Why does Allah vow in the Quran? How should we understand the expressions of vow in the Quran?

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Why does Allah vow in the Quran? How should we understand the expressions of vow in the Quran?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Man has vowed throughout history in order to strengthen his statements, to persuade the person he is addressing, to ask people to trust his word and to ensure it. That is, to swear and to use expressions containing vows is not something that man is not familiar with. The expressions containing vows in the Quran are words of Allah, who addresses man at the level that he understands.

As it is seen in the verses, Allah Almighty vows mentioning His own name (al-Hijr, 15/92), His prophets (Yasin, 36/1), the places where prophets lived or revelations were sent down (at-Tur, 52/1-3; al-Balad, 90/1), angels (as-Saffat, 37/1; an-Naziat, 79/1-2), the Quran (al-Waqia, 56/77; at-Tur, 52/2), Day of Judgment (al-Qiyama, 75/1), the important beings present in the universe, for example, the pen (al-Qalam, 68/1), the sky (al-Buruj, 85/1; at-Tariq, 86/1), the sun (ash-Shams, 91/1), the moon (ash-Shams, 91/2), the night (al-Layl, 92/1), the morning (al-Fajr, 89/1), the late morning (ad-Duha, 93/1), the time (al-Asr, 103/1), the star (an-Najm, 53/1), the air (adh-Dhariyat, 51/1) and the plants (at-Tin, 95/1).

The Quran is a collection of divine words sent by Allah, who is the Lord of Realms, to His slaves. The reason why the Quran, which comes down to our level of thought, perception and understanding, includes vows in its expressions is to enable us to understand its seriousness and to see that it is true. Allah Almighty sometimes approves and strengthens His verses through vows; He sometimes uses the names of some beings when He vows to indicate the importance and value of these beings for man and draws attention to them.

Allah Almighty strengthened His verses through vows for reasons like making people believe and trust in verses, strengthening the information He gives, encouraging people to meditate on important beings and things, reminding people about important bounties, persuading people that the Quran, the news given by the Quran, the Day of Judgment, the hereafter, resurrection after death, reckoning, Paradise and Hell are true, and eliminating doubts about them.   

It is necessary to regard the issue with signified meaning not literal meaning. That is, the things about which Allah vows are not valuable on their own; they are valuable because they were created by Allah. Allah Almighty draws attention to beings in order to inform people about His majesty and to show the perfection and uniqueness of the manifestations of his names and attributes. Is everything not a unique manifestation and domination of Allah's power and creation? When Allah vows by using the names of the beings which are the works of His unique and numerous names and attributes, He actually vows by various manifestations of His power and creation, hence the majesty of His power, the perfection of His wisdom, the comprehensiveness of His mercy and the unique beauty of His creation. (see Nursi, Mektubat, p. 378)

We want to explain the verse "By (the Token of) time (through the Ages)" (al-Asr, 103/1) briefly as an example of the things by which Allah vows:

In the verse above, Allah Almighty vows by one of the things He created. There are two things to think about here: One of them is why Allah vows.

A vow is to mention the name of a being that is respected and regarded as holy by the person who makes it and the person who hears it in order to make the person who hears it believe a statement or a claim made by the person who makes a vow and to give the message that what one says is true. The being whose name is uttered is usually a powerful being that is expected to punish the person who deceives. In this sense, it is haram for Muslims to make a vow using the name of a being other than Allah.

Why does Allah make a vow? It is clear that Allah does not need to bring a witness and He does not need such a being in order to prove the trueness of His word. What is meant by His vow is to correct the wrong views of people about that being and to draw people's attention to the expression that comes after the vow. People sometimes underestimate the values of some beings and regard them as ominous, bad and ugly. However, they are honorable like the other beings created by Allah and they do not have those bad attributes. People sometimes see in those beings some attributes that they do not have and attribute deity to them. This is not right, either. They are the beings that are created by Allah. Allah vows using their names to emphasize that they are not ominous and worthless beings like some people think, that they do not have the attributes of deity as some other people think and that they are only the works of Allah.   

The second thing to be thought about is the meaning of "Asr" and why Allah makes a vow using it. 

According to a view, "Asr" means time. Time is something that surrounds people's lives and deeds. All of the deeds whether good or bad take place in the course of time. Relaxation, troubles, illnesses, health, wealth and poverty take place in the course of time. Therefore, time is something that attracts people's attention. People's attention is drawn to the words that follow time when a vow is made about time.
Besides, the Arabs of Jahiliyya attributed damages and losses to the badness of time. Even today, some people mention the inauspiciousness of days and numbers when something happens to them. Thus, Allah Almighty tells people that badness is not in time but in people themselves by vowing by the name of time.

According to another view (Abu Muslim), "Asr" means afternoon. Allah vows by late morning (Duha) along with afternoon. Besides, there are several hadiths telling about the importance of afternoon. The afternoon is a time when the end of the day approaches, people try to end their tasks and calculations for benefits and losses are made.  With this property, it resembles the last time period before the Day of Judgment and before death. Man who is at loss or who is happy is getting ready to be accounted. 

It is also narrated that the Arabs of Jahiliyya finished their tasks, gathered around the Kaaba in the afternoon, wandering and drifting people gossiped and did many other bad deeds and consequently quarrels, fights and bad consequences. As a result, Arabs assumed the view that afternoon was an ominous time and they attributed the badness in themselves to the afternoon. Thus, Allah vows by afternoon stating that it was an honorable being created by Allah.

According to the third view, asr means the afternoon prayer.  The following order in verse 238 of the chapter of al-Baqara is shown as evidence for it. "Guard strictly… especially the middle prayer". In the Mushaf of Hz. Hafsa, the explanation of this verse is written as the afternoon prayer.  In a hadith, the Prophet (pbuh) says, "A person who does not perform the afternoon prayer is like a person who has lost his family and property." (Bukhari, Mawaqit, 14; Muslim, Masajid, 200, 201) The afternoon prayer is a very valuable prayer since it is the last prayer performed during the day. Therefore, Allah vows by it.

According to the fourth and last view, "Asr", is the period when the Prophet lived. Time is divided into three as the first ages: the period from Hz. Adam to Hz. Musa; the middle ages: from Hz. Musa to Hz. Prophet, and the last ages (end of time). With Hz. Prophet, the revelation, which was sent to all human beings and jinn in order to lead them to brightness from darkness, was sent down for the last time. Allah praised the ummah of Hz. Prophet by saying, "Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind." (Aal-i Imran, 3/110) Therefore, Allah vowed by the time the Prophet lived.

In conclusion, the word "Asr" is a common word with different meanings. There is not a definite sign indicating one of them. Then, the word "Asr" can be interpreted as all of them.

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