Surat Al-Kahf (The Cave) – by Amr Khaled
Surat Al-Kahf is a Makkan surah. It was revealed after surat Al-Ghaashiyah, but in the order of the Qur’an it comes after surat Al-Isra’. It consists of 110 ayahs.
Threads for One Fabric
Surat Al-Kahf consists of four stories: The story of the people of the cave; that of the man with the two gardens; that of Prophet Musa (AS) (Moses) and Al-Khidr; and that of Dhul Qarnain. Several ayahs follow each story for further comment. Thus some questions are to be raised : What do these stories then have in common? Why is the surah named surat Al-Kahf? Why should it be read every Friday?
The Advantages and Rewards for whoever reads surat Al-Kahf
The Prophet (SAWS) said, “He who reads surat Al-Kahf on Friday, Allah will light for him radiance that stretches from his feet to the holy Ka’ba.”4.
The Prophet (SAWS) also said, “…and he who reads the last ten ayahs of surat Al-Kahf, Al-Dajjal will not be able to harm him.”5.
And in another Hadith, “…whoever among you encounters him – Al-Dajjal – should read upon him the opening ayahs of surat Al-Kahf.”6.
What is Al-Dajjal’s relationship with surat Al-Kahf and what do the stories within the surah have in common? Let’s then have a brief survey of the four above mentioned stories.
The cave of mercy
The first story talks about young men who believed in Allah (SWT) and called to Him despite the fact that the tribe they lived in was ruled by an unjust king who did not believe in Allah (SWT). The young men presented their religion (surrender to Allah as an only One Lord) to their people, but the the latter rejected them. Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “And We made their hearts firm and strong (with the light of Faith in Allah and bestowed upon them patience to bear the separation of their kith and kin and dwellings) when they stood up and said: “Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, never shall we call upon any iIlah (god) other than Him; if we did, we should indeed have uttered an enormity in disbelief.These our people have taken for worship illah (gods) other than Him (Allah). Why do they not bring for them a clear authority? And who does more wrong than he who invents a lie against Allah… but no one knows its true meanings except Allah” (TMQ, 18:14-15).
The young men began to call people to Allah (SWT), but they were denied and oppressed. Thus, Allah (SWT) inspired them to seek refuge in the Cave. Allah (SWT)
says what can be translated as, “…then seek refuge in the Cave; your Lord will open a way for you from His Mercy and will make easy for you your affair (i.e. will give you what you will need of provision, dwelling)… but no one knows its true meanings except Allah” (TMQ, 18:16).
Allah (SWT) supported them with great miracles: they dwelled in the cave for “three hundred (solar) years, adding nine (for lunar years)” (TMQ, 18:25). Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “…And you might have seen the sun, when it rose, declining to the right from their Cave, and when it set, turning away from them to the left, while they lay in the midst of the Cave…but no one knows its true meanings except Allah” (TMQ, 18:17).
“And you would have thought them awake, whereas they were asleep. And We turned them on their right and on their left sides…” (TMQ, 18: 18). All of these miracles were accomplished for the sake of protecting these young men. In fact, they awoke 309 years later to find that the people around them had become believers and that they were now part of a new society, filled with faith.
Arrogance challenging faith
The second story is that of a man upon whom Allah (SWT) bestowed His blessings and bounty. The man became absorbed in his new fortune, forgetting completely who granted it to him, and responding with challenge and doubt. Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “And put forward to them the example of two men: unto one of them We had given two gardens of grapes, and We had surrounded both with date-palms; and had put between them green crops (cultivated fields)…And he went into his garden while in a state (of pride and disbelief) unjust to himself. He said: “I think not that this will ever perish… but no one knows its true meanings except Allah” (TMQ, 18:32-35). Money had seduced him and distracted him from turning to Allah (SWT).“And I think not the Hour will ever come, and if indeed I am brought back to my Lord, (on the Day of Resurrection), I surely shall find better than this when I return to Him.” His companion said to him during the talk with him: “Do you disbelieve in Him Who created you out of dust (i.e. your father Adam), then out of Nutfah (mixed semen drops of male and female discharge), then fashioned you into a man?” (TMQ, 18:36-37). The fate of the man whose money left him arrogant and conceited: “So his fruits were encircled (with ruin). And he remained clapping his hands (with sorrow) over what he had spent upon it, while it was all destroyed on its trellises, and he could only say: “Would that I had ascribed no partners to my Lord” (TMQ, 18:42).
How to behave with regard to Allah’s predestination of events
The third story is that of Prophet Musa (AS) and Al-Khidr. Prophet Musa (AS) was asked by his people about who was the most knowledgeable on earth. Prophet Musa (AS) replied that he himself was. He thought that he had enough knowledge to earn that title, especially because he was one of Allah’s favored Prophets. However, Allah (SWT) revealed to him that there was a learned man elsewhere. For this reason, He commanded him (AS) to go to where the two seas met. Musa (AS), accompanied by a boy servant, traveled a great distance until he was overcome by fatigue. He then told his servant, “Truly, we have suffered much fatigue in this, our journey” (TMQ, 18:62).
He was extremely exhausted by the time he met up with the righteous and more knowing man. The type of knowledge that man had is in fact the trust in Allah’s predestination: the way Allah predetermines and arranges the course of events in life. There is also wisdom in Allah’s predestination which makes necessary for one to know for certain that Allah alone handles life matters. This knowledge, in short, is learning how to know Allah (SWT) in the correct way in so far as His handling of life matters is concerned.
Before Prophet Musa (AS) could accompany Al-Khidr on his journey, the latter set forth a few conditions. Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “Ask me not about anything till I myself mention of it to you… but no one knows its true meanings except Allah” (TMQ, 18:70). Prophet Musa (AS) replied, “If Allah wills, you will find me patient, and I will not disobey you in aught” (TMQ, 18:69).
The trip was marked by three incidents which seem very negative or malicious at first glance:
1- The ship Al-Khidr pierced because there was an unjust king who was taking away every ship by force.
2- The child Al-Khidr killed because he was not dutiful towards his parents who were righteous. His disobedience caused them too much trouble.
3- The wall Al-Khidr rebuilt because it was damaged in part, without recompense for his work especially in a town he wasn’t warmly welcomed. In fact, a treasure belonging to two orphan boys was buried beneath it. It would have been stolen had he (Al Khidr) not built the wall.
Allah’s wisdom seems to be not apparent at first glance in the way the three above-cited incidents are arranged; Al-Khidr’s acts seem not to be justified. This is to prove to the believers that Allah (SWT) may handle matters in ways we may not understand. Consequently, we may neither grasp the wisdom behind this nor appreciate the goodness or the positive effects this may have on our life. This is the type of knowledge, not found in any book, that Allah (SWT) wishes to teach not only to Prophet Musa (AS) but to us as well.
Verily, We established him in the earth
The last story is that of Dhul-Qarnain, the just king who spread truth, justice and goodness on earth. He had also the material means (scientific and technological) needed to achieve success and progress in life.
Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “Verily, We established him in the earth, and We gave him the means of everything…but no one knows its true meanings except Allah” (TMQ, 18:84). The king traveled eastwards and westwards to spread guidance on earth and fill it with justice and righteousness. On his journeys, he reached people who scarcely understand a saying. They said to him, “O Dhul-Qarnain! Verily Ya’juj and Ma’juj (Gog and Magog) are doing great mischief in the land. Shall we then pay you a tribute in order that you might erect a barrier between us and them?” (TMQ, 18:94).
Despite the fact that he was capable of building the barrier alone, he asked for help so that they may learn a lesson from it. Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “So help me with strength (of men), I will erect between you and them a barrier…but no one knows its true meanings except Allah” (TMQ, 18:95). He built the barrier, which has remained standing until today. However, we do not know where the barrier actually is, and thus will not be able to know where Ya’juj and Ma’juj’s are located until their appearance before the Day of Judgment.
The connection between the four stories
We must remember that the Qur’an does not just narrate stories in quite a random manner; they rather form an integral structure and serve a specific meaning. For example, the story of Prophet Musa (AS) does not mention the Pharaoh or the miracle of the stick because the meaning intended in this case is different from that found in either of those stories. What is then the thread which ties the four aforementioned stories together?
The stories talk about the major trials and temptations in human life:
1- The trial of religion: the case of people’s evil acts towards a believer in the form of harm, torture or threats which may cause his loss of faith, deviation from religion or fear. This was the trial the people of the cave experienced and passed.
2- The trial of wealth: this was the trial of the man with the two gardens, who was so proud of his wealth that he considered the hereafter not to be true. Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “And I think not the Hour will ever come, and if indeed I am brought back to my Lord, (on the Day of Resurrection), I surely shall find better than this when I return to Him…but no one knows its true meanings except Allah “ (TMQ, 18:36).
3- The trial of knowledge: The case of a man who boasts of the knowledge he possesses to the extent that he feels arrogant and hence forgets about modesty. Such a man may learn things of no benefit to him or to his community. Or else he may misuse the knowledge he was granted in a way that may harm him or the society in which he lives. The trial of knowledge is illustrated in the story of Prophet Musa (AS) and Al-Khidr. Prophet Musa (AS) thought that no one on earth was more knowledgeable than him. However, once he realized that this was untrue, he traveled a long distance to meet the more knowing man and to learn from him in a truly respectful and modest relation of a pupil to his teacher. Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “Musa said to him (Khidr): “May I follow you so that you teach me something of that knowledge (guidance and true path) which you have been taught (by Allah)? But no one knows its true meanings except Allah” (TMQ, 18:66).
4- The trial of power: The example of a man who, given all the means to achieve material and technological success to push civilization forward and to gain authority and power, denies Allah, abuses power and oppresses his people. In contrast to this sets the story of Dhul-Qarnain. The latter is presented as a just king who attributes his wealth and power to Allah (SWT) alone. Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “He said: “As for him (a disbeliever in the Oneness of Allah) who does wrong, we shall punish him, and then he will be brought back unto his Lord, Who will punish him with a terrible torment (Hell). “But as for him who believes (in Allah’s Oneness) and works righteousness, he shall have the best reward, (Paradise), and we (Dhul-Qarnain) shall speak unto him mild words (as instructions)…but no one knows its true meanings except Allah” (TMQ, 18:87-88). Dhul-Qarnain said: “This is a mercy from my Lord…” (TMQ, 18:98).
The stimulus of temptation
The four basic trials and temptations mentioned above represent the thread that tie the four stories together in surat Al-Kahf. Half-way in the surah, between the first two stories and the two remaining others, we are told that the stimulus of temptation is the enemy of Allah (SWT), namely, Iblis (Satan). Allah (SWT) says what can be translated as, “Will you then take him (Iblîs) and his offspring as protectors and helpers rather than Me while they are enemies to you? What an evil is the exchange for the Zâlimûn (polytheists, and wrong-doers)…but no one knows its true meanings except Allah” (TMQ, 18:50). Who, in their right mind, would take Allah’s enemy and theirs as a master and defender?
Protection from temptation
The main idea of the surah is protection from temptation. As it is mentioned in the Hadith before, the surah safeguards one from the greatest trial in the history of Mankind, from Prophet Adam (AS) until the Day of Judgment. It is that of Al-Dajjal. In this respect, the Prophet (SAWS) says: “Between the creation of Adam and the Day of Judgment, there exists no greater trial than that of Al-Dajjal.”7 A question is then to be raised : What is the connection between the trial of Al-Dajjal and the four aforementioned trials and temptations?
Al-Dajjal will appear before the Day of Judgment and present the four temptations. He will try to push people to abandon their faith and will ask them to worship him and not Allah (SWT). Allah (SWT) will give him the ability to perform miracles: Al-Dajjal then may promise to bring to life one’s mother and father if one rejects Allah (SWT) and believes in him instead. Everybody will be tempted except those blessed by Allah (SWT). Al-Dajjal has the temptation of wealth: he simply commands the sky to rain down on a particular piece of land and vegetation then flourishes. He will be able to transform a barren desert land into a beautiful green garden. He also has the temptation of knowledge: he captivates people with what he knows which leads some of them to believe in him. Finally, he has the temptation of power: he subjugates people to his strength and authority in many parts of the earth except Makkah and Al-Madinah. These are serious temptations that all Muslims, in all parts of the land and throughout all of time, must beware of. Reading surat Al-Kahf and understanding the meanings within it, especially the four stories and the divine messages they carry can do this.
Objectives of the surah: Protection from trial and temptation
The four stories in the surah are linked together through the string of trials. Each story is followed by comments which point out the lessons to be learned from it and how we can protect ourselves from trials and temptations. This is the magnificence of the Qur’an; it does not tell stories for their own sake but to serve the end of the surah namely protection from trials and temptations and to emphasize the lessons to be learned after each story. In this respect, the whole thrust of the surah is to make the following message crystal clear: protecting oneself from the various forms of temptation. One may wonder how this can be made.
1- The importance of having righteous companions:
The first trial is that of religion which was mentioned in the story of the people of the cave. In order for one to remain steadfast in one’s religious conduct and be protected from this trial, surat Al-Kahf advises:
a) Be in righteous company: “And keep yourself (O Muhammad, SAWS) patiently with those who call on their Lord (i.e. your companions who remember their Lord with glorification, praising in prayers, and other righteous deeds) morning and afternoon, seeking His Face; and let not your eyes overlook them, desiring the pomp and glitter of the life of the world” (TMQ, 18:28). Having good companions in life and striving to keep such companionship helps one to remain committed to his religious principles.
b) Remembering the hereafter: The hereafter is the ultimate destiny of both believers and disbelievers. By thinking continuously about it the Muslim protects himself from the various temptations he experiences “Verily, We have prepared for the Zâlimûn (polytheists and wrong-doers.), a Fire whose walls will be surrounding them (disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah). And if they ask for help (relief, water), they will be granted water like boiling oil that will scald their faces. Terrible is the drink, and an evil Murtafaq (dwelling, resting place.)!”(TMQ, 18:29).
2- Avoidance of Becoming Attached to this Life :
There are two lessons to be learned regarding protection from the trial of wealth to which the man with the two gardens was subjected:
1. Understanding the true purpose of this life: This is mentioned very clearly in the Ayah coming immediately after the story of the man with the two gardens. “And put forward to them the example of the life of this world.” I hereby invite you, my Muslim brothers, to take a long and contemplating look, , at the type of life you are attached to : “it is like the water (rain) which We send down from the sky,” so what happened to it “And the vegetation of the earth mingles with it,” so simply and so quickly and what else “But (later) it becomes dry and broken pieces, which the winds scatter. And Allah is Able to do everything” (TMQ, 18:45). The ayah lays out a picture in which we see quick flashes from the beginning of life to its middle and then to its end. The stages pass by quickly, and are tied together by the Arabic letter “fa” (meaning ‘and’) [And …mingles… becomes dry and broken pieces] which implies quick vanishing and thus refer to the nature of life itself. This life is passing; do not become attached to it, my brother in Islam, if you really want to be protected from trials and temptations.
2. Remembering the hereafter: Remember in particular the time you will stand in front of Allah, The Compeller. It is as if remembering the hereafter is a basic requirement one should meet in order to be protected from all trials (the trial of religion as well as that of wealth): “And (remember) the Day We shall cause the mountains to pass away (like clouds of dust), and you will see the earth as a leveled plain, and we shall gather them all together so as to leave not one of them behind” (TMQ, 18:47).
“And they will be set before your Lord in (lines as) rows, (and Allah will say): “Now indeed, you have come to Us as We created you the first time…” (TMQ, 18:48).
“And the Book (one’s Record) will be placed (in the right hand for a believer in the Oneness of Allah, and in the left hand for a disbeliever in the Oneness of Allah), and you will see the Mujrimun (criminals, polytheists, sinners), fearful of that which is (recorded) therein. They will say: “Woe to us! What sort of Book is this that leaves neither a small thing nor a big thing, but has recorded it with numbers!” And they will find all that they did, placed before them, and your Lord treats no one with injustice” (TMQ, 18:49).
To be granted protection from the trial of knowledge, one must be humble first to Allah (SWT) then in case one is a learner, to the teacher (the example of Musa’s relation to Al Khidr). This can be found in ayah 69: “Musa said (to Al Khidr) despite the fact that he was one of the favored Prophets of Allah (SWT) and the only one to speak with Him directly: “If Allah wills, you will find me patient, and I will not disobey you in aught.” (TMQ, 18:69). So beware of arrogance which may stem from the fact that you have high academic degrees, that you have encyclopedic knowledge or that you have learnt the Qur’an by heart . This may keep you from being humble to Allah (SWT).
The trial of power can be overcome through sincerity and humility to Allah (SWT) and by attributing one’s power and strength to Him: “(Dhul-Qarnain) said: “This is a mercy from my Lord…” (TMQ, 18:98).
The surah warns those who associate partners with Allah on the one hand and those who are not sincere in their acts of worship (SWT) on the other. Allah says what can be translated as : “Say (O Muhammad): “Shall We tell you the greatest losers in respect of (their) deeds? “Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life while they thought that they were acquiring good by their deeds. “They are those who deny the Ayat (proofs, evidence, ayahs, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) of their Lord and the Meeting with Him (in the Hereafter). So their works are in vain, and on the Day of Resurrection, We shall assign no weight for them” (TMQ, 18:103-105). This ayah is directed towards the polytheists, it warns them against associating partners with Allah (SWT). It concludes with the instruction for the believers to be sincere in their worship of Allah (SWT) alone. The Ayah addresses both categories in a parallel way.
“So whoever hopes for the Meeting with his Lord, let him work righteousness and associate none as a partner in the worship of his Lord” (TMQ, 18:110).
Whoever seeks Allah’s full acceptance of his deeds in the hereafter must satisfy to the following conditions : his work in this life must be done correctly in conformity with the Sunnah (sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad SAWS), and must be wholly dedicated to Allah (SWT). These two conditions are mentioned in the closing ayah of surat Al-Kahf.
The magnificence of the surah
Throughout the surah, we see many comments and brilliant remarks that increase our love and attachment to the Qur’an and to this surah, and at the same time serve the objective and core idea of the surah.
A lot of movement and positiveness
It is noticeable that there is a lot of movement in the surah. All of the stories in the surah deal with lively people who have constructive plans: ranging from the people of the cave who left their homes and their families and sought refuge in the cave (“…then seek refuge in the Cave”), to Prophet Musa’ (AS) journey to the junction of the two seas until he was worn out (“truly, we have suffered much fatigue in this, our journey”). We also see much movement when he accompanied Al-Khidr on his journey: “So they both proceeded, till, when they embarked the ship, he (Al-Khidr) scuttled it… Then they both proceeded, till they met a boy, and he (Al-Khidr) killed him… Then they both proceeded, till, when they came to the people of a town, they asked them for food…” (TMQ, 18:71-77).
Movement is also apparent in the story of Dhul-Qarnain: “So he followed a way” (TMQ, 18:85). Not only that, but he traveled the earth from east to west: “Until, when he came to the rising place of the sun…Until, when he reached between two mountains”(TMQ, 18:90-93). And he directed the people he was helping: “So help me with strength (of men)” (TMQ, 18:95). They did not simply stand there and watch him building the barrier, they were asked to assist him for it will make them acquire a certain know-how.
This all goes to prove that we can protect ourselves from trials and temptations by being active and positive and not by giving in and being passive. If a person is harmed or hurt in a particular place or region on earth, he should move to another place for the sake of practicing his religion. It is for this reason that Islam decrees immigration for the sake of preserving one’s religion (faith). The surah hints at this issue through the story of the people of the cave: the latters “immigrated” and sought refuge in the cave.
It is a pleasant matter that this surah is to be read on Friday which is a holiday for the Muslims. Instead of being idle and lazy on that day, the Muslims should read it and thus learn how to be active and positive because passivity makes them easily a prey to trials and temptations.
The Qur’an and protection from trials and temptations
It is interesting to note that the surah starts and ends with reference to the the Qur’an because it is a shield against temptation provided that we read it and understand the core ideas and objectives of its surahs.
“All the praises and thanks be to Allah, Who has sent down to His slave (Muhammad, SAWS) the Book (the Qur’an), and has not placed therein any crookedness” (TMQ, 18:1).
“Say (O Muhammad, SAWS, to mankind): “If the sea were ink for (writing) the Words of my Lord, surely, the sea would be exhausted before the Words of my Lord would be finished…” (TMQ, 18:109).
In other words, nothing surpasses Allah’s (SWT) words and actions. The first and foremost helper and protector is His Book: allusions to this truth are made both before and after the four trials and temptations.
Da’wa (missionary activity meaning the Call to Allah) and Protection From Trials and Temptations
Another interesting point in the surah is the fact that the four stories mentioned in it involve all of the aspects of the Call to Allah (SWT) :
Young men calling a king (the people of the cave).
A man calling his companion (the man with the two gardens).
A teacher calling his pupil (Al-Khidr and Prophet Musa (AS).
A king calling his people (Dhul-Qarnain).
This carries a very important meaning : the call to Allah (SWT) along with one’s attachment to the Qur’an act significantly to protect one from trials and temptations.
Believing in the unseen
We notice that the mentioning of the unseen is found in many parts of the stories in the surah. The story of the people of the cave is full of obscurities: how long they stayed in the cave, the location of the cave, and their number. There is an entire ayah (ayah 22) that evokes the controversy about their number …why?
There is also a certain vagueness about the location of the barrier built by Dhul-Qarnain, and where Ya’juj and Ma’juj will appear, as well as the actions of Al-Khidr and Prophet Musa’ (AS) questions…why is this so?
It is as if the surah reminds us that Allah alone knows the unseen, that situations in life appear in a way we don’t understand. The surah hence urges us to have trust in Allah and surrender to Him so that we can be assured protection from temptation insh’Allah (if Allah wills).
The cave of da’wa
There remains one last question: Why is the surah called surat Al-Kahf?
By simply hearing the word ‘cave’, a person may feel afraid, terrified and confused. So when the phrase “seek refuge in the cave” is uttered, two things are associated in his mind: darkness and the feeling of fear in such a dark place. However, Allah (SWT) makes the cave mentioned in the ayah a safe place and sends down his mercy upon the young men : “…then seek refuge in the Cave; your Lord will open a way for you from His Mercy” (TMQ, 18:16).
Allah (SWT), who alone knows the unseen, predetermines the course of events in a way Man totally ignores and can never predict as in the case of the young men who sought refuge in the deserted cave and ignored what will happen to them. surat Al-Kahf (the cave) was called so in order to make Man aware of his ignorance of the unseen and to tell the Muslim : “leave the unseen to Allah and put your trust in Him. Just as the young men sought refuge in the cave and Allah sent down his mercy upon them, do seek refuge in the ‘cave of Da’wa (the call to Allah) and surrender your situation to Allah (SWT) so that He will spread for you of His mercy and pave the way for you to obtain whatever you like.