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Lesson 4 From Surah Al-Kahf

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In the last session, Surah Al-Kahf gave us a brief summary of the story of the people of the cave before getting into its details. This is a method used throughout the Qur’ān to draw in the reader or the listener; to capture their attention and make them interested.

We learned that there was a group of seven young men who found the religious beliefs and practices of their people to be absolutely absurd. So they dedicated themselves to the worship of Allah ﷻ alone without any partners. But when their news spread throughout the town the tyrant oppressive king had them arrested and brought before him. He told them to abandon their new religion or face the consequences. These young men were extremely strong in their faith, which gave them the courage to stand up to this tyrant and speak the truth. So the king decided to give them a few days to reconsider their decision. They had no other option but to flee persecution and seek refuge in a cave in order to save their faith.

We also discussed some of the major lessons of Surah Al-Kahf that can be derived from this portion of the story: the importance of faith, courage, dua, response to dua, speaking truth to power and tawakkul.

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Now the next few verses inform us of what happened to them in the cave as a sign and proof if the infinite might and power of Allah ﷻ. Allah ﷻ provides details regarding their long sleep, of how He protected their bodies and kept them alive without any food and drink, and protected them from being found.

Verses 17-18: (17) You would see the sun, when it rose, turning away from their cave towards the right; and when it set, it bypassed them towards the left, while they were in an open space within it. That is one of the signs of Allah. Whomsoever Allah guides, he is rightly guided; and whomsoever He lets go astray, for him you will find no one to help, no one to lead. (18) And you would think they were awake while they were asleep. We turned them on their sides, right and left. And their dog had its forelegs stretched out to the doorstep. If you had a look at them, you would have fled away from them and would have been filled with awe of them.

According to most commentators, these verses are being addressed to the Prophet ﷺ providing him unique details of their condition within the cave that could only be known through revelation. This is actually an amazing scene being described to us by Allah ﷻ.

1) “You would see the sun, when it rose, turning away from their cave towards the right; and when it set, it bypassed them towards the left.” The Sun would pass by them in the morning and evening but would not shine on their bodies. This kept the environment of the cave ideal. May have been a way in which their bodies and clothes were preserved.

2) “While they were in an open space within it.” They were in “an open space within it”, meaning that the cave was spacious allowing for fresh air and a cool breeze to reach them as they slept.

3) “That is one of the signs of Allah.” Allah tells us that this is one the many signs of His infinite might, power, wisdom, magnificence and glory. It shows that Allah protects those who turn to Him with sincerity…

4) “Whomsoever Allah guides, he is rightly guided; and whomsoever He lets go astray, for him you will find no one to help, no one to lead.” The concept of hidāyah and dalalah, guidance and misguidance. If a person is sincerely searching for the truth Allah will open up the path for their guidance. If a person is allowed to go astray, it is a consequence of their own choices and actions… “There is a certain divine law that determines which people may receive God’s guidance and which are left in error. When a person looks at God’s signs and accepts what they indicate, that person finds God’s guidance in accordance with His law. Hence, he is ‘indeed rightly guided.’ (Verse 17) But whoever turns his back on these signs and refuses to understand the message they impart is bound, according to God’s law, to go astray. Hence he is left in error and will have none to guide him.” This is also a source of consolation and comfort for the Prophet ﷺ.

5) “And you would think they were awake while they were asleep.” They didn’t look like they were asleep. Anyone who looked at them would think that they were awake. Some commentators mention that perhaps they were made to sleep with their eyes open so if anyone were to come across them it would look like they were awake.

6) “We turned them on their sides, right and left.” Allah ﷻ made them change sides. This was done to avoid harm being done to their bodies in the appearance of sores.

7) “And their dog had its forelegs stretched out to the doorstep.” Their dog seemed like it was guarding them. It was sleeping at the entrance of the cave in the position of a guard dog.

8) “If you had a look at them, you would have fled away from them and would have been filled with awe of them.” If someone looked at them they would become scared and run away.

All of this was done by Allah ﷻ according to His divine wisdom to protect them until a time He chose for them to wake up.

Verses 19-20: (19) And in this way We raised them up until they asked each other. One of them said, “How long did you tarry?” They said, “A day, or part of a day.” They said, “Your Lord knows best how long you tarried.” So, send one of you with this silver (coin) of yours to the city and let him observe which of them has the purest food and bring you some provision therefrom. Let him be discreet and make no one aware of you. Verily, if they come to know about you, they will stone you, or make you revert to their faith, and in that case, you will never find success

Just as Allah ﷻ had miraculously caused them to go to sleep in such a unique and strange way, Allah ﷻ also woke them up miraculously from their slumber. Allah woke them up after 309 years, healthy and fit without having eaten or drunken anything. Once they woke up they started asking each other how long they had been sleeping for… Since they were completely unaware of how long they had been sleeping for some of them said perhaps a day or even just part of a day. That’s because when they went to sleep it was the morning and they had woken up in the evening. But after looking at their appearance they figured that something strange had happened; their hair and nails were extremely long. They concluded that Allah knows best how long they had been asleep for.

After having slept for such a long period of time they were extremely hungry, so they chose one person to send to the city to get food. They sent him with some silver coins to go buy food from the city. The silver coins that they had were from the era of the oppressive king and stilled had his imprint. They also told him to be extremely careful, to be discreet, so that no one finds out who he is. They thought that they were still living in the same time period of religious persecution and if the people of the city found out about them they would either kill them or force them to worship idols. They feared that if the people found out about them they would be persecuted. They were unaware that things had changed drastically since they fell asleep.

The Surah Al-Kahf now skips a few scenes from the story and tells us what happened when the people came to find out about them.

Verse 21: And in this way, We made them known to the people (of the city), so that they realize that Allah’s promise is true, and that there is no doubt about the Hour (the Day of Resurrection). When they were disputing among themselves in their matter, they said, “Erect a building over them. Their Lord knows them best.” Said those who prevailed in their matter, “We will certainly make a mosque over them.”

During those 309 years that they were kept asleep, the City they were from changed completely; it went through a complete transformation. It was no longer a city of idol worshippers; the majority of people had become Christian. The Emperor was also a righteous man. His name is given as (Baidusis). Their story also became somewhat of folklore and was passed on from generation to generation.

Unaware of how drastically things had changed this person went to the city with his ancient clothes and his ancient money. His appearance was attracting attention. First of all his appearance gave him away. Then when he tried to buy food he took out this ancient coin that attracted even more attention. So the people recognized that something was wrong; that there was something unique about this person so they detained him and took him to the Emperor. It just so happened that during this time there was a huge theological debate regarding the concept of resurrection; will both body and soul be resurrected or just the soul? There were a group of people who believed that resurrection was purely spiritual, while another group along with the emperor believed that it was both physical and spiritual. When they brought the young man before him he began to question him and figured out that he was one of the people of the cave that they had heard about from their parents and grandparents. This was the definitive proof needed to settle their theological debate regarding resurrection.

The king then took a delegation back to the cave. Some versions of the story mention that the king and his delegation spoke briefly with the people of the cave after which they want back to sleep and finally passed away. In this way, Allah ﷻ caused “them to be known to the people (of the city), so that they realize that Allah’s promise is true and that there is no doubt about the Hour (the Day of Resurrection).” One who has the ability to cause people to sleep for centuries and then wake them up unaltered can certainly raise the dead. “The end these young people met shows a real, tangible example of how resurrection takes place. The people in the city felt the full impact of resurrection and realized, as they could never have done otherwise, that God’s promise in respect of resurrection after death will come true and that the Last Hour is certain to come.”

Afterwards, the people of the town started disputing amongst themselves on how to commemorate these youth; what’s the proper way of celebrating and preserving their legacy? They split into two groups. One group suggested to “erect a building over them” and the other decided that it was better to erect a place of worship. “Those who prevailed over their affair said, ‘We shall build a place of worship over them.’” So a place of worship was built next to their cave in order to commemorate them as was the practice of Jews and Christians.

Now, this was an amazing incident that took place in history. As time went on and the story was passed on from generation to generation the story started to change; sometimes people added certain details and at others omitted some. As time went on people started arguing and debating over the exact details of the story; specifically how many youth there were in the cave. Allah   ﷻ tells us,

Verse 22: They will say, “(They were) three, and the fourth was their dog.” And they will say, “Five, and the sixth was their dog” guessing at the unseen.” And they will say, “Seven, and the eight was their dog.” Say, “My Lord knows best about their number.” No one knows them except a few, so do not argue about them except an apparent argumentation, nor consult any of them about them.

What we learn from this verse in Surah Al-Kahf  is that with the passage of time there was a debate and discussion regarding the exact number of people inside of the cave. Allah ﷻ is telling us that people disputed over the number of the people of the cave. The verse mentions three opinions… The verse itself indicates that the first two opinions were incorrect because it says, “Guessing at the unseen”. Meaning, they were simply guessing speaking without knowledge. After mentioning the last opinion the verse neither confirms it nor rejects it. Most commentators interpret that to mean that this last opinion is correct.

Allah ﷻ then tells the Prophet ﷺ to say, “My Lord knows best about their number.” Meaning, the best thing to do in matters like this is to refer knowledge to Allah ﷻ. There’s no need to discuss issues without having any knowledge. Allah then tells us, “No one knows them except a few.” Meaning, that there were a few people who knew, based off sound knowledge. Ibn ‘Abbas (ra) used to say, “I am one of the few mentioned in this Ayah; they were seven.”

The verse ends by addressing the Prophet ﷺ, “so do not argue about them except an apparent argumentation. And do not ask anyone of these about them.” Allah ﷻ is instructing him not to debate with people regarding this matter but to rather let the parts of the story that have been revealed to him suffice. Lesson/Moral: Don’t get into discussions that aren’t important or necessary… What’s important here isn’t their specific number. What is important is the lessons and morals that can be derived from their story.

Allah ﷺ now reminds the Prophet ﷺ that he shouldn’t say he will do or say something in the future without acknowledging that its fulfillment depends upon the will of Allah.

Verses 23-24: (23) And say not of anything, “Surely, I shall do it tomorrow.” (24) Save that God wills. And remember your Lord if you forget and say, “It may be that my Lord will guide me nearer than this to rectitude.

If you remember in our first session of Surah Al-Kahf, we discussed the cause of revelation behind this particular Surah. We covered that the Prophet ﷺ was asked the three questions by the leadership of Quraish and he said he will inform them about what they’re asking tomorrow, but he didn’t say, “If Allah wills.” As a result, revelation was delayed for several days. So these verses are addressed directly to the Prophet ﷺ. Through them, Allah ﷻ is reminding him that he shouldn’t intend to do something in the near or distant future without acknowledging that its fulfillment depends upon the will of Allah ﷻ. Meaning, whenever he intends to do something he should say, “If Allah wills.” That’s why it’s a regular practice in Muslim countries throughout the world to use this phrase very often. This serves as a constant reminder that nothing in this universe happens without the will and decree of Allah ﷻ.

Allah then tells us what to do if we forget this. We should remember God and renew his reliance on Him. We should also hope to remain always conscious of God, turning to Him in all situations and all future actions, always saying: “I pray that my Lord will guide me even closer than this to what is right.”

Verse 25-26: (25) And they tarried in their cave three hundred years, plus nine more. (26) Say, “God knows best how long they tarried. Unto Him belongs the Unseen of the heavens and the earth. How well He sees, how well He hears! They have no protector apart from Him, and He makes no one a partner unto Him in His judgment.”

Main Morals/Lessons:

1) Significance of īmān/faith – nurture, grow, and protect.

2) Good company – surrounding ourselves with righteous individuals

3) Importance of dua

4) Speaking truth to power

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

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