The second-shortest sura, with only 3 ayat (verses), gives us much to think about: time, eternity, and how we spend our time in this world. It’s been said that the sahaba (followers) of Prophet Mohammad used to recite this sura whenever they departed, and this sura is considered of great importance, perhaps surprising for such a small sura. But it poses an important question. Shall we invest our limited time and resources towards this world or the next? And what does it actually mean to “invest towards the next” life?
The title of this sura has been also translated as “the declining day” (because one of the prayer times, the afternoon, is usually referred to as al-‘asr) or ”epoch,” as a large increment of time. The sura itself is below:
By time,Al-‘Asr 103:1
إِنَّ ٱلۡإِنسَٰنَ لَفِى خُسۡرٍ
Indeed, mankind is in loss,Al-‘Asr 103:2
إِلَّا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ وَعَمِلُواْ ٱلصَّٰلِحَٰتِ وَتَوَاصَوۡاْ بِٱلۡحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوۡاْ بِٱلصَّبۡرِ
Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience.Al-‘Asr 103:3
Interpretation of the Meaning
- By Time (Allah swears by Time) – time is the element having a beginning and an end, specifically applicable to ‘asr, whether defined as “day’s end” or “epoch,”or “time” in general, it connotes a limited period, and this is the defining element of human life in this world. Death is our fate, written and irrevocable. It underscores and determines our reality. But then, so does birth.
- Humanity is in loss – since we must die, and our term is limited, whatever we put into this life will be taken away, hence “in loss.”
- Except those who believe/trust/have faith in Allah/God and do righteous deeds (charitable acts, working for justice, acts of kindness, being honest witnesses/ give true testimony, avoiding immorality and oppression and deception), and advise one another to Truth (to not deny what is true and not deceive ourselves or others) and advise one another to be patient. This also underscores the importance of patience in a time-based world where our time is intertwined with that of others, making the system of limitations and opportunities more complex.
The final longest aya makes an exception to being in loss under 4 conditions:
- Trust in God. He knows everything and all He does is for the greatest Good but we cannot know or therefore properly judge such what is out of our sphere of knowing and experience. So we have to trust these realities.
- Give generously, be kind and considerate of others, avoid oppression and immoral acts (taking interest/usury, sexual promiscuity or rape, stealing except for food in dire need, murder [killing except “with right” ie in self-defense, war in defense against aggressors, or by law after fair trial], deceitful or unfair business practices, gaining political power by force or deception, tyranny or abuse of any kind of power whether personal or social), give honest testimony except under duress without remedy, and do not abuse animals or earth’s resources.
- Advise others to truth: to be truthful but also to not deny truth
- Advise others to be patient
From this, we can understand what it means to invest towards the next life, the Hereafter: by meeting the above conditions. All these are in fact simply ethical deeds, exemplary behavior. We then ”invest” our resources towards the next life by simply being good people in this one. When Allah the Exalted mentioned prophet Mohammad (pbuh) in 68:4 ”Indeed you are of a great moral character,” where the word khluluq also means ”good manners” or exemplary behavior (here modified by ’atheem or ”great”), this was also to let us understand the huge importance of basic human decency and good manners. An excellent description of such manners in the context of human spiritual development can be found on Quora here.
Amazing Precision in Word & Letter Counts for sura 103
Below are the word & letter counts for sura 103 in its 3 verses (ayat):
- 2 words, 6 letters, w+l=8
- 4 words, 14 letters, w+l=18
- 12 words, 50 letters, w+l=62
Total words: 18 (2•3²)
Total letters: 70 (2•5•7)
Total words+letters: 88 (2³•11)
Note progression of increase per verse:
Words: 2, 2², 2²•3, or expressed by addition as 2, +2, +8
Letters: 6, +8, +36 – increase of letters in aya 2 to 3
Words: 2, 2², 2•3² (18)
Letters: 6, 6•2.333, 6•8.333
One can say there’s a significant increase in size of both word and letter counts for each verse from the previous one. Here the increase in size of words and letters from aya 2 to aya 3 relates to the length of the exceptions being delineated. But these increases are arranged here significantly to show the difference between actions done to invest in this world’s value system and actions done to invest in Allah’s eternal value system.
Significant numbers and their meanings:
The total words (18) are equal to the total words plus letters in the second aya (18). Words represent Allah’s commands (described in the Quran as “words”), so if one does nothing and goes along, like inertia, to his death (we are not in a vacuum), he remains in the confines of this world described in the first two ayat as ”loss.” At that point the letters, representing our deeds, which did not (in aya 2 stating humanity is ”in loss”) exceed what was decreed for those who contribute nothing to their souls’ benefit but all to the worldly life. This can be viewed as 18 (total potential given by Allah if we do nothing, the words in 1-2) minus 18, because the number of deeds given to this world will be consumed by time, i.e. this world, whose value system cannot extend beyond life. This is further shown in the fact that one cannot take money, power, or worldly success (such as status) with him when he dies. Although his heirs may inherit some of his money or power/status (depending on circumstances), the deceased will not.
18+18=36. The number 36 is the increase of letters from the verse of loss (aya 2) to the verse of the exception to the rule of loss (aya 3). So if one adds good deeds per aya 3, we no longer have a net loss (18-18=0 if we did nothing toward the Hereafter but all was for this world per above) but rather exponential gain: one then has 18+18, the opposite of loss, added not to the first but second aya’s letter count, giving us 50, a net gain of 44 from the original 6 (number of carbon, humanity’s base level without input or deeds).
44•2=88, the total of all words + letters, i.e. the total potential, is then achieved by Allah’s grace which doubles the increase from good deeds (44).
The precision of these numbers is not to show limits but rather synchronicity, i.e. repeated patterns we can recognize that reveal that while we are in time, Allah is adding value from eternity when we contribute good deeds, which includes spending from our resources to help others. Notice that part of Allah’s concern for humanity is expressed in how He values our own compassion for others, because we can do so much for one another by simply giving from our income to others and also behaving in a way that all people understand and recognize as good, for the common good. Those who try to replace these eternal values for worldly ones — a striking example would be the so-called ”prosperity gospel” and Ayn Rand’s philosophy, both of which undermine charitable goodwill — are especially heinous in God’s sight because they mislead many and cause grave consequences and harm to people.
Eternity is indicated in celestial numbers (70 letters total) and in recognizable number patterns (44 and 88 are numbers that “stand out” like putting something in bold). The total 50 added in aya 3 of the exception to loss, the exception here thus meaning gain, is significantly greater than the total words plus letters of ayat 1 and 2, which is 8+18=26 (2•13), a significant number in Mayan chronology. In fact it is 24 more. The number 50 is also containing 5 representing “hands” by which those ppl did such deeds, multiplied by 10, celestial of base 10. This gives it an exponential increase from what our hands produced: 5² (25), which is then doubled. So our hands are exponentially increased twice, once for each hand. Further, if one adds the words plus letters from aya 1 to aya 3, the result is 8+62=70, the total number of letters!
This shows us that Allah has decreed that all the good deeds shall go to those who fulfilled the requirements of aya 3, whereas those who only worked for the benefits of this world, denying both Allah and the Hereafter, will lose everything they did.
And We will regard what they have done of deeds and make them as dust dispersed. (23)Al-Furqan:23-24
The example of what they spend in this worldly life is like that of a wind containing frost which strikes the harvest of a people who have wronged themselves and destroys it. And Allah has not wronged them, but they wrong themselves.Al-e-Imran 3:117
And intentions count too, as indicated by the first of the four conditions for aya 103:3, faith in God/Allah.
O you who have believed, do not invalidate your charities with reminders or injury as does one who spends his wealth [only] to be seen by the people and does not believe in Allah and the Last Day. His example is like that of a [large] smooth stone upon which is dust and is hit by a downpour that leaves it bare. They are unable [to keep] anything of what they have earned. And Allah does not guide the disbelieving people.Al-Baqara 2:264
And the example of those who spend their wealth seeking means to the approval of Allah and assuring [reward for] themselves is like a garden on high ground which is hit by a downpour – so it yields its fruits in double. And [even] if it is not hit by a downpour, then a drizzle [is sufficient]. And Allah, of what you do, is Seeing.Al-Baqara 2:265
The contrast between one’s intentions being actually directed towards Allah (note “it yields its fruits in double” as per analysis above) and the Hereafter, and one’s intentions being directed towards this world and anything or anyone other than Allah is immense: eternal success or utter failure. No wonder such emphasis is made in the Quran on the importance of faith. Because He is all that is truly lasting: ”Everyone upon the earth will perish,/ And there will remain eternally the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honor.“ (Al-Rahman 55:26-27)
ٱلۡمَالُ وَٱلۡبَنُونَ زِينَةُ ٱلۡحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنۡيَاۖ وَٱلۡبَٰقِيَٰتُ ٱلصَّٰلِحَٰتُ خَيۡرٌ عِندَ رَبِّكَ ثَوَابًا وَخَيۡرٌ أَمَلًا
Wealth and children are [but] adornment of the worldly life. But the enduring good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for [one’s] hope.Al-Kahf 18:46
[You disbelievers are] like those before you; they were stronger than you in power and more abundant in wealth and children. They enjoyed their portion [of worldly enjoyment], and you have enjoyed your portion as those before you enjoyed their portion, and you have engaged [in vanities] like that in which they engaged. [It is] those whose deeds have become worthless in this world and in the Hereafter, and it is they who are the losers.At-Tauwba 9:69
This applies not only to what people do, but to believing that they are guaranteed a reward in the Hereafter, thus believing in the Hereafter and also in God, but not that they are responsible for their deeds, and instead acting heedless, as if God ”owes them” because of their status, worldly accomplishments, popularity, wealth, or anything other than their desire for Allah’s acceptance in humility and gratitude. It applies to those who believe their tribal, ethnic/racial or religious (in the sense of a club one belongs to by birth or “membership”) gives them an inalienable right to paradise.
Then, have you seen he who disbelieved in Our verses and said, “I will surely be given wealth and children [in the next life]?” (19:77)
Has he looked into the unseen, or has he taken from the Most Merciful a promise? (19:78)
No! We will record what he says and extend for him from the punishment extensively. (19:79)
And We will inherit him [in] what he mentions, and he will come to Us alone. (19:80)Maryam 19:77-80
Note that Allah alone will ”inherit” those who disbelieved in His verses, so they will lose even good deeds they may have done because they rejected Allah Himself and His signs/revelations. Of which the final one, the Criterion by which previous messages will be authenticated, is the Quran, whose words cannot be changed. Those who deliberately and knowingly misconstrue or misdirect others’ understanding of the Quran are thus deniers and losers as defined above.
But the ones who strove against Our verses, [seeking] to cause failure – those are the companions of Hellfire.Al-Hajj 22:51
This exactly refers to those cited above who by deliberate misinterpretation or actively working to make people reject the Quran are trying to ”cause failure to” Allah’s ayat/verses.
And so this very short sura is indeed an excellent one to remind people of, as the sahaba reminded themselves of it when departing from the prophet’s company, increasing their awareness of our short time on this earth and our choices in it. It’s both easy to understand yet amazing in its details.