Time as a Test
Time is one of the most important and, at the same time, most difficult to understand properties of the universe. It is omnipresent.
It is a double-edged wonder, though. While it enfolds and carries endless hope, enthusiasm, excitement and opportunities, it, all at once, affects and destroys everything.
It is a paradox that man always wants to live longer and have more. But living longer and having more, in reality, means having less. It is a case of more quantity, but less quality.
Life is about having an amount of time. It is about being given a number of years, days, hours and seconds. The longer we live and the more things and assets we accumulate, the less time we have, and the weaker we become, to enjoy them. The longer we live, the more “addicted” to the deceptive character of time we become, and the more painful the prospect of expiring and dying becomes.
This, indeed, is a perfect recipe for all-pervading misery and depression as man’s greatest nightmarish conditions, once man realizes that he has wasted his life, and once perennial guilt and regret sink inside his being and start haunting him.
Hence, the Prophet Muhammad once said that greed and (false) hope never grow old, or dwindle, in a person (Sahih al-Bukhari).
Man realizes that he gradually perishes in front of his own eyes, while time incessantly keeps flowing uninterrupted and his things and assets appear more and more bent on leaving him and going into someone else’s possession.
Indeed, man came as, and from, nothing, often lives as nothing and for nothing worthwhile, and then dies as nothing, returning to his original state of nothingness. Once thus departed, nothing and nobody will ever shed a tear for him.
Allah reminds man of this excruciating truth:
If We grant long life to any, We cause him to be reversed in nature (causing him to decline in his powers and desires): will they not then understand? (36: 68).
Owing to all this, Almighty Allah named one of the Quranic chapters as al-‘Asr, which means Time, and in it He swears by time, emphasizing thereby its significance for man and his noble mission on earth.
After swearing by time, Allah declares that man is at loss, except His true servants who:
Have faith and do righteous deeds and (join together) in the mutual teaching of truth and of patience and constancy” (103: 3).
Combining the notions of time, loss (failure), faith (truth) and existential victory, is not coincidental. They are all interrelated and locked in a causal relationship.
That means – and Allah knows best – that he who controls time, yet rises above it – in the spiritual sense of the word — will succeed in life. But he who fails to do so, will ultimately fail.
Success means controlling time, not being controlled by it. It means transcending it, not being forever entombed in it.
It also means that Allah’s true servant has the capacity not to be unsettled or overawed by time. They eventually can demystify and comprehend some of its deepest secrets, the most important one of which is that time – like everything else — is Allah’s creation, created but to constitute a mighty test to people, and in order for man to release himself from its shackles and live free in an eternal bliss, he must ally himself with Allah and His Will and Word.
Time, after all, is a dynamic physical property. Man is bidden to rise above that plane of existence and aim for a higher intellectual and spiritual order of things, meanings and experiences. Man alone and on his own cannot conquer time.
Satan and the Trap of Time
Satan knows all too well what time means to man and how vulnerable he is to its apparently formidable and, at the same time, devious character. It’s no wonder that he made recourse to leveraging its potentials as soon as he had been granted permission by Allah to try to mislead man.
Satan knows that time — both as a concept and intellectually perceptible reality — will always be a safe bet for him to make substantial gains against many people in his perennial battle for supremacy against mankind.
Thus, the first and certainly most important thing Satan asked from God was people’s time, and that his time, or respite, be their time, and that he be let act freely till the end.
Allah says about this:
He (Satan or Iblis) said: ‘Give me respite till the day they are raised up.’ Allah said: ‘The respite you requested is hereby granted’ (7: 14-15).
It was only when Satan secured the category of time that he showed concern for space as another vital dimension in his warfare with man, but which appeared as though secondary and as playing second fiddle to the former.
Since You let me deviate, now I will lie in ambush for mankind on Your Right Way. I will come upon them from the front, from the rear, from the right, and from the left, and You will not find most of them to be grateful (7: 16-17).
In view of that did Satan employ successfully the time card as early as against Adam and his wife in Jannah (Paradise), causing them to fall from it.
He enticed Adam and his wife by projecting the forbidden tree as a tree of eternity and immortality, and thus as an avenue to an everlasting kingdom that will never wither (Ta Ha, 120). He told them:
Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you should become angels or such beings as live forever (7: 20).
Satan’s manipulation of time, so as to seduce and misguide mankind, takes up numerous forms and procedures.
One of them is to make man feel that the past time has elapsed extraordinarily quickly, with memories fading away at even faster rate, aggravating thereby in a person the sentiments of worthlessness, remorse, pang of conscience, uncertainty and anxiety.
When looking back, every amount of time: a year, ten, twenty or fifty years, in essence seems and feels the same. Once gone, it is as if time has never existed. What is left is no more than a bunch of fast-waning reminiscences and nostalgias on which – certainly not with which — only fools live.
Read Part 4.