It could be understood both ways, depending on the context. For example, “ya’lamu maa bayna aydihim wa maa khalfahum – he knows that which is before them and that which is after them.” Or, "laa tuqaddimu bayna yaday-illahi wa rasulihi Do not put yourselves forward in the presence of Allah and his messenger." The phrase itself is open enough to be interpreted both ways depending on the context.
but doesn't khalfahum here mean "behind them"? As in, "what is in front of them and what is behind them"? I realise that most translators render it as "before them and behind them", leading me to think that it's meant in a spatial sense.
anyway the reason i'm asking is because there's this contention that this phrase is mistranslated to reflect the opinion of mainstream muslim theology that there's a lost torah/injil that was sent before the sending down of the quran. Since a lot of times past scriptures are referred to as between the hands of the quran, that it actually meant "in front of" or "in the presence of" rather than "before". Here's one example of such a proponent, he's a quranist or something:http://quransmessage.com/articles/between%20hands%20or%20before%20it%20FM3.htm
also here's muhammad asad, basically he argues the same thing, that it doesn't mean before, but rather it means "that which lies before it", ie contemporariness:
Most of the commentators are of the opinion that ma bayna yadayhi - lit., "that which is between its hands" - denotes here "the revelations which came before it", i.e., before the Qur'an. This interpretation is not, however, entirely convincing. Although there is not the least doubt that in this context the pronominal ma refers to earlier revelations, and particularly the Bible (as is evident from the parallel use of the above expression in other Qur'anic passages), the idiomatic phrase ma bayna yadayhi does not, in itself, mean "that which came before it" - i.e., in time - but, rather (as pointed out by me in surah 2, note 247), "that which lies open before it". Since, however, the pronoun "it" relates here to the Qur'an, the metaphorical expression "between its hands" or "before it" cannot possibly refer to "knowledge" (as it does in 2:255), but must obviously refer to an objective reality with which the Qur'an is "confronted": that is, something that was coexistent in time with the revelation of the Qur'an.
Anyway, what about in everyday spoken arabic? Is this phrase used at all? If so does it mean "before"?