concise explanation of the significance of Surah Al-’Asr. Now you must have realized
why I regarded it is the most comprehensive surah of the Holy Quran, and why Imam Al-Shafeii had
said, that if people were to contemplate it seriously, this brief surah would be sufficient for their
direction and guidance.