Alhamdulillah in our last session 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. Afterwards, we were reminded of the reality of the life of this world.
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.
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.
More Baby, Less Shark: Planning For Kids In The Masjid
Of all the challenges that your focus can face in prayer, there are few as insidious as Baby Shark.
Doo-doo-doo doo. Baby Shark, doo doo doo doo. Baby Shark.
If you are not a parent, or have the type of amnesia that parents sometimes develop once their kids grow up, then you might assume that not having kids in the masjid is actually a solution to Baby-Shark induced distraction.
The inconvenient (and often sticky) truth is that not having kids in the masjid is a serious problem, not a solution. No kids in the masjid means an entire generation of the Muslim community growing up outside of the Muslim community.
Restricting the presence of children and assigning masjid priority to fully-formed, quietly attentive, and spiritually disciplined attendees – like adults – is a bit like restricting health club membership to triathletes. You’re already fit. So can we please let someone else use the treadmill, even if they’re not using it as well as you could?
The masjid is the center of the community for all Muslims, not a sanctuary for the preservation of reverent silence. For a more detailed discussion on this, please see this great Soundvision article, Children in the Masjid, Making Space for Our Future.
For suggestions on how to help your children enjoy the masjid without Baby-Sharking the rest of the congregation to tears, I present the following recommendations.
Rather than assume your child will be entertained by nothing but the carpet and how many weird faces they can spot in the bilaterally symmetrical patterns, bring them something to play with. One way to do this is to prepare your child a special bag for the masjid.
Stock it with as many things applicable:
- A reusable water bottle: Select a bottle that your child can drink from on their own, preferably not likely to tip or spill onto the masjid carpet. No one appreciates a soggy sujood
- A nut-free snack: If you think it’s too much trouble to be considerate of people with life-threatening allergies, consider how much trouble it is to bury a child who dies of anaphylaxis. Children share snacks in the masjid, and that’s ok as long as no one dies.
- A small, quiet toy: The dollar store can be tremendously helpful in keeping your inventory fresh and financially feasible. Please be aware of swallowing hazards, since your child is likely to share the toy with others. One hopes.
- A sweater or blanket: Sitting for long periods of time in an air-conditioned building can make anyone cold.
- Art Supplies: Pack crayons, pencils, or markers IF you feel your child can refrain from drawing on the walls, or allowing other, smaller children from doing so. Magic Erasers don’t work on the prayer rug.
Critically- and I do mean critically- don’t let your children access the special masjid bag unless they are in the masjid. The last thing you want is for your child to be bored with its contents before they even make it to prayers. Storing this bag somewhere inaccessible to your child can help keep its contents fresh and interesting longer.
Non-parent tip: Keep allergen-free lollipops in your pocket. Reward the kids sitting nicely (with parents’ permission) and you have killed two birds with one stone.
- You’ve helped a child establish a happy memory and relationship to the masjid.
- Kids with lollipops in their mouths make less noise.
Do not pack:
Balls: Not even small ones, not even for small children. Your child may not have the gross-motor skills to kick or throw a ball at people who are praying, but there will always be children in the masjid who do. They will take your child’s ball, and they will play ball with it, because that’s what balls are for. Consider also the potential damage to light fixtures, ceiling fans, audio/video equipment, and the goodwill of people who get hit, run down, or kicked in the shins. The masjid is just not the place to play ball, even if the floor is green and has lines on it.
Scooters: Do not bring scooters, skateboards, heelies, or other mobility toys that would turn your child a faster-moving object than they already are. Your child’s long-term relationship with the community can be fostered by not crashing into it.
Slime: Slime and carpets do, in fact, go together. They go together so well as to be inextricable of one-another. Please, do not bring slime to the masjid.
Gum: Please, for the love of everyone’s socks, no gum.
Toy Guns, Play-weapons: It should go without saying. And yet, I have seen nerf guns, foam swords, and toy guns in masjid. Apart from the basic indoor etiquette of not sword-fighting, nor launching projectiles in a house of worship, please be sensitive. No one wants to see guns in their masjid.
Non-parent tip: If children playing near you are making “too much noise” smile and find another place to sit if possible. It is not always possible to ignore or move away from disruptions, but glaring, eye-rolling, and making tsk-tsk sounds is not likely to effect long-term change in either the child’s behavior or the parents’ strategic abilities. At best, you will embarrass the parents. At worst, you will push families away from the faith and the community while confirming the opinion that masjids are full of cranky, impatient people who wish kids didn’t exist in the masjid while criticizing Muslim youth for not being there.
Avoid Electronics. But if you can’t…
I am prefacing this suggestion with a disclaimer. Habitually putting your child on a smartphone or tablet so that you can “enjoy” the masjid without the “hassle” of you making sure they behave properly is not good parenting. A child being physically present but mentally absent in the masjid is not a long-term strategy that any parent should get behind.
Having said that, if you do give your kids a tablet or phone in the masjid, please disable Youtube and bring over-ear headphones.
Do not rely on YouTube Kids to take responsibility for your child’s content choices either. Long after Baby Shark has sunk to the depths of the internet, there will always be loud, inappropriate, or just plainly distracting and disturbing things that your child can access on it.
Instead of relying on Youtube at all, install child-friendly apps that you know won’t have external links embedded in their ads, and won’t lead to inadvertent, inappropriate viewing in case your child – or my child sitting next to them – click out of their app and into the great wide world. I highly recommend anything from the Toca Boca suite of apps.
Non-parent tip: If you see a child on a tablet, do not lecture their parent. As a special needs parent, there are times when I too allow my autistic son onto a tablet to prevent a meltdown or try to get just 15 more minutes out of him so I can finish attending a class. Do not automatically assume laziness or incompetence on behalf of parents whose children you see on an electronic device.
Reward for Success, in this life and the next
You show up in the masjid because you hope for a reward from Allah. As an adult, you have the ability to delay the gratification of this reward until well after you die. Your kids, however, don’t.
Motivate your kids with small rewards for small accomplishments as you remind them of the reward that Allah has for them too. You can choose to reward a child after every two rakah, or after every two days. How often you reward them, and what you choose to reward them for depends on their age and their capabilities.
Make dua for your kids when you reward them. If they get a small handful of gummy bears after a good evening at the masjid, pair it with a reminder of the bigger reward too.
“Here the icecream I promised you for doing awesome in the masjid today. May Allah grant you mountains of icecream in Jannah so big you can ski down them. Ameen.”
Non-parent tip: It’s not your job to discipline the children of others, but you can help praise them. Randomly compliment kids who are sitting nicely, sharing toys, playing quietly, or wearing cute headgear. Their parents will likely not mind.
Reinforce the rules – but define them first.
“Be Good In the Masjid” is a vastly different instruction depending on who you’re instructing. For a teenager, praying with the congregation is reasonable. For a two-year-old, not climbing the congregation is reasonable.
Define your rules and frame them in a positive context that your children can remember. Remind them of what they’re supposed to be doing rather than calling them out for what they are not. For example, no running in the masjid vs. please walk in the masjid.
Avoid saying this:
Try saying this instead:
|Stay out of my purse||Please use the toys in your bag|
|Don’t draw on the walls||Crayons only on the paper|
|No yelling||Please use your “inside” voice|
|No food on the carpet||Please have your snack in the hallway|
|Don’t run off||Stay where I can see you, which is from [here] to [here.]|
|No peeing the carpet||We’re taking a potty break now, and we’ll go again after the 4th rakah’.|
|No hitting||Hands nicely to yourself.|
While it might look like semantics, putting your energy into “To-Do’s” versus the “To-Don’ts” has long-term benefits. If your child is going to hear the same thing from you a hundred times before they get it right, you can help them by telling them what the right thing is. Think of the difference between the To-Do statement “Please use a tissue,” versus the To-Don’t statement of “Don’t pick your nose.” You can tell you kid a hundred times not to pick his or her nose, but if you never tell them to use a tissue, you’re missing the opportunity to replace bad behavior with its functional alternative.
Plan for Failure
Kids don’t walk the first time they try. They won’t sit nicely the first time you ask them to either. Decide what your exact plan is in case you have to retreat & regroup for another day.
- How much noise is too much? Do your kids know what you expect of them?
- Where are the physical boundaries you want your kids to remain in? Do they know what those boundaries are?
- For kids too small to recognize boundaries, how far are you ok with a little one toddling before you decide that the potential danger may not be worth it?
- Talk to your spouse or other children and get everyone on board. Being on the same page can look like different things according to different age groups. A plan of action can be “If we lose Junior Ibn Abu, we’re taking turns in prayer,” or “If you kick the Imam again, we’re all going home.”
- If your child is too small, too rowdy, or too grumpy to sit quietly at the masjid, please take turns with your spouse. The masjid is a sweet spiritual experience that both parents should be able to enjoy, even if that means taking turns.
Don’t Give up
If you find yourself frustrated with being unable to enjoy the masjid the way you did before your child starting sucking on prayer rugs, remember this:
Raising your children with love and patience is an act of worship, even if it’s not the act of worship you thought you were coming to the masjid for. No matter what your expectations are of them – or how far they are from meeting them – the ultimate goal is for your child to love Allah and love the House of Allah.
When they get things right, praise them and reward them, and remind them that Allah’s reward is coming too. When they get it wrong, remind them and forgive them, and don’t give up. The only way children learn to walk is by falling down over, and over, and over again.
Avoiding the masjid because your kids don’t behave correctly is like not allowing them to walk because they keep falling down. The key is to hold their hand until they get it right, and maintain close supervision until you can trust them to manage on their own, InshaAllah.
Etiquettes of Praying For Your Brother And Sister | Imam Omar Suleiman
Level up your duas by including those who least expect to be in your most private moments and get angels to say Ameen
It’s very common to find in the stories of the pious predecessors those who kept lists of people they prayed for on a nightly basis. This was a testimony to their sincerity, selflessness, and sacrifice. The basis of the act comes from a famous hadith:
“The supplication of a believer for his brother in his absence will certainly be answered. Every time he makes a supplication for good for his brother, the angel appointed for this particular task says Ameen! May it be for you too’.” [Sahih Muslim].
Since the supplication of the fasting person is accepted, this is the best time to do it. But it’s also important to be intentional about how you pray for someone. Any prayer for your brother or sister is accepted if sincere, but it becomes even more blessed when made personal and customized. Under normal circumstances, It’s also best to keep your personal prayers to yourself and without the knowledge of the person you’re praying for. Sometimes it’s ok to tell someone you’re praying for them for the sake of solidarity. But the general rule is that it’s best to conceal it even from them for the sake of sincerity. Also, make sure to include in your prayers people who would never expect you to pray for them.
Then as you start to make dua for someone, think about how you can diversify the supplications and people you make dua for so that you are 1. Touching numerous lives 2. Covering different issues and ailments 3. Guaranteeing that the return on your prayers is also comprehensive.
So, in particular, think of a person in each of the following categories and make dua for them daily:
- A person who has good qualities but hasn’t been guided to good faith. Make dua for guidance for that person so that perhaps Allah grants you further guidance.
- A person who is involved in good work, that Allah accepts from them and keeps them sincere so that perhaps Allah uses you for His cause and keeps you sincere.
- A person who is committing a public sin. Make dua that Allah forgives that person. Imagine if the dua is accepted for a major public sin, then the angels will say Ameen for you also and perhaps Allah will forgive you for both your public and private sins.
- A person who is ill, that Allah grants him or her full health so that perhaps Allah will either heal you if you are sick or preserve your health for you if you are healthy.
- A person who is struggling financially or suffering a worldly hardship, ask Allah to help that person so that perhaps Allah will help you in that same situation.
- A person who has a particular blessing that you wish for, that Allah maintains that blessing upon that person without making it a means of taking him or her away from goodness in the hereafter so that perhaps Allah will grant it for you or maintain your blessings upon you without making them a means of harm for you.
This is how you bring together the Prophetic tradition of praying for your brother/sister, and the other tradition about not truly believing until you love for your sister or brother what you love for yourself.
May Allah accept your Ramadan and Laylatul Qadr, as well as all of your good deeds. And may He forgive you for your sins, and distance you from all that distances you from Him. Ameen
Lesson 12 From Surah Al-Kahf
Tafsir of Verses 83-98
Alhamdulillah last session we were able to explore the meanings of verses 71-82. InshAllah tonight we’ll cover the meanings and lessons of verses 83-98. Just as a quick reminder the last passage of the Surah dealt with a very unique and interesting episode from the life of Musa ; the story of his encounter and journey with a man of God known as Khidr or Khadir. There are a number of very beneficial and practical lessons that we can learn from this particular story. That’s why it’s important for us to recite it, reflect over it and try to relate it to our daily lives.
In this next set of verses, Allah tells us the story of Dhul Qarnain, a just and righteous king who ruled over the entire known world of his time. He was a righteous servant of Allah to whom Allah granted might, power and sovereignty over the world along with knowledge and wisdom. He was a special servant of God. We’re told about his journeys to the east, west, and north as well as his building of a huge wall to prevent Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj from escaping. This narrative is the answer to the third question that the Quraysh asked the Prophet ﷺ after consulting with the Jews of Madinah. If you remember at the beginning of the Surah we talked about the sabab al-nuzūl or the circumstances and background in which the Surah was revealed.
Ibn ‘Abbas narrated that the Quraysh sent two men, Al-Nadr ibn Al-Hartih and ‘Uqbah ibn abi Mu’ayt, to the Jewish scholars of Madinah. The Quraysh told these two men to ask the Jews about Muhammad (saw), his characteristics and to inform them about some of his teachings because they knew more about Prophets since they were people of the book. So they arrived in Madinah and told the Rabbis about Muhammad (saw), about his characteristics, his message and his teachings. They said ask him three questions; if he answers them correctly then he is a prophet and a messenger. If he doesn’t answer them then he is a fake.
- سلوه عن ثلاث، فإن أخبركم بهن فهو نبي و إن لم يفعل فالرجل متقول
Ask him about the young men who left their city in the distant past and what happened to them, because this is a unique event. Ask him about the person who traveled the East and the West and what happened to him. Ask him about the spirit and what it is.
So they came back and posed these three questions to the Prophet ﷺ. The Prophet ﷺ told them that he would reply to them the next day expecting Allah ﷻ to send down revelation, but he forgot to say inshAllah. Allah ﷻ didn’t send down any revelation for the next fifteen days (one narration says 3) and the Quraysh began to assume that he didn’t know the answers and that his claims to prophethood were false. After 15 days Allah ﷻ revealed the entire Surah and reminded the Prophet ﷺ to always say InshAllah.
This is the fourth story mentioned in the Surah after the story of the people of the cave, the owner of the two gardens and the story of Musa (as) and Khidr. Allah ﷻ introduces the story by saying,
Verse 83: They ask you about Dhul-Qarnain. Say, “I shall now recite to you an account of him.”
Meaning the Quraysh asked you about Dhul Qarnain after consulting with the Jews of Madinah so tell them you will now recite some of his story to them that will answer their question.
Who was Dhul Qarnain?
The Quran doesn’t tell us the exact identity of Dhul Qarnain, why he was given that name, and what time period he lived in or the exact location of his travels and rule. All these details are extra and unnecessary and immaterial; no aspect of our belief or action depends on knowing these details. However, the commentators do get into discussions regarding these details in an attempt to present historical facts. So we’ll go through a brief discussion about who he was and his time period.
Some historical narratives mention that there were four people who ruled over the entire known world of their respective times, 2 believers and 2 non-believers. Throughout history, there have been a few people who were given the name Dhul Qarnain and interestingly they all had the title Alexander as well. Some people held the opinion that the Dhul Qarnain mentioned in the Quran is the famous Alexander the Great, the Greek who had Aristotle as his teacher. Although he fits the description of having ruled the East and the West he can’t be the Dhul Qarnain mentioned in the Quran because he was a non-believer. This is the conclusion of ibn Kathīr.
According to ibn Kathīr, Dhul Qarnain lived during the time period of Ibrahim (as) and he also mentions that Khidr was his minister. Other researchers are of the opinion that the Dhul Qarnain mentioned in the Quran is the ancient Persian king Cyrus the Great. In modern times this theory has been given more weight because of supporting evidence. As for the name Dhul Qarnain, it literally means “the person with two horns”. The name is due to his having reached the two ‘Horns’ of the Sun, east and west, where it rises and where it sets” during his journey. The following is what the Quran tells us about him.
Verse 84: Surely, We gave him power on earth and gave him means to (have) everything (he needs).
Meaning, Allah gave him all the material instruments and resources, knowledge, insight, and experience needed to be an effective ruler. Allah gave him everything he needed to maintain just rule, establish peace and extend his area of influence.
Verse 85-86: So he followed a course until when he reached the point of sunset, he found it setting into a murky spring, and found a people near it. We said, “O Dhul-Qarnain, either punish them or treat them well.”
He traveled towards the West until he reached where the sun sets, to the extreme west beyond which there was only an Ocean, which was most likely the Atlantic. There he found the sun setting into dark, muddy spring, meaning that it looked as if the sun were setting into the Sea. Depending on our own geographic location the sun seems to set into different places within the horizon. For example, from our perspective sometimes it looks like the sun is setting into the ocean, or behind a mountain or into the sand.
At this location, there was also a nation of disbelievers. So Allah told him through Ilham (inspiration) that he has a choice. He can either punish them for their disbelief or he could deal with them kindly, invite them to the truth and teach them. Then reward those who believe and punish those who choose to disbelieve. He chose to invite them to belief first and then reward the believers and punish the non-believers.
Verse 87-88: He said, “As for him who does wrong, we shall punish him, then he will be sent back to his Lord, and He will punish him with severe punishment. As for the one who believes and acts righteously, he will have the best (life) as reward, and we shall speak to him politely in our directions.”
This is an expression of his justice; Dhul Qarnain was a just ruler who ruled according to the dictates of faith, belief, and righteousness. Those who were presented with the truth, Islam, and then chose to consciously reject it would be punished in this world and then Allah will punish them in the next. And as for those who accept Islam, who affirm faith in Allah, His prophets and the last day and do righteous deeds will be rewarded. When those who do well in the community, pursuing a fair line of action in all their pursuits, receive a good reward for their actions, and when the unjust and oppressors receive a fair punishment and humiliation, then the whole community is motivated to follow the line of goodness. But when matters go wrong, and the unjust, oppressor and corrupt people are the ones who enjoy favor with the ruler, while those who are good and fair are persecuted, then the ruler’s power becomes no more than a tool of corruption and misery for the whole community. Nothing remains fair. The whole society sinks into chaos. He established peace and justice and this location and then decided to travel towards the East.
Verse 89-90: Thereafter, he followed a course until when he reached the point of sunrise; he found it rising over a people for whom We did not make any shelter against it.
Then he travelled towards the East and there he found a group of people who were not used to the ways of advanced people. They didn’t have homes or shelter or clothes to protect against the sun. These people were also non-believers so he dealt with them in the same way as he dealt with the previous people. He employed the same policy of fairness and justice and building a society on faith.
Verse 91: Thus it was, and Our knowledge fully comprehends whatever (wealth and equipment) he had with him.
Ibn Kathīr writes that the early commentators Mujahid and As-Suddi said, “This means that Allah knew everything about him and his army, and nothing was hidden from Him, even though they came from so many different nations and lands. For, ﴿لاَ يَخْفَى عَلَيْهِ شَىْءٌ فِي الاٌّرْضِ وَلاَ فِى السَّمَآءِ﴾ truly nothing is hidden from Allah in the Earth and in the heaven. After establishing justice and peace he decided to move north.
Verse 92-93: Thereafter he followed a course until he reached between the two mountains, he found by them a people who were almost unable to understand anything said.
Then he traveled towards the North until he reached a point between two mountains. There he found a nation of people who were barely able to understand what he was saying because of their foreign language. They said to him through a translator or through some other means.
Verse 94: They said, “O Dhul-Qarnain, the (tribes of) Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj (Gog and Magog) are mischief-makers on the earth. So, should we assign a payment for you on condition that you make a barrier between us and them?”
These people recognized that Dhul Qarnain was a fair and just ruler so they asked him for help against the menace of Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj. Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj is the name of a tribe of people. There’s a lot of speculation regarding who exactly they are and what area or region they’re from, but nothing can be said with certainty. They complained to Dhul Qarnain saying that they spread mischief and corruption in our lands by killing and destruction. If we pay you some money will you build a barrier between them and us to prevent them from reaching our town?
Verse 95: He said, “What my Lord has (already) given in my control is better (for me than the payment you are offering to me), so help me (only) with strength, and I shall make a barrier between you and them.
Basically, he told them that he doesn’t need their money, but he will need their help. Meaning, Allah ﷻ had given him such great wealth and power that he had no need of what they could offer him. He would provide this service simply for the sake of righteousness and doing good.
Verse 96: Bring me big pieces of iron.” (They proceeded accordingly) until when he leveled (the gap) between the two cliffs, he said, “Blow.” (They complied) until when he made it (like) fire, he said, “Bring me molten copper, and I will pour it upon this.”
So they brought pieces of iron and filled the space between the two mountains with it. Then they made this iron really hot and poured molten copper over it making a huge metal structure.
Verse 97: So they (Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj) were not able to climb it, nor were they able to make a hole in it.
They weren’t able to climb it because of its height nor were they able to make a hole in it because of its depth and strength. After building this giant barrier Dhul Qarnain said,
Verse 98: He said, “This is a mercy from my Lord. Then, when the promise of my Lord will come, He will make it leveled to the ground. The promise of my Lord is true.”
Meaning his ability to build such a strong and impenetrable barrier was a mercy from Allah ﷻ; it had nothing to do with his own strength or ability. The “promise of my Lord” is referring to the onset of the events that will lead to the Hour; the Day of Judgment. This includes the trials of Dajjāl and the return of ‘Isa . One of these events will be that the barrier will crumble to dust and Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj will wreak havoc across the Earth. And once their barrier is opened and they’re let loose they will descend from every elevation, attacking humanity from every single corner and angle. They will come rushing down the mountains in huge groups like waves crashing down upon the people while destroying and killing everything in sight.
There are many sings of the Day of Judgment mentioned in the Quran and Ahādīth of the Prophet . Some of them are minor and some of them are major. Some of them will happen further away from the Day of Judgment and others will happen very close to the Day of Judgment. For example, the Prophet being appointed the last and final Messenger is one of the signs that the Day of Judgment is near. As the Prophet told us, “I and the Last Hour have been sent like this and (he while doing it) joined the forefinger with the middle finger.”
- عَنْ أَنَسٍ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم “ بُعِثْتُ أَنَا وَالسَّاعَةُ كَهَاتَيْنِ ” . قَالَ وَضَمَّ السَّبَّابَةَ وَالْوُسْطَى .
Hudhaifah narrated that once the Companions were sitting together in the middle of a discussion and the Prophet (saw) came and asked what they were talking about. They said they were talking about the Day of Resurrection. The Prophet said, “Indeed the Hour will not come until you see 10 signs before it.” He mentioned the smoke, Dajjal, the beast, the rising of the sun from the west, the return of ‘Isa ibn Maryam (as), Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj and three land-slides (sink holes); one in the East, one in the West and one in the Arabian Peninsula, at the end of which fire would burn forth from Yemen, and would drive people to the place of their assembly.”
Two of the greatest trials, greatest fitnahs, this Ummah will face before the Day of Resurrection is the fitnah of Dajjal and the attack of Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj. Both of these are major signs of the Day of Judgment and will happen very close to each other. There’s a very lengthy hadīth recorded in Sahīh Muslim narrated by Al-Nawwās ibn Sam‘ān that gives the details of these two specific trials, meaning the trial of Dajjal and Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj. Basically, the narration tells us about the details of the fitnah of Dajjal; his description, how long he will stay and how exactly he’s going to test us. He will stay in this world for a period of forty days; but the first day will be equivalent to one year, the second day to one month and the rest of the days will be normal. He will move extremely swiftly across the Earth spreading his mischief and asking people to believe in him. He will continue to misguide and test people until ‘Isa (as) is sent back to this world. ‘Isa (as) will search for him until he catches up with him at the eastern gate of Ludd, located in Palestine, where he will kill him.
Allah will then reveal to him, “I have brought forth from amongst My creatures people against whom none will be able to fight. Take My servants safely to mount (Tūr).” Then Allah will send Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj, as Allah says: “And they, from every elevation, will descend.”
Another narration from Abu Sa’eed Al-Khudri describes what they will do when they descend upon the people. They will be seen coming down from the mountains like waves of people overwhelming humanity, killing and destroying everything in sight. ‘Isa (as) along with his companions will take refuge on Mount Tūr and the other Muslims will retreat to their own cities and strongholds. They (Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj) will drink all the water of the land until some of them will pass a river and drink it dry, then those who come after them will pass by that place and will say, “There used to be water here once.” Then there will be no one left except those who are in their strongholds and cities. Then one of them will say, “We have defeated the people of the earth; now the people of heaven are left.” One of them will shake his spear and hurl it into the sky, and it will come back stained with blood, as a test and a trial for them.
The narration of Al-Nawwās tells us that while this is happening, ‘Isa (as) and his companions will turn to Allah asking him to remove their distress. Allah will answer their prayer and send an epidemic that will completely wipe Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj out. Allah will send some sort of insect that will attack their necks, and in the morning they will all perish as one. Then `Isa and his companions will come down and they will not find a single spot on earth that is free from their putrefaction and stench. Then `Isa and his companions will again beseech Allah, and He will send birds with necks like those of Bactrian camels, and they will carry them and throw them wherever Allah wills. Then Allah will send rain continuously for forty days to cleanse and purify the earth. The earth will be washed clean until it looks like a mirror. Then it will be said to the earth: bring forth your fruit and restore your blessing. On that day a group of people will be able to eat from one pomegranate and seek shade under its skin, and everything will be blessed. A camel will give so much milk that it will be sufficient for a whole group of people, and a cow will give so much milk that it will be sufficient for a whole clan, and a sheep will be sufficient for an entire household. (This period of extraordinary peace, protection, and blessings will last for forty years) At that time Allah will send a pleasant wind which will reach beneath their armpits and will take the soul of every Muslim — or every believer — and there will be left only the most evil of people who will commit fornication like mules, and then the Hour will come upon them.”
From other narrations, we learn that Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj have already made a hole in their wall. Zainab bint Jahash narrated that once the Prophet woke up from sleep saying, “There is no being worthy of worship except Allah; there is a destruction in store for Arabia because of turmoil which is at hand, the barrier of Gog and Magog has opened so much. And Sufyan made a sign of ten with the help of his hand (in order to indicate the width of the gap) and I said: Allah’s Messenger, would we perish in spite of the fact that there would be good people amongst us? Thereupon he said: Of course, but only when the evil predominates.”
- عَنْ زَيْنَبَ بِنْتِ جَحْشٍ، أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم اسْتَيْقَظَ مِنْ نَوْمِهِ وَهُوَ يَقُولُ ” لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ وَيْلٌ لِلْعَرَبِ مِنْ شَرٍّ قَدِ اقْتَرَبَ فُتِحَ الْيَوْمَ مِنْ رَدْمِ يَأْجُوجَ وَمَأْجُوجَ مِثْلُ هَذِهِ ” . وَعَقَدَ سُفْيَانُ بِيَدِهِ عَشَرَةً . قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أَنَهْلِكُ وَفِينَا الصَّالِحُونَ قَالَ ” نَعَمْ إِذَا كَثُرَ الْخَبَثُ ” .
In a narration recorded in Tirmidhi Abu Hurairah narrated that the Prophet (saw) said: Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj continue digging through the wall built by Dhul Qarnain. Every day the dig so much that they reach the farthest part of the iron wall. They’re so close that light from the other side is almost visible. But at that point, they stop digging and decide that they will complete the task the following day. However, Allah makes the wall just as thick and strong as it was before so when they come back they have to start all over again. This cycle of digging and re-building will continue as long as Allah wills. Then one day when it has been decreed for them to be released they will dig all the way to the end and say, “If Allah wills we will cross it tomorrow. So when they return the next day they will find the wall just as they left it and break through wreaking havoc on the Earth.
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