I came to recall an important truth that all of us are already aware of, at least subconsciously, but most of us fail to incorporate into our daily life. I was re-reading Surah Al-Asr with careful attention to the translation, which is as follows:
“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.” (Qur’an, 103:1-3)
Allah (subhan wata’alah ) establishes the default position for all mankind at the very beginning of the ayah (verse): a state of loss. That is followed by the exceptions to the default position, namely those people that have iman (faith), do good deeds, propagate truths and exercise patience. Interestingly, all of these four exceptions allude to actions done consistently. Even iman itself is not a static state, but its level fluctuates in every individual, with the exception of prophets, depending on a person’s actions and worship. As such, we realize a hard fact: everyone is losing with the passage of time by default, with the exception of those that are doing righteous actions. With time, it’s use it or lose it. Contrary to what most of us would like to believe, there is no stationary state. If we are exactly the same person today as we were yesterday, we are actually losers under this definition. Certainly, amongst the major differences in this world and the next is time itself: this life is temporary, and the next life is eternal.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stressed the importance of time in numerous hadiths, of which one is specially relevant. It is inspiring to note that the Prophet himself was a husband, statesman, military leader, adjudicator and a prophet at the same time. It is narrated by Abdullah ibn Masoud, one of the most famous companions, that, “A man shall be asked concerning five things on the day of resurrection: concerning his life, how he spent it; concerning his youth, how he grew old; concerning his wealth, whence he acquired it, and in what way he spent it; and what was it that he did with the knowledge that he had.” As apparent from the hadith, we will all be held accountable for the time that we were given on earth and how we used, especially our youth. Most of us sometimes do not realize that even wasted time, just like wasted money, is a blessing we will be questioned about.
I once heard an interesting story about Harun al-Rashid, the fifth and most famous Abbasid Caliph. He employed a professional jester for his entertainment. After one such performance, in a hysterical state after being overcome with laughter, Harun gave his jester a stick, and asserted that the jester was the most foolish man he had met, and instructed him to pass on the stick to anyone who exceeded him in foolishness. Some time passed, and Harun Rashid was on his death bed. The jester came to visit him, and after being allowed audience, asked Harun Rashid what he had done to prepare himself for the coming life. Harun burst into tears, and replied that he had done very little. At this point the jester gave him back the very same stick, and remarked that Harun was more foolish than him. Whether or not the story is true, we can all take home the point: take advantage of your time before it runs out.