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Surah Al-Asr:My take on it

February 9, 2007

والعصر۝اَِنّ الاِنسان لفی خُسرٍ۝اِلالذین اٰمنوا و عملُوالصٰلِحٰتِ وتواصوا باالحَقِّ وتواصوا بِاالصّبر۝

I have gone through so many translations of Surah Al-Asr but have been surprised to notice that none of translators have taken the most obvious meaning of the phrase والعصر . No doubt that people have spent their lives translating and understanding the Quran and I am nobody to take the credit away from them. Simply put, I have felt that there has to be a better way of explaining what Quran is trying to convey to us in this Surah.

Here I list some well known translations:

YUSUFALI: By (the Token of) Time (through the ages),
PICKTHAL: By the declining day,
SHAKIR: I swear by the time,

Among these, only Yusuf Ali comes pretty close to the actual meaning of the first Ayah. In my opinion it should be translated as:

“Throughout history humans have acted in a manner…”

So the complete Surah would be translated as:

“Throughout history humans have acted in a manner which takes them towards decline. Only those are exempt from it who believe and do good deeds. These are the people who encourage each other to stand firm for righteousness and be firm in testing times”

At first it seems that the translation of the phrase والعصر is pretty long. Yet, I think that this is the meaning which it conveys. I cannot recall the name of the person but I recall reading about someone from the early days of Islam stating that: “Had only Al-Asr been revealed to us rather than the whole Quran, it would have been sufficient commandment for the believers”

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From → 1. Quran, Arabic, Language

3 Comments
  1. As-salaamu `alaykum

    Jazaak’Allaahu khayran

    That’s quite interesting mashaa’Allaah… maybe you can look up the different tafaaseer for it and see if they correspond or at a contrast. It would make an interesting theme/mas’alah to research and think about

    That last quote was from Imaam Ash-Shaafi’ee who said,

    لو فكّر الناس كلهم في سورة العصر لكفتهم.
    “If all the people were to think deeply about Soorah al-‘Asr, it would suffice them.”

  2. Imran permalink

    Asalaamu Alaikum,

    Allahu Alam but I don’t know if “Throughout time” conveys the meaning because the waaw used here is the waaw of qasm as you’re probably aware. So the force of Allah azza wa jall making qasm is lost. Allahu Alam.

    I find Pickthall’s translation far too subjective. By their very nature translations are subjective, but it seems he adds meanings that aren’t even there.

  3. Masha Allah!
    Fajr:Thanks for the information regarding the quote

    Imran: I agree on the wa’aw part, since that fits according to the Arabic grammar; I was just looking at the complete verse and not one word, though.
    Some of the newer translations are going the way of ‘free-style’ (like Abdul Haleem and those by Tarsil-ul-Quran) and seem to be doing a good job

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