Commentary for surah Al Kahfi verses 1-22

قَيِّمً۬ا لِّيُنذِرَ بَأۡسً۬ا شَدِيدً۬ا مِّن لَّدُنۡهُ وَيُبَشِّرَ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ ٱلَّذِينَ يَعۡمَلُونَ ٱلصَّـٰلِحَـٰتِ أَنَّ لَهُمۡ أَجۡرًا حَسَنً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 2

Qayyim: straight, that which has no bends and no corners to mystify people, that which speaks clearly and unambiguously, that which guides to the right path. The Quran is above all things straight, clear and perspicuous. Its directions are plain for everyone to understand. Any book that deals with the highest mysteries of spiritual life must necessarily have portions whose full meaning is clearer to some minds that to others not so well prepared. But there is nowhere any mystification, any desire to wrap up things in dark sayings repugnant to human reason. Allah’s purpose is to give clear warning of spiritual dangers and lead up to the highest bliss.

وَيُنذِرَ ٱلَّذِينَ قَالُواْ ٱتَّخَذَ ٱللَّهُ وَلَدً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 4

The warning is not only needed for those who deny Allah or deny His Message, but also for those whose false ideas of Allah degrade religion in supposing that Allah begot son, for Allah is One and is High above any ideas of physical reproduction.

فَلَعَلَّكَ بَـٰخِعٌ۬ نَّفۡسَكَ عَلَىٰٓ ءَاثَـٰرِهِمۡ إِن لَّمۡ يُؤۡمِنُواْ بِهَـٰذَا ٱلۡحَدِيثِ أَسَفًا

Al Kahfi: 6

In a reasonable world the preaching of a reasonable Faith like that of Islam would win universal acceptance. But the wold is not altogether reasonable. It caused great distress to the unselfish. Preacher of Islam that his Message met with so much opposition. He wanted to point the way to salvation. He only got, in the Makkans period, abuse from the chiefs of the Makkans – abuse and persecution, not only for himself but for the Truth which he was preaching. A heart less stout that his might have been appalled at what seemed the hopeless task of reclaiming the world from falsehood, superstition, selfishness, wrong and oppression. He is here consoled and told that he was not to fret himself to death: he was nobly doing his duty and, as after-events showed, the seed of Truth was already germinating, although this was not visible at the time. Besides, these “chiefs” and “leaders” were only strutting in false plumes: their glory was soon to fade for ever.

إِنَّا جَعَلۡنَا مَا عَلَى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ زِينَةً۬ لَّهَا لِنَبۡلُوَهُمۡ أَيُّہُمۡ أَحۡسَنُ عَمَلاً۬

Al Kahfi: 7

This world’s goods – worldly power, glory, wealth, position and all that men scramble for, – are but a fleeting show. The possession or want of them does not betoken a mans’s real value or position in the coming world, the world which is to endure. Yet they have their uses. They test a man’s sterling quality. He who becomes their slave loses rank in the next world. He who uses them if he gets them, and does not fall into despair if he does not get them, shows his true mettle and quality. His conduct proclaims him,

وَإِنَّا لَجَـٰعِلُونَ مَا عَلَيۡہَا صَعِيدً۬ا جُرُزًا

Al Kahfi: 8

The fairest sights on the earth will become as dust and waste when this earth vanishes and true spiritual calues are restored.

أَمۡ حَسِبۡتَ أَنَّ أَصۡحَـٰبَ ٱلۡكَهۡفِ وَٱلرَّقِيمِ كَانُواْ مِنۡ ءَايَـٰتِنَا عَجَبًا

Al Kahfi: 9

A wonderful story or allegory is now referred to. Its lessons are:
1) the relativity of Time,
2) the unreality of the position of oppressor and oppressed, persecutor and persecuted, on the earth,
3) the truth of the final Resurrection, when true values will be restored,
4) the potency of Faith and Prayer to lead to the Right.

The unbelieving Quraisy were in the habit of putting posers to the holy Prophet-questions which they got from Christian and Jews, which they thought the Prophet would be unable to answer. In this way they hoped to discredit him. One of these questions was about the floating Christian story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. The prophet not only told them the main story but pointed out the variations sthat were current and rebuked men for disputing about such details. Most important of all, he treated the story (under inspiration) as a parable, pointing to lessons of the highest value. This is Revelation on the highest sense of the term.

Raqim= Inscription, the majority of Commentators agree. Other think it was the name of the dog.

إِذۡ أَوَى ٱلۡفِتۡيَةُ إِلَى ٱلۡكَهۡفِ فَقَالُواْ رَبَّنَآ ءَاتِنَا مِن لَّدُنكَ رَحۡمَةً۬ وَهَيِّئۡ لَنَا مِنۡ أَمۡرِنَا رَشَدً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 10

In the reign of a Roman Emperor who persecuted the Christians, seven Christian youths of Ephesus left the town and hid themselves in a cave in a mountain nearby. They fell asleep and remained asleep for some generations or centuries. When the wall which sealed up the cave was being demolished, the youth awoke. They still thought of the world in which they had previously lived. They had no idea of the duration of time. But when one of them went to the town to purchase provisions, he found that the whole world had changed. The Christian religion, instead of being persecuted was fashionable: in fact it was now the State religion. His dress and speech and the money which he brought, seemed to belong to another world. This attracted attention. The great ones of the land visited the Cave and verified the tale by questioning the man’s Companions.

When the story became very popular and circulated throughout the Roman Empire, we may well suppose that an Inscription was put up at the mouth of the Cave. This inscription was probably to be seen for many years afterwards, as Ephesus was a famous city on the west coast of Asia Minor, about forty to fifty miles south of Smyrna. Later on, the Khalifa Wathiq (842-846 A.D.) sent an expedition to examine and identify the locality, as he did about the Zul Qarnain barrier in Central Asia.

A popular story circulating from mouth to mouth would necessarily be vague as to dates and vary very much in details. Somewhere about the 6th century A.D a Syriac writer reduced it to writing. He suggested that the youths were seven in numbar; that they went to sleep in the reign of the Emperor Decius (who reign from 249 to 251 A.D,. and who was a violent persecutor pf Christianity); and that they awoke in the reign of Theodosius II, who reign from 408 to 450 A.D. In our literature Decius is known as Daqyanus (from the adjectival Latin from Decianus), and the name stands as a symbol of injustice and oppression and also of things old fashioned and out date, as res Decianae must have been two or three centuries after Decius.

The youths hid in the cave, but they trusted in Allah and made over their whole case to Him in prayer. Then they apparently fell asleep and knew nothing of what was happening in the world outside.

فَضَرَبۡنَا عَلَىٰٓ ءَاذَانِهِمۡ فِى ٱلۡكَهۡفِ سِنِينَ عَدَدً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 11

Drew (a veil) over their ears; i.e,. sealed their ears, so that they heard nothing. As they were in the Cave they saw nothing. So they were completely cut off from the outer world. It was as if they had died, with their knowledge and ideas remaining at the point of time when they had entered the Cave. It is as if a watch stops at the exact moment of some accident and any one taking it up afterwards can precisely fix the time of the accident.

ثُمَّ بَعَثۡنَـٰهُمۡ لِنَعۡلَمَ أَىُّ ٱلۡحِزۡبَيۡنِ أَحۡصَىٰ لِمَا لَبِثُوٓاْ أَمَدً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 12

Roused them; or raised them up from their sleep or whatever condition they had fallen into, so that they began to perceive the things around them, but only with the memories of the time at which they had ceased to be in touch with the world.

When they awoke to consciousness, they had lost all count of time. Though they had all entered together and lain together in the same place for the same length of time, their impressions of the time they had passed were quite different. Time is thus related to our own internal experiences. We have to learn the lesson that men as good as ourselves may yet differ as to their reactions to certain facts, and that in such matters disputes are unseemly. It is best to say; “Allah knows best”.

نَّحۡنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيۡكَ نَبَأَهُم بِٱلۡحَقِّ‌ۚ إِنَّہُمۡ فِتۡيَةٌ ءَامَنُواْ بِرَبِّهِمۡ وَزِدۡنَـٰهُمۡ هُدً۬ى

Al Kahfi: 13

Their Faith carried them higher and higher on the road to Truth. Faith is cumulative. Each step leads higher and higher, by the grace and mercy of Allah.

وَرَبَطۡنَا عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمۡ إِذۡ قَامُواْ فَقَالُواْ رَبُّنَا رَبُّ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضِ لَن نَّدۡعُوَاْ مِن دُونِهِۦۤ إِلَـٰهً۬ا‌ۖ لَّقَدۡ قُلۡنَآ إِذً۬ا شَطَطًا

Al Kahfi: 14

So that they were not afraid to speak out openly and protest the truth of the Unity which they clearly saw in their own minds and hearts.

We may suppose them to have taken their stand and made a public protest before they betook themselves to the Cave.

وَإِذِ ٱعۡتَزَلۡتُمُوهُمۡ وَمَا يَعۡبُدُونَ إِلَّا ٱللَّهَ فَأۡوُ ۥۤاْ إِلَى ٱلۡكَهۡفِ يَنشُرۡ لَكُمۡ رَبُّكُم مِّن رَّحۡمَتِهِۦ وَيُهَيِّئۡ لَكُم مِّنۡ أَمۡرِكُم مِّرۡفَقً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 16

That is; ‘do not afraid of anything, put your whole case in the hands of Allah: at present you are being persecuted; He will solve your difficulties and give you ease and comfort’. The public protest ends at verse 15. In verse 16 they are taking counsel among themselves. After they go into the Cave, verse 17 introduces us to the scene where they are lying in the midst of the Cave in tranquil confidence in Allah.

وَتَرَى ٱلشَّمۡسَ إِذَا طَلَعَت تَّزَٲوَرُ عَن كَهۡفِهِمۡ ذَاتَ ٱلۡيَمِينِ وَإِذَا غَرَبَت تَّقۡرِضُہُمۡ ذَاتَ ٱلشِّمَالِ وَهُمۡ فِى فَجۡوَةٍ۬ مِّنۡهُ‌ۚ ذَٲلِكَ مِنۡ ءَايَـٰتِ ٱللَّهِ‌ۗ مَن يَہۡدِ ٱللَّهُ فَهُوَ ٱلۡمُهۡتَدِ‌ۖ وَمَن يُضۡلِلۡ فَلَن تَجِدَ لَهُ ۥ وَلِيًّ۬ا مُّرۡشِدً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 17

In the latitude of Ephesus, 38 degree north, i.e., well above the sun’s northern declination, a cave opening to North, would never have the heat of the sun within it, as the sunny side would be the south. If the youths lay on their backs with their faces looking to the north, i.e., towards the entrance of the Cave, the sun would rise on their right side, declining to the south, and set on their left sides, leaving them cool and comfortable.

The youths, having faith and trust in Allah, found safety and refuge in the Cave. They were protected from the persecution and violence of the heathen. Their prayer was heard.

وَتَحۡسَبُہُمۡ أَيۡقَاظً۬ا وَهُمۡ رُقُودٌ۬‌ۚ وَنُقَلِّبُهُمۡ ذَاتَ ٱلۡيَمِينِ وَذَاتَ ٱلشِّمَالِ‌ۖ وَكَلۡبُهُم بَـٰسِطٌ۬ ذِرَاعَيۡهِ بِٱلۡوَصِيدِ‌ۚ لَوِ ٱطَّلَعۡتَ عَلَيۡہِمۡ لَوَلَّيۡتَ مِنۡهُمۡ فِرَارً۬ا وَلَمُلِئۡتَ مِنۡہُمۡ رُعۡبً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 18

Perhaps their eyes were open, even though their senses were sealed in sleep. They turned about on their sides as men do in sleep.

The name of their dog is traditionally known as Qitmir.

The graphic picture of the sleepers explains the human mechanisme by which their safety was ensured by Allah from their Pagan enemies.

وَڪَذَٲلِكَ بَعَثۡنَـٰهُمۡ لِيَتَسَآءَلُواْ بَيۡنَہُمۡ‌ۚ قَالَ قَآٮِٕلٌ۬ مِّنۡہُمۡ ڪَمۡ لَبِثۡتُمۡ‌ۖ قَالُواْ لَبِثۡنَا يَوۡمًا أَوۡ بَعۡضَ يَوۡمٍ۬‌ۚ قَالُواْ رَبُّكُمۡ أَعۡلَمُ بِمَا لَبِثۡتُمۡ فَٱبۡعَثُوٓاْ أَحَدَڪُم بِوَرِقِكُمۡ هَـٰذِهِۦۤ إِلَى ٱلۡمَدِينَةِ فَلۡيَنظُرۡ أَيُّہَآ أَزۡكَىٰ طَعَامً۬ا فَلۡيَأۡتِڪُم بِرِزۡقٍ۬ مِّنۡهُ وَلۡيَتَلَطَّفۡ وَلَا يُشۡعِرَنَّ بِڪُمۡ أَحَدًا

Al Kahfi: 19

This is the point of the story. Their own human impressions were to be compared, each with the other. They were to be made to see that with the best goodwill and the most honest enquiry they might reach different conclusions; that they were not to waste their time in vain controversies, but to get on to the main business of life; and that Allah alone had full knowledge of the things that seem to us so strange, or inconsistent, or inexplicable, or that produse different impressions on different minds. If they entered the Cave in the morning and woke up in the afternoon, one of them might well think they had been there only a few hours-only part of a day. This relative or fallacious impression of Time also gives us an inkling of the state when there will be no Time, of the Resurrection when all our little impressions of this life will be corrected by the final Reality. This mystery of time has puzzled many contemplative minds.

Best food: i.e., purest, most wholesome perhaps also most suitable for those who rejected idol worship, i.e., not dedicated to idols. For they still imagined the world in the same state in which they had known it before they entered the Cave.

إِنَّہُمۡ إِن يَظۡهَرُواْ عَلَيۡكُمۡ يَرۡجُمُوكُمۡ أَوۡ يُعِيدُوڪُمۡ فِى مِلَّتِهِمۡ وَلَن تُفۡلِحُوٓاْ إِذًا أَبَدً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 20

They think that the world had not changed and that the fierce persecution they knew was still raging, under which a man had to pay by his life for his religious faith, if he could not confirm to Pagan worship.

That is, never succeed in keeping your religion. To become a renegade, to give up the Truth which you have won, simply on account of the fear of men, is the most despicable form of cowardice and would rightly close the door of salvation if strict justice were to be done. But even then Allah’s Mercy comes to the coward’s aid so long as the door of repentance is open.

وَڪَذَٲلِكَ أَعۡثَرۡنَا عَلَيۡہِمۡ لِيَعۡلَمُوٓاْ أَنَّ وَعۡدَ ٱللَّهِ حَقٌّ۬ وَأَنَّ ٱلسَّاعَةَ لَا رَيۡبَ فِيهَآ إِذۡ يَتَنَـٰزَعُونَ بَيۡنَہُمۡ أَمۡرَهُمۡ‌ۖ فَقَالُواْ ٱبۡنُواْ عَلَيۡہِم بُنۡيَـٰنً۬ا‌ۖ رَّبُّهُمۡ أَعۡلَمُ بِهِمۡ‌ۚ قَالَ ٱلَّذِينَ غَلَبُواْ عَلَىٰٓ أَمۡرِهِمۡ لَنَتَّخِذَنَّ عَلَيۡہِم مَّسۡجِدً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 21

Thus; in this way, by these means, i.e., by sending out of one of the Sleepers with the old money to the town to buy provision. His old-fashioned dress, appearance and speech and the old uncurrent money which he brought, at once drew the attention of people to him. When they learnt his story, they realised that Allah, Who can protect His servants thus and raise them up from sleep after such a long time, has power to raise up men for Resurrection, and that His promises of goodness and mercy to those who serve Him is true and was exemplified in this striking way. On the other hand, to the men of the Cave themselves, it became that Allah can change the situation before we are aware and our hope in Him is not futile and that even when we are on the brink of despair, a revolution is surely working in the world before the world itself realises it.

The perversity of man is such that as soon as ever a glimpse of truth becomes manifest, men fall into controversies about it. The Sleepers could not judge about the duration of their stay in the Cave, but they wisely left the matter and attended to the urgent business of their lives. The townsfolk could not agree as to the significance of the event, they fell to discussing immaterial details. What sort of a memorial should they raise? – a home or a place of worship or a tablet? The place of worship was built. But the real significance was missed until explained in the Quran.

سَيَقُولُونَ ثَلَـٰثَةٌ۬ رَّابِعُهُمۡ كَلۡبُهُمۡ وَيَقُولُونَ خَمۡسَةٌ۬ سَادِسُہُمۡ كَلۡبُہُمۡ رَجۡمَۢا بِٱلۡغَيۡبِ‌ۖ وَيَقُولُونَ سَبۡعَةٌ۬ وَثَامِنُہُمۡ ڪَلۡبُہُمۡ‌ۚ قُل رَّبِّىٓ أَعۡلَمُ بِعِدَّتِہِم مَّا يَعۡلَمُهُمۡ إِلَّا قَلِيلٌ۬‌ۗ فَلَا تُمَارِ فِيہِمۡ إِلَّا مِرَآءً۬ ظَـٰهِرً۬ا وَلَا تَسۡتَفۡتِ فِيهِم مِّنۡهُمۡ أَحَدً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 22

The controversy in after ages raged about the number of the Sleepers; were they three or five or seven? People answered, not from knowledge, but from conjecture. The best known makes the number of Sleepers seven. The point was immaterial: the real point was the spiritual lesson.

The true significance of the story is known only to a few. Most men discuss futile details, which are not in their knowledge.

It is unprofitable to enter such immaterial controversies and many others that have been waged about Religion by shallow men from time immemorial. Yet, if there is a matter of clear knowledge from experience that matters, we must openly proclaim it, that the world may be brought to listen to Allah’s Truth.


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