Surah al-Kahf (The Cave ) 18 : 16

وَإِذِ ٱعْتَزَلْتُمُوهُمْ وَمَا يَعْبُدُونَ إِلَّا ٱللَّهَ فَأْوُۥٓا۟ إِلَى ٱلْكَهْفِ يَنشُرْ لَكُمْ رَبُّكُم مِّن رَّحْمَتِهِۦ وَيُهَيِّئْ لَكُم مِّنْ أَمْرِكُم مِّرْفَقًا


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
[The youths said to one another], "And when you have withdrawn from them and that which they worship other than Allāh, retreat to the cave. Your Lord will spread out for you of His mercy and will prepare for you from your affair facility."

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

Here they are talking about two vastly different ways of life. There can be no meeting point between the two, and there can be no participation by these young believers in the life of their community. They had no choice but to flee in order to protect their faith. They are not prophets able to present to their community the true faith, calling on them to accept it. They are simply a group of young people who have been able to discern the right path out of a bleak, unbelieving environment. Should they have stood up in public to declare their faith, they might well not have been able to withstand the pressure on them to abandon it. Nor could they resort to pretence and avoidance, appearing to concur with their people while worshipping God in secret. Furthermore, it appears that, most probably, their secret was found out. Hence they had no option but to flee, seeking God’s protection and support. They preferred life in the cave to all the attractions that their society offered.

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


Overview (Verses 16 - 18)

Spreading Grace
That is the conclusion of their consultations and they immediately put it into effect: “Hence, now that you have withdrawn from them and all that they worship instead of God, take refuge in the cave. God may well spread His grace over you and make fitting arrangements for you in your affairs.” (Verse 16)
The surprise here is great indeed. These young believers who have abandoned their people and families, forsaking all the pleasures of this life and preferring instead to sleep rough in a small dark cave, begin to sense God’s grace. They feel it coming, easy, comforting, abundant, limitless. It is spread over them to change the quality of their life in the cave: “God may well spread His grace over you.” (Verse 16) Thus, the cave becomes like a wide expanse, where God’s grace is bestowed in abundance to change their whole outlook on life and bring about comfort and contentment. The solid, rocky walls of the cave are made to overlook a wide horizon, and loneliness in the cave is totally dispelled, for God has spread His grace over their young hearts and He takes care of them, arranging something for their comfort.
This is an aspect of what faith can do to a person. All appearances undergo a fundamental change. All that people may value and all their concepts with regard to life and happiness do not matter. When a human heart is full of faith, it sees a totally different world, where God’s grace imparts reassurance and genuine happiness. Hence whatever turn events may take will be accepted, because the total result is comforting and fitting for one’s life in this world and in the life to come: “God may well spread His grace over you and make fitting arrangements for you in your affairs.” (Verse 16)
With these young people proceeding to the cave, the story moves on to the next scene. Now we see them settled in the cave, overtaken by sleep: You might have seen the sun, on its rising, incline away from their cave on the right, and, on its setting, turn away from them on the left, while they lay in a space within. That was one of God’s signs. He whom God guides is indeed rightly guided, but for him whom He lets go astray you can never find any protector who would point out the right way. You would have thought that they were awake, when they were certainly asleep. And We turned them over repeatedly, now to the right, now to the left; and their dog lay at the cave’s entrance, with its forepaws outstretched. Had you come upon them, you would have certainly turned away from them in flight, and would surely have been filled with terror of them. (Verses 17-18) This is a remarkable scene. Not only do we see how the young men looked and what they were doing, we have a picture full of life, with the sun rising, but deliberately moving away from their cave. The word used here, ‘inclining away’, imparts a sense of deliberate action taken for a particular purpose. Again when it is time for the sun to move in the other direction before it sets, it turns away to the left so that their cave remains unseen. All the while, they lay in a space within.
Before completing its description of the scene, the sūrah makes a familiar Qur’ānic comment which draws people’s attentions to a particular aspect of faith that is relevant at that particular point: “That was one of God’s signs.” (Verse 17) It was indeed a great sign, something highly remarkable. They were put in a cave where they could not see the sun, nor its rays. It gave them neither light nor warmth. They remained in their position, alive but motionless.
“He whom God guides is indeed rightly guided, but for him whom He lets go astray you can never find any protector who would point out the right way.” (Verse 17) There is a certain divine law that determines which people may receive God’s guidance and which are left in error. When a person looks at God’s signs and accepts what they indicate, that person finds God’s guidance in accordance with His law. Hence, he is ‘indeed rightly guided.’ (Verse 17) But whoever turns his back on these signs and refuses to understand the message they impart is bound, according to God’s law, to go astray. Hence he is left in error and will have none to guide him.
The sūrah goes on to show the young people asleep in their cave. They are turned from one side to another in their very long slumber. Anyone looking at them would think them awake when they were fast asleep. Their dog remains at the entrance to the cave, stretching his forepaws like dogs normally do when they rest. He takes the position normally taken by a guard dog. The whole scene would fill any onlooker with terror so as to put them to flight. He would find people looking as though they were awake but in reality were asleep, unable to wake or move. This was all God’s arrangement, protecting them, until the time He chose for their awakening.

12. External Links

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