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Lesson 3 From Surah Al-Kahf

The stories of the Quran are not entertainment or simple historical facts. Rather they are there so that we can study them and derive lessons, morals, and reminders that we can use in our daily lives.

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Alhamdulillah in our last lesson from Surah Al-Kahf we were able to explore the meanings of verses 1-8. InshAllah, today we’ll cover the meanings of verses 9-16 that deal with the story of the people of the cave. Just as a quick refresher the Surah starts by teaching us how to express our thanks and gratitude to Allah ﷻ. We are being reminded to thank Allah ﷻ and be grateful for the blessing of the Qur’ān, which was described as having no crookedness in it and being upright. We were also told about two of the objectives of the Qur’ān; 1) to warn and 2) to give glad tidings. Allah ﷻ also consoled and comforted the Prophet ﷺ because of the opposition he faced from his community. Afterward, we were reminded of the reality of the life of this world.

Surah Al-Kahf Verses 9-26: The Story of the People of the Cave

Now Allah ﷻ turns our attention to the story of the People of the cave, from which the Surah gets its name. As mentioned in the introduction to the Surah this account was revealed to the Prophet ﷺ in response to three specific questions posed by the leadership of Quraysh. This is an extremely famous story that is also related in the Biblical tradition. There it is referred to as the story of the “Seven Sleepers of Ephesus”.

Now whenever a story is mentioned in the Quran it is mentioned for a reason or purpose; so that we can learn and extract lessons from it. The stories of the Quran are not entertainment or simple historical facts. Rather they are there so that we can study them and derive lessons, morals, and reminders that we can use in our daily lives. That is one of the reasons why we find that Allah ﷻ has not related a complete story in chronological order, from beginning to end, with all its details. He ﷻ only relates those parts of the story that are relevant and related to guidance. As Allah ﷻ says, “Surely, in the narratives of these, there is a lesson for the people of understanding. It is not an invented story, rather, a confirmation of what has been before it, and an elaboration of everything, and guidance and mercy for a people who believe.” For example, one of the objectives of this story is to serve as proof of Allah’s power of resurrection. In Surah Hud, Allah ﷻ tells us, “We narrate to you all such stories from the events of the messengers as We strengthen your heart therewith. And in these (stories) there has come to you the truth, a good counsel and a reminder to those who believe.” So another purpose of these stories is to also console, comfort, support and provide strength to the Prophet ﷺ. Just as Allah ﷻ saved this very small group of believers from religious persecution Allah will also save and protect the Prophet ﷺ and his companions.

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This same method of relating stories is used in narrating this story; only the parts that are related to guidance have been mentioned. There is no mention of the remaining parts of the story that are purely historical or geographical. However, the commentators of the Quran by studying historical and religious sources have been able to provide these details. There are countless reports that speak about the sleepers in the cave, and just as many versions of their story… I will stick to the narrative as it is mentioned in the Tafseer of Ibn Kathir.

The Surah first introduces the story with a short summary before relating it in detail. This is a method that is employed elsewhere in the Qur’ān as well. It grabs the attention of the listener/reciter. Allah ﷻ says,

Verses 9-12: (9) Do you think that the people of the cave and the inscription were a wonder among Our signs? (10) When the youths took refuge in the cave, they said: ‘Our Lord! Bestow on us Your grace, and provide for us right guidance in our affair.’ (11) So We drew a veil over their ears in the cave, for a number of years, (12) and then We awakened them so that We might mark out which of the two parties managed to calculate the time they had remained in that state.

These few verses summarize the entire incident highlighting its main points. Allah ﷺ introduces the story by asking the Prophet ﷺ a rhetorical question, “Do you think that the people of the cave and the inscription were a wonder among Our signs?” Even though this question is addressed directly to the Prophet ﷺ, it’s actually directed towards the non-believers of Quraysh. Meaning, do you think that the story of the people of the cave and the inscription is something that is wondrous, amazing, miraculous and extraordinary? If you do, then you should recognize that there are other “signs” that are even more wondrous in nature such as the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything that they contain. The natural order of the world is itself a greater wonder and miracle than the occasional alteration of its regularity through miracles. There are many more things that are much more marvelous and miraculous in the universe that the story of the people of the cave.

In this verse, the seven sleepers are also referred to as the “people of the cave and the inscription.” The inscription refers literally to an inscription that was made on a tablet that was placed at the entrance of the cave that detailed their story.

Allah then summarizes their story very briefly saying, (10) When the youths took refuge in the cave, they said: ‘Our Lord! Bestow on us Your grace, and provide for us right guidance in our affair.’ (11) So We drew a veil over their ears in the cave, for a number of years, (12) and then We awakened them so that We might mark out which of the two parties managed to calculate the time they had remained in that state.

Meaning, remember or mention to your people when the youths took refuge in the cave for the sake of their religion fleeing from religious persecution. When they entered the cave they turned to Allah in supplication asking Him for His mercy, grace, guidance and protection. In this dua they asked specifically for two things: 1) mercy and 2) right guidance. This is a dua for guidance, forgiveness, knowledge, provision, patience in their trial, steadfastness, strength, security and eventual deliverance. They prayed that the end of their affair would be sound and rightly guided.

Allah ﷻ responded to their dua by causing them to sleep for a long period of time. “(11) So We drew a veil over their ears in the cave, for a number of years…” This is an Arabic expression that means He put them into a very deep sleep. (12) and then We awakened them so that We might mark out which of the two parties managed to calculate the time they had remained in that state.

After this brief summary that captures our interest, the Surah begins a more detailed narrative by stating that what is about to be mentioned is the truth regarding their affair.

Verse 13: We shall relate to you their story in all truth. They were young men who believed in their Lord, so We increased them in guidance.

Allah ﷻ is telling us that He will relate the real and true story to us; not the exaggerated or false version that was preserved by the people of that time. This event took place after the time of ‘Isa (as) before the time of Muhammad (saw). The People of the cave were from a city known as Ephesus (Ifsus in Arabic), which was a major city in the Roman Empire. It is located on the west coast of Asia Minor. The people and government of the Roman Empire at that time were idol worshippers. Their society had reached the heights of moral decay and immorality. It was a society built on vice, materialism, immorality… The Emperor’s name during that time was Daqyānūs (Decius). He was an oppressive tyrant forcing his people to worship idols. This was a time when Christians were being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

Every year the people would take part in a religious festival where they would meet to worship and sacrifice. One year, the 7 young men, identified as the people of the cave, came to the festival. They were shocked by what they saw; people taking rocks that they carved with their own hands as Gods, worshipping them and sacrificing for them. Allah ﷻ blessed them to dislike and turn away from this absurd behavior. They used their reason to arrive at the conclusion that worship belongs to one Supreme power Who has created the heavens and the earth and everything in them.

They were young men who believed in their Lord, so We increased them in guidance.” Allah highlights the fact that they were youth; that they were young. That’s because being young is a virtue; there are certain advantages to it. Even historically it was the youth of a community who responded to the message of the Prophets, while the elders were more entrenched and set in their ways. It was the younger members of Quraysh that were more open and willing to listen to and follow the Prophet ﷺ.

This thought crossed their minds at the same time and they all started moving away from the festival. The first young man went far away from the crowd and sat down under a tree. Then the second and the third also did the same until all seven of them gathered at that tree. None of them were familiar with each other, nor did they know why they had all gathered at the same spot. After sitting there silently one of them finally spoke up and explained why he had come to sit under the tree. They all started talking and discussing and came to the same conclusion. So they broke away from the way of their people rejecting their way of life and system of belief. They set up their own place of worship where they would get together to worship Allah ﷻ. However, they soon became the talk of the town. Their news spread throughout the city. The Emperor learned about them and had them arrested and brought before him. He asked them about their beliefs. Allah ﷻ gave them the courage to state their belief in the Oneness of God. They even called the Emperor towards the message of tawheed. Allah ﷻ mentions this part in the Surah.

Verse 14: And We fortified their hearts. When they arose, they said, “Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth. We shall call upon no god apart from Him, for then we would have certainly uttered an outrage.

Allah ﷻ gave them the courage and strength to speak the truth in front of the king. This verse highlights their open defiance to the tyrant king. They stood up and courageously spoke the truth despite the fear of persecution. They knew that if they spoke the truth in front of the king they would be in trouble. But that didn’t stop them. Their faith was strong and as a result Allah ﷻ strengthened their hearts and resolve giving them courage to speak truth to power. Courage is related to faith… Speaking truth to power is a very important concept in Islam. The Prophet ﷺ told us, “The best for of jihad is to speak the truth in front of a tyrant ruler.”

They told him, “Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth. We shall call upon no god apart from Him, for then we would have certainly uttered an outrage.” This angered the Emperor even more. He gave them a few days to reconsider their beliefs and to return to the way of the people. If they did they would be allowed to live. If not then he would kill them. These few days were a blessing from Allah ﷻ that provided them the opportunity to further strengthen their faith and to escape from the city and find safety in a cave.

Verse 15: These, our people, have taken gods apart from Him. Why do they not bring a clear authority concerning them? For who does greater wrong than the one who fabricates a lie against Allah?

The people of the cave are highlighting the main issue they had with the religion of their people. They recognized the absurdity of associating partners with Allah. If these idols are truly worthy of worship then why don’t they provide some sort of proof or evidence? They recognized that what their nation is involved in is one of the greatest wrongs that can be done against Allah ﷻ. That’s why they ask, “Who does greater wrong than the one who fabricates a lie against Allah?

Syed Qutb comments, “Up to this point the attitude of the youths appear to be clear, open and straightforward. They are resolute in their adoption of the faith, betraying no hesitation whatsoever. Indeed they are shown to be very strong physically and mentally, and strong in their faith and in their rejection of the way followed by their community. Here they are talking about two vastly different ways of life. There can be no meeting point between the two, and there can be no participation by these young believers in the life of their community. They had no choice but to flee in order to protect their faith.”

So they sought refuge in the cave in order to protect their faith and religion. They left the comfort of their home, the only way of life they knew, their families, homes, and their friends just for the sake of their religion. They gave up all pleasures of this life for the sake of Allah ﷻ (Sacrifice for the sake of Allah). Allah then tells us what they said to each other once they decided to flee.

Verse 16: When you have turned away from them, and those whom they worship, except Allah, then seek refuge in the cave, and your Lord will extend His mercy for you, and provide you ease in your matters.

Some of the commentators mention that these are the words of the leader of the youths, which he said when they decided to flee for the sake of their religion. In this statement, he’s reminding them to rely upon Allah ﷻ and to place their trust fully in Him. If you place your trust in Allah and rely solely upon Him, He will take care of you. He will shower his mercy upon you, protect you and make your affairs easy (explain the concept of tawakkul, mercy, ease, and contentment. Explain how faith is meant to change our perspective of the world. When a human heart is full of faith, it sees a totally different world, where God’s grace imparts reassurance and genuine happiness. Hence whatever turn events may take will be accepted, because the total result is comforting and fitting for one’s life in this world and in the life to come).

Once they reached the cave Allah ﷻ put them to sleep, “So We placed [a veil] over their ears in the cave for a number of years.” Allah, as a sign of His great power and majesty, kept them asleep for 309 yrs. They literally disappeared from the face of the earth; they were nowhere to be found. So the king wrote down their names on a tablet so that they wouldn’t be forgotten…

In the next few verses, Allah ﷻ informs us of what happened to them in the cave, which is where we’ll pick up in our next session. Tawakkul is perhaps one of the most powerful characteristics that we can have; it’s the key to true happiness. Tawakkul is the foundation of a worry-free, stress-free, anxiety-free life. It leads to a life of peace and contentment. Linguistically the word التوكل is a verbal noun from the verb توكل/يتوكل, which means to rely, depend on, to place one’s confidence in or to trust. It’s derived from the root letters و ك ل that convey the meaning of relying upon someone else for something. One who relies on Allah, who has التوكل on Allah, is the one who knows that Allah takes care of his sustenance and affairs so he trusts Allah alone and doesn’t rely on anyone else.

  • صدق اعتماد القلب على الله تعالى في استجلاب المنافع و دفع المضار من أمور الدنيا و الآخرة.

The truthfulness of the hearts reliance on Allah for bringing benefits and repelling harms from the affairs of this world and the next.

  • الثقة بما عند الله و اليأس عما في أيدي الناس.

To have trust in what is with Allah and to despair from what is in people’s hands. (Don’t rely on anyone but Allah). Having absolute, firm, one hundred percent conviction that no one gives, prevents, harms or benefits except for Allah ﷻ. The reality of Tawakkul is that we place our trust and reliance on Allāh (ﷻ) in terms of both our worldly affairs, as well as our Dīn, as well as utilizing our visceral, or tangible means of attaining that which we want to attain.

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Shaykh Furhan Zubairi was born in 1983 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Shortly thereafter, he moved and spent most of his youth in Southern California, graduating from high school in Irvine in 2001. He began his pursuit of Islamic knowledge and spirituality at the Institute of Knowledge (IOK) in 1998, where he started the memorization of the Qur’an and studied the primary books in the Islamic Sciences and Arabic language. After starting college, he took a break and went to Karachi, Pakistan, for 9 months to complete the memorization of the Qur’an at Jami’ah Binoria. He returned home and completed his B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Irvine in 2005. He then traveled to Egypt to further his studies of the Arabic language. Thereafter, his pursuit of Islamic knowledge led him back to Pakistan, where he completed a formal ‘Alamiyyah degree (Masters in Arabic and Islamic Studies) at the famous Jami’ah Dar Al-’Ulum in Karachi. He has obtained numerous ijazat (traditional licenses) in the six canonical books of hadith, as well as the Muwata of Imam Malik and Imam Muhammad, and has also received certification in the field of Islamic Finance. Shaykh Furhan Zubairi serves as the Dean of the Full-Time and Part-Time Seminary Programs at the Institute of Knowledge in Diamond Bar, CA. He also serves as IOK University Chaplain for students at UCI and Community Chaplain for the local and extended SoCal Community, and he regularly delivers sermons and lectures at various Islamic Centers and events in Southern California. Learn more about Institute of Knowledge at www.instituteofknowledge.com.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Fatimah

    May 14, 2019 at 6:03 AM

    Pls can I reach out to the scholar through email..pls if is possible I need the email address…jazakallahu khairan

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