Surah al-Kahf (The Cave ) 18 : 9

أَمْ حَسِبْتَ أَنَّ أَصْحَٰبَ ٱلْكَهْفِ وَٱلرَّقِيمِ كَانُوا۟ مِنْ ءَايَٰتِنَا عَجَبًا


 Muhsin Khan
 Yusuf Ali
Quran Project
Or have you thought that the companions of the cave and the inscription were, among Our signs, a wonder?

1. Lessons/Guidance/Reflections/Gems

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Explanatory Note

At this point, the sūrah draws an image of their psychological condition, and we see them with chains around their necks, barriers separating them from divine guidance, and with a cover over their eyes depriving them of the ability to see:“Around their necks We have put chains, reaching up to their chins, so that their heads are forced up. And We have set a barrier before them and a barrier behind them, and We enshrouded them in veils so that they cannot see.” (Verses 8-9)

Their hands are fastened with chains to their necks, placed under their chins, which has the effect of lifting up their heads such that they cannot see what is in front of them. Moreover, there are walls and barriers both in front of and behind them, which means that even if they were released from these chains, they still could not see through the barriers. Furthermore, the covers placed over their eyes makes it even more impossible for them to see.

Although this image is fierce and sharp, we actually do encounter people of this ilk. When you see them overlooking the plain truth that is in front of them, you feel as if there is a wall separating them from it. Although their hands are not chained and nor are their heads forced up, you nonetheless feel that their souls and minds are turned away from the truth, unable to see guidance. It is as if there are barriers preventing them from approaching it. Such were the people who turned deaf ears to the Qur’ān and who received it with irrational denial as it put before them its argument and proof. This is when the Qur’ān is itself irrefutable proof.

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 9 - 12)

Young Men with Clear Insight
After its brief opening, the sūrah speaks about the people of the cave, depicting the effect faith has on believers: giving them reassurance and inner peace. Hence, they prefer it to all material riches and pleasures. When they find it hard to live as believers within their community, they seek refuge in a cave where they receive God’s care and protection and enjoy His grace.
There are countless reports that speak about the sleepers in the cave, and just as many versions of their story. However, we have no use for any of these; we will confine ourselves to what the Qur’ān tells us about them as it is the only source that provides true information. There may be other reports that have found their way into books of commentary on the Qur’ān, but we will disregard all these as they lack proof of authenticity. In this we rely on good counsel, because the sūrah contains an order prohibiting all argument concerning the people of the cave and reference to any source other than the Qur’ān in trying to establish the truth about them.
It is reported that the reason for the revelation of this story and that of Dhu’l- Qarnayn, related later in the sūrah, is that the Jews persuaded the people of Makkah to put to the Prophet questions concerning them, and also concerning the spirit. It is also said that the people of Makkah themselves asked the Jews to prepare some questions for them to test whether Muĥammad was a true Prophet. This may be partially or totally true, especially since the account giving the history of Dhu’l- Qarnayn begins with, “They will ask you about Dhu’l-Qarnayn. Say: I will give you an account of him.’” (Verse 83) But no reference is made to any question about the people of the cave. We leave this point aside and proceed to discuss the story as it is related, since it is clearly relevant to the main theme of the sūrah.
The structure of the story begins with a short summary before its narration in detail. It is shown in a series of scenes with some gaps left in between. Nevertheless, all omissions are clearly understood.
The story begins as follows: Do you think that the people of the cave and the inscription were a wonder among Our signs? When those youths took refuge in the cave, they said: ‘Our Lord! Bestow on us Your grace, and provide for us right guidance in our affair.’ So We drew a veil over their ears in the cave, for a number of years, and then We awakened them so that We might mark out which of the two parties managed to calculate the time they had remained in that state. (Verses 9-12) This sums up the whole story showing its main lines and features. We learn from it that the people of the cave were youths, whose number is not mentioned, and that they went to the cave to isolate themselves from their community because they believed in God. We also learn that they were made to sleep in the cave for a number of years, which is not stated here, before they were aroused from their long slumber. We are told of two groups arguing about them, so they were awakened to make clear which of the two groups calculated their stay in the cave better. We are clearly told that, strange as their history is, it is not particularly marvellous among the miracles and signs given by God. Indeed there are numerous things that are much more marvellous and miraculous in the universe than the story of the cave people. Those youths are referred to in the sūrah as ‘the people of the cave and the inscription’. A cave is a natural chamber in a mountain or under rocky ground, while the inscription refers, most probably, to the record of their names which was, perhaps, the one hung at the entrance of the cave, where they were eventually found.

12. External Links

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