[Al-Quran 50:6-8] Have they not looked at the heaven above them - how We structured it and adorned it and how it has no rifts? And the earth - We spread it out and cast therein firmly set mountains and made grow therein [something] of every beautiful kind, Giving insight and a reminder for every servant who turns [to Allah].

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Lessons in Surah Al-Kahf (The Cave)

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Surah Al-Kahf [Quran Chapter 18]  is a fascinating chapter containing fantastic lessons for patient perseverance in trials of faith, wealth, knowledge and power!   

By drawing attention to scientific phenomenon, [1] [2] [3] [4], discovered by scientists only recently, it seems to me that the underlying, unifying message is that possibility and impossibility are merely limitations of our human minds: for God, nothing is impossible. God calls, guides, promises and delivers!  The trials of faith, wealth, knowledge and power are meant to test the sincerity of belief, trust in God and assurance of the hereafter. Truth triumphs over falsehood, eventually and always! God completely controls and prevails over everything.   

This Surah contains four unique stories with wondrous scientific phenomenon, each with a subterranean reference. In the first story, God delivers the faithful from religious persecution through prolonged sleep in a cave, in the second story, wealth is but a means of trial, and can suffer decline whenever God wills, such as the disappearance of the water of flourishing orchards; in the third, no matter how knowledgable a person is, there is so much of knowledge and wisdom beyond human comprehension, the story begins with the strange phenomenon of a fish returning to the water by a rock; and in the last, containing lessons in how faith complementing power benefits mankind, the powerful Dhu-al-Qarnayn contains the corruption of the land by sealing the opening in between the mountain-sides where the mischief-makers were coming from.    

Surah Al-Kahf contains 110 verses. In the middle of the chapter, verses 54 and 55 read: 
[Al-Quran 18:54-55, translator: Yusuf Ali]: We have explained in detail in this Qur'an, for the benefit of mankind, every kind of similitude: but man is, in most things, contentious. And what is there to keep back men from believing, now that Guidance has come to them, nor from praying for forgiveness from their Lord, but that (they ask that) the ways of the ancients be repeated with them, or the Wrath be brought to them face to face? 

The Trial of Faith
The people were guided to seek refuge in the cave as they were being persecuted for their faith. According to the following verses, the reason for their persecution is their open declaration of faith.

[Al-Quran 18:13-15, translator: Pickthall]: We narrate unto thee their story with truth. Lo! they were young men who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance. And We made firm their hearts when they stood forth and said: Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth. We cry unto no Allah beside Him, for then should we utter an enormity. These, our people, have chosen (other) gods beside Him though they bring no clear warrant (vouchsafed) to them. And who doth greater wrong than he who inventeth a lie concerning Allah? 

They feared being stoned or forced to change their faith, as the following verse informs us: 

[Al-Quran 18:20, translator: Pickthall]: For they, if they should come to know of you, will stone you or turn you back to their religion; then ye will never prosper. 

God blessed their willing hearts with faith, and then advanced them in guidance and firmness. God showed that God’s promise is true, both of deliverance and of resurrection: that nothing is impossible for God, and just as he caused these people to wake up after sleeping in the cave for 300 years, so will be the resurrection! 

Advice for Believers 
[Al-Quran 18:27-28, translator: Pickthall]: 
And recite that which hath been revealed unto thee of the Scripture of thy Lord. There is none who can change His words, and thou wilt find no refuge beside Him. Restrain thyself along with those who cry unto their Lord at morn and evening, seeking His Countenance; and let not thine eyes overlook them, desiring the pomp of the life of the world; and obey not him whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance, who followeth his own lust and whose case hath been abandoned.

The Trial of Wealth 
The intoxication of wealth and might leads one to arrogance and ingratitude. The prosperous owner of the two gardens erroneously assumed that he was infallible, as he states in the following quote: 

[Al-Quran 18:35-36, translator: Pickthall]: And he went into his garden, while he (thus) wronged himself. He said: I think not that all this will ever perish. I think not that the Hour will ever come, and if indeed I am brought back unto my Lord I surely shall find better than this as a resort. 

Then, when he suffered loss, he laments: 
[Al-Quran 18:42, translator: Pickthall]: And his fruit was beset (with destruction). Then began he to wring his hands for all that he had spent upon it, when (now) it was all ruined on its trellises, and to say: Would that I had ascribed no partner to my Lord! 

Advice for Believers 
[Al-Quran 18:45-46, translator: Pickthall]: And coin for them the similitude of the life of the world as water which We send down from the sky, and the vegetation of the earth mingleth with it and then becometh dry twigs that the winds scatter. Allah is able to do all things. Wealth and children are an ornament of the life of the world. But the good deeds which endure are better in thy Lord's sight for reward, and better in respect of hope.

The Trial of Knowledge 
Most people contend faith and belief, questioning God’s mercy and wisdom, arguing that there is too much suffering and pain in this world, which cannot be the work a loving God. However, there is so much that we do not know that it is not possible for us to understand or even rationalise suffering. Yet, it does not become of us to question or judge God. 

[Al-Quran 18:66-70, translator: Shakir]: Musa said to him: Shall I follow you on condition that you should teach me right knowledge of what you have been taught? He said: Surely you cannot have patience with me And how can you have patience in that of which you have not got a comprehensive knowledge? He said: If Allah pleases, you will find me patient and I shall not disobey you in any matter. He said: If you would follow me, then do not question me about any thing until I myself speak to you about it  

In Prophet Moses’ quest to seek knowledge from one endowed with greater knowledge and wisdom, Moses is warned that he will not be able to bear patiently with actions which his knowledge does not compass. Yet, each of the three ‘apparently outrageous’ actions had a rationale behind it. There is simply so much more than what meets the eye! 

[1] The apparent loss caused by the hole in the boat saved it from being seized by the tyrant King. 
[2] The apparent loss of a child was to bless the parents with a better child 
[3] The apparent service of building a wall free-of-charge for people not inclined to charity was actually to protect the treasure of two orphans    

As we are ignorant of many higher truths and facts, we just have to trust God’s Will, hold on to the guidance and patiently persevere. Our responsibility is to faithfully and righteously do deeds which make the world a better place, and accumulate these good deeds for our Hereafter. That's our test, and that's what we are accountable for, playing our role, instead of questioning God and His reasons and methods.  

The Trial of Power 
Dhu-al-Qarnayn had enormous power and access to everywhere on Earth. He travelled to and conquered various lands, and had full authority over the people. He used his power to contain evil and encourage good. A key lesson from Dhu-al-Qarnayn’s handling of the ‘yajuj majuj’ problem is that he used his power to contain corruption of the land, and thereby bring peace to a people suffering lawlessness. 

Elsewhere in the Quran, oppression has been identified as worse than slaughter, and therefore the importance of being prepared in military might and warfare to be able to deter, contain and neutralise corruption and oppression. The purpose of power is  to bring peace to the world, and that is what we should strive for at all levels!  

[Al-Quran 18:103-106, translator: Yusuf Ali]: Say: "Shall we tell you of those who lose most in respect of their deeds? "Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life, while they thought that they were acquiring good by their works?” They are those who deny the Signs of their Lord and the fact of their having to meet Him (in the Hereafter): vain will be their works, nor shall We, on the Day of Judgment, give them any weight. That is their reward, Hell, because they rejected Faith, and took My Signs and My Messengers by way of jest. 

Surah Al-Kahf, which contains references to wondrous phenomenon, sums up the chapter in the  last two verses with the following words: 
[Al-Quran 18:109-110, translator: Pickthall]: Say: Though the sea became ink for the Words of my Lord, verily the sea would be used up before the words of my Lord were exhausted, even though We brought the like thereof to help. Say: I am only a mortal like you. My Lord inspireth in me that your Allah is only One Allah. And whoever hopeth for the meeting with his Lord, let him do righteous work, and make none sharer of the worship due unto his Lord. 

Last updated on: October 10, 2014


  1. I like this is a very good post on Sura Al Khaf, you have done an excellent job in getting the true message of this Sura, which is also protection from Fitna of Dajjal, these 4 trials are test for us at end of Times / Dajjal. Who was Khidr A.S ? , why his identity concealed ?

  2. Alhamdolillah! Thank you! I think there are yet more learnings in this Surah, and I hope and pray that Allah helps us in grasping their meanings and implementing the lessons in our deeds. May Allah increase us in guidance and accept and bless our efforts. Amen.
    The Quran does not mention Khidr A.S. by name, and therefore I do not assume or insist upon it. The debate on Khidr A. S. :- his being human or non-human, him being mortal or immortal, etc. have been the subject of much controversy and dissension among Muslims.
    According to my understanding, the main learning from this story is that all of us humans, including even the most knowledgable of humans, i.e. the Prophets and Messengers who are the greatest teachers of mankind, know very little of the higher truths and the hidden reasons behind the apparent - what we observe with our limited senses and interpret with our limited knowledge, hence we must be humble and non-judgemental towards the decrees of God and the happenings around us.
    Who this person was from whom Moses, the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, learnt some lessons, is, in my humble opinion, irrelevant to the message.
    And Allah knows best.