There are many ideas in the Quran that when reading the English translation are not as apparent as in the original Arabic. An example of this is the concept of “yesterday”. While in English this word can be translated any number of ways, in the Arabic Quran the word for “yesterday” or “the day before” is a single word أَمْسِ (amsi), and we will see this word used only four times in the entire Quran written in the form of بِالْأَمْسِ (bil-amsi) which would translate to “in the day before” or “in the previous day” as all as “yesterday.” The first use of this word is in Sura 10 verse 24.

[10:24] The analogy of this worldly life is like this: we send down water from the sky to produce with it all kinds of plants from the earth, and to provide food for the people and the animals. Then, just as the earth is perfectly adorned, and its people think that they are in control thereof, our judgment comes by night or by day, leaving it completely barren, as if nothing existed the previous day. We thus explain the revelations for people who reflect.

إِنَّمَا مَثَلُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا كَمَاءٍ أَنْزَلْنَاهُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فَاخْتَلَطَ بِهِ نَبَاتُ الْأَرْضِ مِمَّا يَأْكُلُ النَّاسُ وَالْأَنْعَامُ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا أَخَذَتِ الْأَرْضُ زُخْرُفَهَا وَازَّيَّنَتْ وَظَنَّ أَهْلُهَا أَنَّهُمْ قَادِرُونَ عَلَيْهَا أَتَاهَا أَمْرُنَا لَيْلًا أَوْ نَهَارًا فَجَعَلْنَاهَا حَصِيدًا كَأَنْ لَمْ تَغْنَ بِالْأَمْسِ كَذَٰلِكَ نُفَصِّلُ الْآيَاتِ لِقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

In this world individuals assume that the natural state of affairs is that they are entitled to God’s blessings. This flawed mentality provides a false sense of security and control and will inevitably lead to a rude awakening. Under such distorted pretenses people assume that they cannot do wrong and that they will not be punished for their sins which is a recipe for disaster.

The only other three times the word أَمْسِ occurs in the entire Quran happen to be appropriately enough in Sura 28, entitled History (Al-Qasas / القصص). The fact that this Sura is entitled History and the purpose of history is to learn from the past so that we do not make the same mistakes in our lives makes it that much more noteworthy that all three other instances of the Arabic word for “yesterday” in the Quran occurs in this single Sura. When we look at these three other instances the significance of this becomes apparent.

The first two occurrences of بِالْأَمْسِ in Sura 28 occur in verses 18 and 19, but for context we will start from verse 15 to verse 21.

[28:15] Once he entered the city unexpectedly, without being recognized by the people. He found two men fighting; one was (a Hebrew) from his people, and the other was (an Egyptian) from his enemies. The one from his people called on him for help against his enemy. Moses punched him, killing him. He said, “This is the work of the devil; he is a real enemy, and a profound misleader.”

 وَدَخَلَ الْمَدِينَةَ عَلَىٰ حِينِ غَفْلَةٍ مِنْ أَهْلِهَا فَوَجَدَ فِيهَا رَجُلَيْنِ يَقْتَتِلَانِ هَٰذَا مِنْ شِيعَتِهِ وَهَٰذَا مِنْ عَدُوِّهِ فَاسْتَغَاثَهُ الَّذِي مِنْ شِيعَتِهِ عَلَى الَّذِي مِنْ عَدُوِّهِ فَوَكَزَهُ مُوسَىٰ فَقَضَىٰ عَلَيْهِ قَالَ هَٰذَا مِنْ عَمَلِ الشَّيْطَانِ إِنَّهُ عَدُوٌّ مُضِلٌّ مُبِينٌ

[28:16] He said, “My Lord, I have wronged my soul. Please forgive me,” and He forgave him. He is the Forgiver, Most Merciful.

قَالَ رَبِّ إِنِّي ظَلَمْتُ نَفْسِي فَاغْفِرْ لِي فَغَفَرَ لَهُ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ

[28:17] He said, “My Lord, in return for Your blessings upon me, I will never be a supporter of the guilty ones.”

قَالَ رَبِّ بِمَا أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيَّ فَلَنْ أَكُونَ ظَهِيرًا لِلْمُجْرِمِينَ

[28:18] In the morning, he was in the city, afraid and watchful. The one who sought his help yesterday, asked for his help again. Moses said to him, “You are really a troublemaker.”

فَأَصْبَحَ فِي الْمَدِينَةِ خَائِفًا يَتَرَقَّبُ فَإِذَا الَّذِي اسْتَنْصَرَهُ بِالْأَمْسِ يَسْتَصْرِخُهُ قَالَ لَهُ مُوسَىٰ إِنَّكَ لَغَوِيٌّ مُبِينٌ

[28:19] Before he attempted to strike their common enemy, he said, “O Moses, do you want to kill me, as you killed the other man yesterday? Obviously, you wish to be a tyrant on earth; you do not wish to be righteous.”

 فَلَمَّا أَنْ أَرَادَ أَنْ يَبْطِشَ بِالَّذِي هُوَ عَدُوٌّ لَهُمَا قَالَ يَامُوسَىٰ أَتُرِيدُ أَنْ تَقْتُلَنِي كَمَا قَتَلْتَ نَفْسًا بِالْأَمْسِ إِنْ تُرِيدُ إِلَّا أَنْ تَكُونَ جَبَّارًا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَمَا تُرِيدُ أَنْ تَكُونَ مِنَ الْمُصْلِحِينَ

[28:20] A man came running from the other side of the city, saying, “O Moses, the people are plotting to kill you. You better leave immediately. I am giving you good advice.”

وَجَاءَ رَجُلٌ مِنْ أَقْصَى الْمَدِينَةِ يَسْعَىٰ قَالَ يَامُوسَىٰ إِنَّ الْمَلَأَ يَأْتَمِرُونَ بِكَ لِيَقْتُلُوكَ فَاخْرُجْ إِنِّي لَكَ مِنَ النَّاصِحِينَ

[28:21] He fled the city, afraid and watchful. He said, “My Lord, save me from the oppressive people.”

 فَخَرَجَ مِنْهَا خَائِفًا يَتَرَقَّبُ قَالَ رَبِّ نَجِّنِي مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ

How quick did Moses’s life get completely flipped upside down. Within a single day, he went from being one of the most prominent members in society, being raised by Pharaoh as royalty, to becoming a fugitive and having to flee for his life leaving everything behind.

The last instance of أَمْسِ occurs in verse 82 of Sura 28, but for context we will start from verse 76.

[28:76] Qãroon (the slave driver) was one of Moses’ people who betrayed them and oppressed them. We gave him so many treasures that the keys thereof were almost too heavy for the strongest band. His people said to him, “Do not be so arrogant; GOD does not love those who are arrogant.

 إِنَّ قَارُونَ كَانَ مِنْ قَوْمِ مُوسَىٰ فَبَغَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ وَآتَيْنَاهُ مِنَ الْكُنُوزِ مَا إِنَّ مَفَاتِحَهُ لَتَنُوءُ بِالْعُصْبَةِ أُولِي الْقُوَّةِ إِذْ قَالَ لَهُ قَوْمُهُ لَا تَفْرَحْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْفَرِحِينَ

[28:77] “Use the provisions bestowed upon you by GOD to seek the abode of the Hereafter, without neglecting your share in this world. Be charitable, as GOD has been charitable towards you. Do not keep on corrupting the earth. GOD does not love the corruptors.”

 وَابْتَغِ فِيمَا آتَاكَ اللَّهُ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ وَلَا تَنْسَ نَصِيبَكَ مِنَ الدُّنْيَا وَأَحْسِنْ كَمَا أَحْسَنَ اللَّهُ إِلَيْكَ وَلَا تَبْغِ الْفَسَادَ فِي الْأَرْضِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُفْسِدِينَ

[28:78] He said, “I attained all this because of my own cleverness.” Did he not realize that GOD had annihilated before him generations that were much stronger than he, and greater in number? The (annihilated) transgressors were not asked about their crimes.

 قَالَ إِنَّمَا أُوتِيتُهُ عَلَىٰ عِلْمٍ عِنْدِي أَوَلَمْ يَعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ أَهْلَكَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِ مِنَ الْقُرُونِ مَنْ هُوَ أَشَدُّ مِنْهُ قُوَّةً وَأَكْثَرُ جَمْعًا وَلَا يُسْأَلُ عَنْ ذُنُوبِهِمُ الْمُجْرِمُونَ

[28:79] One day, he came out to his people in full splendor. Those who preferred this worldly life said, “Oh, we wish that we possess what Qãroon has attained. Indeed, he is very fortunate.”

فَخَرَجَ عَلَىٰ قَوْمِهِ فِي زِينَتِهِ قَالَ الَّذِينَ يُرِيدُونَ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا يَالَيْتَ لَنَا مِثْلَ مَا أُوتِيَ قَارُونُ إِنَّهُ لَذُو حَظٍّ عَظِيمٍ

[28:80] As for those who were blessed with knowledge, they said, “Woe to you, GOD’s recompense is far better for those who believe and lead a righteous life.” None attains this except the steadfast.

وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ وَيْلَكُمْ ثَوَابُ اللَّهِ خَيْرٌ لِمَنْ آمَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا وَلَا يُلَقَّاهَا إِلَّا الصَّابِرُونَ

[28:81] We then caused the earth to swallow him and his mansion. No army could have helped him against GOD; he was not destined to be a winner.

 فَخَسَفْنَا بِهِ وَبِدَارِهِ الْأَرْضَ فَمَا كَانَ لَهُ مِنْ فِئَةٍ يَنْصُرُونَهُ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُنْتَصِرِينَ

[28:82] Those who were envious of him the day before said, “Now we realize that GOD is the One who provides for whomever He chooses from among His servants, and withholds. If it were not for GOD’s grace towards us, He could have caused the earth to swallow us too. We now realize that the disbelievers never succeed.”

وَأَصْبَحَ الَّذِينَ تَمَنَّوْا مَكَانَهُ بِالْأَمْسِ يَقُولُونَ وَيْكَأَنَّ اللَّهَ يَبْسُطُ الرِّزْقَ لِمَنْ يَشَاءُ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ وَيَقْدِرُ لَوْلَا أَنْ مَنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَيْنَا لَخَسَفَ بِنَا وَيْكَأَنَّهُ لَا يُفْلِحُ الْكَافِرُونَ

Again we see that within a single day, Qaroon went from being the envy of the people to being completely annihilated. All his wealth, status, authority that he possessed just the day before was only used against him to confirm his sinfulness and ultimately cause his destruction.

So now when we read 10:24 we can better appreciate the analogy that God provides through the examples of Moses and Qaroon, where within a single day everything they had the day before was completely taken away from them. But while they both made the same mistake and suffered the consequences God redeemed one because of his righteousness, and He annihilated the other for his lack thereof. Because despite Moses over stepping his authority at least he used the blessings God bestowed upon him to fight for the less fortunate, while Qaroon used his wealth only to increase in arrogance and oppress those weaker than him.

[10:24] The analogy of this worldly life is like this: we send down water from the sky to produce with it all kinds of plants from the earth, and to provide food for the people and the animals. Then, just as the earth is perfectly adorned, and its people think that they are in control thereof, our judgment comes by night or by day, leaving it completely barren, as if nothing existed the previous day. We thus explain the revelations for people who reflect.

إِنَّمَا مَثَلُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا كَمَاءٍ أَنْزَلْنَاهُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فَاخْتَلَطَ بِهِ نَبَاتُ الْأَرْضِ مِمَّا يَأْكُلُ النَّاسُ وَالْأَنْعَامُ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا أَخَذَتِ الْأَرْضُ زُخْرُفَهَا وَازَّيَّنَتْ وَظَنَّ أَهْلُهَا أَنَّهُمْ قَادِرُونَ عَلَيْهَا أَتَاهَا أَمْرُنَا لَيْلًا أَوْ نَهَارًا فَجَعَلْنَاهَا حَصِيدًا كَأَنْ لَمْ تَغْنَ بِالْأَمْسِ كَذَٰلِكَ نُفَصِّلُ الْآيَاتِ لِقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

This proves that no one is above the law, but if we are righteous God can use these opportunities as a lesson for us to fix our ways and grow in righteousness.

[4:123] It is not in accordance with your wishes, or the wishes of the people of the scripture: anyone who commits evil pays for it, and will have no helper or supporter, against GOD.

وَمَنْ يَعْمَلْ مِنَ الصَّالِحَاتِ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنْثَىٰ وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَأُولَٰئِكَ يَدْخُلُونَ الْجَنَّةَ وَلَا يُظْلَمُونَ نَقِيرًا

One of the tactics that the devil utilizes to get us to stray from the right path is that he will try to make us forget (6:68, 12:42, 18:63), and more specifically forget God and that He alone is in control of everything. By these examples we see that this is most likely to occur when we feel like everything is going right and we are in control thereof. It is at these times that reality will set in to who actually is in control, and if we are blessed like Moses then God will allow us to learn from these experiences.

[32:21] We let them taste the smaller retribution (of this world), before they incur the greater retribution (of the Hereafter), that they may (take a hint and) reform. [32:22] Who is more evil than one who is reminded of these revelations of his Lord, then insists upon disregarding them? We will certainly punish the guilty. [32:23] We have given Moses the scripture—do not harbor any doubt about meeting Him—and we made it a guide for the Children of Israel.

And if we are arrogant like Qaroon then an event like this will forever seal our fate.

[6:44] When they thus disregard the message given to them, we open for them the gates of everything. Then, just as they rejoice in what was given to them, we punish them suddenly; they become utterly stunned. [6:45] The wicked are thus annihilated. Praise be to GOD, Lord of the universe. [6:46] Say, “What if GOD took away your hearing and your eyesight, and sealed your minds; which god, other than GOD, can restore these for you?” Note how we explain the revelations, and note how they still deviate! [6:47] Say, “What if GOD’s retribution came to you suddenly, or after an announcement, is it not the wicked who incur annihilation?”

In the following verse God informs us that any time we suffer hardship God is allowing things to unfold in order for us to better ourselves so we can learn from the experience, but if we choose not to take heed then we will never improve.

[4:147] What will GOD gain from punishing you, if you became appreciative and believed? GOD is Appreciative, Omniscient.

So while the devil can tempt us or try to make us forget, nothing he does is outside of our Lord’s control. That the devil is not allowed to go beyond the limits set by God. So because of this, if we were perfect then there would be no possibility for improvement and so we would never fail and never have a bad event take place. But since because we are imperfect, God uses our failures in life as an opportunity to purify us. As for the disbelievers who never take heed, this same opportunity is repeatedly squandered leaving to their ultimate demise.

[4:78] Wherever you are, death will catch up with you, even if you live in formidable castles. When something good happens to them, they say, “This is from GOD,” and when something bad afflicts them, they blame you. Say, “Everything comes from GOD.” Why do these people misunderstand almost everything? [4:79] Anything good that happens to you is from GOD, and anything bad that happens to you is from you. We have sent you as a messenger to the people, and GOD suffices as witness.

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