Surah al-Kahf (The Cave ) 18 : 109

قُل لَّوْ كَانَ ٱلْبَحْرُ مِدَادًا لِّكَلِمَٰتِ رَبِّى لَنَفِدَ ٱلْبَحْرُ قَبْلَ أَن تَنفَدَ كَلِمَٰتُ رَبِّى وَلَوْ جِئْنَا بِمِثْلِهِۦ مَدَدًا

Translations

 
 Muhsin Khan
 Pickthall
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
Say, "If the whole ocean were ink for writing the words of my Lord, it would run dry before the words of my Lord are exhausted - even if We were to add another ocean to it."

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

The second concluding element shows the limits of human knowledge when compared with God’s infinite knowledge. As our imagination cannot reach the absolute, the Qur’ān gives us a simple analogy which we can easily comprehend, using its method of image drawing: “Say: If the sea were ink for my Lord’s words, the sea would surely dry up before my Lord’s words are exhausted, even though we were to add to it another sea to replenish it.” (Verse 109) The sea is the largest and richest thing known to mankind. People use ink to write down whatever they want to record. This is how they document their knowledge which they imagine to be great. Hence the Qur’ān puts forward the image of the sea with all its vast expanse, but which is now made of ink with which to write down God’s words that indicate His knowledge. Even though the whole sea is used, God’s words are not finished. At this point another sea of similar magnitude is brought forward, but it too is used in full while God’s words are far from finished.

It is with such a clear image and movement that the concept of the infinite is placed before the finite human intellect. A universal and abstract concept remains beyond human conception until it is described in specific terms. No matter how powerful a human being’s ability to understand the abstract is, he needs to relate an abstract concept to images and shapes, types and characteristics. This applies to abstract concepts of what is limited or tangible. How then can it fathom what is unlimited and intangible?

Hence, the Qur’ān gives analogies and draws on similarities in order to give people images and scenes that describe the great concepts it wants them to understand. It often uses what is tangible, and what has shape and definite characteristics and recognizable features in the same way as is employed here. In this example, the sea represents human knowledge which people imagine to be great. But huge and rich as the seas and the oceans may be, they remain limited. God’s words, on the other hand, represent His infinite knowledge for which people cannot set any limit. Indeed they cannot receive or record it all, let alone comprehend it.

2. Linguistic Analysis

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Frequency of Root words in this Ayat used in this Surah *


3. Surah Overview

4. Miscellaneous Information

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5. Connected/Related Ayat

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6. Frequency of the word

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7. Period of Revelation

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This is the first of those Surahs sent down in the third stage of Prophethood in Makkah. We have already divided the life of the Prophet at Makkah into four stages in the introduction to Surah 6: al-An’am (The Grazing Livestock). According to that division, the third stage lasted from the fifth to the tenth year of Prophethood. What distinguishes this stage from the second and the fourth stages is that during the second stage, the Quraysh mainly resorted to ridiculing, scoffing, threatening, tempting, raising objections and making false propaganda against the Prophet and his followers. But during the third stage they employed the weapons of persecution, man handling and economic pressure, so much so that a large number of the Muslims had to emigrate from Arabia to Abyssinia. Those who remained behind were besieged in Shi’ib Abi Talib along with the Prophet and his family. To add to their misery, a complete social and economic boycott was applied against them. The only redeeming feature was that there were two personalities, Abu Talib, who was the uncle of the Prophet and his wife Khadijah. Their personal influence had been conducive to the support of two great families of the Quraysh. However, when in the tenth year of Prophethood these two persons died, the fourth stage began with such severe persecution that the Prophet and all his companions were forced to emigrate from Makkah.

It appears from the theme of the Surah that it was revealed at the beginning of the third stage when in spite of persecutions and opposition the migration to Abyssinia had not yet taken place. That is why the story of ‘The Sleepers of the Cave’ has been related to comfort and encourage the persecuted Muslims and to show them how righteous people in history have been preserving their faith.

8. Reasons for Revelation

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This Surah was sent down in answer to three questions which the polytheists of Makkah in consultation with the People of the Book (the Jews and the Christians) put to the Prophet. These were:

1.         Who were ‘The Sleepers of the Cave?’

2.         What is the real story of Khidr?

3.         What do you know about Dhul-Qarnain?

These three questions and their stories related to the history of the Christians and the Jews and were unknown in the Arabian Peninsula (Hijaz), so they were being used to test the divine knowledge revealed to the Prophet. However, God informed the Prophet of the complete answer to these questions and also employed the stories in the conflict between Islam and unbelief.

The questioners were told that the ‘Sleepers of the Cave’ believed in the same doctrine of Monotheism (Tawhid) which was being put forward in the Qur’an and that their condition was similar to that of the persecuted Muslims of Makkah. Also, the persecutors of the Sleepers of the Cave behaved in the same way as the disbelievers of Quraysh towards the Muslims. This particular story was a warning to the chiefs of Makkah, who were persecuting the small newly formed Muslim community. Additionally, the Prophet was instructed not to compromise with the persecutors nor consider the chiefs to be more important than his own followers. Likewise, the chiefs too were admonished and informed not to be distracted by the temporary life of this world but seek the eternal life of the hereafter.

9. Relevant Hadith

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10. Wiki Forum

Comments in this section are statements made by general users – these are not necessarily explanations of the Ayah – rather a place to share personal thoughts and stories…

11. Tafsir Zone

 

12. External Links

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