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Originally published in ijtima.org, issue 104, art. 47 (25 Rabi II 1433)
وَالْعَصْرِ - إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَفِي خُسْرٍ - إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ
Allah says: “By time, verily man is in great loss, except those who have faith and do righteous deeds and enjoin one another to Truth and enjoin one another to patience.” (Surah 103)
The most commonly used metaphor for time in English language is perhaps “Time is money”. It is true that time can be used to make money and wasting it can mean losing opportunities to produce money. However, this metaphor highly underestimates the exact worth of time. Money here is implied as the most important thing that can be obtained through time. But it is just as a child who thinks that sweets are the most important thing that money can buy.
So what is it that more precisely equates to time? Surah Asr can help us find out. Allah makes a declarative statement that humanity in its entirety is in khusr, a state of tremendous loss except for those who believe in the truth and act in accordance to it, encouraging others towards it and hold firmly onto it even in the face of challenges. This oath that He makes: “By Time”, includes the lives of every man, woman and child who ever lived or is to live.
An oath is made to emphasise the importance of what is to come after it. By swearing on time before affirming that the majority of human race is in a state of great loss, Allah tells us two things. Firstly, that time itself bears witness to this claim - our history verifies that most of those who lived have lived as incredible failures and losers. Secondly, that the reason for most people being in a state of loss is their misuse of time. Many other surahs begin with oaths on the mechanism through which time is measured: “By the star when it sets” (53:1), “By Dawn” (89:1) etcetera. All this emphasis on time is quite simply because “time is nothing other than life itself”.
Life is made of hours and minutes and those hours and minutes are made of breathes. Although it is the only thing that is really yours, ironically it is leaving you just as the sand within your palms would sweep away. It doesn’t stop for a microsecond nor does it take a break, the clock carries on ticking even while you sleep. If life is the process that leads to death, we are all dying. Time is the only thing that stands between you and death, and there’s one second less of it now.
Did they say “time is money”? What stupidity! A single second or even less than that, could not be brought for all the gold, silver, rubies and diamonds that the world contains. Alas! Not even, for the entire content of the universe! Only when the last breath that we so desperately will cling to escapes our lips will we realise what the value of time was. But then, it will be too late. Each of us has come with a limited amount of time, the time and date of our death was confirmed as was, the time and date of our birth. Our next stop is death, and the time we have is the only time left before we reach our destination. Will we not take heed? And yet, time is probably the most undervalued and unappreciated asset to us.
Not only do we waste time, we actually go out of our way to get hold of devices to help us waste time. How much time and money is spent on video games, entertainment, and in keeping up with fashion? What benefit will be the slick cars and the high heels?
Know that the life of this world is but play and amusement, and pomp and boasting among yourselves, and competing in wealth and offspring...” (57:20)
People talk of killing time, but time kills them. O what fools are we? In what madness and deception do we dwell! Even more, there are those that groan of boredom. Is it sane that there should be anyone who truly believes in Allah and the life after death, that he can remain idle? That his heart should be at rest before his book has been given in his right hand?
Or perhaps we think that we are not wasting our time but spending it on something we consider - and the world assures us - is a worthwhile pursuit; the dunya. Surely striving behind material progress and development to raise our standard of living, has to be praiseworthy? It might have been, if it didn’t come at such a high price; neglecting the everlasting life for the sake of the short-lived. After all, everything that you work hard acquiring, all the money you strive to earn, the smart clothes you want to be able to wear, the expensive car you want to drive, the nice house you want to live in - what will it all amount to when your time finally runs out? Imam Qurtubi says: “Your portion of this world is your shroud”, that is it, that is the only thing you will take with you. Everything else you leave behind. Your bank balances, your car, your popularity, your elegant garments, they will be of no avail! This is the reality of the world.