It is We who relate to you their (the People of the Cave’s)... (Al-Kahf 18:13–14)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Sūratu’l-Kahf (The Cave)

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نَّحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ نَبَأَهُم بِالْحَقِّ ۚ إِنَّهُمْ فِتْيَةٌ آمَنُوا بِرَبِّهِمْ وَزِدْنَاهُمْ هُدًى۝ وَرَبَطْنَا عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ إِذْ قَامُوا فَقَالُوا رَبُّنَا رَبُّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ لَن نَّدْعُوَ مِن دُونِهِ إِلَـٰهًا ۖ لَّقَدْ قُلْنَا إِذًا شَطَطًا
It is We who relate to you their (the People of the Cave’s) exemplary story with truth. They were young men who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance (so they adhered to the truth more faithfully). And We strengthened their hearts, (and a time came) when they rose up (against association of partners with God and other injustices in the society), and they proclaimed: “Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, and we never invoke any deity apart from Him; if we did so, we would certainly have uttered an enormity (a monstrous unbelief).” (Al-Kahf 18:13–14)

The noun phrase of Ashābu’l-Kahf used in the verse means “the People of the Cave” or “the Companions of the Cave.” Whether they are considered to be followers of Jesus and the Gospel, or any other Prophet and Book, based on their mention in the Qur’ān, we can say that they are a group of people or community who represent all the movements of revival until the end of time. Every movement of revival inevitably suffers and has suffered oppression and persecution so that a period of concealment or remaining in a cave has been necessary.

As for the number of “the People of the Cave” mentioned in the Qur’ān, the Qur’ān refuses the claims that they were three, describes the claims that they were five as “guessing at random at the Unseen.” However, it does not criticize but remains silent as to the claims that “they were seven, and their dog being the eighth.”[1] Therefore, most of the commentators agree that they were seven, which the style of the Qur’ān also suggests. There is another fine point in the verse regarding their number: after stating that the number of the People was “seven,” it adds, “and their dog being the eighth.” The use of “and” (wa) indicates that human beings and dogs cannot be added together. The dog is not of the People of the Cave but accompanies them. This implies that as reported from the Prophet, even if their dog enters Paradise with the People of the Cave, the people will enter Paradise with their human characteristics and horizon and that dog accompanying them into the cave will enter it with its own distinguishing characteristics.

Now let us study the verse under discussion: God Almighty states, “It is We who relate to you their exemplary story with truth. They were young men who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance (so they adhered to the truth more faithfully).” They were a group of virtuous “young men who believed in their Lord” sincerely. They were courageous in heart, mind, and acts and in rebellion against falsehood. Despite their being few in number, since they had a sublime aim for the sake of which they started a movement of right guidance, God Almighty “increased them in guidance” out of His Mercy. They followed this guidance of their own free will, and He made them a firm community of brave young men who strove for sincere servanthood to God and rebelled against all evil and falsehood. As stated in the verse, “We strengthened their hearts,” God made their hearts firmer and stronger with His special favor and support. Thus, they remained firm in their mission in proportion to the profundity of their intention. They were supported by God sometimes visibly, and this added to their conviction and satisfaction.

The word ribāt, which is mentioned in the statement “warabatnā ‘alā qulūbihim” in the verse under discussion means connection with God. Always seeing Him, listening to and heeding Him, feeling Him, awareness of His Power, and always seeking Him are all included in the concept of ribāt. In one of his hadīths, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, mentions taking ablution under hard conditions, preferring to perform the Prayer in distant mosques and therefore taking more steps towards them, and waiting for the next Prayer after performing the previous one, and then adds, “This is ribāt” three times.[2] Indeed, this is being ever watchful of the servitude to God and thus being in contact with God to the degree one keeps watch against the enemy attacks. This is because ribāt also means the fortification or post on the frontier. Consequently, the statement, “warabatnā ‘alā qulūbihim” means, “We supported and strengthened their hearts with their connection to Us.” Certainly, those who attained such connection with God would be truthloving, faithful, brave, and indifferent to any danger and threat.

These faithful people “rose up” against association of partners with God and other injustices in the society. It is known that the concept of uprising or revolt entered world literature with such philosophers as Sartre, Camus, and Marcuse. However, their revolt was against the customs and traditions of a society and its religious conceptions and values that they regarded as ridiculous. However, the uprising of the People of the Cave was not so. They rose up declaring, “Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth,” and showed the alternative formation and construction. In other words, what they did was not an act of destruction and radical annihilation as existentialists suggested, rather, it was an act of building and reformation in connection with God. Having believed it is God Who has created the heavens and the earth and Who has absolute power and control over everything—administering the entire existence with such an ease as turning the beads of a rosary, they rose up with an alternative movement of renewal and reconstruction. They proclaimed their objection, saying, “We never invoke any deity apart from Him,” and started a sacred process, declaring: “if we did so, we would certainly have uttered an enormity (a monstrous unbelief).” Therefore:

1. It is not possible for us to think that their departure from society and taking shelter in the cave as a flight. Indeed, their departure was never like the departure of cowards; rather, it was like the departure of ‘Umar from Makkah, who challenged near the Ka‘bah: “I am migrating to Madīnah! Whoever wants to leave their wives widows and their kids orphans can come after me (to prevent me)!” In fact, what the People of the Cave did was apparently a flight, but theirs was a flight towards and taking refuge in God, as stated in the Qur’ān: “So, flee to (refuge in) God” (Adh-Dhāriyāt 51:50).

2. Such an uprising and ensuing disappearance caused their ideals and beliefs to be reflected in their community over time. This brave and sincere declaration and uprising changed many minds and softened many hearts. Like a seed sown under earth, the ideals, beliefs, and actions of these brave men were conveyed from mouth to mouth and from heart to hearts and came to be adopted by the community. Then, they grew and embraced almost all people, like buds that open and young shoots that grow into stalks of grain when their time has come.

3. According to certain reports, the People of the Cave belonged to the Roman royal families. It was hard to believe that one would leave the comfort and ease in the palace and enter upon a way that the king and the whole community rejected. Therefore, the attitude and action of the People of the Cave certainly attracted the attention of the community, and their sacrifices for the sake of the true Religion shocked their community. Hence, everyone’s attention was directed to the message that the People of the Cave represented and conveyed.

4. If the People of the Cave entered the cave with the intention of waiting for the conditions to change and thus be appropriate for the practice and communication of their message, they must have had the reward of 300 or 310 years of worship. It should also be considered that the sincerity and profundity of the intention add to the reward. For instance, if a tired person sleeps before performing the Night Prayer (‘ishā’) with the intention to wake up in the middle of the night and perform the Prayer peacefully in better conditions, this sleep may be regarded as worship. Therefore, the People of the Cave must have taken refuge in the cave with the intention of waiting for the change of the conditions in favor of their message. If you prefer the hard stones of the cave to the soft beds of the palace; consent to the dry bread in the cave, leaving the comfortable life behind; and instead of having a group of men and women standing before you to fulfill your desires and carry out your orders, agree with the friendship of a dog, will you not expect such reward to be added to your record of deeds? So undoubtedly, God must have added to their records of deeds the reward for their sincere intention.

5. A cave is indeed a place where believers are charged with spiritual, intellectual, and metaphysical energy and discover their essence. For it can be possible only through a Prophetic power and determination to strive against unbelief, shake it at a time when there is no balance of power, and defeat it in the end. Consider the life of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. Did he not remain in a cave for six months before his Messengership? All of those who have followed him and struggled against unbelief or heresy in his footsteps have spent a certain length of time in a cave. For instance, Imām al-Ghazālī, Imām ar-Rabbānī, Mawlāna Khālid al-Baghdādī, and Bediüzzaman Said Nursi spent a part of their lives in a cave to be charged with metaphysical energy to struggle against heresy, discover their very essence, and attain intellectual and spiritual maturity. While our Prophet was in seclusion in a cave for six months, there are saints and pure, saintly scholars nearstationed to God who have remained in caves for five or ten or even as long as sixty years.

The same reality also applies to communities that reconstruct history or give it a new direction and show humanity their essence once more. Indeed, it is possible to see a period of cave dwelling in the lives of almost all those communities that represent the spirit of futuwwah (youth and chivalry).

Truly, one needs a period of cave dwelling or seclusion in order to receive Divine inspirations and become receptive to heavenly favors.

Once the necessary messages and lessons are taken from the experience of the People of the Cave, engaging in the discussions about the unimportant issues such as the place of the Cave, the identity of the tyrannical emperor or governor who forced them to leave their town, and the time and the place where this event occurred, about which the Qur’ān and the Sunnah keep silent, means, according to the Qur’ān, “guessing at random at the Unseen” for only a crumb of information for the carnal, evilcommanding soul that is of no use for the spirit, faith, knowledge of God, love of God, or spiritual pleasure.

Our Lord! Grant us mercy from Your Presence and arrange for us in our affair what is right and good! And bestow blessings on our master Muhammad and on his Family and Companions until eternity!

[1] “(Instead of reflecting on the lesson to be learnt from the People of the Cave, people concentrate their interest on the details of the event.) Some will say they were three, the dog being the fourth among them; and some will say they were five, the dog being the sixth—all guessing at random at (something related to) the Unseen. Still others will say: ‘They were seven, the dog being the eighth.’…” (Al-Kahf 18:22).
[2] Muslim, Tahārah, 41; Tirmidhī, Tahārah, 39; Nasāī, Tahārah, 106; Muwattā’, Safar, 55.