Then, it is undertaken by Us to explain it. [75:19]

Al-Kahf 18-21

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وَتَحۡسَبُہُمۡ أَيۡقَاظً۬ا وَهُمۡ رُقُودٌ۬‌ۚ وَنُقَلِّبُهُمۡ ذَاتَ ٱلۡيَمِينِ وَذَاتَ ٱلشِّمَالِ‌ۖ وَكَلۡبُهُم بَـٰسِطٌ۬ ذِرَاعَيۡهِ بِٱلۡوَصِيدِ‌ۚ لَوِ ٱطَّلَعۡتَ عَلَيۡہِمۡ لَوَلَّيۡتَ مِنۡهُمۡ فِرَارً۬ا وَلَمُلِئۡتَ مِنۡہُمۡ رُعۡبً۬ا (١٨)


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And, O Addressee, At the time when they entered the cave and We overpowered them with sleep, if you had seen them in this state, then since upon them were no signs of sleep such as looseness of body, and altered breathing – bare in mind that eyes being closed is not a sure sign of being asleep – for this reason you would have deemed them to be awake, whereas they were sleeping, and during this long sleep We would sometimes turn them on their right and sometimes on their left, and in this condition their dog who for some reason accompanied them to the cave was seated stretching his paws on the threshold of the cave. The level of their God-given awe and esteem was such that, O Addressee, If you had looked closely at them, you would assuredly have turned from them in flight, and been filled with terror of them.

Apparently, all of these matters were to ensure their protection. People generally do not have the audacity to attack others they deem to be awake. In the same way, turning them from side to side was to protect their bodies from deteriorating from the dirt and other surroundings. The dog’s presence was to ward off intruders, and even when sleeping, dogs usually awake quickly at the slightest sound, and lying on the threshold in this manner is customary of this animal, i.e. to lie on the doorstep for the outward impression. Similarly the awesome appearance granted to them was to ensure strangers do not muster enough courage to enter upon them. In any case, the verse is addressed to the general public. From it does not follow that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, would be filled with similar awe.


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 (١٩) إِنَّہُمۡ إِن يَظۡهَرُواْ عَلَيۡكُمۡ يَرۡجُمُوكُمۡ أَوۡ يُعِيدُوڪُمۡ فِى مِلَّتِهِمۡ وَلَن تُفۡلِحُوٓاْ إِذًا أَبَدً۬ا (٢٠)

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And just as We put them to sleep on account of Our Absolute Power for so many years, similarly after this prolonged sleep, We awakened them in order that they may ask questions between themselves, as a result of which, ultimately the power and wisdom of the Creator will become manifested and revealed to them.

So a speaker from them said, How long must have you remained in this state of sleep. In reply, some said, Probably we must have remained one day or slightly less than one day. For this estimate there is no need to resort to the sun and other external signs; most people upon waking from sleep are able to judge the time spent sleeping simply based on their own feelings of freshness and removal of fatigue. Some others said, (otherwise if the speakers here are the same as earlier, the text would read rabbunaa ’alamu bimaa labithnaa), in any case, they said, What need is there in attempting to ascertain this? Only your Lord knows accurately how long you remained. In this response also there is no need to say that their hair and finger nails etc. were long, which caused doubt. Further dwelling on the topic was discouraged due to being vain. Both possibilities exist regarding the hair and nails etc.

Now, leaving this topic we should concentrate on more pressing matters, and that is to send from among your group someone with this money which the speaker must have been holding for expenditure to the city. Then upon reaching there, let him investigate which food is lawful [related by al-Tabari from Saeed Bin Jubair and considered strongest], because during the age of their seclusion in the cave, meat slaughtered on the name of idols was prevalently sold in the marketplace. So from it let him bring to you some food and perform all acts in a polite manner. That is to say, he should go adopting an appearance which does not disclose his identity, and also not give the impression that he inquires about the method of slaughtering because he deems the meat slaughtered on the name of idols to be unlawful. And he must not let anyone become aware of you. For if they, i.e. the occupants of that city whom they thought to be the same polytheists of their age, somehow become aware of you, they will stone you to death, metonymically referring to killing itself or the method of severe punishment in those days just happened to be this. In any case, they will kill you, or forcefully revert you to their way, and in that case you will never attain prosperity.

This is because although it is permissible to utter words of disbelief while being coerced, provided that one’s heart is content with faith, oftentimes one initially speaks words of kufr under duress only to later fall victim to the delusions of Shaytan in considering worldly benefits, resulting in complacency. Gradually the repulsive feelings towards kufr leave the heart, and ultimately one proclaims disbelief openly. Along similar lines, it has been observed that some entered into Islam and were later forced by the Kuffar to renounce their faith. Initially there was some discomfort, which led to impartiality, and then total assimilation. We seek Allah’s refuge from this. Alternatively, prosperity can be taken to mean complete success. That is to say, uttering words of disbelief under duress is a dispensation. Utilizing it, though, will definitely result in deprivation from the default and thus from *total* success.

So, one from them went to the city to purchase food. When he presented the money, seeing centuries old coins, the shopkeeper became suspicious of theft. When cornered, he unwillingly told the entire story. The story then spread through the town. At that point some elders came forward and mentioned that they heard from their elders about a group of youth who disappeared in a similar manner. Allah, azza wa jalla, mentions this incident of the people becoming aware along with one wisdom:


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 (٢١)


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And just as we put them to sleep and awakened them through Our power, likewise, through Our power and wisdom We made the people of that age aware of them and their state in order that, among other benefits, the following benefit materialize that by drawing proof from this event those people achieve certitude or increased certitude of the fact that Allah’s promise is true, and that promise is that in the coming of the Hour there is no doubt. Both certitude and increased certitude were mentioned because of those who were intended to be informed, if they were disbelievers then certitude was achieved, and if they were believers then for them increased certitude was achieved.

The explanation of this certitude being gained is that the Prophets (alaihimus salaatu wassalam) have always been informing of resurrection. To this, the establishment of textual proofs is added. In this manner, the prerequisites of attaining certitude are fully present. Only one obstacle stands in the way of the Kuffar attaining it, and that is deeming it to be impossible and not being able to conceive a break in the natural chain of cause and effect. The possibility of such a break is well established by this event, especially, since this prolonged sleep and subsequent awakening closely resembles death and resurrection. Hence, this obstacle is now removed. The prerequisites were already gathered prior to this. Certitude will necessarily follow.

Now, since the final link in this complete cause for attaining certitude was this very removal of the obstacle, for this reason it was deemed to be the cause. Increased certitude following from the above is even more evident. The objection, then, does not arise that this event establishes the mere possibility of resurrection and not its definite occurrence. By the above explanation, knowledge of possibility (al-’ilm bil-imkan) due to removal of the obstacle (raf’ al-maani’) necessarily leading to knowledge of resurrection’s certain occurrence (al-’ilm bi tahaqquq al-ba’th) is established.

At that time, or shortly thereafter, these youths passed away in that very cave. Upon being informed of their passing, a dispute occurred between the people of that time. This dispute is mentioned in the upcoming verses that the occasion is also noteworthy when the people of that time were arguing between themselves with regard to their matter. That matter was the sealing of the cave’s opening in order to protect their corpses or building a structure as a monument to their remembrance. So they said, Near them and their cave construct a building. Then with respect to that building they differed. Some said one thing, others said something else. At the time of this dispute your Lord was fully aware of them and their various states. Ultimately, those who were dominant and capable upon their intended matter, i.e. the people of authority and government who at that time were upon the true religion, they said, We will build near them a mosque, in order for the mosque to remain as a representation of their being worshipers. Thus, no one should consider them worshiped ones, as was possible in the case of other structures.

Therefore, building a masjid was for this benefit and to protect from deviations. It follows that in future times, if building a masjid would result in similar harms, it too would be prohibited, as the rules of Sacred Law bare witness. The verse, then, establishes no more than in and of itself permissibility.

Perhaps in mentioning this altercation the purpose was to show the protection of their corpses, and then by building of the masjid, the protection of them from becoming objects of worship. This was done in order to illustrate that they placed their reliance in Us and held firm to obedience – look how well We protected them in every possible way!

Written by Yusuf Mullan

June 29th, 2009 at 2:16 am

Posted in Surah Al-Kahf

4 Responses to 'Al-Kahf 18-21'

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  1. Most likely there has been a mix up in the recitation of verse 20.

    Please, check it.


    29 Jun 09 at 4:46 am

  2. Fixed. Got switched when I was editing something.

    Yusuf Mullan

    29 Jun 09 at 4:48 am

  3. I am a bit confused about the pronoun in the last verse “your Lord was fully aware of them ” Does them refer to the youth in the cave or the people arguing about the construction etc.


    15 Jul 09 at 3:15 am

  4. The pronoun is referring to the mutanaazi’een.

    Hazrat Thanwi writes in the footnote that this is from the mawaahib, i.e. something he came up with. It is not found in the books of Tafseer.

    Yusuf Mullan

    15 Jul 09 at 3:20 am

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