Surah al-Kahf (The Cave ) 18 : 60

وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِفَتَىٰهُ لَآ أَبْرَحُ حَتَّىٰٓ أَبْلُغَ مَجْمَعَ ٱلْبَحْرَيْنِ أَوْ أَمْضِىَ حُقُبًا

Translations

 
 Muhsin Khan
 Pickthall
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
And [mention] when Moses said to his boy [i.e., servant], "I will not cease [traveling] until I reach the junction of the two seas even if it takes me years!"

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

This part of the sūrah begins by relating an episode in the life of the Prophet Moses which is not told or hinted at anywhere else in the Qur’ān. The sūrah does not give details of where this episode took place other than saying, ‘the place where the two seas meet.’ Nor does it define the period in Moses lifetime when the events took place. Thus, we do not know whether the events related took place when Moses was still in Egypt, before he led the Israelites on their way to Palestine, or after they had left it. If the latter, was it before he led them into the Holy Land, or when they stopped, refusing to enter because they did not wish to confront its powerful inhabitants? Was it after they had begun their forty years of wandering in the land, going to and fro, in total loss? The event involves a goodly servant of God’s whom Moses meets and accompanies for a period of time. But the sūrah does not give us any details of the identity of this person. It does not mention his name or status. Was he a prophet, a messenger, a scholar, or a person favoured by God for his strong faith and complete dedication to the service of His cause?
 
There are many reports attributed to Ibn `Abbās and others concerning the details of this story. One of them is related by al-Bukhārī who quotes Sa`īd ibn Jubayr, a scholar from the generation that followed the Prophet’s Companions as saying: “I said to `Abdullāh ibn `Abbās that Nawf al-Bakkālī claims that the person who accompanied al-Khađir [that is the name often given to the learned man in this story] was not Moses, God’s Messenger to the Children of Israel. He claims that he was a different person also named Moses. Ibn `Abbās replied: ‘That is a lie told by this enemy of God. Ubayy ibn Ka`b said to us that he heard God’s Messenger saying: Moses was making a speech to the Children of Israel when he was asked which person had been endowed with most knowledge. He replied that he himself was that person. God took issue with him for not having attributed knowledge to Him, so He sent him a message saying that there was at the point where the two seas meet a person who had been given greater knowledge than he had. Moses asked his Lord to tell him how he could meet this man. God told him to take a whole fish with him, keeping it in a container. Wherever he lost his fish, he would find that person.’
 
There are several reports that add details about this story. However, apart from a note on the probable location of the story, we prefer to limit ourselves to the Qur’ānic text without going into any further detail. This helps us to live ‘in the shade of the Qur’ān’. We believe that the way the story is told in the Qur’ān, without defining the time or place and without mentioning names, has a definite purpose. Therefore we will look at the Qur’ānic text and study it without additions.

Moses said to his servant: I shall journey on until I reach the point where the two seas meet, though I may march for ages. (Verse 60) Most probably, and God knows best, the place described here as the ‘point where the two seas meet’ refers to the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, and their meeting place is the area where the Bitter lakes and the Timsāh lake are found along the Suez Canal. It may also be a reference to the meeting point of the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of `Aqabah at the northern end of the Red Sea. This whole area witnessed the history of the Children of Israel after they left Egypt. Anyway, the Qur’ān only refers to it in passing without defining it further. There are several other reports suggesting where the area was that ‘the two seas meet, but we feel these are all unacceptable. We understand from the general drift of the story that Moses had a definite purpose behind his journey. He declares that he will travel as far as the meeting point of the two seas, no matter how troublesome the journey may prove, or how long it takes. He expresses his determination by the words quoted in the Qur’ān: “though I may march for ages.” There are differences as to the exact meaning of the Arabic word, ĥuqub, which is given in the translation as ‘ages’. Some scholars state that each such ĥuqbah, or age, denotes one year, while others say it denotes eighty years.

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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