The Qur’an narrates the story of some youth who left their homes and sought refuge in a cave in order to protect their faith. Allah says in the Qur’an:
Do you think that the People of the Cave and Inscription were a wonder among our signs? (Al-Qur’an 18:9)
We narrate unto you their story with truth: Truly they were young men who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance. We made their hearts firm and strong when they stood up and said, “Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, never shall we call upon any god other than Him; if we did, we should indeed have uttered an enormity in disbelief. (Al-Qur’an 18:13-14)
An eminent scholar of the Qur’an, Ibn-i-Kathir portrays those young men as princes of Rome. It was a ritual in Rome that a feast was held every year where the nearby country folk used to visit, perform idol worship, and sacrifice animals. There was a tyrant ruler named, Daqyanus who commanded people to practice idolatry. When those princes saw the people doing such adorations and rituals, they distanced themselves, thinking that these ceremonies and practices ought to be performed for the One God, Who is the Creator of this universe. Then, one of them isolated himself from society and sat under a tree. After that, another went and sat under the same tree. Gradually, many princes left their places and gathered under the same tree, but it was strange that nobody knew each other. The only common point was that they left their places and isolated themselves from their society because they disliked the rituals and ceremonies, such as idol worship and sacrificing animals, that were held there. They were gathered by the grace of God, who favored them with true faith.
One of them said, “I have isolated myself from my kin since I discovered them doing idol worship, and I know that they are wrong. Only He is worthy of worship; He is the Creator of this entire universe, and nothing is associated with Him”. Others concurred with him, as they had run away from their homes for a similar reason. They constructed a temple and started to worship together. After some time, when the king came to know, he summoned them and asked about their faith. They expressed unhesitatingly the unity of Allah before the king. The king got furious and warned them, and because they were princes, he gave them some days to rethink and change their religion. Be that as it may, they were bestowed with Allah’s generosity, and so as to ensure their faith, they took refuge in a cave. The king and his men searched for them, but they could not be found. Allah made them rest for a long time in the cave. When they woke up, they felt hungry. They sent one of them to get food and warned him to be cautious about the ruler. When he offered coins to purchase food, the currency had been changed long ago, and these coins were centuries old. In this way, people came to know about them. (Tafseer Ibn-i-Kathir)
Mawlana Maudoodi says that, on perusing Surah al-Kahf, it appears that it was revealed in the third phase of the Meccan life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), when the disbelievers were resorting to ridiculing, raising objections, and making false propaganda against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the devotees of Islam in order to suppress the Islamic Movement. The believers had not migrated to Abyssinia yet (Tafheem al-Qur’an).
This story has been described with the purpose that people will be inspired and will come to realize that the greatest believers of all time made huge sacrifices for the cause of their beliefs. This story was one of the answers to three questions that were asked by the Jewish rabbis and Christian monks when they visited Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):
- What is the story of the people of Cave?
- What is the story of Moses and Khidr?
- What is the story of Dhul Qarnain?
Allah recounted the story as well as drawing a picture of that time in Mecca where the conflict was going on between Islam and the forces of unbelief. The Quran says in regard to the People of the Cave that they had a similar idea of monotheism, which is specified in the Qur’an. Their situation was the same as that of the believers of Mecca, and the conduct of their kin and neighbors towards them was similar to that of the disbelievers of Mecca. On the one hand, the people of the cave courageously admitted that there is no god but Allah, who is the creator of this entire universe. With no merchandise or money, they left their homes and took asylum in a cave, but they did not abandon their faith in Allah. Even after their awakening after a long slumber, they were concerned about their faith. Keeping in mind that the king asked them to change their faith, they were cautious about going out in public. On the other hand, the believers of Mecca were asked to keep patience and be persistent regardless of how much the disbelievers troubled and tormented them. They told me to remain strong and have faith in Allah. With this, an indication was given to the believers of Mecca that the time is near when the devotees will have to leave their families, merchandise, and territories and migrate to Madinah for the sake of their faith. One ought to have faith in Allah that they will be rewarded for their patience and efforts. Their endeavors would not go to waste. It is Allah’s promise that He will protect them, and it is not in any way difficult for Allah: “Allah will protect you from mankind” (Al-Ma’idah: 68). One needs to work consistently in the way of Allah, not worship anyone except Him, and not associate anyone with Him.
Two points are significant in the account of The People of Cave. Initially, the time in which those young men needed to leave their homes and hide themselves in a cave on a mountain in Ephesus was the greatest focal point of idolatry and magic in the whole of Asia. There was a great temple of the goddess Dyna that was well known around the neighboring countries, where people used to visit and worship her. A similar situation existed in Mecca during the prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH). Around then, Mecca was the focal point of idolatry. All tribes had their own idols. There were 360 idols present in the Ka’ba. When Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was born, Idolatry was prevalent everywhere throughout the Arabia. This was a great rebellion against Allah. What was all the more offensive was the dogma of Allah begetting sons and daughters. The Qur’an clarifies: “He begets not, nor was He begotten. And there is none co-equal or comparable unto Him” (Al-Ikhlas 112:3-4). At that time, Allah guided the People of the Cave, who recognized “monotheism of Allah” and revolted against the practice of idolatry. Prophet Muhammad, standing on Mount Safa, refuted the fabricated gods and invited everybody to the monotheism of Allah. The poor in Mecca acknowledged this welcome message of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and were soon drawn to Islam with perseverance. After thirteen years of humiliation and patience, the believers under the guidance of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) were commanded by Allah to migrate to Madinah.
The second major point at that time was the misconception about the Day of Resurrection. The majority of the people had accepted Christianity under the influence of the Roman Empire, whose essential teachings incorporated this belief, yet at the same time there was a strong effect of Roman idol worshiping and Greek philosophies on account of which people refused to completely accept this doctrine. In Ephesus, there was a large population of Jews, among whom there was a group that denied the Day of Judgment. This group used to bring evidence of rejecting the Day of Judgment from the Torah and the Christian scholars were not in a position to counter it. It was then that the incident of the People of the Cave happened, and the story itself became evidence of the tenets of the Day of Resurrection that if Allah is able to make individuals sleep for a considerable period of time and wake them up, then, on the Day of Judgment, He can again raise everyone alive from the dead. There was the same situation in Mecca at the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The people refused to accept the Day of Resurrection. Furthermore, they turned into slaves to their yearnings. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was so distressed and crestfallen with the behaviors of Meccans that Allah revealed the following verses: “Perhaps, you would kill yourself (O Muhammad) in grief, over their footsteps because they believe not in this narration” (Al-Kahf; 6). The thing that was extremely disturbing to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was that the people were living dishonest and material lives and overlooking Allah and the Day of Judgment. If they die in this way, then what would be their condition before Allah? Prophet Muhammad used to welcome the people to demonstrate the correct way, yet they were not prepared to hear him. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has expressed this circumstance in one of his hadiths: “The parable of myself and the people is that of a man who lit a fire. When it illuminated its surroundings, the moths and other creatures that are attracted to light began to fall into it. He began to pull them out of the fire, but they overwhelmed him and continued to fall into it. I am the one pulling you away from the fire, but you keep going headlong into it.” (Sahih Bukhari 6002)
In this allegory, there is a clear sign that, Allah woke up the young men from sleep after many centuries. Similarly, on the Day of Judgment, He will, again, raise everyone from the dead, and then the final reckoning of their deeds will be done, i.e., who resisted Allah and disobeyed Him and who obeyed Allah and made Him glad. The verse indicates: “Verily! We have made that which is on earth as an adornment for it, in order that We may test them as to which of them are best in deeds” (Al-Kahf: 7).
By and large, there is some confusion among the people that most people who resist Allah and the Day of Judgment, decline the existence of Heaven and Hell, indulge in idol worship, and associate others with Allah rather carry on with a prosperous and serene life on the earth. They have everything, riches, abundance, fame, and other authorities in affluence. On the contrary, true devotees are, for the most part, harnessed by poverty. From all sides, people assault them, assassinate their character, and all conceivable endeavors are made to devastate them. So, why is there injustice? In this verse, Allah has cleared this protest and reassuringly reassured the genuine adherents by expressing that this life is temporary and will soon be terminated. Henceforth, this life can’t be the standard of regard and insolence or effortlessness and disrespect. What’s more, it is so stupid and immature to comprehend this point. This life is much like a test, where every individual in every circumstance is giving a test through his choices. At the point when this life is over and the reward will be pronounced by Allah, all the disappointments of this life will be insignificant in comparison.
In this story, there is an open message that a true believer ought not to be in conflict with the truth in any circumstance. And he must not confide in causes but rather ought to have complete faith in Allah. He should take action regardless of whether it is in support of you or not. Confide in Allah and make each and every stride the purpose of truth. One more message is given: the people who perceive the cycle of nature as a natural law and consider that nothing can occur against this natural system should realize that Allah is not confined to any law. He can change the regular framework at whatever point and any place he wishes. Nothing is beyond His power and authority. It is not a major thing for Allah to make people rest for 200–300 years and wake them up, as they would have dozed for a couple of hours and there is no sign of change on their faces, clothing, or age. There is another message that it is not difficult for Allah to resurrect man from death, of which all the Prophets and Messengers and religious scriptures have given information. He can do this, and He will do it. He is the sovereign of this universe and many more like it, and He has no associates.