Verses from Surah Al-Kahf (17-22)

[17] You would have seen the sun as it rose, veering away from their cave on the right, and, as it went down, cut itself across their left side,21 while they (lay) in its spacious (area).22 That was one of the signs of Allah.23 He whom Allah guides, is the rightly guided, while he whom He left unguided, you will never find for him a friend guiding aright.


21. That is, the cave was so situated that they were saved from the sun’s beat throughout the year (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi). They would have thus been also saved from the observation of a passer-by (Mawdudi).

22. “Fajwah” is a wide, open space within a cave or between two cliffs (No`mani).

23. “That was one of the signs of Allah:” that is, the fact that Allah led them to the right kind of cave. When Allah guides someone, He guides him through and through (Au.).

Ibn Kathir remarks that Allah mentioned the position of the cave with reference to the sun. The position avoided its harmful effects. But He said nothing about where the cave was located. Hence there is no point in trying to locate the cave after this lapse of time. All the more so because such far and wide places have been suggested: [Aylah (Ibn ‘Abbas), Nineveh (Ibn Is-haq), Roman territory, Spain (Qurtubi), QumranCaves in Jordan (Asad) – Au.].

The question remains, what if we knew the place? If its knowledge had been of any profit, surely Allah would not have held it back from us. The Prophet has said, “There is nothing that can take you closer to Paradise but I have informed you about it, and there is nothing that will take you away from the Fire but I have informed you about it.”

Mawdudi writes, (under verse 22), “(The main point is Allah has power to resurrect). But instead of taking note of this, people often get embroiled in trivial and far-fetched questions. They ask, for example, what was the total number of the People of the Cave? What were their names? What was the color of their dog? Such questions can only be of interest to those who concern themselves with the husk rather than with the kernel..”

We do not know who wished to know the color of their dog. But, a word thrown here, or a hint thrown there in the Qur’an – that, going by the rule of “what is not profitable”, apparently are functionless – seem to provide challenges to the inquisitive human minds. They immediately accept the challenge and begin to investigate to unravel the mystery. It is the desire to uncover mysteries that accounts as an important factor in the progression of knowledge (Au.).

 [18] You would have thought them awake although they were asleep,24 while We kept turning them over to the right and left.25 And their dog lay with its forelegs sprawled over the threshold.26 Had you looked at them, surely you would have turned away fleeing and would have been filled with terror of them.


24. It has been suggested that while they slept their eyes were open which made them a fearful sight (Qurtubi).

25. Ibn `Abbas has said that if the sun had directly shined upon them, it would have burnt them, and had Allah not been turning them from side to side, the earth would have eaten them (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

26. It is not known to which of them the dog belonged. Apart from that, as far as we Muslims are concerned, we are prohibited from keeping dogs unless there is a need. Says a Sahih hadith: “Whoever kept a dog, except for hunting or for the flock, or for the farm, will have a Qayrat (or two Qayrats: a weighing measure) removed from his rewards everyday.” Also, some scholars have not failed to notice that even an ordinary dog can find mention in the Qur’an for simply having been with the righteous. A Muslim too should seek their company and keep the righteous dear to himself (Qurtubi).

[19] And, that is how We raised them up27 that28 they might (be able to) question one another.. One of them who spoke asked,, ‘How long did you remain?’ They answered, ‘We remained maybe a day or a part of a day.’29 They concluded, ‘Your Lord knows best how long you remained. Now send one of you with this money of yours30 to the town to see what food is the purest; let him bring you a provision thereof. And, let him be cautious and let him not inform anyone about you.


27. That is, just as We put them to sleep for such a long spell by Our power, We also awakened them once again by Our power.

28. The “lam” of “li-yatasa’alu” is not “lam al-sababiyyah”, but rather “lam al-sayrurah” which is a kind of “lam al-‘aqibah”, (best rendered in the present context as “that”: Au.). That is, they were not raised for the sake of questioning (Qurtubi).

29. That is because they had gone into the Cave in the morning and woke up – after a long spell – in an evening. Yet there were signs that told them that they must have slept longer than usual. Some commentators have said that they became suspicious from the growth of their nails and hair. But that does not seem very likely since, in three hundred years these things must have grown very long indeed. That could be the reason why many prominent commentators did not mention this (Au.).

30. The word “waraq” has been commonly used in the ahadith for silver. Zamakhshari quotes a hadith to show that the term “waraqah” was also used in ancient times in the sense of silver, whether it was beaten into the shape of a note of currency or not. The hadith of his reference says, “A man had made an artificial nose from silver (“waraqah”) but it began to emit foul smell, so the Prophet allowed him to replace it with one made of gold.” Alusi doubts if the “waraqah” of the above hadith meant silver since silver does not emit foul smell although there is the possibility that the metal was adulterated and so got rusted.

In any case, there is another hadith in Kanz al-‘Ummal, chp. Riba wa Ahkamih, where the term “waraqah” has been employed in the sense of currency or coin (Au.).

[20] For, if they come to know of you, they will stone you (to death) or force you back to their religion, in which case you will never prosper.’

[21] Thus We disclosed them so that they know that Allah’s promise is true and that the Hour – there is no doubt about it.31 When they were disputing their affair between themselves; they said, ‘Construct a building over them.’ Allah knows them best. But those who prevailed over their affair said, ‘We shall surely build a place of worship over them.’32


31. Yusuf Ali comments: “Thus: in this way, by these means, i.e., by the 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 realized that Allah, Who can protect His servants thus and raise them up from sleep after such long time, has power to raise up men for the Resurrection, and that His promise 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 clear 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 realizes it.”

It is said that those very days the people of the town – who had all become believers – were hotly disputing among themselves over the nature of Resurrection: whether it will be only the soul that would be raised, or, both body and soul – seeing that the body is eaten by the earth. Allah Most High raised the youths and said, “Thus We disclosed them so that they know that Allah’s promise is true and that there is no doubt about the Hereafter” (Ibn Jarir, Kashshaf, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

32. Yusuf Ali remarks: “The perversity of man is such that as soon as ever a glimpse of truth becomes manifest, men fall into controversies about it.”

The Qur’an does not offer any detail about the place of worship that was built, whether it was built at all or not, and if built, exactly at what spot (Au.).

In any case, in our Shari`ah it is disallowed to build a mosque that encloses a grave, or is built over it. The Prophet (saws) said during his last sickness, as in a report of the Sahihayn, “Allah cursed the Jews and Christians who took the graves of their Prophets as places of worship.” In fact, it is even prohibited – following a hadith in Tirmidhi which he rated Hasan Sahih – to plaster a grave, or that it be given a concrete hump, it be sat upon, or a tomb be built over it. At best a muddy hump may be raised by a hand, or, alternatively, as Imam Abu Hanifah has said, a stone may be placed for recognition. It is reported that Fatimah, the Prophet’s daughter used to visit Hamza’s grave every Friday and had got a stone placed over it for recognition.

On this topic, it might also be said that where the earth is very soft (and it is feared that animals will attack the corpse: Au.) it is allowed to use a coffin (Qurtubi). What about those graves that have already been raised? The answer is, if there is no fear of commotion, riots or feuds, they might be demolished (Au.).

Muslim has a report from Abul Hayaj al-Asadi. He said, “`Ali told me, ‘I would like to send you to do what the Prophet had sent me to do, viz., his instruction to the effect: “you will not find an image but obliterate it, and will not find a raised grave but level it off’” (Alusi).

[22] They will say, ‘(They were) three; their fourth their dog.’ And they will say, ‘(They were) five; their sixth their dog’ – guesswork at the unknown. Yet others will say, ‘Seven, their eighth their dog.’ Say, ‘My Lord knows best their number.’ None knows them except a few.33 Therefore, dispute not over them, except in superficial terms, passingly,34 and seek not a pronouncement about them from any of them.35


33. Ibn ‘Abbas used to say, ‘I am of those few (that the Qur’an mentioned here) and I can say with confidence that they were seven, with their dog their eighth’ (Ibn Jarir, Kashshaf, Qurtubi). The statement of Ibn `Abbas is trustworthy (Ibn Kathir).

34. The opinion of Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, Qatadah and others was that such superficial argument should also be based on information that the Qur’an has supplied. That’s the meaning of the present instruction to the Prophet (Ibn Jarir).

35. The implied lesson is, do not seek knowledge (of the truth) from non-Muslims (Qurtubi).

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