بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Think, “a group of young boys hanging out together”, and what comes to mind?
If you are in the age range of 10-25, you’ll probably think they are having fun. And if you are older, you’ll probably assume they are out and about cooking up some trouble just for the fun and thrill of it. Why would you assume such things on hearing about a group of young boys “chilling out” together? Probably because you have ‘been there, done that’ when you were at their age.
I find some beliefs among older people regarding youth rather bemusing. Most of them seem to hold the opinion that a person’s teens and twenties are meant to “be enjoyed” to the hilt before the “burden” of life’s responsibilities is placed on their shoulders.
Hence, they encourage anyone who is in their teens or twenties to “go out” a lot with their peers, to “enjoy” themselves. And this enjoyment, more often than not, in the contemporary world, inevitably involves parties, music, dancing, and for some (thankfully fewer ones), dating, casual flings, drinking, smoking, and – worst of all – drugs.
“Let them enjoy”, they say.
As for those “youth” who abstain from those modes of enjoyment that involve disobedience of Allah and crossing of His limits,- they are subject to such conversations:
“Why didn’t you attend the mehndi?”
“Uh….(trying not to preach)..I am not really into music/dance parties.”
“You should be. That kind of stuff is what makes life worth living.”
(*Rolls eyes inwardly*) “I don’t think so. I don’t enjoy it.” (…any more, that is.)
Ironically, many older people who hold such beliefs about youth – that it is primarily a time to “enjoy” yourself before shouldering life responsibilities later on – regularly recite and read the Quran.
And it is in the Quran that one repeatedly comes across many incidents in which Allah narrates how it was the youth of a nation who not just took a stand against the rampant corruption and moral sins in the society of their era, but who also went against/openly opposed and disobeyed some of their elders/rulers/figures of authority, for the sake of doing or upholding what was right in the eyes of Allah.
For example, it was the young Ibrahim who pondered upon the sun, moon and stars in a proactive quest for finding and recognizing his Creator, then broke all but one of his nation’s idols to publicly denounce them and brand them as unworthy of worship.
It was the young Yusuf who rejected an older woman’s sexual advances, even though she thenceforth threatened him with imprisonment, then slandered him as punishment for refusing her call, then gathered all her peers to support her in her vile pursuit, and finally – had him thrown in jail.
It was the young, virginal Maryam who sought refuge with Allah when she thought a man had entered upon her inside her private place of worship.
It was the young Musa who helped defend a weak person against his oppressor (the latter being a member of the ruling nation) during a brawl in a public marketplace.
Lastly, it was the young A’ishah who bravely withstood the trial of slander without wavering in her self-defense when all the people of her city, including her husband, doubted her character and suspected her of adultery.
All of these young people have been mentioned (and defended) by Allah in the Quran, in a positive, honorable light.
Let us not forget how it was the young Ibrahim who was mercilessly lynched, with his own father supporting the lynchers, as punishment for his “blasphemy” i.e. breaking his nation’s idols. Yet, he stood his ground and did not give in to them.
For all these brave ‘young’ people whom society tried to subjugate and punish for no crime except their staunch adherence to monotheism, the Quran has recorded, and thus corroborated, their sacrifices and calamities faced in Allah’s path, and thus stamped with approval their resultant lofty moral character, purity of soul, and innocence from sin — till the end of mankind.
The companions of the cave are no different.
So much for the youth being good for nothing besides mundane school studies, partying, dating, drinking and ‘clubbing’ on weekends!
“Let them enjoy”? Really? 🙂
I think that we, as adults, tend to sorely undermine and undervalue our youth, simply because we ourselves indulged in idiotic frivolities and silly shenanigans when we were teenagers or twenty-something’s. We refuse to acknowledge or admit that, if inspired and mentored appropriately enough, our youngsters can leave us trail-blazingly behind in achieving moral loftiness, ethical uprightness, and superior religiosity.
Some, if not most, of today’s uninspiring, tunnel-visioned adults and parents are not really suited for adopting the role of those role-models and mentors who embody and instill leadership traits in their children since infancy.
Instead, most adults nowadays tend to grossly undermine the younger generation by assuming that all it wants to do is ‘enjoy’ and ‘have fun’.
Consequently, parents sometimes encourage children to become slaves of their desires, instead of encouraging them ‘enjoy’ the process of striving to work hard, shoulder responsibility, gain knowledge, and attain the highest level of moral and spiritual excellence whilst young — striking when the iron is hot; making hay while the sun shines (to add some cliches to the discussion!) – so to speak.
Now let us take a look at the case of the young boys whom Allah has praised in the Quran.
Companions of the Cave – One of Allah’s Wondrous Signs
Indeed, in the companions of the cave, in this bygone, brave, ‘bohemian’ band of boys (don’t misread that as “boy-band” – sorry, couldn’t resist the pun!) is an amazing, awe-inspiring sign of Allah’s divine help and omnipotent powers:
أَمْ حَسِبْتَ أَنَّ أَصْحَابَ الْكَهْفِ وَالرَّقِيمِ كَانُوا مِنْ آيَاتِنَا عَجَبًا
“Or do you deem that the People of the Cave and the Inscription are a wonder among Our signs?” [18:9]
As an aside, I just have to mention how I love the way Allah asks us questions in the Quran, as in the verse above. His tone grants the readers of the Quran, His Book, enough confidence to ponder; to try and answer His question in their minds as they read, making them feel like individuals blessed with intellect; inviting them to think and reflect upon what He is asking.
He stresses on the fact that the companions of the cave and inscription (also known as the “Seven Sleepers”) were among His signs. Indeed, after reflecting upon what happened to them, it becomes clear that they were.
Often I have heard people say that, after the Prophet of Allah, miraculous things embodying the descent of the Divine help of Allah, do not happen to normal people like us.
For such skeptics, the case of these young “bohemians” (who went against the social tide of their era, by openly opposing the polytheism practiced by their nation and became displaced, isolationist ‘vagabonds’ in the process) surely is a great sign of Allah!
According to Tafsir Ibn Kathir, the word الرَّقِيمِ refers to the name of either the mountain in which the cave was, the valley in which it was located, or the town to which these boys belonged, according to different scholarly opinions. According to Sa’eed bin Jubayr, it refers to the tablet of stone on which the story of the أَصْحَابَ الْكَهْفِ (People of the Cave) was inscribed, which was then placed at the entrance to the cave. And Allah knows best.
إِذْ أَوَى الْفِتْيَةُ إِلَى الْكَهْفِ فَقَالُوا رَبَّنَا آتِنَا مِن لَّدُنكَ رَحْمَةً وَهَيِّئْ لَنَا مِنْ أَمْرِنَا رَشَدًا
“When the young men fled for refuge to the Cave and said: Our Lord! Give us mercy from Your presence and shape for us right conduct in our plight.” [18:10]
Lane’s Lexicon describes the word فَتًى, which is the singular of فِتْيَةُ, as: “a youth or young man in the prime of life“.
There is a verse in the Quran in which Prophet Ibrahim is mentioned as a young man using the same word:
قَالُوا سَمِعْنَا فَتًى يَذْكُرُهُمْ يُقَالُ لَهُ إِبْرَاهِيمُ
“We heard a youth talk of them: He is called Ibrahim.” [21:60]
This verse refers to an earlier time in his life, when he was questioning his nation’s worship of idols, a thought process that eventually led him to break them all except one.
Clearly, the companions of the cave were approximately the same age as Ibrahim when they sought solace and refuge in the cave, because they have been referred to as فِتْيَةُ.
After they entered it, they prayed to Allah to grant them mercy from Himself, and guidance in the matter that was on their hands.
فَضَرَبْنَا عَلَى آذَانِهِمْ فِي الْكَهْفِ سِنِينَ عَدَدًا
“Then We sealed up their hearing in the Cave for a number of years.” [18:11]
The first “miraculous” thing that Allah did to them once they settled into the cave, was to “seal their hearing” for many years.
According to Tafsir Ibn Kathir, this means that Allah put them into a deep sleep that would last more than their lifetime.
ثُمَّ بَعَثْنَاهُمْ لِنَعْلَمَ أَيُّ الْحِزْبَيْنِ أَحْصَى لِمَا لَبِثُوا أَمَدًا
“And afterward We raised them up that We might know which of the two parties would best calculate the time that they had tarried.” [18:12]
Allah intended to wake them up hundreds of years later, physically sound and in good health, at a point in time when the current tyrannical king, who was persecuting them for not following his religion, would be long dead and gone.
The rest of their story, with detailed specifics, begins from the next verse.
Boys Who Rejected Polytheism
نَحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ نَبَأَهُم بِالْحَقِّ إِنَّهُمْ فِتْيَةٌ آمَنُوا بِرَبِّهِمْ وَزِدْنَاهُمْ هُدًى
“We narrate to you their story with truth. Lo! they were young men who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.” [18:13]
These young boys, each at his own personal level (without knowing of the others), believed in one god (آمَنُوا بِرَبِّهِمْ) after getting disillusioned by the openly polytheistic practices of their nation.
I urge you to read the whole tafsir to get the true picture of what happened to them as a result. It is nothing short of admirable how each of them started to get increasingly isolated from society because of their disdain for shirk and relinquishment of all practices and rituals associated with it.
In the current day and age, how many young men do you know of who, e.g. would swim against the tide, relinquish the rampant, polytheistic beliefs of their extended family, neighborhood or community, and refuse to call out to others besides Allah for help (believing them to be “مشکل کشا” – relievers of problems, or “حاجت روا” – granters of needs) – whether these “others” are past Prophets, bloodline/biological heirs of Prophets, or other pious “saints” who came after them?
How many young men would unflinchingly bow out of celebrations, festivals, mourning congregations, burial rites, or any other occasion (usually related to births and deaths of bygone people, who are supposedly still hearing and seeing everything after their death, granting wishes and allaying their disciples’ hardships – نعُوذُ بِالله وَ سُبحَانَ اللّهِ عَمَّا يُشرِكُونَ), and refuse to partake from the inevitable preparation, consumption and distribution of pots upon pots of indulgent food related to the public commemoration of these periodic events?
Truly, the young companions of the cave were not ordinary boys. Because not just did they relinquish shirk after recognizing and believing in just one, true God (Allah), but also displayed social recalcitrance due to their staunch monotheistic beliefs.
According to the tafsir, one by one, each of them retired under a tree, away from their people. The boys who came to join the few first ones under the tree later, sensed that the the ones already sitting there (none of whom knew each other yet), were also there for the same purpose, but feared persecution similar to the one their tyrannical ruler subjected “dissidents” to, if they revealed their faith.
As an aside, this retiring under a tree for the sake of Allah is an interesting concept that reminds me of the way Prophet Musa (عليه السلام) similarly retired under a tree, when he was being persecuted by the Egyptian Coptic government. While under that tree, he started praying to his Lord for any “خير” that He’d descend upon him (28:24). He sat there alone, until his prayers were heard by Allah, and one girl from among the two sisters whom he had helped water their flock of sheep, made her way towards him with an invitation from her elderly father.
Similarly, it was a tree under which Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم), too, retreated to remember his Lord, his body bruised and peppered with bleeding wounds, when he was persecuted and chased out of Taif, his call towards monotheism rejected and his persona reviled by its townspeople; a form of extreme social antagonism that he encountered when he sought to invite them towards the path of monotheism.
The picture is rather clear, I dare say. Anyone – especially young people, who are at the initial, fledgling stages of their faith, having just made it public, and more often than not, have started to become socially ostracized and antagonized for it – who starts adhering to monotheism (unswerving faith in just one god, which equates to a public and open rebuttal of any other gods besides Him), has to endure a temporary period of isolation, or social withdrawal, from people, in order to not just connect to Allah, but to also flee from persecution of society, especially figures of authority, such as ruling kings and “anti-Islam” governments.
The steadfastness to pass this test – i.e. enduring social withdrawal in order to escape persecution, without relinquishing one’s faith – is given to only those whom Allah guides.
And Allah had given this extra guidance to the companions of the cave – زِدْنَاهُمْ هُدًى.
Hearts “Tied” to Tauheed
وَرَبَطْنَا عَلَى قُلُوبِهِمْ إِذْ قَامُوا فَقَالُوا رَبُّنَا رَبُّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ لَن نَّدْعُوَ مِن دُونِهِ إِلَهًا لَقَدْ قُلْنَا إِذًا شَطَطًا
“And We made firm their hearts when they stood forth and said: Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth. We call no god beside Him, for then should we utter an enormity.” [18:14]
Eventually, according to what the tafsir says, the king found out that there was a group of young men who had detached themselves from society, and were worshiping one god separately, refusing to join the masses in adhering to the rituals of the state-endorsed polytheistic religion.
He sent for them, and they appeared before him. When prodded, they conveyed to him the message of monotheism, i.e. “made da’wah” to him, and in order to give them the guts, eloquence and courage to do this, Allah made their hearts firm upon the true guidance (رَبَطْنَا عَلَى قُلُوبِهِمْ). The root of the word “رَبَطْنَا” is “رب ط”, which means “to tie firmly with a rope“, and is used mostly to refer to tying animals with rope in such a way that they cannot escape.
Most ordinary believers do not have the courage to proclaim the truth whilst standing (قَامُوا) in front of a tyrannical ruling authority, much less invite them towards monotheism.
Most would rather give up not just the apparent practice of their faith, but also the verbal declarations of it, as well as their beliefs hidden inside their hearts, if they can in return be guaranteed a comfortable, easy worldly life spent dwelling with security and safety in a prosperous, thriving state that has a booming, robust economy.
The companions of the cave not just openly asserted their faith in Allah, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, but also went on to further clarify that they would never call upon any other god besides him (something that the ruler was not just endorsing himself, but also enforcing upon his masses).
This was because of the firm “knot”, or connection to monotheism and true faith, which Allah had placed inside their hearts (رَبَطْنَا عَلَى قُلُوبِهِمْ).
Allah had ‘tied’ their hearts firmly to strong faith in a manner that, even the threat of being killed, tortured, or jailed by the king for their ‘dissident’ beliefs did not thwart them from speaking the truth before him, and from openly proclaiming their refusal to return to the beliefs of the nation. Their hearts remained firm upon the faith that resided inside them, instead of them wavering and turning towards apostasy, giving in to the love of this world, or their faith getting contaminated by doubts or distortion of beliefs.
The eloquent young men went on to describe the error of their nation’s ways/beliefs:
هَؤُلَاء قَوْمُنَا اتَّخَذُوا مِن دُونِهِ آلِهَةً لَّوْلَا يَأْتُونَ عَلَيْهِم بِسُلْطَانٍ بَيِّنٍ فَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنِ افْتَرَى عَلَى اللَّهِ كَذِبًا
“These, our people, have chosen (other) gods beside Him though they bring no clear warrant to them. And who does greater wrong than he who invents a lie concerning Allah?” [18:15]
At this point, when we are discussing how these young men publicly pointed out the error of their people’s beliefs/ways of worship in front of the king in court, please allow me to make an observation.
Nowadays, I increasingly encounter accusations towards people embodying and upholding the Deen of Islam, mostly from secular-minded ‘free thinkers’, atheists and agnostics, regarding their ‘being judgmental’, whenever the latter do what the companions of the cave did i.e. point out the erroneous beliefs, rituals and ways of worship rampant in their nation or society.
The above verse of the Quran extolls how the companions of the cave pointed out the grave error of their people i.e. their committing shirk (هَؤُلَاء قَوْمُنَا اتَّخَذُوا مِن دُونِهِ آلِهَةً), then challenged the latter to bring forth a clear proof for their claims/polytheistic beliefs of the existence of other deities/gods besides Allah (لَّوْلَا يَأْتُونَ عَلَيْهِم بِسُلْطَانٍ بَيِّنٍ), and then ended their criticism with a serious reprimand about inventing a lie against Allah, calling it the greatest oppression or ‘dhulm‘ (فَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنِ افْتَرَى عَلَى اللَّهِ كَذِبًا).
If someone (a religious person) does something similar in public nowadays – whether through lectures, speech or writings, – the secular-minded proponents of godless, ‘free-thinking’ societies immediately draw out their ‘stop-judging’ claws and fangs, hissing like offended cats with the fur on their backs rising on end in fear of being condemned for their actions. Then pat come the emotionally-charged accusations of ‘preaching intolerance’, ‘being judgmental’ and ‘marginalizing’ others due to their preferences, orientations, or ‘lifestyle choices’.
True, judging is for Allah only, and that too in the Akhirah, but He has obligated the followers of His Deen to be eloquent, open warners in this world.
And one cannot warn wrong-doers without pointing out the error of their ways, reprimanding them, and foretelling them about the grievous penalty that awaits them for their misdeeds in the Hereafter, can one?
Can you make an obese person switch to a healthy diet just by extolling the virtues of the latter? Or will you also need to clearly point out to them the harms and ill-effects of the unhealthy food/drink/other substances that they are currently consuming?
Going Into Hiding
No surprise, that this courageous speech give by the young boys in the court before the ruling king made them targets. He granted them some respite before persecuting them, which allowed them to escape. They withdrew into a cave inside a mountainous valley.
وَإِذِ اعْتَزَلْتُمُوهُمْ وَمَا يَعْبُدُونَ إِلَّا اللَّهَ فَأْوُوا إِلَى الْكَهْفِ يَنشُرْ لَكُمْ رَبُّكُم مِّن رَّحمته ويُهَيِّئْ لَكُم مِّنْ أَمْرِكُم مِّرْفَقًا
“And when you withdraw from them and that which they worship except Allah, then seek refuge in the Cave; your Lord will spread for you of His mercy and will endow you – whatever your [outward] condition – with all that your souls may need!” [18:16]
Once again, Allah promised them special mercy from Himself, in addition to whatever else they might need.
It seems miraculous – and indeed it is – that Allah is promising the young men being persecuted by a powerful ruler, that He will grant them mercy and whatever else they need if they retire into a remote, empty, hidden cave in a valley, away from their antagonists and persecutors, and the rest of civilization.
At the start of this post, I mentioned how people assume that “miraculous” forms of Allah’s divine help come only for his Prophets, and not for ordinary believers who strive in His cause and are tested in their adherence to His Deen.
The case of the companions of the cave is a classic, timeless example and proof of the fact that – truly – if an ordinary person – young or old, male or female – is able to get Allah on his or her side, and if they patiently endure in His path the anger and antagonism of people by remaining steadfast and righteous, Allah helps them in ways absolutely unimaginable and incredible; ways that cannot be fathomed by the limited human intellect.
The Physical Forms of Allah’s Mercy
The first way in which Allah helped them, was, as already stated, by putting these young boys to sleep by ‘sealing their ears’ (فَضَرَبْنَا عَلَى آذَانِهِمْ).
وَتَرَى الشَّمْسَ إِذَا طَلَعَت تَّزَاوَرُ عَن كَهْفِهِمْ ذَاتَ الْيَمِينِ وَإِذَا غَرَبَت تَّقْرِضُهُمْ ذَاتَ الشِّمَالِ وَهُمْ فِي فَجْوَةٍ مِّنْهُ ذَلِكَ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ مَن يَهْدِ اللَّهُ فَهُوَ الْمُهْتَدِي وَمَن يُضْلِلْ فَلَن تَجِدَ لَهُ وَلِيًّا مُّرْشِدًا
“And you might have seen the sun, when it rose, move away from their cave to the right, and when it set, go past them on the left, and they were in the cleft thereof. That was (one) of the signs of Allah. He whom Allah guides, he indeed is led aright, and he whom He sends astray, for him you will not find a guiding friend.” [18:17]
After they had fallen asleep, Allah made the position of their sleeping bodies in the cave lie at such an angle that, when the sun rose from the East and set in the West every day, it did so at angles that bypassed their bodies, saving them from being scorched, but also enabling them to get enough light that would ensure their long-term survival.
As we know through modern science, the body temperature significantly drops during deep sleep, especially at night. Allah made sure that the daily process of the rising and setting of the sun happened in such a way, that its rays eclipsed their bodies in a manner that would allow them to get just enough heat and light that would make them stay alive, yet not awaken them up, nor burn/scorch them in any way.
Isn’t this a clear sign of Allah; of His help and aid (ذَلِكَ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّهِ)?
Truly, such help descends only for very special people; people who prove their loyalty and sincerity to Allah’s Deen by passing His tests of patience and steadfastness.
Can you even imagine a group of boys nowadays doing what these brave young men did? Whoever Allah guides to the right path, is granted special help from Allah, even if they are very young, economically weak, and open ‘targets’ of anti-Islam ruling authorities.
Fear-Inducing Optical Illusion
The next way in which Allah helped this group of seven sleepers, was to make them appear to any onlooker who happened upon them, to appear as if they were awake:
وَتَحْسَبُهُمْ أَيْقَاظًا وَهُمْ رُقُودٌ وَنُقَلِّبُهُمْ ذَاتَ الْيَمِينِ وَذَاتَ الشِّمَالِ وَكَلْبُهُم بَاسِطٌ ذِرَاعَيْهِ بِالْوَصِيدِ لَوِ اطَّلَعْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ لَوَلَّيْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِرَارًا وَلَمُلِئْتَ مِنْهُمْ رُعْبًا
“And you would have deemed them waking though they were asleep, and we caused them to turn over to the right and the left, and their dog stretching out his paws on the threshold. If you had observed them closely, you had assuredly turned away from them in flight, and had been filled with awe of them.” [18:18]
The sleepers did not appear to be asleep when beheld. This could be, according to differing opinions, by making their eyes appear to be open whereas in reality they were closed. Whatever the case, Allah made them appear to be awake, whereas they were asleep.
In addition, in order to make sure that no one came near them to disturb their sleep, Allah made them look menacing or scary. This again is subject to scholarly conjecture e.g. maybe Allah made them look immensely scary in appearance (nowadays that is not so hard to imagine, given the scores of makeup-laden, horrifying-looking villains of blood-and-gore-infested slasher/horror films), so that whoever chanced upon them unintentionally would immediately turn back and flee, scared for his life.
Just imagine for a moment – a deep, dark, quiet cave tucked away somewhere in the mountainous wilderness, in the middle of nowhere. Any sane person would hesitate to even enter such a cave alone. And if they did, imagine them coming across seven, menacing-looking humans inside the eerie, quiet, echo-producing hollow of that cave.
Would they stick around to investigate? I doubt it!
In addition, by Allah’s will, their dog was also made to sit guarding the entrance of the cave, its forelegs sprawled out. No doubt, a dog scares away curious ‘intruders’ of private properties in every day and age, a reason for which dogs are employed as ‘guards’ and protectors to this day.
Eventually, the seven sleeping young men finally woke up, by Allah’s command:
وَكَذَلِكَ بَعَثْنَاهُمْ لِيَتَسَاءلُوا بَيْنَهُمْ قَالَ قَائِلٌ مِّنْهُمْ كَمْ لَبِثْتُمْ قَالُوا لَبِثْنَا يَوْمًا أَوْ بَعْضَ يَوْمٍ قَالُوا رَبُّكُمْ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا لَبِثْتُمْ فَابْعَثُوا أَحَدَكُم بِوَرِقِكُمْ هَذِهِ إِلَى الْمَدِينَةِ فَلْيَنظُرْ أَيُّهَا أَزْكَى طَعَامًا فَلْيَأْتِكُم بِرِزْقٍ مِّنْهُ وَلْيَتَلَطَّفْ وَلَا يُشْعِرَنَّ بِكُمْ أَحَدًا
“Such (being their state), we raised them up (from sleep), that they might question each other. Said one of them, “How long have ye stayed (here)?” They said, “We have stayed (perhaps) a day, or part of a day.” (At length) they (all) said, “(Allah) (alone) knows best how long you have stayed here…. Now send you then one of you with this money of yours to the town: let him find out which is the best food (to be had) and bring some to you, that (you may) satisfy your hunger therewith: And let him behave with care and courtesy, and let him not inform any one about you.” [18:19]
They had slept for centuries, yet when they woke up, it seemed to them that they had slept a part of the day, or one full day at the most.
This was the greatest “miracle” that happened to them, as a special form of mercy from Allah, just as He had promised them (يَنشُرْ لَكُمْ رَبُّكُم مِّن رَّحمته ويُهَيِّئْ لَكُم مِّنْ أَمْرِكُم مِّرْفَقًا), when they were directed to flee to this cave in the middle of nowhere in order to save themselves from persecution.
What is also admirable is how, even when one of the young men was sent by the others to fetch food from outside the cave, his fellow companions cautioned him to be discreet, in order to save his faith from being known, as a result of which they all could be discovered again and then, forced to revert to the deviant religion of their townspeople:
إِنَّهُمْ إِن يَظْهَرُوا عَلَيْكُمْ يَرْجُمُوكُمْ أَوْ يُعِيدُوكُمْ فِي مِلَّتِهِمْ وَلَن تُفْلِحُوا إِذًا أَبَدًا
“For they, if they should come to know of you, will stone you or turn you back to their religion; then you will never prosper.” [18:20]
A sincere believer’s primary “worry” is always his faith – and when he or she perceives harm or danger to it, i.e. they fear that it will be ‘watered down’, diluted, or diminished in any manner, especially by living in a neighborhood, town or country where it is not perceived in a good light, the believer tries his utmost to save himself from social persecution on the basis of his religion – even if it means leaving that town or people and moving away.
وَكَذَلِكَ أَعْثَرْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ لِيَعْلَمُوا أَنَّ وَعْدَ اللَّهِ حَقٌّ وَأَنَّ السَّاعَةَ لَا رَيْبَ فِيهَا إِذْ يَتَنَازَعُونَ بَيْنَهُمْ أَمْرَهُمْ فَقَالُوا ابْنُوا عَلَيْهِم بُنْيَانًا رَّبُّهُمْ أَعْلَمُ بِهِمْ قَالَ الَّذِينَ غَلَبُوا عَلَى أَمْرِهِمْ لَنَتَّخِذَنَّ عَلَيْهِم مَّسْجِدًا
“And in like manner We disclosed them (to the people of the city) that they might know that the promise of Allah is true, and that, as for the Hour, there is no doubt concerning it. When (the people of the city) disputed of their case among themselves, they said: Build over them a building; their Lord knows best concerning them. Those who won their point said: We verily shall build a place of worship over them.” [18:21]
Truly, Allah’s promises to His slaves always come true. It is just that they come at a price – that the slaves show steadfastness upon true faith, and courageously battle social persecution and antagonism with patience and unswerving constancy, just for His sake, without compromising on their beliefs and religious practice, no matter what comes their way.
The sleeping and awakening of these young boys was indeed a sign of Allah, and also a clear proof of the Hour (أَنَّ السَّاعَةَ لَا رَيْبَ فِيهَا), because if Allah could make them sleep for centuries without their bodies suffering, dying or decaying even slightly, He is surely all-able to raise up the dead for the reckoning of the Akhirah!
As a result of their steadfastness in the face of this trial of their faith, Allah made the seven sleepers “prevail” – in the most literal sense of the word. That is, they outlived all their enemies and opponents, and when they emerged from the cave eventually, to seek food and drink, and got discovered as a result, they came across a townspeople who were completely the opposite in attitude, behavior and emotional feelings towards them.
People of this (successive) generation who were dwelling in the town near the cave had heard nothing but good of, and thus held in great honor and esteem, the seven sleepers, who had been assumed dead once they ‘disappeared’ – i.e. when they were driven out of their city in the way of Allah to save their religion.
When, however, they became recognized by everyone now, centuries later, they were honored and welcomed by the then governing ruler of the town and also by its people – an attitude completely the opposite of the one which they had fled from, just before they went to sleep in the cave.
The king and masses were so enamored by the valiance, sacrifice and religiosity of these young men, that they clamored to build a monument over the place where they had gone to sleep!
The greatest lesson from the story of the young boys, besides the one I have already mentioned viz. the brave steadfastness upon faith and the courage in the face of tyranny that can be achieved at a young age, is that one should never, ever compromise on their religious beliefs or practice in order to win over people, out of fear of social debasement/ridicule, even when threatened with banishment/punishment by authority figures (such as ‘Islamophobic’ governments that socially stigmatize or even persecute believers).
Social honor, acceptance and reputation is a matter that lies in the hands of Allah. The sands of time bring about change, even if the mills grind slowly. The world and its dwellers are extremely fickle in their love and loyalty. Today, they might honor, eulogize and revere an individual, but tomorrow, one small mistake or ‘scandal’ can cause them to hate, insult and deride that same person.
For the sake of such a fickle world, which is full of people with shortcomings, who follow their whims and desires, should one really be silly enough to compromise on the pleasure of Allah and the eternal success and joy of the Hereafter, by “watering down” or diluting the practice of their monotheistic religious beliefs?
Which is better: downplaying or hiding your religious beliefs in front of people in order to escape social ridicule and legal persecution, or practicing your Deen openly, with your head held high in confidence, even if means moving away to another, remote location?
The case of the companions of the cave gives us a very clear answer to this question.
The story of the bohemian (unconventional, wandering) boys is the first story that a reader comes across whilst reciting Surah Al-Kahf.
Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم) was asked about the seven sleepers as a test of his prophethood (please read the context/background of revelation of this surah), as a result of which Allah revealed the details of the companions of the cave to him.
Every Friday, when we recite this wonderful surah and come across its enlightening stories, we are reminded of the temporariness of this world and its life, of not just its blessings, but also of its trials.
The reminders jolt us into recalling how Allah tests His sincere slaves, but if they pass His tests, He grants them honor, love and a good reputation even in this world. The stories of this surah hit home the fact that the love and reverence of people is unpredictable and fickle, and it should not be allowed, under any circumstances, to undermine or affect the practice of our Deen and the purity of our monotheistic belief in one god.
Last but not least, shirk and any of its forms should be publicly and openly denounced and warned against, even when faced by a tyrannical ruler who threatens torture, punishment or imprisonment in return.
Hence, I would like to take this opportunity to declare my abhorrence for any kind of polytheism or shirk, in particular, those beliefs common among some people that anyone besides Allah hears their calls, forwards their dua’s to Allah, answers their supplications, fulfills their needs of provision, grants them cure from illnesses, or averts calamities or difficulties from them.
I denounce and condemn the way people call out to Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم), Ali bin Abi Talib, Hussain bin Ali (رَضِىَ اللهُ عَنهُم), Prophet Iesa, the “holy spirit”, or any other pious saints who have lived in the past.
The ironic part? Most of those bygone people who have now been taken as “idols”, or partners along with Allah used to be, during their own lives, severe critics of shirk themselves – and considered it one of the biggest sins that can ever be committed!
Allah is pure from the partners that they ascribe to Him:
أَمْ لَهُمْ إِلَهٌ غَيْرُ اللَّهِ سُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ
“Or have they a god other than Allah? Exalted is Allah far above the things they associate with Him!” [52:43]