Verses from Surah Al-Kahf (1-16)





1. That this chapter is Makkan is the opinion of most of the commentators (Qurtubi), but not of all (Shawkani).

[1] Praise to Allah who sent down upon His slave the Book, and has not placed any crookedness therein.2


2. That is, there is neither any contradiction within it, nor anything that does not agree with what is sound and reasonable (Zamakhshari, Razi). In Asad’s words, “The above phrase is meant to establish the direct, unambiguous character of the Qur’an and to stress its freedom from obscurities and internal contradictions..”

Yusuf Ali has an improved comment: “Some people’s idea of a Sacred Book is that it should be full of mysteries – dark corners, ambiguous expressions, words so far removed from human speech that they cover anything or nothing. Pagan oracles were couched in language which suggested one meaning to the hearer and claimed to have the very opposite meaning in the light of events which actually happened subsequently. They were distinctly crooked, not straight.”

[2] Straighforward,3 that it may warn of a severe chastisement from Him, and give good tidings unto the faithful who work righteous deeds, that theirs will be a goodly reward.


3. That is, one that straightens up others; in other words, one that leads to the straight path of divine guidance (Razi). That it is a guardian over other revealed scriptures, is another possible connotation (Zamakhshari, Qurtubi).

Thus, the lack of “`iwaj” speaks of its internal perfection, while “qayyim” speaks of its quality of perfecting others, or straightening them up – Razi.

Ibn ‘Abbas (Ibn Jarir) however gave the meaning as reflected in the present translation.

[3] Remaining therein forever. [4] And to warn those who say, ‘God has taken an offspring.’4


4. All three classes of people contemporary to the Prophet had attributed progenies to their Lord: Jews, who said, God had taken Ezra as His son; Christians, who declared Jesus as His son; and pagans, who said angels were Allah’s daughters (Razi, Qurtubi).

Majid adds: “The reference is .. especially to the Adoptionists, ‘who held that Christ was a mere man miraculously conceived indeed, but adopted as the Son of God only by the supreme degree in which he had been filled with the divine wisdom and power’ (EMK, IV, p. 1998).”

[5] They have no knowledge of it (whatsoever), nor had their fathers; a monstrous word issuing forth of their mouths. They utter not but a lie. [6] Perhaps you will, (O Muhammad), destroy yourself5 in grief over them if they do not believe in this (new) discourse.6


5. The textual word “bakhi`” has, according to the experts such as Akhfash and Farra’, the sense of doing one’s utmost for a task. Hence ‘A’ishi’s words about ‘Umar

“He did his utmost to wrest control of the lands (from the former rulers)” – Razi.

6. This refers to the Prophet’s inner condition at the time of the revelation. He was fearful that the Makkan rejection would cause Divine wrath to descend on them (Au.).

Asad expounds: “The rhetorical question is addressed, in the first instance, to the Prophet, who was deeply distressed by the hostility which his message aroused among the pagan Meccans, and suffered agonies of apprehension regarding their spiritual fate. Beyond that, however, it applies to everyone who, having become convinced of the truth of an ethical proposition, is dismayed at the indifference with which his social environment reacts to it.”

Although the following hadith of Muslim quoted by Mawdudi was perhaps uttered during the Madinan era, it reflects the Prophet’s great concern of the Ummah. He said, “The analogy of me and of the people is something like this: a man lit a fire which illuminated the area around him, but this caused moths and other insects which (are inclined to) fall into fire to fall into it. The man tries to somehow pull them away (from the fire), but they overpower him and plunge into the fire. My position is that I seek to restrain you from the fire but you plunge into it.”

[7] We have indeed placed all that there is on the earth a glittering show for it,7 in order that We may try as to which of them is the best in conduct.8


7. Ibn ‘Abbas has said in reference to the textual “zinatan” that the scholars are the ornaments of the earth. Hasan (al-Busri) has identified them as those who spend their time in obedience of Allah (Qurtubi, Shawkani).

Asad comments: “.. this passage implies that the real motive underlying men’s refusal to believe in God’s spiritual message (see preceding verse) is almost always their excessive, blind attachment to the goods of this world, combined with a false pride in what they regard as their own achievements.”

8. The trial is not for Allah’s knowledge, who has foreknowledge of all things anyway, but in order that everyone learns about himself as to where he himself stands (Shawkani).

The Prophet has also warned us against falling prey to the world’s glitter. Said he, “The world is green, sweet. Allah will surely give you sway thereover and see how you behave. Therefore, fear Allah and fear (falling into the trial involving) women” (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi). The report is in Muslim (H. bin Ibrahim).

[8] We shall indeed reduce all that is thereon to barren dust.9


9. That is, without any vegetation, grass or plant, devoid of anything supportive of any kind of biological life (Au.).

While the word “sa`id” has the sense of a flat infertile land, “juruz”, gives the sense of a barren patch (Razi, Qurtubi).

[9] Or, do you think that the Companions of the Cave10 and the Inscription11 were among Our signs a wonder?12


10. An ordinary cave is “ghar” in Arabic, while “kahf” is used for a large one (Razi).

11. In explanation of “Raqim” various opinions have been expressed by the Salaf: the name of a valley, a village to which the youths belonged, the mountain range in which the cave was located, a book, the dog that followed them, etc. Ibn Jarir adopts “inscription” or, “a tablet with a writing on it” as the most likely intended meaning which was the opinion of Sa`id b. Jubayr and Mujahid. It draws its support from the Qur’an (83: 9) which used the word “marqum” for a written record. It is said, adds Imam Razi, that the tablet had the story of the young men inscribed on it. But, (according to a report in Ibn al-Mundhir: Shawkani) Ibn Jurayj’s opinion was that the tablet had dates inscribed on it of the young men falling into sleep and rising from it (Qurtubi).

12. That is, do you think the episode was a great wonder when there are so many other greater wonders in the heavens and the earth? (Ibn Jarir and others).

[10] When the youths retreated to the Cave saying, ‘Our Lord! Bestow on us mercy from Yourself, and prepare for us a way (out) of our affair. [11] So We cast (a cover of sleep) over their ears13 in the Cave for a (good) number of years.


13. That is, He cast a heavy sleep on them, of a kind in which the sleeper hears nothing of the sounds around (Kashshaf).

[12] Then We roused them that We might know which of the two parties kept the record of the period they tarried.14


14. Although one or two of the old experts have accepted the superlative meaning, Zamakhshari – the Arabic language expert – does not believe that the textual “ahsa” is in the sense expressing comparative or superlative degrees. (That is, it does not mean: “which of the two groups kept the record better, [or best]”). He thinks it is a (quadrilateral: Qurtubi) word, on the pattern of “a`da” or “aflasa” (meaning: “he understood” or “comprehended”). Most commentators with a penchant for language have agreed with him and our translation reflects this understanding.

[13] We narrate to you their story in truth. They were youths15 who believed in their Lord16 and We increased them in guidance.


15. Linguistically, the use of the term “fityatun” indicates that they were less than ten in number (Se`di).

16. We see the trend repeated. It were mostly young men who had initially believed in the Prophet while the older men of the Quraysh remained adamant, unmoved (Ibn Kathir).

 [14] We strengthened their hearts when they stood up17 and proclaimed, ‘Our Lord – the Lord of the heavens and earth – We shall never invoke any god other than Him; if (we did) we would have spoken an outrage.


17. Some misguided Sufis seek justification for their “standing” (in circles) from the words of Allah here, “They stood up and said..” But the two “standings” are entirely different. That of the youths was that of ‘taking a stand’ (a matter of resolve). What it has to do with the physical  standing in circles, singing, dancing and whirling, as some of the Sufis do? In fact, many of the rightly guided Sufis have condemned the singing and dancing (based on Qurtubi).

[15] These, our people, have taken gods besides Him. Why do they not bring forward a clear authority regarding them? Who can do greater wrong than he who fastened a lie on Allah?18


18. Mawdudi writes in his introduction to the Surah, “It was pointed out (to the Makkans) that the people of the Cave believed in the same monotheism which was being expounded by the Qur’an. Also, the situation of the People of the Cave was no different from the Makkan Muslims who were then being subjected to severe persecution. Likewise, the attitude towards the People of the Cave by their own people was quite similar to the attitude displayed by the Quraysh unbelievers toward the Prophet (peace be on him) and his followers.”

Sayyid has a few other things in mind. He writes: “These, our people, have taken gods besides Him. Why do they not bring forward a clear authority regarding them?”: ‘This then is the way in matters of faith and beliefs: that a man should follow clear, dependable evidences. Evidences have their own grip on the mind. But, if there is no evidence, then it is a dirty lie; for, it is a lie against Allah: And who can do greater wrong that he who fastened a lie on Allah?

“We also recognize here the stand taken by the youths: a clear, definite stand that is not overshadowed or weakened by any amount of diffidence.

“It is also noteworthy that they are young men: strong of body, strong of faith, and courageous in rejecting what their people clung to.

“Two approaches, two different methods come to light, and the two do not meet, nor go in company with each other in life; (i.e., that of the youths and that of their people).

“There is no choice for them but to escape with their faith. For, they are not Messengers of Allah sent to their people, who can, therefore, face the consequences while they invite them to the right beliefs. These are merely a group of young men to whom true guidance became evident while they lived among the unbelieving oppressors. If they openly profess their faith, they would not be allowed to live in peace. Neither can they escape from (the eyes) of their people, nor their people can from their eyes. Nor yet it is possible for them to worship their nation’s deities outwardly and conceal their personal prayers to Allah. The text leads us to believe that they had already been discovered. Therefore, there was no choice for them but to escape with their belief, and choose to live in a cave against the ease and pleasures of town life.

“At this point, they appear as having already made that decision, and hence their words as they meet in secret, ‘So, when you have dissociated yourselves from them and what they worship other than Allah, retreat to the cave.

“And their decision tells us something about the amazing state of a believer’s heart.”

[16] So, when you have dissociated yourselves from them and what they worship other than Allah, then retreat to the cave.19 Your Lord will spread out for you of His mercy and prepare for your affair an easy disposal.’20


19. Qurtubi has a long discourse here on retreat to the caves when fearing religious persecution, or threat to life, honor, wealth or property. The Prophet himself had, in his effort to escape persecution, sought retreat into cave. The escape thus, is a Sunnah of the Anbiya’ and Awliya’. However, seeking retreat need not necessarily be in caves. It can be on top of mountains, in the depth of valleys, on the borders, and even within one’s home; as the Prophet said, “When you fear tribulation, restrict yourselves to your homes and control your tongue.” Another hadith of Bukhari says, “A time will come on the people when the best wealth of a Muslim would be a few goats following them from one hill top to another, and places of rain, fleeing (the towns) from religious persecution.”

Another of Hasan’s report (one of his Marasil: Au.) says, “A time will come upon the people when no one will be safe in his religion except he who moved from mountain to mountain, one place of refuge to another. He will encounter a situation in which he will not be able to earn his livelihood but in Allah’s disobedience. When that is the situation, then fleeing away is allowed to him.” They asked, “How can fleeing (into wilderness) be allowed when you recommend that we marry women (and settle down)?” He replied, “In the situation (I am speaking of) a man’s problems will be because of his parents. If he has no parents then his destruction will be at the hands of his wife. If he has no wife, it will be at the hands of his children. If he has no children, it will be at the hands of his friends and neighbors.” They asked, “How will that be, Messenger of Allah?” He replied, “They will rebuke him for his poor financial status and make demands on him greater than what he will be able to bear. In that situation a man will do things that will destroy him.”

The minimum, the scholars have said, in terms of seclusion and isolation is to isolate oneself from other people’s evils. That is, a man remains with the people, but accepting their company in good affairs alone, away from them in evil matters. This is following the Prophet’s words, “A believer who mixes and interacts with the people, in patience, is better than he who does not mix, does not observe patience.” Hence Badri Companions retreated to their homes after the murder of ‘Uthman, leaving the houses only for their graves.

20. The textual word “mirfaq” is, ‘literally a thing by which one profits, or gains advantage or benefit’ (LL) – Majid.

(to be continued).

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