Quranic Reflection No. 501. Āyat 3:114 – Haste in good deeds

وَيُسَارِعُونَ فِي الْخَيْرَاتِ
Wayusāri ‘ūnna fil-khayrāt
And they strive with one another in hastening to good deeds.
(Sūrat Āli Imran, No 3, Āyat 114)

Many different qualities of virtuous people are described in the Quran. The above is part of a verse that talks about some of these qualities. Among them is the habit of hastening to do good. Although haste is disliked in Islam, there is an urgency in the desire to do good for believers. That urgency spurs the doer to act fast before the opportunity slips away. Various factors could impede the progress of the good deed and the believer wants to avoid those impediments. Imam al-Sādiq (a) says: My father used to say, if you intend to do good, do it right away for you do not know what might happen (al-Kāfī, v. 2, p. 142).

The word ‘yusāri‘ūna’ has been understood to refer to the following attitudes when doing the good deed;
1. The deed is not done with laziness or sluggishness. It is not a burden that one needs to get over it. Rather there is enthusiasm and energy in the action. The translator Quli Qarai has translated this part of the verse as, ‘active in performing good deeds’.
2. There is no procrastination in the action. Keeping in mind the inherent value of the deed, the pleasure of Allah ‘azza wajall that would be gained, and the resulting good outcome of the deed, makes the doer want to do it right away.
3. The present continuous verb used shows an action that is ongoing and done regularly. It is not a onetime action. The desire and energy to do good do not fade away.

Being quick to do good actions stems from the conviction that every moment of life is precious in the opportunity it offers to serve the Creator. This understanding makes the believer want to fill his time with good deeds and whenever the opportunity arises, he is eager to act on it. Imam Ali (a) says: May Allah have mercy on you. You should hasten towards (the preparation of) houses which you have been commanded to populate, and towards which you have been called and invited. Seek the completion of Allah’s favors on you by exercising endurance in His obedience and abstention from His disobedience, because tomorrow is close to today. How fast are the hours of the day, how fast are the days in the month, how fast are the months in the years and how fast the years in a life (Nahjul Balāgha, Sermon 188).

Many verses recommend both being quick in good actions and being among the ones to take the lead, being the foremost ones. In a passage describing the believers Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā says: They hasten to good things and take the lead in them (Q 23:61).  The Quran also says: Take the lead towards forgiveness from your Lord and a paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, prepared for those who have faith in Allah and His apostles (Q 57:21).

The benefits of hastening towards good actions are manifold. For society it means a proliferation of good actions, with all its members enjoying the results of these virtuous actions. People would be encouraged to follow suit and a sense of virtue and positivity would prevail in society. For the individual it would be a meaningful spiritual achievement. To have performed the good deed rather than losing the opportunity through delay and procrastination would mean increase in reward and pleasure of the Almighty. Sometimes a good deed done at the right time becomes the cause of a good outcome in life.

This verse is a reminder to always make haste in doing good. Let not the Shaytān or the nafs distract us from doing something virtuous that Allah (swt) inspired in our mind. As Imam al-Sādiq (a) warns us: When one of you thinks of performing good or making connections [with family] there is a Shaytān on the right and a Shaytān on the left so he should get to it immediately lest they prevent him from it (al-Kāfī, v. 2, p. 143).

Sources: Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān; Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Agha Muhsin Qarā’atī, Tafsīr Nūrhawzah.net/fa/Article/View/96814