by Amr Khaled
Translated by: The English Convoy – Dar al-Tarjama
The Companions of the Cave – Part I, Excerpts
…Today’s story is mentioned in Surat al-Kahf (the Cave). It is related that the Prophet (SAWS) said that whoever reads this surah every Friday will be shown a light between heaven and earth throughout the whole week.
The story is about a group of young people, about six or seven, who were in their teens. Allah (SWT) says about them what can be translated as, “Surely they were young men who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.” (TMQ, 18: 13).
This story is considered to be a Qur’anic miracle and a true evidence of Muhammad’s (SAWS) prophethood. Surat al-Kahf was revealed in Makkah at a time when the people of Quraysh were trying to falcify the Prophet’s (SAWS) prophecy. They sent two men, an-Nadr Ibn-al-Harith and Oqbah Ibn-abi-Ma’eet, to the Jewish monks in Madinah asking them for a question that the Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) would not be able to answer. They wanted the question to be about a story that took place after the revelation of Tawrah (Torah) and Injil (Gospel); one that no-one except a true prophet would know. The monks suggested that they should ask him about a group of young men who lived a very long time ago. They went to the Prophet (SAWS) and asked him about them. The Prophet (SAWS) told them that he would answer them the following day but he did not say “if Allah wills”. Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “And definitely do not say, regarding anything, ‘Surely I am performing that tomorrow,’ Except (if you add), If Allah (so) decides…” (TMQ, 18: 23-24).
The revelation was delayed, and the people of Quraysh started to doubt. After 15 days, the Prophet (SAWS) received a Qur’anic revelation relating the story. Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “Or even do you reckon that the Companions of the Cave and Ar-Raqîm (It is the name of a leaden plate, on which were written the names of the seven sleepers) were among Our signs a wonder? As the young men (Literally: the pages) took (their) abode in the cave, (and) so they said, ‘Our Lord, bring us mercy from very close to You, and dispose for us rectitude in our Command.’ (i.e., in Your Command to us; our: in our affair). Then We struck upon their ears for a (great) number of years in the cave. Thereafter We made them to rise again that We might know whichever of the two parties would best enumerate the span they had lingered. We, Ever We, narrate to you their tidings with the truth. Surely they were young men who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.” (TMQ, 18: 9-13).
The whole story is related in the Qur’an so that we can learn from it and at the same time it answers Quraysh’s questions. This is a miracle because the Prophet (SAWS) knew nothing about this story before. The first question was, “How long had they slept?” The answer was, “And they lingered in their cave three hundred years, and to that they increased nine (more).” (TMQ, 18: 25). The second question was, “How many were they?” The answer was, “They will say, ‘Three, their dog (was) the fourth of them.’ And (others) will say, ‘Five, their dog (was) the sixth of them,’ guessing at the Unseen. (Some others) will say, ‘Seven, and their dog (was) the eighth of them.’ Say, ‘My Lord knows best their right number; none knows them, except a few.’…” (TMQ, 18: 22). The Qur’an mentions that most likely they were seven. Also, Ibn-Abbas (RA) narrated that the Prophet (SAWS) said that he was among the few who knew their number and that they were seven. This defies the Jews and their monks because their exact number is not mentioned in their books. They were few in number but they changed the world, which proves that it does not take a large number of people to create a change.
The events of today’s story took place about 150 years after Isa (AS) (Jesus). The youth had slept for 309 years and woke up in 450 A.D., which is about 150 years before the revelation that came to Prophet Muhammad (SAWS). The youth in the story were Christians. The surah begins with condemning those who claim that Allah (SWT) has a child, “Praise be to Allah Who has sent down upon His bondman the Book and has not made to it any crookedness; most upright, to warn of strict violence from very close to Him, and to give good tidings to the believers who do very deeds of righteousness that they will have a fair reward; staying therein forever. And to warn the ones who have said, ‘Allah has taken to Him a child.’ In no way do they have any knowledge of it, (they) nor their fathers. An odious (Literally: great) word it is, coming out (Literally: going out) of their mouths; decidedly they say nothing except a lie.” (TMQ, 18: 1-5).
Isa (AS) lived in Palestine and had many followers. However, the Romans tyrannized them and continued to do so up to 100 years after Isa (AS). Whoever objected was killed by the Romans and left to be eaten up by lions. This was very unlike Islam where there is no obligation for anyone to follow it, as Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “There is no compulsion in the religion…” (TMQ, 2: 256). Before Islam, pagan women of the tribes of al-Aws and al-Khazraj lost a lot of children. They therefore used to convert their children to Judaism, in the hope that they would live. When these same mothers became Muslims they wanted to force their children to convert to Islam. This was when this ayah was revealed. The Prophet (SAWS) did not want to force the people of the tribes of Aws and al-Khazraj to embrace Islam.
The Story in Detail:
Jordan was once ruled by an oppressive emperor who tyrannized and killed Christians. Only one man survived and he decided to convey the message to some young people before he too got killed. He succeeded in convincing seven youth, separately, to believe in Allah. Ibn-Kathir, the reknowned Islamic scholar, relates their story as follows. One day, when the people of this city were celebrating their gods, the seven young men went to the festival with their families; however, they could not celebrate with them because they had become believers in Allah. Each one of them secretly slipped away and sat under a distant tree. They all met at that same tree but they just sat there silently for a considerable time. Then, suddenly, one of them said,“By Allah! I left for the very same cause you all left for.” They then started to converse until they became good friends. Allah (SWT) praised their friendship in the Noble Qur’an as an example of good friendship and called them “the Companions of the Cave”. Allah teaches us the moral of their story in what can be translated as, “And (suffer) yourself to (endure) patiently with the ones who invoke their Lord in the early morning and nightfall…” (TMQ, 18: 28).
This shows you the importance of having good and carefully chosen friends because they will influence you. They will also affect your relationship with Allah (SWT), your family and your entire future. We should also learn to be responsible for the society we live in and to try to reform it.
The seven had a very harmonious relationship despite the fact that they came from different social backgrounds. One of them was the king’s cousin; one was a shepherd and so forth. The driving force that kept them together was the desire to help other people, which was for them an avenue for worshiping Allah. Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “Surely they were young men who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance” (TMQ, 18:13).
The king soon found out about them and became so furious. He ordered that they either give up their new religion or be killed. They then had three options: either give up their faith, or get killed, or conspire against the king. One of them suggested that they go to the cave they used to meet in to think and plan together how to get back into the city. They decided that there was no way they could give up their faith for the king. They had all left their homes suddenly, without bidding their families farewell and with no supply of food or water. They went out to an unknown destiny. The cave itself symbolizes fear, darkness, suspense, death, and all sorts of scary meanings. However, they overcame all this with the support and guidance of Allah as he says what can be translated as, “And We braced (Literally: tied upon their hearts) their hearts…” (TMQ, 18: 14). This is because they remembered Allah and worshipped him at times of serenity so he was with them at times of suffering. This was the case with Musa’s (AS) (Moses) mother. Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “…had We not braced her heart…” (TMQ, 28: 10).
Why was this Surah named “al-Kahf” (The Cave)?
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “so take (your) abode in the cave…” (TMQ, 18: 16). Caves are usually dark and creepy. However, the word “abode” indicates that that very cave was a peaceful shelter for the youth. The word “abode”, in its peaceful meaning, is mentioned in the Noble Qur’an only three times. The first is about our Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) when Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “Did He not find you an orphan, so He gave (you) an abode.” (TMQ, 93: 6). The second is about Yusuf (AS) (Joseph) when he met his parents after a long time of separation, “he gave an abode to his two parents…” (TMQ, 12: 99). The third time is in today’s story. The cave was small but filled with peace and mercy. So was the cave of Mount Hira’, the Cave of Thawr.
“The cave” was chosen to be the name of the surah because it symbolizes choice. Every one of us will get into a situation where he or she must choose between faith in Allah and this worldly life. For example, when Suhaib ar-Roomi (RA) immigranted from Makkah to Madinah, he had to leave all his wealth behind and he did not hesitate in doing that. Another example is that when Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Prize winner, wanted to establish a bank for the needy using his own money. His wife objected and told him that he was wasting the money of their children and asked him to choose between staying with her or going on with his charity project. He chose his project. I wonder what his wife thinks now after he got the Nobel Prize!
The Moment They Entered the Cave:
The moment they entered the cave, they prayed to Allah to have mercy upon them, “As the young men (Literally: the pages) took (their) abode in the cave, (and) so they said, ‘Our Lord, bring us mercy from very close to You, and dispose for us rectitude in our Command.’ (i.e., in Your Command to us; our: in our affair).” (TMQ, 18: 10). When we fall into trouble, we resort to Allah. Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “Is not He (Most Charitable) Who answers the constrained person when he invokes Him…” (TMQ, 27: 62). He also orders us in the Hadith Qudsy that we should ask for Him. If we asked for Him we would find Him and find everything we want, but if we missed Him, we would miss Him and miss all good.
We might wonder why all that happened. It happened because Allah (SWT) wanted the youth to prevail. When we seek success, Allah (SWT) may grant it in the most unexpected ways. For example, when the Prophet (SAWS) went to Ta’if to spread the message of Islam, the people of Madinah embraced the new religion. When he preached Islam to adults, the young believed in it such as al-Abbas (RA) who was only 12 years old then. When he called humans to Islam, the jinn heard the message and embraced Islam.
The Companions of the Cave – Part II
In the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Ever-Merciful. We will continue now the story of the Companions of the Cave (The Ultimate Trustee). We said that you have to carry out what you are obliged to do and then trust that Allah will grant you success. We should not allow our dreams to be encompassed by mere personal visions. Instead, be like the Companions of the Cave who had a dream to reform their whole country.
Someone’s dream might be to enlighten his village. Another could undertake the role of teaching the illiterate. Yet another could aim at using the media to brighten youngsters. The major character that makes humans distinct from other creatures is the ability to dream People who do not dream are not alive.
In addition to dreams, the Companions of the Cave had hope. Dreams can not be realized without hope. If our dreams are embellished with hope, then we can simply change the world.
If you are at a point of origin A and have a dream of reaching point Z, you might consider your capabilities too feeble to achieve such a far goal. In the story of the Companions of the Cave, we see a very important concept. When those young men invested their energy to reach point B, Allah allowed easy flow to their dream.
Those young people did not despair as some of our brothers sitting jobless at home, raising an excuse of no hope. You have to reach point B. Then Allah will ease the remaining majority of your path. Not everyone who has reached great expectations had the tangible needs to get there.
Allah’s name: The Ultimate Trustee (al-Wakeel):
The fact that the Muslim army of 313 soldiers was victorious over an army of 1000 polytheist soldiers in the Battle of Badr is inconceivable by means of this world. Allah ordered the Muslims what can be translated as, “And prepare for them whatever power you can..,” (TMQ)
When you look at the Cave, you will be amazed at how its 90 meters were created to accommodate such a righteous company. First, the cave was designed as would an air-conditioned apartment be designed. There is a reception ahead of where they slept their 300 years. Then there is an opening in the cave, allowing the entry of air and sunlight. The opening faced the South-East as if designed to be away from the sun during the day, but allow the light flow of sunrays and warmth around dusk. Which trustee could have designed a palace to conserve people for 300 years, to take care of them, as did The Ultimate Trustee?
Allah says what can be translated as, “And you might have seen the sun when it rose, declining from their cave towards the right; and when it set, it went past them towards the left while they were in a broad fissure of (the cave). That was one of the signs of Allah. Whomever Allah guides, then he is right-guided, and whomever He leads away into error, then you will never find for him a right-minded patron. ” (TMQ, 18: 17). This was the first mercy bestowed on them.
Secondly, Allah’s soldiers (the sun and air, and the heat and cold) were ordered not to harm them. Brothers and sisters, when we ask The Ultimate Trustee, we are asking The Creator of all the soldiers that can work for our sake. Scorpions and snakes were not to enter the cave for over 300 years. Who can protect you like that?
This cave was a mercy from Allah to them. Their people were guided by their sleep in the cave and disappearance, more than they could have ever been guided by their presence. They moved to point B, and then Allah allowed them to rest while their work progressed on its own!
Allah allowed them to sleep for 309 years, by muting their hearing! Allah says, “Then We struck upon their ears for a (great) number of years in the cave,” (TMQ, 18:11), and then says, “And We turned them about towards the right and towards the left,” (TMQ, 18:18). They were not dead, but only asleep. This is one of the very miraculous signs in this story. Allah changed the characters of sleep to accommodate 7 sixteen year olds because they trusted in Him.
Fourthly, noise and disturbance was prohibited around the Cave. The king’s soldiers informed him where the young men were located, and they were ordered to block the apparent entrance of the Cave so he could get rid of the young men by suffocating them inside, but this was only another part of Allah’s settings that the young men not be disturbed! “And in no way does anyone know the hosts of your Lord except He,” (TMQ, 74: 31). “And they were scheming, and Allah was scheming; and Allah is The Most Charitable of schemers,” (TMQ, 8: 30).
The importance of al-Waseed:
Allah says, “And their dog stretching out his two fore-legs (Literally: his two arms) on the threshold (Waseed),” (TMQ, 18: 18). Waseed is the step near the entrance of the Cave. The young men’s dog laid there for 309 years, as if a sign was saying, “Beware! Do not trespass!”
We all have to realize the meaning of trusting Allah, dear brothers and sisters. We all have had signs in our lives showing how trust in Allah does not fail. What are you afraid of? Live with a message and work as hard as your capabilities and means can get you, and know that Allah will allow you success. We are all ordered to read Surat The skin dies and ulcers are the result. This normally happens to those unconscious, as those bed-ridden in coma. Thus medical staff in hospitals will go in to coma patients and continuously turn them in bed to prevent ulcers of their backs and legs.
They were only 7 young men and not prophets, and they were granted all that care because of their trust. Whoever lives his life for Allah’s sake, Allah will truly ensure for him such mercies. On the other hand, people who live for their own selves and desires will not sense such meaningful signs in their lives.
Similarly, in this verse Allah says, “If you look at them, indeed you would have turned away from them in flight and indeed been filled with horror of them” (TMQ, 18: 18). This verse is showing another defense for them. Those young men went to the Cave afraid from the king’s corruption. Here Allah says that those who trust Allah and sense His presence will be lead to peace and serenity while those who transgress will be in fear from this same serenity! If you sleep while trusting Allah in mind, then sleep entirely and never be scared.
Have we now realized the meaning of the verse, “Or even do you reckon that the Companions of the Cave and Ar-Raqîm (It is the name of a leaden plate, on which were written the names of the seven sleepers) were among Our signs a wonder?” (TMQ, 18: 9).
Events going on Outside the Cave:
What happened outside the cave? What happened to their people? Their Families had searched for them a lot, the young men had disappeared suddenly, and their families and the town had a doubt that the king was the reason for their disappearance and that he might have hurt them.
As for the King, since that day his image had been shaken, because all the people were thinking that he is the one who killed the young men whom were 15 years of age. Notice that the king is the one who introduced the message and that because the seven young men were presenting good deeds for the people and time was not on their side to spread their monotheistic beliefs among the people. Then the King announced that the young men had faith, and he had spread his guards everywhere. So the people said: “Did those righteous young men want to inform us that there is no god but Allah? Why does the king want to hurt them?” By this way the people were introduced to the new message.
The Inscribed Tablet:
People have engraved the names of the seven young men on a wooden or a copper tablet, so that they would be always remembered for the coming generations, and no one would forget them. Good deeds that are done are never a waste, and for that came the famous ayah “Surely the ones who have believed and done deeds of righteousness, surely We do not waste the reward of him who does fair deeds” (TMQ, 30:18). The way the young men disappeared made people love them and made their names live eternally and the Inscribed Tablet was passed to the future generations for the period of 300 years. Allah rewards for the good deeds and any one of you who makes a good thing for the sake of Allah, the Inscribed Tablet is there.
If you want to make your name live eternally on the Inscribed Tablet, then do something useful, and do not leave this world without leaving an imprint. There are people who leave this world without leaving any imprints, as if they are only living in it for themselves and their children. While there are others who leave an imprint on the sand, and when the water comes it wipes it away. And there are others who grave their imprints on the rocks…
Change the land to the better and feel the love of others and make people love Allah by helping them, and giving them food, and making projects in their villages for their families and children. This is the story of the companions of the cave, and that is why Allah commands us to read Surat al-Kahf every Friday. It teaches us to to amend the land even if we are faced with troubles and oppression. There will be a light for you.
The Weakness of the power of Decius:
The power of Decius started to weaken because of the seven young men and his image started to change in front of the people and in front of his army. Then later on he died, and his son came and he felt that oppression is not working, so he started to spread justice between the people, and they began to feel relieved. The Inscribed Tablet appeared and the seven young men have become the fuel that awakes every one, and people advised their children to become like those young men because people always love the one who sacrifices for them.
Modification needs time:
The young men had started their work then Allah made them sleep, but why did they go to sleep? Because modification needs time. If we want to make our countries become better, we must know that this matter needs time. In the story of the companions of the cave, it took 300 years for change to occur. In our case it might take 100 years or 20 years depending on the effort done. As if Allah’s message to us is that a miracle has happened for the seven young men, but in what concerns the country, change needs more time. During all this time, the reward of the seven young men is in increase, as well as the love of the people for them.
The Awakening of the companions of the cave:
After 300 years, a new king who believed in Christianity took charge and he made all the people believe in it too. The Inscribed Tablet appeared and it became a symbol to them. After change took place, Allah wanted the companions of the cave to wake. But why would they wake after all this time? They woke to teach people that Allah completed their journey and to leave a mark in the Qur’an that Allah does not waste the reward of those who make good deeds.
Allah inspired a farm owner which is located near the cave, to take from the rocks that are in front of the cave to build a fence for his farm, so the door of the cave was opened. Then the noise started outside and the dog was awake and so were the companions of the cave.
The Ayah starts in narrating the story of the awakening of the companions of the cave from their sleep: “And thus We made them rise again that they might ask one another (Literally: among themselves). A speaker from among them said, “How long have you lingered?” They said, “We have lingered a day, or part (Literally: some “part” of a day) of a day.” (Others) said, “Your Lord knows best how long you have lingered. So send one of you forth with this money to the city, then let him look for whichever of them has the purest (Literally: most cleansed) food, so let him come up to you with a provision thereof, and let him be courteous, and definitely let no man be aware of your (presence)” (TMQ, 19:18).
They did not know for how long they stayed asleep, they thought it was a day or half a day, and when they woke, they were very hungry since they went to the cave suddenly without taking their food. We notice that they were not very poor and wanted to eat good food, and at same time, they were religious with a mission.
One of the seven young men went down feeling that life had changed all around him and that place was not the same place he came from yesterday, he thought that those houses were not there yesterday and that he got lost because of their sleep yesterday, but he remained silent. He went to town hiding because he thought that for sure the guards of Decius were searching all over the town for them now. He reached a seller from whom he wanted to buy food, and while he was giving him the paper money, the man looked at the money and knew that it goes back to 300 years ago, to the period of Decius .
The seller thought that the young man had found a treasure and he said to the young man: “Either you tell me the place of the treasure, so that we can share it or I will tell the police”. The young man said: “Which treasure?” The seller replied: “This currency goes back to 300 years ago”. The young man was surprised because he though he has just run away from Decius yesterday. People started to gather around him laughing and they thought he was crazy. I am imagine that he told them,: “Please stop gathering people around me so that the guards of Decius do not find me”. In the middle of the people’s laughter, the young man said: “Truthfully, we are Christian believers”. The gathering said: “We are all like you, and even the king believes in god too”. The young man could not believe it. One of the men of wisdom asked the young man about his name and the names of his friends. When the man of wisdom heard the names, he knew then that these were the seven young men who disappeared, and whose names were written on the Inscribed Tablet.
People informed the king about him, and went to the cave to see his friends.
Imagine the whole town going to the cave now telling the seven young men, “We are all believers now, and you are the ones who directed us to the right path”. Imagine their invoking to Allah “ O The Generous, O The Ultimate Trustee”. Imagine the moment when they found out the truth saying, “How did the dream come true? O Allah you have fulfilled our dream”.
The ayah says what can be translated as,: “And thus We made the (people of the city) discover them that they might know that the promise of Allah is true and that the Hour, there is no suspicion about it. As they were contending among themselves their Command, (The Command of Allah concerning Resurrection; or: their affair) (then) they said, “Build over them a structure; their Lord knows them best.” (But) the ones who prevailed over their Command (Literally: overcame them in their Command; or: in their affair) said, “Indeed we will definitely build (Literally: take to ourselves) over them a mosque” (TMQ, 21:18).
By their awaking we learn that The Ultimate Trustee never leaves his worshippers like he said (SWT), whoever lives his life for the sake of Allah, Allah helps him to complete his dream. We also learn that the One who awakened them after 300 years will awaken all of us on the Day of Judgment. Therefore, we need to be prepared for that day.
End of The story:
After people found and recognized the people of the cave, they died because it will be very difficult for them to live in the four centuries later from their time. Now they have become just a memory. They died and their graves are now in the cave…
Foot notes can be found in original source.