The story of the three men who were trapped in the cave is one of the most authentic of stories that can be attributed to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), however, it is often neglected despite it containing real solutions to what we are experiencing as Muslims at both the global and individual levels. Since it was a prophetic habit of using the stories of the past to address current dilemmas, today we will be doing the exact same.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,
“Three men from among those who were before you, set out together (it began to rain) until they reached a cave at night and entered it. A big rock rolled down the mountain and closed the mouth of the cave. They said to each other, ‘Nothing will save you from this rock but to call upon Allāh by mentioning the most righteous of your deeds.’ So, one of them said, ‘O Allāh! I had old parents and I never provided my family or workers with milk before them. One day, by chance I was delayed, and I came late at night. I milked the sheep and took the milk to them, but I found them sleeping. I disliked to provide my family or workers with the milk before them. I waited for them and the bowl of milk was in my hand whilst my children were crying from hunger at my feet, and I kept on waiting for them to get up until the day dawned. Then they got up and drank the milk. O Allāh! If I did that for Your Sake only, please relieve us from our critical situation caused by this rock.’ So, the rock shifted a little but they could not get out.”
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) added, “The second man said, ‘O Allāh! I had a cousin who was the dearest of all people to me and I wanted to have sexual relations with her but she refused. Later she had a hard time in a famine year and she came to me and I gave her one-hundred-and-twenty Dinars on the condition that she would not resist my desire, and she agreed. When I was about to fulfil my desire, she said, ‘Fear Allāh and do not engage in this except by marriage.’ So, I walked away from her whilst she was the dearest of all the people to me, and I also left the gold I had given her. O Allāh! If I did that for Your Sake only, please relieve us from the present calamity.’ So, the rock shifted a little more, but still they could not get out from there.”
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) added, “Then the third man said, ‘O Allāh! I employed few labourers and I paid them their wages with the exception of one man who did not take his wages and went away. I invested his wages and much property came from that investment. Then after some time he came and said to me, ‘O so and so! Pay me my wages.’ I said to him, ‘All the camels, cows, sheep and workers are yours.’ He said, ‘O so and so, don’t mock me!’ I said, ‘I am not mocking you.’ So, he took all the herd and drove them away and left nothing. O Allāh! If I did that for Your Sake only, please relieve us from this suffering.’ So, that rock shifted completely and they got out walking.”
It would be an understatement to say that this ḥadīth offers a model for an entire way of life, guidance to every individual in the community and instructions as per how tribulations are to be dealt with. Consider the following observations:
The first observation: A perfect template for the ideal Muslim society
The story summarises some of the main relationships that exist in every society. The first individual represents one’s relationship with his family and relatives. The second individual represents one’s relationship with strangers from the opposite gender, and the third individual represents one’s relationship with workmates. In each case, a remarkable example that pleases Allāh was put forward.
This is the type of society that Allāh expects from Muslims; a society in which our relationships with family are defined with kindness and honour, our relationships with the opposite gender are defined with great modesty and consciousness of Allāh, and our financial dealings are defined with trustworthiness and honesty.
The second observation: Despair has no place in the life of a caller to Islām
Regardless of the size of the sin that is being engaged, never classify an individual as a hopeless case. The second individual in the cave was not only on the verge of engaging in fornication but had planned it out very carefully and pressured his victim with money that she needed. Yet, despite this planning and insistence, it was one short sentence – “Fear Allāh” – that brought life back into his heart. It was a single moment of honest self-reflection which caused him to walk away from her in repentance.
Perhaps this person you have given up on may develop into a student of Islamic knowledge, or a caller to Islām, or a woman of devotion to Allāh and an example of chastity and a mother of giants, and thus, Allāh transfers the reward of guidance from you to someone else due to your impatience.
Despite everything that Khālid b. al-Walīd had committed before Islām and the harm he had levelled at the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and the Muslims, Khālid’s brother, Al-Walid, never gave up and when the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) visited Makka for ʿUmrah, he enquired about Khālid. Al-Walīd sent his brother a letter that read:
“In the name of Allāh, the Most Merciful, the Most Kind. As per what follows, I am amazed at how you still turn away from Islām whilst you have the brilliant mind that you have. Can anyone ever be ignorant of Islām? The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) has been asking about you, saying: ‘Where is Khālid?’ I said, ‘Allāh will bring him’ So he said, ‘A man like him can never be ignorant of Islām and had he placed his strength and wealth with the Muslims against the polytheists, it would have been better for him and we would give him preference over others.’ So, O my brother, make up what you have missed out on, for you have missed out on very righteous events.’”
This letter moved Khālid who said,
“When I received this letter, I became enthusiastic to go to him and it increased my longing for Islām.”
He was around 47 years of age at this time and leading the war campaigns against the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) that had resulted in the death of so many of his companions, including his uncle – Hamza. Remarkably, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) did not give up and neither did Khālid’s brother. Thus, Khālid became “the unsheathed sword of Allāh”
Continually reassess your techniques, vary your styles, explore every method, plan for his/her guidance the same way you plan your business endeavours, until Allāh guides this person at hand or you die trying.
The third observation: Investing heavily in times of ease in preparation for the rough times ahead
The companion, Ibnu ‘Abbās, once heard words from the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) that he would never forget. He said,
“I was once riding behind the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). He looked back at me and said, ‘O young one, take care of the commandments of Allāh and Allāh will take care of you. Take care of the commandments of Allāh and you will find Allāh ahead of you. Get to know Allāh during times of ease and Allāh will know you during times of hardship.’” 
These were three men recognised Allāh during times of ease by offering very sincere actions of worship and, unlike us, Allāh never forgets. Thus, when the rock blocked the mouth of the cave, they were released by virtue of something that they had put forward in the distant past.
Prepare for the difficult times to come by investing heavily and tirelessly today in acts of ʿibādah, in praying in congregation, in reassessing your dress code, by courageously putting a halt to those impermissible conversations, by suppressing your addiction to whatever it may be that you are watching, listening or inhaling, for life is full of agonies, and there will most certainly come a day when you will need such good deeds to lighten your burden.
The fourth observation: The paths to Jannah are not identical
Every one of these three men had put forward a good deed that is very different to the other and thus it becomes clear that the paths that lead to Jannah are not all the same.
The Ummah requires ambassadors of the Dīn in every profession permissible who are sincere and Hereafter-orientated. Our target is not to transform every Muslim into a sermon giver on the pulpits of Mosques, but rather, to carve out envoys of Allāh and His messenger who excel in the various pulpits of life. Our interests are different, our capabilities are different, and thus the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) did not seek to create carbon copies of the companions, but rather, exemplars who excelled in light of their individual strength.
Have you identified yours? Are you a lawyer? Property developer? Taxi driver? Doctor? Student? Can you manage projects? Are you a strategic thinker? Are you a writer? Are you a mother? Do you not have a heart that beats and limbs that move? How then will you use this strength to build your Hereafter and the Hereafter of others? Da’wah is not a profession. If you are a Muslim, you are a Dā’iya.
The fifth observation: Every single Muslim has a role in providing relief for the Ummah
As the videos from Aleppo and other places are around the world arrive at our screens, we weep and ask, ‘But what can I do?’ ‘The solution is within the reach of the Muslim leaders, but not within mine’. However, the ḥadīth that we have just delved into announces otherwise, for the rock that had blocked their access was not removed by one Duʿā’ that was made. Similarly, the contribution of only two of them would not have been enough. They only saw daylight when all three of them involved themselves and each carried a share of the load.
In the 21st century, however, it is not just one rock that has fallen upon us, but an avalanche of rocks in Aleppo and across the Muslim world. The Ummah is trapped in a cave and the stone that has blocked the entrance is heavier than ever before. It can be shifted, and it will be shifted. But, to do so, every single Muslim must play a role in its removal.
Today, every pursuer of Harām is guiltier than ever before for the delaying of Allāh’s aid and the delaying of our escape from the caves that we’re in. Now is the time that the more we continue to disobey Allāh and fall short towards His Dīn, the heavier the rocks become and the longer this Ummah will have to bleed within its cave. At this critical moment in time, every treacherous glance counts, every cigarette will count, every Salāh that is missed counts, every ‘Awrah that is uncovered counts, every penny of interest counts, every conversation in the Harām counts and will add to our pain and the pain of our women and children.
Every one of us must accept the challenge of squaring up to himself and accept a share of the responsibility of pushing away these rocks by pushing away Harām from our lives.
I would like to draw your attention to a very significant observation.
The rock that blocked the mouth of the cave of the three men was removed due to actions of theirs that fulfilled two conditions:
(1) Mashaqqa (difficulty) and (2) Ikhlās (sincerity)
Each of the three men had engaged in matters that are very difficult to do, actions of worship that involve a tremendous amount of courage and resistance of Satanic encouragement. Not only did they pull it off, they did so with remarkable sincerity as well and thus Allāh saved them. If you were the fourth person with them, what would your Duʿā’ be? What would be your difficult act of worship that you once did purely for Allāh’s sake?
These are the conditions that need to be met in the actions that we now put forward in support of the Ummah.
One may say, “My contribution will be a relationship in Harām that I will leave once and for all. It will be tough, but it will be for Allāh.”
Another may say, “My contribution will be a replacement of my shisha lounge or the alcohol or cigarettes that sit on my shelf. It will be tough, but it will be for Allāh.”
Another may say, “My contribution will be my Fajr Salāh that I will now make in congregation. It will be tough, but it will be for Allāh.”
Another may say, “My contribution will be a vision and a strategy that I will set out for my life in preparation for the Hereafter. It will be tough, but it will be for Allāh.”
Put forward as many of these actions as you can so that you will then be in a very strong position when you raise your hands to Allāh, as you cry out:
الَّلهُمَّ إنْ كُنتُ فَعَلْتُ ذلِكَ ابِتِغَاءَ وَجْهِكَ فافْرُجْ عَنَّا مَا نَحنُ فِيهِ
“O Allāh! If I did that for Your Sake only, then please relieve us from this suffering”.
 Narrated by Al-Bukhāri and Muslim, on the authority of Ibnu ʿUmar
 Dalā’ilun Nubuwwa
 Narrated by At-Tabarāni