Overview of Surah Kahf

Surah Al Kahf was revealed to Mohammad (saw) after the Jews, told the mushriks to ask the Prophets three things:

  • Who were the Sleepers of the cave and what was their story?
  • Who was Dhul Qarnain?
  • What he (Muhammad) knows about the Ruh?

The prophet (saw) told them that he would tell them in the morning, hoping that he would get revelation from Gibraeel, however he did not. After fifteen days the mushriks returned, thinking they triumphed over the Prophet. He (saw) began to feel sad but the next day Gibraeel revealed to him (saw), Surah Al Kahf, which contained the answers of their (the mushriks) question.

The Surah can be divided into about seven sections and contains four main stories. They are as follows:

The Sleepers of the Cave

This is about a number of youths who because of their belief in Allah (swt) were driven out of their homes, and ended up in a cave. Here Allah (swt) made them sleep for a number of years (309 lunar years which is 300 solar years).They then awoke, when asked how long they had slept for they estimated a day or half a day. One of the youths went to the town to get some food. He disguised himself thinking that the people would recognise him and harm him. But when he got there he found himself amongst a different people. The people of the town were amazed at his strange clothes and old coins. They went to the cave and saw the youth. After leaving it is reported that the youth went back to sleep and Allah (swt) caused them to die. Allah (swt) knows best.

The Christian version of this story is known as ‘The Seven Sleepers of Epheus’, however the Qur’aan mentions not the number of those who were in the cave, rather Allah (swt) says:

(Some) say they were three, the dog being the fourth among them; (others) say they were five, the dog being the sixth,- doubtfully guessing at the unknown; (yet others) say they were seven, the dog being the eighth. Say thou: “My Lord knoweth best their number; It is but few that know their (real case).” Enter not, therefore, into controversies concerning them, except on a matter that is clear, nor consult any of them about (the affair of) the Sleepers. [18:22]

If the number of those in the cave had any importance or significance, surely Allah would have told us, we are told not to waste our time discussing such matters. The importance of the story is not how many men were in the cave, but the message that it carries.

The location of the cave is also not mentioned, except that Allah (swt) says:

Thou wouldst 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 open space in the midst of the Cave… [18:17]

Some scholars have said that the location of the cave is ‘Arajeeb’ in Jordan, according to the description given in the above verse. But again, the location of the cave is not mentioned in the Qur’aan and therefore bears no significance.

The Owners of the Two Gardens

This is a story about two men, one of whom had been given two gardens by Allah. He began to boast, forgetting to thank Allah (swt) for the bounties bestowed upon him. The second man warned him and told him to be thankful to Allah (swt) but he refused and so Allah (swt) destroyed his garden.

This story gives an example of the tests of wealth. Its shows that wealth is a temporary thing in this life, and just as Allah (swt) can give, He can also take it away at any moment He likes. The man had thought himself superior in terms of wealth; however this it is not the level of wealth that Allah (swt) will judge us by, but by our level of taqwa and Imaan.

Al Khidr

The full story of Al Khidr is mentioned in the following hadith:

Ubai Ibn Ka’b told us that the Prophet (PBUH) said: Once Moses stood up and addressed Bani Israel. He was asked who the most learned man amongst the people was. He said: “I.” Allah admonished him as he did not attribute absolute knowledge to Him (Allah). So, Allah said to him: “Yes, at the junction of the two seas there is a slave of Mine who is more learned than you.” Moses said: “O my Lord! How can I meet him?” Allah said: “Take a fish and put it in a large basket and you will find him at the place where you will lose the fish.”

Moses took a fish and put it in a basket and proceeded along with his (servant) boy, Joshua (Yusha Ibn Nun), till they reached the rock where they laid their heads (i.e. lay down). Moses slept, and the fish, moving out of the basket, fell into the sea. It took its way into the sea (straight) as in a tunnel. Allah stopped the flow of water over the fish and it became like an arch (the Prophet pointed out this arch with his hands). They travelled the rest of the night, and the next day Moses said to his boy (servant): “Give us our food, for indeed, we have suffered much fatigue in this journey of ours.” Moses did not feel tired till he crossed that place which Allah had ordered him to seek after. His boy (servant) said to him: “Do you know that when we were sitting near that rock, I forgot the fish, and none but Satan caused me to forget to tell (you) about it, and it took its course into the sea in an amazing way?” So there was a path for the fish and that astonished them. Moses said: ‘That was what we were seeking after.”

So both of them retraced their footsteps till they reached the rock. There they saw a man lying covered with a garment. Moses greeted him, and he replied saying: “How do people greet each other in your land?” Moses said: “I am Moses.”

The man asked: “Moses of Bani Israel?” Moses said: “Yes, I have come to you so that you may teach me from those things which Allah has taught you.” He said: “O Moses! I have some of the knowledge of Allah which Allah has taught me and which you do not know, while you have some of the knowledge of Allah which Allah has taught you and which I do not know.” Moses asked: “May I follow you?” He said: “But you will not be able to remain patient with me, for how can you be patient about things which you will not be able to understand?” Moses said: “You will find me, if Allah so will, truly patient, and I will not disobey you in aught.”

So both of them set out walking along the sea-shore. A boat passed by them, and they asked the crew of the boat to take them on board. The crew recognised Al-Khidr, so they took them on board without fare. When they were on board the boat, a sparrow came and stood on the edge of the boat and dipped its beak once or twice into the sea. Al-Khidr said to Moses: “O Moses! My knowledge and your knowledge have not decreased Allah’s knowledge except as much as this sparrow has decreased the water of the sea with its beak.” Then suddenly Al-Khidr took an adze and pulled up a plank, and Moses did not notice it till he had pulled up a plank with the adze. Moses said to him: “What have you done? They took us on board charging us nothing; yet you have intentionally made a hole in their boat so as to drown its passengers. Verily, you have done a dreadful thing.” Al-Khidr replied: “Did I not tell you that you would not be able to remain patient with me?” Moses replied: “Do not blame me for what I have forgotten, and do not be hard upon me for my fault.” So the first excuse of Moses was that he had forgotten.

When they had left the sea, they passed by a boy playing with other boys. Al-Khidr took hold of the boy’s head and plucked it with his hand like this. (Sufyan, the sub-narrator gestured with his fingertips as if he were plucking some fruit.) Moses said to him: “Have you killed an innocent person who has not killed any person? You have really done a horrible thing.” Al-Khidr said: “Did I not tell you that you could not remain patient with me?” Moses said: “If I ask you about anything after this, don’t accompany me. You have received an excuse from me.”

Then both of them went on till they came to some people of a village, and they asked its inhabitants for food but they refused to entertain them as guests. Then they saw therein a wall which was just going to collapse and Al Khidr repaired it just by touching it with his hands. Moses said: “These are the people, whom we have called on, but they neither gave us food, nor entertained us as guests, yet you have repaired their wall. If you had wished, you could have taken wages for it.”

Al-Khidr said: “This is the parting between you and me, and I shall tell you the explanation of those things on which you could not remain patient.” [Sahih Bukhari]

The explanation of the events are in the Qur’aan:

“As for the ship, it belonged to poor people working in the sea. So I wished to make a defective damage in it, as there was a king after them who seized every ship by force.

“And as for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared lest he should oppress them by rebellion and disbelief. So we intended that their Lord should change him for them for one better in righteousness and near to mercy.

“And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the town; and there was under it a treasure belonging to them; and their father was a righteous man, and your Lord intended that they should attain their age of full strength and take out their treasure as a mercy from your Lord. And I did it not of my own accord. That is the interpretation of those (things) over which you could not hold patience. [18:79-82]

Some scholars believe that the story is set around the Sinai peninsular, where Musa and the Israelites are said to have stayed.

According to hadith literature the slave boy, is called Yusha` bin Nun who became the leader of the Israelites after Musa (as)

Al Khidr is the name given to the man in the story. This is reported in Sahih Al Bukhari, in which the Prophet (saw) said that he (the man) was named Al Khidr (which means green), because he sat on a patch of withered vegetation and it turned green. It is debated whether he is a prophet or angel. According to ibn Kathir, those who say he was a Prophet of Allah (swt) base it upon the following ayah:

“So they found one of Our servants, on whom We had bestowed Mercy from Ourselves and whom We had taught knowledge from Our own Presence.” [18:65]

Dhul Qarnain

Dhul Qarnain was a righteous king, who travelled, west and east. The Qur’aan describes three of his journeys, the last being the most significant. He travelled to a place between two mountains where he met a tribe of people. They asked him to erect a wall between them and the tribes of Ya’juj and Ma’juj who caused mischief in the land. Dhul Qarnain agreed to do so.

Dhul Qarnain translates to the ‘Two Horned King’. The Qur’aan gives no information about who he was; however popular opinion identifies him as Alexander the Great. Others opinion is that he was an ancient Persian king, while some say he was a Himyarite king. This is refuted by many Muslims scholars who say he was a king, who lived at the time of Ibraheem (as)

The Qur’aan relates to us of 3 journeys that he takes, one to a western land:

“…Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it set in a spring of murky water…” [18:86]

Here he found a nation of people, Allah (swt) gave him the choice to punish them or treat them kindly. Dhul Qarnain chose to punish those who persisted in kufr and treat the beleivers well

His second journey is to an eastern land:

“…Until, when he came to the rising of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We had provided no covering protection against the sun.”[18:90]

Where he found a people, who Allah had not provided with shade, i.e. they had no buildings or trees to keep them shade.

And lastly he travels to a land between two mountains:

“…Until, when he reached (a tract) between two mountains… [18:93]

Here, he met a people who asked him to build a barrier between them and the tribes of Ya’juj and Ma’juj.

Ya’juj and Ma’juj are from the progeny of Adam, i.e. they are human beings. Folklore has spread, claiming they are not human, or different from humans in some way. For example they are describes to have two large ears, one is used as a bed and the other as a duvet to cover themselves with. However this is false, as it is reported in a sahih hadith that they are the descendants of Yafith the son of Nuh (as).

Ya’juj and Ma’juj compromise nine tenths of mankind. This is according to the following hadith:

“Allah divided mankind into ten parts. Nine tenths constitute Ya’juj and Ma’juj while the remaining one tenth constitutes the rest of mankind.” [Abdullah-b-Amr/Fathul-Bari]

The whereabouts of the wall constructed by Dhul Qarnain is unknown. There have been many speculations. Some say it is the great wall of China, some say it is in Russia, however, Allah knows best where the wall is and when the Hour (the day of judgement) draws near, by Allah’s will the wall will be destroyed and the tribes of Ya’juj and Ma’juj will be set loose to cause havoc on the earth, destroying everything that they come across.

Virtues of Surah Al Kahf

Surah Al Kahf has many virtues. It is a Sunnah to recite this Surah every Friday. As well as this, it is reported in hadith, that whoever memorises the beginning of this Surah will be protected from the dajjal;

Whoever memorizes ten Ayat from the beginning of Surat Al-Kahf will be protected from the Dajjal. [Muslim, Abu Dawud, An-Nasa'i and At-Tirmidhi]

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