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The Cave of Refuge

Tafsīr Sūrah al-Kahf – part 4

Verses 16-20

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Verses 16-20

وَإِذِ اعْتَزَلْتُمُوهُمْ وَمَا يَعْبُدُونَ إِلَّا اللَّـهَ فَأْوُوا إِلَى الْكَهْفِ يَنشُرْ لَكُمْ رَبُّكُم مِّن رَّحْمَتِهِ وَيُهَيِّئْ لَكُم مِّنْ أَمْرِكُم مِّرْفَقًا ﴿١٦﴾ وَتَرَى الشَّمْسَ إِذَا طَلَعَت تَّزَاوَرُ عَن كَهْفِهِمْ ذَاتَ الْيَمِينِ وَإِذَا غَرَبَت تَّقْرِضُهُمْ ذَاتَ الشِّمَالِ وَهُمْ فِي فَجْوَةٍ مِّنْهُ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّـهِ ۗ مَن يَهْدِ اللَّـهُ فَهُوَ الْمُهْتَدِ ۖ وَمَن يُضْلِلْ فَلَن تَجِدَ لَهُ وَلِيًّا مُّرْشِدًا ﴿١٧﴾ وَتَحْسَبُهُمْ أَيْقَاظًا وَهُمْ رُقُودٌ ۚ وَنُقَلِّبُهُمْ ذَاتَ الْيَمِينِ وَذَاتَ الشِّمَالِ ۖ وَكَلْبُهُم بَاسِطٌ ذِرَاعَيْهِ بِالْوَصِيدِ ۚ لَوِ اطَّلَعْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ لَوَلَّيْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِرَارًا وَلَمُلِئْتَ مِنْهُمْ رُعْبًا ﴿١٨﴾ وَكَذَٰلِكَ بَعَثْنَاهُمْ لِيَتَسَاءَلُوا بَيْنَهُمْ ۚ قَالَ قَائِلٌ مِّنْهُمْ كَمْ لَبِثْتُمْ ۖ قَالُوا لَبِثْنَا يَوْمًا أَوْ بَعْضَ يَوْمٍ ۚ قَالُوا رَبُّكُمْ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا لَبِثْتُمْ فَابْعَثُوا أَحَدَكُم بِوَرِقِكُمْ هَـٰذِهِ إِلَى الْمَدِينَةِ فَلْيَنظُرْ أَيُّهَا أَزْكَىٰ طَعَامًا فَلْيَأْتِكُم بِرِزْقٍ مِّنْهُ وَلْيَتَلَطَّفْ وَلَا يُشْعِرَنَّ بِكُمْ أَحَدًا ﴿١٩﴾ إِنَّهُمْ إِن يَظْهَرُوا عَلَيْكُمْ يَرْجُمُوكُمْ أَوْ يُعِيدُوكُمْ فِي مِلَّتِهِمْ وَلَن تُفْلِحُوا إِذًا أَبَدًا ﴿٢٠

16) So, when you have separated from them and what they worship besides Allah, take refuge in the cave. Your Lord will shower His mercy on you and provide an easy way out of your ordeal. And you would have seen the sun when it rose, decline from their cave towards the right hand, and when it set, leave them behind on the left while they were in a wide space thereof. This is one of the signs of Allāh; whomsoever Allāh guides, he is rightly guided, and whomsoever He causes to stray, you shall not find any friend for him to guide (him) aright. You would have thought they were awake as they lay sleeping. We turned them over (repeatedly), now to the right, now to the left, with their dog stretching out its paws at the entrance; if you had seen them you would certainly have turned and run away, and you would certainly be filled with awe of them. And thus did We rouse them that they might question each other. One of them said, ‘How long have you tarried?’ (some) answered, ‘We have tarried for a day or a part of a day,’ (others) said, ‘Your Lord knows best how long you have tarried. Now send one of your number with this silver (coin) of yours to the city, let him see which of them has purest food, and bring some provision from it. But he must behave with great care, and by no means make anyone aware of youp: For surely if they come to know of you they will stone you or force you back to their religion, and then you will never succeed.’

Being a Muslim in a hostile community

وَإِذِ اعْتَزَلْتُمُوهُمْ وَمَا يَعْبُدُونَ إِلَّا اللَّـهَ فَأْوُوا إِلَى الْكَهْفِ يَنشُرْ لَكُمْ رَبُّكُم مِّن رَّحْمَتِهِ وَيُهَيِّئْ لَكُم مِّنْ أَمْرِكُم مِّرْفَقًا

16) So, when you have separated from them and what they worship besides Allah, take refuge in the cave. Your Lord will shower His mercy on you and provide an easy way out of your ordeal.

In this āyah we are told that the Muslim youth left their communities following persecution and threats to their safety and took refuge in a cave, through with Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) gave them relief from the trials they suffered at the hands of their people. With that being said, the question arises of whether it is better to remain in one’s community, break away by leaving one’s city or country or remain in one’s house. With regards to this the majority of the Salaf considered that it is entirely dependent on an individual’s circumstance, the best scenario being to remain if one is able to bear difficulty while ensuring the essential element of preserving his religion.[1]

The Muslim who lives amongst people and bears their harm with patience is better than the Muslim who does not live amongst people and is not patient with the harm he receives from them.[2]

However, where this is not possible it is better for a Muslim to separate from his community.

A time is soon coming where the best property a person will have is his herd which he shepherds through valleys and mountain tops, feeling from trials for the sake of his religion.[3]

Allāh’s aid

With regard to who speaks in this āyah giving this advice, there are some who have said it was one of the sleepers and others who posit it is Allāh who gave a decree in response to their duʿā’ (in much the same way as istikhāra works). He decreed that they go to the cave, putting them on the path which they then followed.

This verse is an example of the principle: with hardship comes with ease. As mentioned in Sūrah al-Sharḥ,

فَإِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا ﴿٥﴾ إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا ﴿٦

Where there is hardship there is also ease; where there is hardship there is also ease.[4]

As such, the youth who suffered hardship in their time were given ease from Allāh in a manner only Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) could have provided.

Grammar

For the phrase illAllāh there are two ways of looking at this. First is istithnāʾ munqaṭiʿ i.e. all that they worship; instead keep worshipping Allāh. The implication here being that their people did not worship Allāh.

Second is istithnāʾ muttasil: i.e. all that they worship besides Allāh. The implication here being that they worship Allāh along with other gods. The Muṣḥaf of ibn Masʿūd has: wa mā yaʿbudūna min dūnillāh (what they worship besides Allāh), which would then be a tafsīr of this āyah.

وَتَرَى الشَّمْسَ إِذَا طَلَعَت تَّزَاوَرُ عَن كَهْفِهِمْ ذَاتَ الْيَمِينِ وَإِذَا غَرَبَت تَّقْرِضُهُمْ ذَاتَ الشِّمَالِ وَهُمْ فِي فَجْوَةٍ مِّنْهُ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّـهِ ۗ مَن يَهْدِ اللَّـهُ فَهُوَ الْمُهْتَدِ ۖ وَمَن يُضْلِلْ فَلَن تَجِدَ لَهُ وَلِيًّا مُّرْشِدًا ﴿١٧

And you would have seen the sun when it rose, decline from their cave towards the right hand, and when it set, leave them behind on the left while they were in a wide space thereof. This is one of the signs of Allāh; whomsoever Allāh guides, he is rightly guided, and whomsoever He causes to stray, you shall not find any friend for him to guide (him) aright.

From this āyah we can determine that the cave faced North. Allāh’s mercy directed them to this cave which is situated such that it is neither too cold nor too hot. This perfectly positioned cave gives them light which does not glare directly upon them and heat without it being uncomfortable for them. The positioning of the cave also ensures that they remain hidden since the sun does not shine directly at it, putting it in plain sight.

This is one of the signs of Allāh; their being spiritually guided to Islām, physically guided to the safety of the cave and their sleeping for so long are Allāh’s miracles.

Whomsoever Allāh guides, none can misguide. We should, therefore, only ask for guidance from Allāh and not despair at the existence of misguidance and kufr or despair at their rejection of belief, as guidance is entirely in Allāh’s hands.

وَتَحْسَبُهُمْ أَيْقَاظًا وَهُمْ رُقُودٌ ۚ وَنُقَلِّبُهُمْ ذَاتَ الْيَمِينِ وَذَاتَ الشِّمَالِ ۖ وَكَلْبُهُم بَاسِطٌ ذِرَاعَيْهِ بِالْوَصِيدِ ۚ لَوِ اطَّلَعْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ لَوَلَّيْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِرَارًا وَلَمُلِئْتَ مِنْهُمْ رُعْبًا ﴿١٨

You would have thought they were awake as they lay sleeping. We turned them over (repeatedly), now to the right, now to the left, with their dog stretching out its paws at the entrance; if you had seen them you would certainly have turned and run away, and you would certainly be panic stricken of them.

According to “You would have thought they were awake” it is surmised that their eyes were open as they slept.

“We turned them over (repeatedly)” to keep the blood flowing and prevent muscle atrophy; this would also prevent the decomposition of their bodies as stated by Ibn ʿAbbās.

“With their dog stretching out its paws at the entrance…” The dog was a guard dog and it guarded the entrance. Ibn Kathīr remarks that the dog is mentioned four times in this story. It is known that accompanying the righteous raises your ranks and add blessings. If a dog is honoured in this way, by being mentioned four times in the Book of Allāh simply because it was accompanying the righteous, what then of a human being who does the same? From this we are reminded to be in the company of the righteous as much as possible.

“If you had seen them you would certainly have turned and run away, and you would certainly be panic stricken of them.”

The repetition of the sentiment of fear stresses the fact that this fear would remain with this person and would prevent him from telling others about what he had seen. This is one of the ways Allāh protects the believers: He places fear in the hearts of their enemies.

سَنُلْقِي فِي قُلُوبِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا الرُّعْبَ بِمَا أَشْرَكُوا بِاللَّـهِ مَا لَمْ يُنَزِّلْ بِهِ سُلْطَانًا ۖ وَمَأْوَاهُمُ النَّارُ ۚ وَبِئْسَ مَثْوَى الظَّالِمِينَ

We will strike panic into the disbelievers’ hearts because they attribute partners to Allāh although He has sent down no authority for this.[5]

When you turn to Allāh, He will protect you in ways you cannot imagine.

وَكَذَٰلِكَ بَعَثْنَاهُمْ لِيَتَسَاءَلُوا بَيْنَهُمْ ۚ قَالَ قَائِلٌ مِّنْهُمْ كَمْ لَبِثْتُمْ ۖ قَالُوا لَبِثْنَا يَوْمًا أَوْ بَعْضَ يَوْمٍ ۚ قَالُوا رَبُّكُمْ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا لَبِثْتُمْ فَابْعَثُوا أَحَدَكُم بِوَرِقِكُمْ هَـٰذِهِ إِلَى الْمَدِينَةِ فَلْيَنظُرْ أَيُّهَا أَزْكَىٰ طَعَامًا فَلْيَأْتِكُم بِرِزْقٍ مِّنْهُ وَلْيَتَلَطَّفْ وَلَا يُشْعِرَنَّ بِكُمْ أَحَدًا ﴿١٩﴾ إِنَّهُمْ إِن يَظْهَرُوا عَلَيْكُمْ يَرْجُمُوكُمْ أَوْ يُعِيدُوكُمْ فِي مِلَّتِهِمْ وَلَن تُفْلِحُوا إِذًا أَبَدًا ﴿٢٠

And thus did We rouse them that they might question each other. One of them said, ‘How long have you tarried?’ (some) answered, ‘We have tarried for a day or a part of a day,’ (others) said, ‘Your Lord knows best how long you have tarried. Now send one of your number with this silver (coin) of yours to the city, let him see which of them has purest food, and bring some provision from it. But he must behave with great care, and by no means make anyone aware of you: For surely if they come to know of you they will stone you or force you back to their religion, and then you will never succeed.’

“And thus did We rouse them…”

The word “baʿatha” means to resurrect, rouse or dispatch. A likeness is made to someone who has died being resurrected because they had slept for such a long time. In this way, sleep should remind us of death. Allāh’s Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,

“Sleep is the brother of death.”[6]

“Your Lord knows best how long you have tarried”

After questioning amongst one another about the duration of their time in the cave, they came to realise that the discussion was of little benefit, so they ended it by saying that Allāh knows best. This indicates that they avoided useless talk and spoke things that were of benefit. Moreover, Allāh had decreed that they would go and soon find out for themselves how long they had slept for.

This teaches us that if we are confused about a matter and have no means of finding out, just say Allāh knows best.

Some scholars derive from the fact that they only thought they had slept a day or part of a day that their bodies had not physically changed or aged.

“Now send one of your number with this silver (coin) of yours to the city”

This indicates that their city was a large city since they did not fear being easily recognised and also that their city was still close enough for them to go there, get food and return. Some scholars highlight the fact that the silver coin (wariq) indicates that they were wealthy. This is further shown by the fact that they went looking for good food, alluding to the fact that this is what they were accustomed to. This shows us that a Muslim need not be poor to be pious, we can be don’t have to be poor to be pious. There is no harm in being wealthy as long as the love of wealth does not enter the heart and control it.

“Let him see which of them has purest food, and bring some provision from it.”

From “pure food” we derive the meaning good quality, clean, wholesome food that is ḥalāl.

Despite the ordeal they are going through (they are, as of yet, unaware how long they have slept for); when they awaken, hungry, they are concerned about ensuring that the food they get is ḥalāl. This also implies that ḥalāl food was available in the city they had left, so perhaps there were other believers living there as well in secret.

These youth made duʿā and that duʿa was answered. Ḥalāl provision has an important relationship to duʿā being answered. Allāh’s Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,

“Allāh is pure and He accepts only what is pure. Allāh has commanded the believers as He commanded His Messengers. Allāh said, ‘O Messengers, eat from good things and act righteously, for I know what you do.’ (23:51) Allāh also said, ‘O you who believe, eat from good things We have provided for you.” (2:172) Then the Prophet mentioned a man who travelled far, becoming dishevelled and dusty, raising his hands to the sky, supplicating, ‘My Lord! My Lord!’ But his food is unlawful, his drink is unlawful, his clothing is unlawful, and he is nourished by the unlawful, so how can he be answered?”[7]

Saʿd b. Abī Waqqāṣ (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) was once asked, “Why is it that your prayers are responded to, amongst all of the other Companions?” So he replied, “I do not raise to my mouth a morsel except that I know where it came from and where it came out of.”

Another point worth mentioning is that there is nothing wrong in looking for and eating nice food provided you do not reach extravagance.

“But he must behave with great care, and by no means make anyone aware of you”

These people had tawakkul in Allāh; this does not mean that you act foolishly and irresponsibly. Act with care and forethought, put in your effort and also trust in Allāh

“For surely if they come to know of you they will stone you or force you back to their religion”

This shows the concern they had for their faith. A person on a false faith cannot be successful. This also shows us that faith does not demand that one die for no reason or to become martyrs without a cause.

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] Ibn Ḥajr, Nawawī and others – Fatḥ 13:42

[2] Tirmidhī #2507

[3] Bukhārī #3300

[4] Al-Qur’ān, 94:5-6

[5] Al-Qur’ān, 3:151

[6] Ṭabarānī, al-Awsaṭ

[7] Muslim

About Shaikh Abu Rumaysah Refi Shafi

Ustadh Abu Rumaysah Refi Shaafi was born and brought up in High Wycombe. He studies with Shaykh Haitham Al-Haddad and Shaykh Abu AbdiRahman Al-Libee. He graduated from Imperial College from the faculty of Computer Sciences. He is currently a Java Programmer Manager. He is the chairman for the WISE (Wycombe Islamic Society). He is very active in his local community especially with his Masjid and working with youth via Islamic Scouts He has translated a number of books such as The criterion between the friends of Allah and the friends of shaytan, The relief from distress (the dua of Yunus Alayhisalam, both by Ibn Taymiyyah and many others. He has also written an explanation of Surah Al-Faatiha called ‘The spiritual cure.’ He currently gives weekly circles in High Wycombe and Watford. He is also a Lecturer for MRDF.

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