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In the Shade of the Qur'an - Surah # 103

In the Shade of the Qur'an - Surah # 103
Syed Qutb
 Sura # 103
                             The Declining Day
                                  al 'Asr

         In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful!

  I swear by the declining day, that man is a certain loser, save those
  who have faith and do righteous deeds and counsel one another to follow
  the truth and counsel one another to be steadfast.

                        In the Shade of the Qur'an

  This short surah of three verses outlines a complete system for human life
  based on the Islamic viewpoint. It defines, in the clearest and most
  concise form, the basic concept of faith in the context of its
  comprehensive reality. In a few words the whole Islamic constitution is
  covered and in fact, the nation of Islam is described in its essential
  qualities and its message in one verse only: the third. This is the
  eloquence of which Allah alone is capable.
  The great fact which this surah affirms is simply that throughout the
  history of man there has been one worthwhile and trustworthy path - that
  which the surah indicates and describes. All other paths lead only to
  loss and ruin. As it says in outline, that path is first the adoption of
  faith, followed up with good deeds and exhortation to follow the truth
  and to steadfastness.

  What does the adoption of faith then signify? We shall not give here its
  juristic definition. Instead, we shall describe its nature and its
  importance in human life. Faith is the characteristic by which the minute,
  transient human being attains closeness to the Absolute and Everlasting
  Originator of the universe and all that exists in it. He thus establishes
  a link with the whole world, which springs from that One Origin, with the
  laws governing it and with the powers and potentialities created in It.
  As a result, he breaks away from the narrow boundaries of his trivial
  self to the broadness of the universe, from his inadequate power to the
  immensity of the unknown universal energies, and from the limits of his
  short life to the "Eternity" that Allah alone comprehends. This proximity
  grants the human being a certain power, limitless scope and freedom. It
  endows him with great enjoyment of life, its beauty and its constituents
  with whose "souls" he lives in mutual friendship. Thus life becomes a
  pleasant journey for mankind everywhere and at all times. From this
  everlasting happiness, delightful joy and true intimate understanding
  of life and all creation are derived. This is the invaluable gain, to
  lack which is an immeasurable.
  The qualities of faith are also precisely those of sublime and dignified
  humanity, such as the worship of one God which elevates man above
  servitude to others and establishes within him the truth of the equality
  of all men so that he neither yields nor bows down his head to any but
  the One, the Absolute. The result is that man will enjoy true liberty,
  which radiates from within his conscience following his realisation of
  the fact that there is only one power and one Lord in this world. This
  liberation is spontaneously developed from such an awareness, for it is
  the only logical sequence.
  Godliness is the second quality of dignified humanity. This quality
  determines for man the source from which he derives his concepts, values,
  criteria, considerations. doctrines, laws and whatever brings him into
  relation with Allah, the world at large and with human beings. Thus,
  equity and justice replace personal desires and self-interest. This
  strengthens the believer's realisation of the value of his way of life
  and keeps him above ignorant concepts, values and interests and above
  all strictly mundane values. This is so even when the believer is the
  only one of his kind. For he counters these features with those which
  he derives directly from Allah and which therefore rank highest in value
  and are the most sound and the most deserving of devotion and esteem.

  A third quality of faith and dignified humanity is the clarity of the
  relationship between the Creator and the created, the restricted creature
  is connected with the Everlasting Truth without any mediator. It supplies
  man's heart with light, his soul with contentment and gives him confidence
  and purpose. It eliminates from his mind perplexity fear, anxiety and
  agitation as well as unlawful haughtiness on earth and unjustifiable
  tyranny over people. Steadfastness along the path ordained by Allah is
  the next quality of such humanity. This must be maintained so that good
  does not occur casually, incidentally or without deliberation but springs
  from definite motives and heads towards certain aims. People united for
  Allah's cause collaborate. Thus, with a single definite purpose and a
  single distinguished banner, the Muslim community is raised. This is true
  for all generations that are similarly welded together. Another quality
  is belief in the dignity of man in the sight of Allah. This heightens
  man's regard for himself and restrains him from aspiring for a position
  higher than that which the Creator has defined for him. For man to feel
  that he is dignified in Allah's sight is the loftiest conception he may
  attain of himself. Any ideology or concept which abases this valuation
  and ascribes a dishonourable origin to man, separating him from the
  Highest Society of Allah is, in effect inviting him to abjection and
  derogation, though it may not say so openly. Hence, the effects of
  Darwinism, Freudianism and Marxism are among the most horrid disasters
  human nature has encountered.
  For they teach mankind that all abasement and downright animalism are
  natural phenomena with which we should be familiar and of which we need
  not be ashamed. Purity of motivation is yet another quality of the
  dignified humanity established by faith. This directly follows the
  realisation of man's dignity in Allah's sight, His supervision over
  men's conscience and His knowledge of their innermost undertakings. The
  normal human being whom the theories of Freud, Karl Marx and their type
  have not deformed is bashful that another human being may come to know
  what incidental unhealthy feelings he may have. The believer feels the
  awesome presence of Allah in his innermost consciousness and his
  awareness makes him tremble. He therefore attends to selfpurification
  and spiritual cleansing. A refined moral sense is the natural fruit of
  faith in a just, kind, compassionate, generous and forbearing God who
  abhors evil and loves goodness and who knows the furtive look and the
  secret thought. From this follows the responsibility of the believer
  which results from his free will and the comprehensiveness of Allah's
  supervision over him. It stimulates within him healthy awareness,
  sensitivity, serenity and foresight. It is a communal responsibility
  rather than an individual one and it is a responsibility towards all
  humanity in relation to goodness, pure and simple. The believer feels
  all these in every action. He achieves a higher degree of self-respect
  and calculates the results before taking any steps. He is of value in
  the world and the whole realm of existence and has a role in its smooth
  The final quality is man's elevation above greed for worldly gains and
  the choice of Allah's richer, everlasting reward for which all men should
  strive, as the Qur'an directs them to do and which results in elevation,
  purification and cleansing of their souls. Of Immense help in this regard
  is the fact that the believer has a broad scope to move in: between this
  life and the next and between the heavens and the earth. The elevation of
  man lessens his anxiety about the results and fruits of his deed. He does
  good only because it is good and because Allah requires it. It is never
  his concern whether it leads to further goodness in his own short life
  time. Allah, for whom he performs the good, never dies nor does He forget
  nor ignore any of men's deeds.
  The reward is not to be received here, for this life is not the last. Thus,
  the believer acquires the power to continue to perform good deeds
  sustained by this overwhelming belief. This it is that guarantees that
  doing good becomes a deliberate way of life and not a casual incident or
  motiveless event. It is this belief that supplies the believer with the
  power and the fortitude to face evil, whether manifested in the despotism
  of a tyrant or in the pressures of Ignorance or in the frailty of his
  will-power to control his passions which arise primarily from his feeling
  of the shortness of his life to achieve aims and enjoyments and from his
  inability to comprehend the deeper results of the good and witness the
  victory of right over evil. Faith tackles these feelings radically and
  Faith is the great root of life from which goodness springs in its various
  forms and to which all its fruits are bound. What does not spring from
  faith is a branch cut from a tree: it is bound to fade and perish, it is
  indeed a devilish production, limited and impermanent! Faith is the axis
  to which all the fine fabric of life's network is connected. Without it
  life is a loose event, wasted through the pursuit of yearnings and
  fantasies. It is the ideology which collects diversified deeds under a
  consonant system, following the same route and geared to the same
  mechanism, possessing a definite motive and a predetermined goal.

  Hence, all deeds not stemming from this origin and not related to that
  path are completely disregarded by the Qur'an. Islam is invariably candid
  over this. In surah 14, "Abraham", we read what may be translated as:
    The likeness of those who disbelieve in their Lord: their works
    are like ashes which the wind blows furiously on a tempestuous
    day. They have no power over anything they have earned.
  In surah 24, Light's, we have:
    As for those who disbelieve, their deeds are like a mirage in a
    desert. The thirsty traveller thinks it is water but when he
    comes near he finds that it is nothing.
  Now these are clear statements discrediting every deed not related to
  faith, which, in turn, gives it a motive that is connected with the
  origin of its existence and an aim that is compatible with the purpose
  of the world in all creation. This is a logical view of an ideology that
  attributes all events to Allah. Whoever dissociates himself from Him,
  vanishes and loses the reality of his existence.

  Faith is a sign of health in a person's nature and soundness in his
  disposition. It also indicates man's harmony with the nature of the whole
  universe, and a sign of mutual effect between man and the world around
  him. His life, as long as his behaviour is straightforward, must bring
  about an orientation which ends up in his adoption of faith because of
  what this universe itself possesses of signs and testimonies about the
  absolute power that so created it. Were the contrary the case, something
  must then be wrong or lacking in the state of the recipient - i.e. the
  human being - which would be a sign of corruption that only leads to loss
  and nullifies any deed which might somehow give an appearance of
  So extensive and comprehensive, so sublime and beautiful, so happy is the
  believer's world that the world of the disbelievers around appears to him
  minute, trivial, low, feeble, ugly and miserable - that is, in a state of
  ruin and complete loss.

  Doing what is righteous is the natural fruit of faith and a spontaneous
  activity generated at the same time as the reality of faith settles
  inside the human heart and mind. For faith is a positive and active
  concept which, once it has pervaded the human conscience, hastens to
  activate it to the outside world in good deeds. This is the Islamic view
  of faith. It must be dynamic. If it is not, then it is either phoney or
  non-existent, just as a flower cannot withhold its fragrance which, if
  present, naturally spreads, or else it is not in the flower at all.
  From all this we recognise the values of faith: dynamism, activity,
  creativeness and productiveness devoted to Allah's pleasure and not
  narrowness, negativity or isolation into self. It is not just sincere
  and innocent intentions, that never develop into actions. This is the
  distinguishing characteristic of Islam that makes it a creative power
  in practical life.
  All this is logical only as long as faith remains the link with the
  Divinely ordained path. This path is characterised by perpetual dynamism
  in the world among people. It is founded according to a specific plan and
  orientated towards a definite goal. Moreover, faith propels humanity
  towards implementing that which is good, pure, constructive and

  Counseling one another to follow the truth and to steadfastness reveals
  a picture of Islamic society which has its own very special entity, a
  unique inter-relationship between its individual members and a single
  destination and which fully understands its entity as well as its duties.
  It realises the essence of its faith and what it has to do of good deeds
  which include, among other tasks, the leadership of humanity along its
  own path. To execute this tremendous duty, counseling and exhortation
  becomes a necessity.
  From the meaning and nature of the very word "counsel" appears the
  loftiest and most magnificent picture of that integrated, coordinated,
  righteous and enlightened nation or society which caters for right,
  justice and goodness on this earth. This exactly is how Islam wants
  the Islamic nation to be. Mutual counsel aimed at that which is right
  is a necessity because it is hard always to maintain what is right,
  bearing in mind that the obstacles in its way are innumerable: egoistic
  passions and predilictions, the false concepts in the environment, and
  the tyranny, inequity and despotism of some. Hence the mutual exhortation
  urged here means reminding, encouraging and expressing the unity in aim
  and destination and equality in responsibility and charge. It also
  collects the individual efforts into a unified whole and thus increases
  the feelings of brotherhood in every guardian of truth, that there are
  others with him to exhort, encourage, support and love him. This is
  precisely the case with Islam, the righteous way of life whose
  establishment requires the care of a co-ordinated, interdependent, self
  sufficient and self-supporting community.
  Counsel and exhortation to be steadfast are also a necessity because the
  sustenance of faith and good deeds and catering for right and equity are
  the hardest tasks ever to carry out. This makes endurance utterly
  indispensible. Endurance is also necessary when adapting oneself to the
  Islamic way of life, when confronting others, when afflicted with
  maltreatment and hardship. Steadfastness is necessary when evil and
  falsehood triumph. It is necessary for traversing the length of the
  route, putting up with the slowness of the process of reform, the
  obscurity of road-posts and the lengthy road leading to the destination.

  Exhortation to endurance and steadfastness widens the capacities by
  inspiring unity of aim and direction and the feeling of togetherness
  in everyone, equipping them with love, fortitude and determination. It
  generates vitality in the community where the truth of Islam can survive
  and through which it is implemented.

  Judging by the doctrine which the Qur'an outlines for the life of the
  successful group which attains salvation, we are gravely shocked to see
  the loss and the ruin in which humanity finds itself everywhere on this
  earth today. We are shocked by the frustrations humanity suffers in this
  present world and by witnessing how humanity turns away, in vain, from
  the goodness Allah has bestowed upon it. We are the more distressed by
  the absence of a righteous and faithful authority to stand up for the
  Truth. Moreover, the Muslims, or rather people claiming to be Muslims,
  are the farthest of all from what is good and the most averse to the
  ideology Allah ordained for their nation and the one route He prescribed
  for their deliverance from loss and ruin. People, in the very realm where
  this righteousness took its roots, have deserted the banner Allah raised
  for them, that of faith, to raise instead banners of race which have
  never done them any good all through their history or given them any
  reputation either on earth or in the heavens. Islam it was that raised
  for them the banner totally conforming to Allah's will, flying in His
  name only and identified with Him alone. Under this banner the Arabs
  triumphed, were predominant and gave humanity a righteous, strong,
  enlightened and successful leadership for the first time in their history
  and the long history of humanity. Professor Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi
  outlines the characteristics of this unique leadership in Chapter 3 of
  his valuable book, Islam and the World:

    Once the Muslims were aroused, they quickly burst the bounds of Arabia
    and threw themselves zealously into the task of the fuller working out
    of human destiny. Their leadership held the guarantee of light and
    happiness for the world; it gave the promise of turning humanity into
    a single divinely-guided society. Some of the characteristics of Muslim
    leadership were: The Muslims had the unique advantage of being in
    possession of the Divine Book (the Qur'an) and the Sacred Law (the
    Shari'at). They did not have to fall back on their own judgement on
    the vital questions of life, and were thus saved from the manifold
    difficulties and perils that are attendant upon such a course. The
    Divine Word had illumined all the avenues of life for them and had
    enabled them to progress towards a destination which they clearly
    envisaged. With them it was not to be a case of trial and error. Says
    the Holy Qur'an:

      Can he who is dead, to whom We give life and a Light whereby he
      can walk amongst men, be like him who is in the depths of dark
      ness from which he can never come out? (6:122).

    They were to judge among men on the basis of the Revealed Word; they
    were not to diverge from the dictates of justice and equity; their
    view was not to be blurred by enmity, hatred or desire for revenge.
      O you who believe, stand out firmly for God as witnesses to fair
      dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve
      to wrong and depart from justice. Be just; that is nearer to
      piety; and fear God, for God is well acquainted with all that ye
      do. (5:8).

    They had not by themselves leapt into power all of a sudden from the
    abysmal depth of degradation. The Qur'an had already beaten them into
    shape. They had been brought to a high level of nobility and purity
    by the Prophet through long years of unremitting care. The Prophet
    had conditioned them to a life of austerity and righteousness; he had
    instilled into their hearts the virtues of humility and courageous
    self-denial; he had purged them clean of greed and of striving after
    power, renown or wealth. It was laid down by him as a fundamental
    principle of Islamic polity that "We shall not assign an office under
    the government to anyone who makes a request for it, or shows his
    longing for it in any other way."

    The Muslims were as far removed from falsehood, haughtiness and mischief
    as white is from black. The following words of the Qur'an had not in
    vain been grounded into them night and day:
      That Home of the Hereafter We shall give to those who intend not
      high-handedness or mischief on earth; and the End is (best) for
      the righteous. (28:33).

    Instead of aspiring for positions of authority and trust, they accepted
    them with great reluctance and when they did accept an official position
    they accepted it as a trust from God, to Whom they would have to render
    full account of their sins of omission and commission on the Day of
    Judgement. Says the Holy Qur'an:

      God commands you to render back your trusts to those to whom they
      are due; and when you judge between man and man, that you judge
      with justice. (4:58).

      It is He Who has made you (His) vicegerents on the earth. He has
      raised you in ranks, some above others, that He might try you in
      the gifts you receive; for your Lord is quick in punishment, yet
      He  is indeed Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (6:165).

    Further, the Muslims were not the agents of any particular race or
    country; nor were they out to establish Arab imperialism. Their
    mission was a universal mission of faith and freedom. They were happily
    free from all the sickly obsessions of colour and territorial
    nationality. All men were equal before them. The Qur'an had pointedly

     O mankind, We created you from (a single pair of) a male and a
     female; and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know
     each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most
     honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most
     righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is Well
     Acquainted (with all things). (49:13).

    Once the son of 'Amr ibn al-'As, the Governor of Egypt, struck an
    Egyptian commoner with a whip. The matter was brought to the notice
    of Caliph 'Umar. The Caliph did not show the least regard for the
    high status of the offender's father, and ordered the Egyptian
    straightaway to avenge himself for harm done to him. To the offender's
    father he administered this telling rebuke, "Why have you made them
    slaves when they were born free?"'

    The Arabs were not stingy in making the benefits of Faith, culture and
    learning available to the non-Arabs. They did not care for the
    nationality or the family connections of the recipients when it came
    to the conferment of high honours and positions in the State. They
    were, as it were, a cloud of bliss that rained ungrudgingly over
    the entire world, and from which all peoples, everywhere freely
    profited according to their own capacity.' The Arabs allowed a free
    and equal partnership to all nations in the establishment of a new
    socio-political structure and in the advancement of mankind towards
    a fuller and richer moral ideal. There were no national divisions, no
    colour bars, no vested interests, no priesthood and no hereditary
    nobility in the Islamic Commonwealth. No special benefits were
    reserved for anyone. There was nothing to prevent the non-Arabs from
    surpassing the Arabs in the various fields of life. Even as Doctors
    of Fiqh and Hadith a number of non-Arabs attained to distinction
    for which the Muslims in general and the Arabs in particular feel
    proud. Ibn Khaldun writes:
      It is an amazing fact of history that though their religion is
      of Arabian origin and the Law that the Prophet had brought had
      an Arab complexion, with a few exceptions, all eminent men of
      learning in the Muslim Millat, in the field of theological as
      well as secular sciences, are non-Arabs. Even those who are
      Arabs by birth are non-Arabs by education, language and
    During the later centuries, too, the non-Arab Muslims continued to
    produce leaders, statesmen, saints and savants of exceptional merit.
    This would obviously not have been possible, had the Arabs been mean
    or prejudiced in sharing their opportunities with the people of other
    nationalities in the Islamic world. Humanity has many sides - physical,
    emotional, social, moral, mental and spiritual. We cannot neglect any
    one of them for the benefit of another. Humanity cannot progress to
    its highest level unless every human instinct is brought into proper
    play. It would be futile to hope for the establishment of a healthy
    human society till an intellectual, material, moral and spiritual
    environment is created in which a man is enabled to develop his latent
    potentialities in harmony with God's plan of creation. We learn from
    experience that this goal must remain a dream so long as the reins of
    civilization are not held by those who attach due importance to both
    the material and the spiritual yearnings of life, and can, together
    with having a high moral and spiritual sense, fitly appreciate the
    claims of flesh and blood upon man and the inter relationship between
    the individual and the society.

  He then speaks of the reign of the first four Caliphs who ruled after the

    We, consequently, find that no period in the recorded history of the
    human race has been more auspicious for it in the true sense of the
    term than what is known among the Muslims as Khilafat-i-Rashida. During
    this epoch, all the material, moral and spiritual resources of man were
    brought into use to make him an ideal citizen of an ideal State. The
    Government!! was judged by the yard-stick of morality, and the morals
    were judged by their utility to lift humanity in permanent values and
    establishing justice in human society. Though the Islamic Commonwealth
    was the richest and the most powerful State of its time, the popular
    heroes and ideal personalities in it used to be drawn from among those
    who possessed, not earthly glory, but purity and nobleness of character.
    There was no disparity between power and morality. Material advancement
    was not allowed to out-run moral progress. That is why in the Islamic
    world the incidence of crime was very low in spite of the abundance of
    wealth and the great heterogeneity of its population. To put it in a
    nutshell, this epoch was the most beautiful springtime mankind has to
    this day experienced.

  We know some features of that glorious period of human history whose
  generation lived under the Islamic Constitution, the pillars of which
  this particular surah erects and under the banner carried by the group
  of believers who performed righteous deeds and encouraged each other to
  follow the truth and to be steadfast. Now what, in the light of all this,
  is the "loss" humanity is suffering everywhere and how great is its
  failure in the battle between good and evil because of a blind eye it
  turns to that great message the Arabs conveyed to it when they raised
  the banner of Islam and thus assumed the leadership of mankind? Having
  abandoned Islam, the Arab nation is in the forefront of the caravan which
  is heading towards loss and ruin. Since then, the banners of mankind have
  been for Satan, falsehood, error, darkness and loss. No banner has been
  raised for Allah, truth, guidance, light or success. The banner of Allah,
  however, is still there awaiting the arms that will raise it and the
  nation which under this banner will advance towards righteousness,
  guidance and success.

  All that has been said so far concerned gain and loss in this life which,
  though of great importance, is very trivial in comparison with the here
  after. There is an everlasting life and a world of reality - the real
  gain and the real loss, the attainment or deprivation of Paradise and
  the pleasure of Allah. There man either accomplishes the highest of
  perfection allowed for him or completely collapses so that his humanity
  is crushed and ends up as worthless as pebbles or even worse in condition
    On a day when a man will look on what his hands have forwarded and
    the disbeliever will cry: 'Would that I were dust' 
  This surah is unequivocal in indicating the path leading humanity away
  from loss, "save those who have faith and do righteous deeds, and counsel
  one another to follow the truth and counsel one another to be steadfast .
  There is one right path and one only - that of faith, good deeds and the
  existence of a Muslim community whose members counsel each other to follow
  the truth and to show endurance and steadfastness.

  Consequently, whenever two companions of the Messenger of Allah were
  about to depart from each other, they would read this surah, after which
  they would shake hands. This was indicative of a pledge to accept this
  doctrine fully, to preserve this faith, piety and a willingness to counsel
  each other to follow the truth and remain steadfast. It was a mutual
  compact to remain good elements in an Islamic society established
  according to that doctrine and to preserve the foundation of this





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