By time, Indeed, mankind is in loss, Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and advised each other to patience. (Quran 103)
This is one of the chapters that begin with oaths. Allah Himself is swearing by something.
What’s the benefit of Allah’s swearing?
1- To acknowledge the grandeur the Magnificent nature of something.
Whatever Allah swears by is something profound and magnificent, something that demands reflection. In other words, Allah is calling the human beings’ attention to reflect on the passage of time.
2- The object of the oath
Allah swears by the passage of time and then He declares that all human beings are immersed in a state of loss. So there’s the object (time) and the subject (the loss of the human being).
When this happens, typically in the Quran, the object is actually a proof of the subject.
In other words, if you say human beings are in loss, and somebody says, “what’s your proof?”
What is the one thing human beings are losing all the time? Time!
This is an asset we can never keep, we can never hold on to this hour, this minute, this second. It is leaving us and it will continue to leave us. It is not something you can store and use later on.
A Life of Nations
Another way ‘Asr’ is understood is that it refers to the life of nations. So, when Allah uses the word ‘Asr’ it doesn’t just refer to the passage of a time or a day, or the life of one person; but it refers to the life of an entire nation. And these rises and falls of nations themselves are proof that human beings are in loss.
Then you go further and find that the object of the oath is a witness for the subject of the oath.
We said two things:
1- The object is a proof of the subject.
2-The object is a witness for subject.
Allah is bringing time as a witness to something. What is time supposed to witness that “no doubt human-beings are immersed in loss.”
What does that mean?
Humanity at large run after things. We run after things that are actually distractions from our real purpose in life.
Are we the first people to run after wealth, or to run after a house, or to run after getting married to a beautiful woman…?
There were people before us who ran after these things thinking that they are going to have success. When they get them, they will have success.
Allah made time a witness that people came and they ran after these things and they failed, and that other people came and they ran after these things and they failed again, and other people came and did the same thing again. Thousands upon thousands of years, hundreds of hundreds of generations, one after another, the same drama over and over again.
Time is a witness to the tragedy of human life, the tragedy of the human beings aspirations headed in the wrong direction.
So, time is being brought as a witness to the tragedy of the human beings.
The Dawn of Our Life
One of the meanings of ‘Asr’ is time that is running out, or the last portion of time. Even Asr prayer is the last part of the day.
When time is running out, and classically speaking, Asr was the time in ancient society, especially in Arab society, when the merchants and the travelers are always in a hurry because when it’s nightfall, there’s a lot of danger and they can’t protect their assets. So the most hustle and bustle happens at Asr time; that’s the busiest and most urgent time.
In other words, the next lesson we’re learning here in this chapter is that whatever Allah has to say, “The time for you and me to react is not a lot of time. We need to act quickly because the dawn of our life has set upon us.”