Exposition of the Holy Quran – 18 Surah Al-Kahf (G A Parwez)

Surah 18: Al-Kahf
(The Cave)

(1-4) All hamd is due to Allah Who has revealed this book to His devotee, in which there is nothing irregular and which does not need any support to establish the divine order. It gives warning of a grievous chastisement to non-believers and announces to believers, who do right things, glad tidings that blessings from Allah await them i.e., a home wherein they will abide beyond the count of time. It also admonishes those who say that Allah has begotten a son.
(5) Neither they nor their forefathers have any knowledge of this. (They do not know) what a dreadful thing comes out of their mouth – and this is nothing but a falsehood that they speak.
(6) O Rasool! Would you vex yourself to death with grief in going after them?
(7-8) Those who believe that Allah has a son, also believe in monasticism (57:27) but do not realise what great harm they thereby do to mankind. This can be understood by an example. The earth has the potentiality to grow which is most valuable both from the point of view of utility and aesthetics. But this is possible only if people put their labour in it (18:30-31, 46, 67:2). If they do not do so, the earth becomes fallow. Similarly, the potentialities in man actualise through his actions while renunciation of the world leads to their repression. How this happens is illustrated in the story of the people of the cave.
(9) Do you think that the story of the men of the cave and the scripture was really something wondrous and strange? (This was not so.)
(10) What happened was that a few youths, seeking escape from the persecution of a tyrannical order took shelter in a cave and prayed to Allah for means of sustenance and means for accomplishing their programme (18:19).
(11) They lived in the cave for many years, completely cut off from the outside world (and remained busy in preparing for the accomplishment of their programme).
(12) Thereafter, We brought them into view in order to test the preparations made by both their opponents and the remaining members of their own party who were left outside.
(13-14) O Rasool! Many stories were circulating about them. We will relate to you what actually happened. A few youths had believed in the truth of the divine order and had gone far ahead in their plan. Eventually when they stood up, We strengthened their hearts and they announced, “We will establish the Nizam-e-Rabubiyya on the lines on which it is working in the outer universe. We do not believe in any authority save that of Allah. If we do that, we will be nowhere.”
(15) Our people have accepted the authority of others besides Allah, without being able to bring clear evidence in support of their belief. And who could be wickeder than one who foists a lie on Allah?
(16) After making this announcement they felt that it was not safe for them to live there any more, so after mutual consultation they decided to separate from their people and the authorities in place. They took shelter in a cave with the firm hope that Allah would bestow on them His rahma and regulate their affairs in a manner agreeable to them.
(17) The cave in which they had taken shelter was situated in such a manner that the rising sun declined to the right of the cave, while the setting sun kept to the left, so the rays of the sun did not penetrate the cave. They lay in its spacious chamber. This was one of the signs of Allah (to which He had guided them). In fact, only he can find the right way who receives guidance from Allah and one who does not, goes astray and then he can never find a friend who would point out to him the right way.
(18) They were so alert regarding their safety that they slept in such a way that if anyone looked in from outside he would consider them awake whereas they were asleep. They also kept changing their position in the cave and their dog lay at the entrance with paws outstretched. In short, they had made such arrangements that if anyone came upon them suddenly, he would turn back in flight, filled with fear.
(19-20) They remained in this situation for a considerable period of time and were so absorbed in their programme that they did not realise how much time had elapsed. Then they thought it was necessary to find out what was happening in the outside world. They decided to send one person from amongst them to the city with a coin ostensibly to buy some pure food, but in reality to see the condition prevailing therein. They told him to be very cautious lest anyone suspect who he was and where he came from. Because if these facts had become known, the people of the city would have either stoned them or compelled them to revert to their (people’s) religion. In that case all their efforts would have gone waste.
(21) The people of their party, somehow or the other, came to know about them. During this period, they had gained sufficient strength and were now happy to find that their leaders were alive and that the time had come when the promise made by Allah would come true.
This is the story of the revolutionary youths. After their death people forgot all about their mission and made them into a legend. They began disputing amongst themselves as to what was to be done to them. Some suggested that they should raise a monument over their place of refuge, but others, whose views prevailed, built a place of worship (monastery) there.
(22) Coming to the present time, instead of remembering what a huge revolution they had brought, people indulge in a futile discussion regarding how many they were: some say they were three and their dog was the fourth, others say they were five and their dog was the sixth, and still others guess about what they actually did not know. If they want to drag you also into such a discussion, treat this matter only casually and tell them, O Rasool, that it is no use discussing a matter about which only Allah knows (as to what their number was). The point to be discussed is: What was their mission and what revolution did they bring about?
(23-24) Man does not have knowledge of the unknown so much, so that he cannot say what he will do the next day (31:34). What he should do, if he intends to do something, is to get together the means for fulfilling his objective. If he forgets about any link in the chain, he should look towards the guidance provided by Allah and make good the missing link. He should, therefore, only say, “This is what I intend to do. It will be accomplished only if I proceed in accordance with Allah’s guidance.”
(25-26) Reverting to the discussion about the inmates of the cave, some say that they tarried there for three hundred years and others, contradicting them, say that it was not three hundred years exact but three hundred and nine years. Tell them, O Rasool, “(I do not want to waste any time in such discussions.) Allah alone knows this and the secrets of the unknown in the universe. How well He sees and hears! Mankind has no protector besides Him nor does He share His sovereignty with anyone (17:111, 18:110).”
(27) Present to them whatever is revealed to you, O Rasool, none shall change Allah’s words. If anyone goes against His laws, He shall have no refuge.
(28) O Rasool! Your mission will be completed only with the help of your companions. They are the ones who keep themselves busy morning and evening in the accomplishment of Allah’s plan so you stand fast by them. Let not your eyes be turned away from them in order to gain the adornments of this life, and do not yield to the bidding of one who is neglectful of Allah’s laws and follows his own lusts, and whose ways are unbridled (6:52, 8:62-69, 89:29-30).
(29) O Rasool! Proclaim to the whole of mankind, “The truth has come from your Rabb; whosoever chooses may accept it and whosoever chooses may reject it,(1) knowing, however, that Allah has kept ready for the zalimeen the fire of jahannam which will engulf them. The gold and silver which had emboldened them to oppose the divine order will be melted and poured down their throats to quench their thirst, at which they will cry forth. How wretched the drink and what an unhappy place to lie in (9:34-35)!”
(30-31) As against them, those who believe in Allah’s laws and act accordingly, none of their good actions will go waste. For them are evergreen gardens under which streams flow. They shall have all that which constitutes the symbols of high authority and affluence such as golden bracelets, green robes of silk, thin and thick. They shall
Recline on couches. How excellent the reward and how pleasant the resting place!
(32-33) The two different aspects of life mentioned above may be illustrated by means of a parable. There were two men. For one of them two gardens of grapevines were provided which were hedged around with date palms, and there were cornfields between the gardens. Both the gardens yielded the best of fruits and did not fail in any way, and between them there was a stream.
(34) The one who had plenty of fruit said to his friend during the course of a conversation, “I am wealthier than you and have a large following.”
(35-36) (His friend used to tell him not to be proud and unmindful of the laws of Allah, but he would not take this seriously.) Offended by what his friend said, he entered his garden and said to himself, “I do not think that this garden will ever perish or that the day of reckoning about which my friend speaks so often will ever come, and even if this happens, I have so managed(2) that over there I shall have a better abode than this.”
(37-38) When his friend came to know about his ideas, he said, “Do you deny the Law of Mukafat of that Allah who initiated your creation from clay, then from a life-germ and finally gave you the full form of a man? Do you, notwithstanding this, still think that what you have is the result of your merit and efforts (28:78) and has nothing to do with Allah’s laws? You may deny these facts but I have firm belief that whatever I got is through Allah’ law of Rabubiyya, to whom I do not set up any peers (56:63-73).
(39) “When you see your gardens you should say that you got all that through Allah’s Nizam-e-Rabubiyya. All power lies with Allah. No doubt at present I have less
Wealth and fewer children than you have.
(40) “It will be no wonder if Allah gives me a better garden than yours and some calamity might visit your garden turning it into a barren piece of land;
(41) and the waters of your spring may sink so deep into the earth that you may not be able to reach it.”
(42) And it so happened that all his fruit was destroyed. Wringing his hands he said, “All that I had spent on my gardens has been rendered waste and all that I had built has been levelled.” At that stage, he realized that he should not have set up peers to Allah.
(43) None from amongst his followers could help him against Allah nor could he help himself.
(44) This similitude has been narrated to show that all power belongs to Allah. Whatever is done in accordance with His laws, produces good results.
(45) The result of the course of life in which only physical laws are adhered to and higher values are neglected, may be explained by means of another similitude. Allah sends down rain from the sky causing luxuriant herbage to grow. If no further care is taken of this growth it may soon wither and be scattered. All this happens in accordance with Allah’s laws.
(46) Efforts should be made to acquire wealth and children, which are the adornments of physical life (7:32). This, however, only constitutes a temporary phase of life but when these efforts are subjected to higher values, the results are abiding and far better and high hopes may be attached to them (19:76).
(47-48) When such things are said to these people, they do not take them seriously and regard them as mere talk and do not think that the day of reckoning will ever come. This will actually happen, even in this world, when the divine order is established and people who consider themselves powerful and well-established will be brought down (20:105), whereas those who are downtrodden at present will rise. Class distinctions will disappear. The whole of humanity will be moulded into one universal unity as it was in the early history of mankind (2:213; 10:19).
(49) They shall all be governed by the divine code of law which shall make the criminals fearful. They will cry out, “What kind of a code of law is this which leaves out nothing small or great and according to which all individual actions are recompensed. No zulm (injustice) will be done to anyone.”
(50) The early history of mankind, referred to above, is the period mentioned in the story of Adam (2:30-34). The upshot of that story is that all the physical forces of nature were subjected to man but his own baser desires, which are imperceptible (Iblees), rose against him. Adam was told that if he and his children were friends to Iblees, they would be deprived of paradisiacal life, which would be substituted by a wretched life.
(51) As a result of befriending Iblees, man sets up peers to Allah. The falsehood of such a belief is evident from the fact that they came into existence after the universe had been created by Allah and were thus, themselves, creation, and obviously a creation cannot be equal to the creator. Also, Allah was not so weak as to need the kind of helpers who mislead people.
(52-53) On the day of reckoning, Allah will say to those who had set up peers to Him to call upon those whom they had pronounced to be Allah’s partners for help. They will call upon them but they will not answer them. A curtain will hang between them, thereby cutting off all their relations, and the evil-doers will see the fire, and fear that they may be cast into it and that they will not find any escape from it.
(54) In the Qur’an, Allah has employed diverse forms of illustration to bring home its truth to man but man in most cases proves contentious.
(55) Now that true guidance has come to man from Allah, what hinders them from believing in it and seeking protection from Allah for their past evil-doings? It seems that they are simply waiting for doom, such as that which overtook the ancients, to come and stare them in the face.
(56) It is Allah’s way that chastisement is preceded by rusul who convey the tidings of a good return for whatever good one does and a warning of painful results following wicked deeds, but the unbelievers indulge in vain disputes in order to make the truth ineffective. They, thus, treat the message and the warnings given by their Rasool with mockery.
(57) Who can be more zalim than the one who, when reminded of the admonition of his Rabb, disregards it and forgets what wicked actions he has already sent forth? The result of such an attitude is that their hearts are covered lest they should understand any right thing and they have heaviness in their ears, and even if you bid them to the right way, they will never be guided.
(58) The actions of these people deserve instant chastisement but it is Allah’s rahma which gives them respite. If they do not make amends during this period, chastisement will come upon them and they will not be given any further respite.
(59) This is what happened in the case of those cities which were destroyed for their iniquities after due warning was given to them of their coming destruction.
(60) Call to mind the occasion when Moses said to his companion, “I will not stop until I reach the place where the two rivers meet no matter how long it takes me to get there(3).”
(61) When they reached the confluence they stopped for a while on a rock on the bank of the river. When they resumed their journey, they forgot to take with them the fish which they had carried for their food. The fish which was alive slowly slipped into the sea.
(62-63) When they proceeded further, Moses said to his companion, “Bring us our morning meal for now we feel tired.” The companion answered, “Do you know what has happened? When we rested near the rock, I forgot to take care of the fish and it made its way to the sea. It is strange that I forgot to mention this to you. What excuse should I offer except that it was Satan who made me forget this?”
(64) Moses said, “It seems to me that that was the place we had been looking for.” They, therefore, retraced their steps.
(65) There they found one of Our devotees upon Whom We had bestowed Our rahma and knowledge in accordance with Our laws.
(66) When he was about to depart, Moses said, “May I follow you that you may impart some of your knowledge to me”?
(67-68) He said, “I have no objection to that but what I have gathered during the short period you have been with me is that you cannot bear with me. When you will see something which you will not be able to comprehend you will raise objections.”
(69) Moses replied, “God-willing, you

shall find me patient and I shall not disobey you in anything.”
(70) He said, “If you are so persistent, you may accompany me but you should not question me about anything until I explain it to you myself.”
(71) So they both walked together till they embarked on a boat and Moses saw that his companion made a hole in it. He said, “Have you made a hole in the boat that you may drown its occupants? You have done a very grievous thing.”
(72) He said, “Did I not tell you that you cannot bear with me”?
(73) Moses said, “Chide me not for my forgetfulness and you should not be harsh for what was beyond me.”
(74) They came out of the boat and went on until they met a youth whom Moses’ companion slew. Moses said to him, “You have slain an innocent grown-up lad who was not guilty of murder. You have indeed done an odious thing.”
(75-76) He said, “Did I not tell you that you cannot bear with me?” Moses said, “If, after this, I question you about anything, keep me in your company no longer. I shall then have no excuse to offer.”
(77) Then they went on till they came to a city. They sought from the people something to eat but they refused to entertain them. In the city they found a wall which was about to fall and he (Moses’ companion) set it right. Thereupon Moses said, “The people of the city treated us so badly and you have done them a free service. If you had wished you could have obtained wages for it.”
(78) Moses’ companion said, “We are now to part. (Formerly, what you had asked was due to inquisitiveness. But now you have raised an objection not as to why I rendered my service but as to why I rendered it free, which means that from your point of view rendering service free to deserving human beings is objectionable. This constitutes a basic difference of attitude and this is why I have said that we can no longer remain together.) I shall now tell you what you were so impatient to know.(4)
(79) As to the boat, it belonged to some poor men toiling on the sea and I damaged it because (I know that) behind them was a ruler in the habit of seizing every faultless boat forcibly.
(80-81) As to that youth, his parents were righteous and peaceful citizens and we had every reason to fear that he would involve them by his open defiance (of law) and denial of all truth. Allah might grant them in his place (a child) better than him in qualities and more affectionate to them.
(82) As to the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city and underneath it (lay) a treasure, which their father, who was a righteous man, had buried. Your Rabb willed it that when they come of age in full strength, they should take it out and then it should become a source of rahma for them from your Rabb. (If the wall had fallen before time, the villagers could have taken the treasure away, so I repaired it and the treasure was safe.) Also remember, that I did not do this of my own accord (but as per divine guidance). You did not bear this explanation (of all the events) with patience.
(83) O messenger, they ask you about Zil-Qarnain.(5) Say, “I will relate to you something about him.” (He also used to set
up protective high walls but on a larger scale for poor people without remuneration.)
(84) We had established his authority in the land and he had access to everything he required.
(85-86) So he set out on a course till he reached the setting place of the Sun and it appeared to him that it was setting in a black turbid sea and he saw a people living nearby (who were given to all kinds of wrong-doings). It was up to him to punish them or treat them with kindness according to the circumstances.
(87-88) He said, “He who will commit zulm – I shall surely chastise him. This chastisement he will meet in this world and in the hereafter, he will meet a more grievous chastisement from his Rabb. But for him who believes in the laws of Allah and does righteous deeds – he shall have good recompense and his course of life will be made easy for him.”
(89-90) Then he followed another course eastwards towards the rising sun till he came upon a people living under the open sky with no shelter from the sun.
(91) He left them in that state because he was so well-equipped that he apprehended no danger from them.
(92-93) Then he followed another course till he arrived in a valley between two mountains. There he found a people who could not understand anything he said to them.
(94) They said to Zil-Qarnain (of course through some interpreters), “Gog ( Yajooj) and Magog (Majooj) create havoc in the land. If you could create a rampart between us and them, we will pay you tribute.”
(95) Zil-Qarnain said, “What my Rabb has bestowed upon me is better than your tribute (you are an oppressed people and it is my duty to help you against the oppressors). You provide labour for it and I will set up a barrier between you and them.
(96) Bring me blocks of iron.” They did so and when the space between the two mountain sides was filled, he said to them, “Blow your bellows.” When the iron was thus made red-hot, he said, “Bring me molten copper that I may pour over it.”
(97) Gog and Magog were not, thereafter, able to scale the wall nor were they able to dig through it.
(98) Zil-Qarnain said to them, “This is due to rahma from my Rabb. The wall is sufficiently strong until some natural calamity overtakes it and it is levelled down in the dust. (None can withstand such calamities) as the law of my Rabb is unalterable, true.”
(99) (What Zil-Qarnain had said was true.) A time shall come when such means of defence will not hold good. Different nations will overrun each other like the waves of the sea.
(100) There will be the fire of hell everywhere due to wrong man-made systems (e.g., nationalism and secularism) as against the system based on divine laws.
(101) Their eyes had failed to notice the warnings given by Allah and they had disdained to listen to them.
(102) Having narrated this story, O Rasool, ask these people who reject Our laws if by taking mere creatures to be their friends besides Allah (i.e., by obeying man-made laws) they will be successful. The fire of hell is ready to welcome all those who deny the truth.
(103-106) Ask them, “Should Allah tell you about those who act in such a manner that all their actions go waste? They are those who waste their efforts in the pursuit of only the life of the present in the mistaken belief that what they do is absolutely right. These are they who reject the Law of Mukafat of their Rabb and do not believe that they have to face it (one day). All their effort shall go waste, so much so that no weight shall be attached to it on the day of reckoning. Jahannam shall be their recompense because they refuse to believe in My laws and treated My rusul with scorn.”
(107-108) As for those who believe in Allah’s laws and act rightly – they shall have gardens of janna to enter. There, they shall dwell as guests (of Allah). They shall wish no change therein.
(109) O Rasool! Say to the people of the world, “Even if the sea were to become ink wherewith to write the words of my Rabb, the sea will exhaust itself while the words of my Rabb shall continue to issue forth, and even if the like of it is added thereto.”
(110) And say to them, “I am a human being like you with the only difference that it has been revealed to me that entire authority rests with Allah – the One, let him who believes in His Law of Mukafat (Law of Requital) do that which is right, and not obey anyone other than Allah – and thus associate any authority with Him.”

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