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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.

Shaykh Furhan Zubairi



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.

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.

Shaykh Furhan Zubairi serves as the Director of Religious Education at the Institute of Knowledge in Diamond Bar, CA. He regularly delivers khutbahs and lectures at various Islamic Centers and events in southern California.

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    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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The Spirituality Of Gratitude

Shaykh Tarik Ata




The Quran tells the reader of the importance of gratitude in two ways. First, worship, which is the essence of the relationship between man and the Creator, is conditional to gratitude “and be grateful to Allah if it is [indeed] Him that you worship” (2:172). The verse suggests that in order for an individual to truly worship Allah then they must express gratitude to Allah and that an ungrateful individual cannot be a worshiper of Allah. The second verse states the following “And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me” (2:152). The Arabic word used, translated here as ‘deny,’ is kufr which linguistically means to cover up. The word was adopted by the Quran to refer to someone who rejects Allah after learning of Him. Both the linguistic and Quranic definitions are possibly meant in this verse and both arrive at the same conclusion. That is, the absence of gratitude is an indicator of one’s rejection of Allah; the question is how and why?

What Does Shukr Mean?

Understanding a Quranic concept begins with understanding the word chosen by the Quran. The word shukr is used throughout the Quran and is commonly translated as gratitude. From a purely linguistic definition, shukr is “the effect food has on the body of an animal” (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 200). What is meant here is that when an animal eats food it becomes heavier which has a clear and visible effect on the animal. Therefore, shukr is the manifestation of a blessing or blessings on the entirety of a person. From here, spiritualists understood the goal of shukr and added an extra element to the definition and that is the acknowledgment that those blessings are from Allah. Thus, the definition of shukr as an Islamic spiritual concept is “the manifestation of Allah’s blessings verbally through praise and acknowledgment; emotionally on the heart through witnessing the blessings and loving Allah; and physically through submission and servitude” (Ibid).

Based on this definition, the goal of shukr can be broken into five categories. First, gratitude that brings about the submission of the individual to his benefactor. In order for an act to be worthy of gratitude, the beneficiary must conclude that the benefactor’s action was done for the sake of the beneficiary – thus making the benefactor benevolent. In other words, the benefactor is not benefiting in the least (Emmons et al 2004 p. 62). When the individual recognizes his benefactor, Allah, as being completely independent of the individual and perfect in of himself, one concludes that the actions of the benefactor are purely in the best interest of the beneficiary resulting in the building of trust in Allah. The Quran utilizes this point multiple times explicitly stating that Allah has nothing to gain from the creations servitude nor does he lose anything from because of their disobedience (Q 2:255, 4:133, 35:15, 47:38). Through shukr, a person’s spirituality increases by recognizing Allah’s perfection and their own imperfection thus building the feeling of need for Allah and trust in him (Emmons et al 2002 p. 463).

Gratitude in Knowing That Allah Loves Us

The second category is love for the benefactor. Similar to the previous category, by identifying the motive of the benefactor one can better appreciate their favors. “Gratitude is fundamentally a moral affect with empathy at its foundation: In order to acknowledge the cost of the gift, the recipient must identity with the psychological state of the one who has provided it” (Emmons 2002 p. 461).[1] That is, by recognizing Allah’s perfection one concludes that his blessings are entirely in the best interest of the beneficiary despite not bringing any return to Him. Thus, the Quran utilizes this concept repeatedly and to list a few, the Quran reminds the human reader that he created the human species directly with his two hands (38:75), he created them in the best physical and mental form (95:4), gave him nobility (17:70), commanded the angels to prostrate to him out of reverence (38:72-3), made him unique by giving him knowledge and language (2:31), exiled Satan who refused to revere him (7:13), allowed him into Paradise (7:19), forgave his mistake (2:37), designated angels to protect each individual (13:11) and supplicate Allah to forgive the believers (40:7-9), created an entire world that caters to his needs (2:29), among plenty of other blessings which express Allah’s love, care, and compassion of the human.

The remaining three categories revolve around the individual acting upon their gratitude by acknowledging them, praising Allah for them and using them in a manner acceptable to Allah. In order for gratitude to play a role in spirituality the blessings one enjoys must be utilized in a manner that connects them with Allah. Initially, one must acknowledge that all blessings are from him thus establishing a connection between the self and Allah. This is then elevated to where the individual views these blessings as more than inanimate objects but entities that serve a purpose. By doing this one begins to see and appreciate the wisdoms behind these created entities enlightening the individual to the Creators abilities and qualities. Finally, after recognizing the general and specific wisdoms behind each creation, one feels a greater sense of purpose, responsibility, and loyalty. That is, engaging the previous five categories establishes love for the benefactor (Ibn Qayyim v. 2 p. 203). Observing the care and compassion of the benefactor for his creation establishes the feeling of loyalty towards the one who has cared for us as well as responsibility since He created everything with purpose.

Blessings Even in Hardship

One may interject by referring to the many individuals and societies that are plagued with hardships and do not have blessings to appreciate. No doubt this is a reality and the Quran address this indirectly. Upon analysis, one finds that the blessings which the Quran references and encourages the reader to appreciate are not wealth or health; rather, it is the sun, the moon, trees, and the natural world in general. Perhaps the reason for this is what shukr seeks to drive us towards. There are two things all these objects have in common (1) they are gifts given by Allah to all humans and all individuals enjoy them and (2) humans are dependent upon them. Everyone has access to the sun, no one can take it away, and we are critically dependent upon it. When the Quran draws our attention to these blessings, the reader should begin to appreciate the natural world at a different level and Surah an Nahl does precisely that. This chapter was likely revealed during the time of hijrah (immigration); a time when the companions lost everything – their homes, wealth, and tribes. The chapter works to counsel them by teaching them that the true blessings a person enjoys is all around them and no matter how much was taken from them, no one can take away the greater blessings of Allah.

In sum, these verses bring light to the crucial role shukr plays in faith. It serves as a means to better know Allah which can be achieved through a series of phases. First, the individual must search for the blessings which then leads to a shift in perspective from focusing on the wants to focusing on what is available. This leads to greater appreciation and recognition of the positives in one’s life allowing the person more optimism. Second, the person must link those blessings to the benefactor – Allah – which reveals many elements of who He is and His concern for His creation. Once this is internalized in the person’s hearts, its benefits begin to manifest itself on the person’s heart, mind, and body; it manifests itself in the form of love for Allah and submission to him. Shukr ultimately reveals the extent of Allah’s love and concern for the individual which therein strengthens the trust and love of the individual for Allah and ultimately their submission to Him.

Allah knows best.

Emmons, Robert A., and Charles M. Shelton. “Gratitude and the science of positive psychology.” Handbook of positive psychology 18 (2002): 459-471.

Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. McCullough, eds. The psychology of gratitude. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Jawziyyah, Ibn Qayyim. madārij al-sālikīn bayn manāzil iyyāka naʿbud wa iyyāka nastaʿīn مدارج السالكين بين منازل إياك نعبد وإياك نستعين [The Levels of Spirituality between the Dynamics of “It is You Alone we Worship and it is You Alone we Seek Help From]. Cario: Hadith Publications, 2005.

[1] Islamically speaking, it is not befitting to claim that Allah has a psyche or that he can be analyzed psychologically.

Download a longer version of this article here: The Sprituality of Gratitude

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Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1

Shaykh Furhan Zubairi



Alhamdulillah, it’s a great blessing of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that He has given us both the opportunity and ability to come here tonight to study and explore the meanings of His words in Surah Maryam. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accept this effort from all of us and place it on our scale of good deeds.

Alhamdulillah, in our last series we were able to complete the tafsir of Surah Al-Kahf. InshAllah, in this next series, we’ll be exploring the meanings, lessons, and reminders of Surah Maryam. Tafsīr is an extremely noble and virtuous discipline. The reason why it’s so noble and virtuous is that it’s the study of the divine speech of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). As mentioned in a hadith the superiority of the speech of Allah over all other speech is like the superiority of Allah over all of His creation. There’s nothing more beneficial and virtuous than studying the Quran. And by doing so we’ll be counted amongst the best of people. As the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “the best amongst you are those who learn the Quran and teach it.”

All of us need to build a stronger relationship with the Quran. The Quran is full of wisdom and guidance in every single verse and word. It’s our responsibility to seek that guidance, understand it, contextualize it and more importantly act upon it. Tafsīr is such a unique science that it brings together all of the other Islamic sciences. While exploring a Surah a person comes across discussions regarding Arabic grammar and morphology, rhetoric, Ahādīth, fiqh, sīrah and all those studies that are known as the Islamic Sciences. One scholar described the Quran as an ocean that has no shore, بحر لا ساحل له. The more we study the Qur’ān the stronger our relationship with it will become. We’ll become more and more attached to it and will be drawn into its beauty and wonder. The deeper a person gets into tafsir and studying the more engaged and interested they become. They also recognize how little they truly know. It develops humility. That’s the nature of true knowledge. The more we learn the more we recognize we don’t know. May Allah ﷻ allow us all to be sincere and committed students of the Qur’ān.

Surah Maryam

Surah Maryam is the 19th surah in the Quran. It is a relatively long Makki surah made up of 98 verses. Some commentators mention that it’s the 44th Surah to be revealed, after Surah Al-Fatir and before Surah Taha. It has been given the name Maryam because Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions the story of Maryam (as) and her family and how she gave birth to Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) miraculously at the beginning of the Surah. Just like other Makkan surahs, it deals with the most fundamental aspects of our faith. It talks about the existence and oneness of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), prophethood, and resurrection and recompense.

The Surah is made up of a series of unique stories filled with guidance and lessons that are meant as reminders. One of the main themes of this Surah is mercy… It has been mentioned over 16 times in this Surah. We’ll find the words of grace, compassion and their synonyms frequently mentioned throughout the sūrah, together with Allah’s attributes of beneficence and mercy. We can say that one of the objectives of the Surah is to establish and affirm the attribute of mercy for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). That’s why all of the stories mentioned also have to do with Allah’s mercy.

Another objective of the Surah is to remind us of our relationship with Allah ﷻ; the concept of Al-‘Ubūdiyyah. These are the two major themes or ideas of this Surah; the concept of Rahmah and the concept of ‘Ubūdiyyah (Mercy and Servitude).

The Surah can be divided into 8 sections:

1) Verses 1-15: The surah starts with the story of Zakariyya (as) and how he was given the gift of a child at a very old age, which was something strange and out of the ordinary.

2) Verses 16-40: mention the story of Maryam and the miraculous birth of Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) without a father and how her community responded to her.

3) Verses 41-50: The surah then briefly mentions one part of the story of Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), specifically the conversation he had with his father regarding the worship of idols. The surah then briefly mentions a series of other Prophets.

4) Verses 51-58: Mention Musa and Haroon 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), Ismail 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Idrees 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) to show that the essence of the message of all Prophets was the same

5) Verses 59-65: compare and contrast the previous generations with the current ones in terms of belief and actions.

6) Verses 66-72: Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) addresses the Mushrikoon rejecting their false claims regarding life after death and judgment.

7) Verses 73-87: continue to address the Mushrikoon and warn them regarding their attitude towards belief in Allah and His messengers. They also mention the great difference between the resurrection of the believer and the resurrection of the non-believer.

8) Verses 88-98: contain a severe warning to those who claim that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has taken a child. They also express that Allah is pleased with the believers and mentions that one of the objectives of the Quran is to give glad tidings to the believers and to warn the non-believers.


From various narrations, we learn that this surah was revealed near the end of the fourth year of Prophethood. This was an extremely difficult time for Muslims. The Quraysh were frustrated with their inability to stop the message of Islam from spreading so they became ruthless. They resorted to any method of torture that they could think of; beating, starving and harassing. When the persecution became so severe that it was difficult for the Muslims to bear it, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) gave permission to migrate to Abyssinia. “For in it dwells a king in whose presence no one is harmed.” 10 men and 4 women migrated in the 5th year of Prophethood secretly. After a few months, a larger group of 83 men and 18 women migrated as well. This migration added more fuel to the fire. It enraged the people of Quraysh.

Umm Salamah [rahna]narrated, “When we stopped to reside in the land of Abyssinia we lived alongside the best of neighbors An-Najashi. We practiced our religion safely, worshipped Allah without harm and didn’t hear anything we disliked. When news of our situation reached the Quraysh they started to plot against us…” They decided to send two delegates to persuade An-Najashi to send the Companions back by offering him and his ministers’ gifts. The plan was to go to each minister with gifts and turn them against the Muslims. So they went to each minister with gifts and said, “Verily, foolish youth from amongst us have come to the country of your king; they have abandoned the religion of their people and have not embraced your religion. Rather they have come with a new religion that neither of us knows. The noblemen of their people, from their fathers and uncles, have sent us to the king asking that he send them back. So when we speak to the king regarding their situation advise him to surrender them to us and to not speak to them…” The minister agreed.

Then they went to the king, offered him gifts and said the same thing… The ministers tried to convince him as well. An-Najashi became angry with them and said, “No, by Allah, I will not surrender them to these two and I don’t fear the plotting of a people who have become my neighbors, have settled down in my country, and have chosen me (to grant them refuge) over every other person. I will not do so until I summon them and speak to them. If they are as these two say I will give them up, but if they aren’t then I will protect them from these two and continue to be a good neighbor to them as long as they are good neighbors to me.”

al-Najāshī then summoned the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions. When his messenger informed the Prophet’s Companions that they were to appear before the king, they gathered together to discuss what they should do. One of them asked, “What will you say to the name (al-Najāshī) when you go to him?” They all agreed on what they would say to him, “By Allah, we will say what our Prophet ﷺ taught us and commanded us with, regardless of the consequences.” Meanwhile, al-Najāshī called for his priests, who gathered around him with their scrolls spread out before them. When the Muslims arrived al-Najāshī began by asking them, “What is this religion for which you have parted from your people? You have not entered into the fold of my religion, nor the religion of any person from these nations.”

Umm Salamah [rahna] narrated, “The Person among us who would speak to him was Jaʿfar ibn abī Ṭālib [rahnu] who then said, “O king, we were an ignorant people: we worshipped idols, we would eat from the flesh of dead animals, we would perform lewd acts, we would cut off family ties, and we would be bad neighbors; the strong among us would eat from the weak. We remained upon that state until Allah sent us a Messenger, whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and chastity we already knew. He invited us to Allah – to believe in His oneness and to worship Him; to abandon all that we and our fathers worshipped besides Allah, in terms of stones and idols. He ﷺ commanded us to speak truthfully, to fulfill the trust, to join ties of family relations, to be good to our neighbors, and to refrain from forbidden deeds and from shedding blood. And he ﷺ forbade us from lewd acts, from uttering falsehood, from wrongfully eating the wealth of an orphan, from falsely accusing chaste women of wrongdoing. And he ﷺ ordered us to worship Allah alone and to not associate any partners with him in worship; and he ﷺ commanded us to pray, to give zakāh, and to fast.” He enumerated for al-Najāshī the teachings of Islam. He said, “And we believe him and have faith in him. We follow him in what he came with. And so we worship Allah alone, without associating any partners with Him in worship. We deem forbidden that which he has made forbidden for us, and we deem lawful that which he made permissible for us. Our people then transgressed against us and tortured us. The tried to force us to abandon our religion and to return from the worship of Allah to the worship of idols; they tried to make us deem lawful those abominable acts that we used to deem lawful. Then, when they subjugated us, wronged us, and treated us in an oppressive manner, standing between us and our religion, we came to your country, and we chose you over all other people. We desired to live alongside you, and we hoped that, with you, we would not be wronged, O king.” al-Najāshī said to Jaʿfar [rahnu], “Do you have any of that which he came with from Allah?” Jaʿfar [rahnu] said, “Yes”. “Then recite to me,” said al-Najāshī. Jaʿfar [rahnu] recited for him the beginning of Surah Maryam. By Allah, al-Najāshī began to cry, until his beard became wet with tears. And when his priests heard what Jaʿfar [rahnu] was reciting to them, they cried until their scrolls became wet. al-Najāshī then said, “By Allah, this and what Mūsa (as) came with come out of the same lantern. Then by Allah, I will never surrender them to you, and henceforward they will not be plotted against and tortured.”

Describing what happened after the aforementioned discussion between al-Najāshī and Jaʿfar [rahnu], Umm Salamah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “When both ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ and ʿAbdullah ibn abī Rabīʿah left the presence of al-Najāshī, ʿAmr [rahnu] said, “By Allah tomorrow I will present to him information about them with which I will pull up by the roots their very lives.” Abdullah ibn Rabīʿah who was more sympathetic of the two towards us said, “Don’t do so, for they have certain rights of family relations, even if they have opposed us.” ʿAmr said, “By Allah, I will inform him that they claim that ʿĪsā ibn Maryam is a slave.”

He went to the king on the following day and said, “O king, verily, they have strong words to say about ʿĪsa (as). Call them here and ask them what they say about him.” al-Najāshī sent for them in order to ask them about ʿĪsa. Nothing similar to this befell us before. The group of Muslims gathered together and said to one another, “What will you say about ʿĪsa when he asks you about him?” They said, “By Allah, we will say about him that which Allah says and that which our Prophet ﷺ came with, regardless of the outcome.” When they entered into his presence, he said to them, “What do you say about ʿĪsa ibn Maryam?” Jaʿfar raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “We say about him that which our Prophet ﷺ came with – that he is the slave of Allah, His messenger, a spirit created by Him, and His word, which he bestowed on Maryam, the virgin, the baṭūl.”

al-Najāshī struck his hand on the ground and took from it a stick. He then said, “ʿĪsa ibn Maryam did not go beyond what you said even the distance of the stick.” When he said this, his ministers spoke out in anger, to which he responded, “What I said is true even if you speak out in anger, by Allah. (Turning to the Muslims, he said) Go, for you are safe in my land. Whoever curses you will be held responsible. And I would not love to have a reward of gold in return for me hurting a single man among you. (Speaking to his ministers he said) Return to these two (men) their gifts, since we have no need for them. For by Allah, Allah did not take from me bribe money when He returned to me my kingdom, so why should I take bribe money. The two left, defeated and humiliated; and returned to them were the things they came with. We then resided alongside al-Najāshī in a very good abode, with a very good neighbor.”

The response was simply amazing in its eloquence. A believer puts the needs of his soul before the needs of his body. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts the Surah by saying,

Verse 1: Kaf, Ha, Ya, ‘Ayn, Sad.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts Surah Maryam with a series of five letters. There are many different saying or explanations regarding these five letters. The most correct opinion is that these are from the broken letters. There are 29 different Surahs in the Quran that start with the broken letters. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone knows the meanings of these letters. They are a secret from amongst the secrets of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), meaning that no one knows what they truly mean. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows their meanings so they are from amongst the Mutashaabihat, those verses whose meanings are hidden.

However, we do find that some great Companions, as well as their students, sometimes gave meanings to these words. For example, it’s said that it is in acronym and each letter represents one of the names of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Kaf is for Al-Kafi or Al-Kareem, “haa” is for Al-Hadi, “yaa” is from Hakeem or Raheem, “’ayn” is from Al-‘Aleem or Al-‘Adheem, and “saad” is from Al-Saadiq. Others said that it is one of the names of Allah and it’s actually Al-Ism Al-‘Atham or that it’s a name of the Quran. However, these narrations can’t be used as proof or to assign definitive meanings. They offer possibilities, but no one truly knows what they mean.

Now the question should come to our mind that why would Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) start of a Surah with words that no one understands?

1) To grab the attention of the listeners.

2) To remind us that no matter how much we know there’s always something that we don’t know.

3) These letters are the letters of the Arabic language and the Quran was revealed at a time that was the peak of eloquence of the language and it was their identity. The Quran was revealed challenging them spiritually and intellectually. The Arabs never heard these letters being used in such a majestic way.

4) To prove the inimitable nature of the Quran.

Allah then starts the story of Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was one of the Prophets sent to Bani Israel. He was the husband of Maryam’s paternal aunt. He was also one of the caretakers or custodians of Baitul Maqdis.

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