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.
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.”
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
The Spirituality Of Gratitude
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). 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.
 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
Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1
Alhamdulillah, it’s a great blessing of Allah 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 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 . 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 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 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 mentions the story of Maryam (as) and her family and how she gave birth to Isa 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 , 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 . 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 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 , 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 , Ismail and Idrees 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 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 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 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 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 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 starts the Surah by saying,
Verse 1: Kaf, Ha, Ya, ‘Ayn, Sad.
Allah 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 alone knows the meanings of these letters. They are a secret from amongst the secrets of Allah , meaning that no one knows what they truly mean. Only Allah 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 . 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 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 . Zakariyya 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.