Surah al ‘Asr on Sharing the Wealth through Justice: A Ramadhan Reflection
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
A daily Ramadhan course by The Threshold Society, entitled Spirituality and Practice, and conducted by Kabir Helminski and Jeremy Henzell-Thomas, has emphasized truth, faith, and loving perseverence. It is concluding with reflection on the short Surah al ‘Asr, 101:1-3:
In the Name of God,
the Infinitely Compassionate and Most Merciful
Truly, human beings are in loss,
except those who have faith and do righteous deeds
and encourage each other in the teaching of Truth
and of patient perseverance.
This ayah, Asr 103, ranks next to the opening Surah al Fatiha in providing the best short guidance on the essence or core of Islam.
My experience all my life has been to see the inadequacy of charity to address the Qur’anic command to share wealth, which Muslims generally agree is the best but most difficult of “righteous deeds.” Charity is good in itself but it is only a stop-gap measure to lessen the misery that results from ignorance or indifference to justice.
Justice requires social justice through solidarity among individual persons in changing or perfecting the institutions of society in order to broaden access to individual ownership of the means of production, particularly through the institutions of money and credit. Sharing wealth requires not merely broadening capital ownership but equal access to individual ownership as a universal human right, especially in the era of capital intensive economies where capital produces most of the wealth and labor only a small part. This right is universally denied throughout the world.
This is critical to the other three of the four requirements in this surah. Awareness of this denial is the first step in teaching truth, and pursuit of justice by “encouraging each other” in promoting both institutional change and taqwa or loving awe of God is the principal requirement for patient perseverence.
Everything else in the practice of spirituality is essential. As developed in my commencement address, entitled “The Analogical Bird of Abu Nur,” at Abu Nur University in Damascus in 1995 and published online at http://www.theamericanmuslim.org on November 19, 2002, this dimension may be compared to the right wing of a metaphorical bird. This is the ruhanniyah or spiritual dimension, but “human beings are in loss” unless they address the left wing, the ‘amaliya or action dimension in the muamalat or material challenges of life. This requires the guiding tail of the analogical bird, which is intellectual discernment through the ‘aql or ‘aqaliyat, known as the “third jihad” or jihad al kabir.
All three are gifts of God, for which we should be thankful. I pray that we will always remember and respect the emphasis in the Qur’an and in the daily canonical Muslim prayers on praise of Allah and thanksgiving, which in Islam are synonymous, for this is the key to baraka or grace.