(Do you think) -- O Muhammad --
(that the people of Al-Kahf and Ar-Raqim were a wonder among Our signs) meaning, their case was not something amazing compared to Our power and ability, for the creation of the heavens and earth, the alternation of night and day and the subjugation of the sun, moon and heavenly bodies, and other mighty signs indicate the great power of Allah and show that He is able to do whatever He wills. He is not incapable of doing more amazing things than the story of the people of the Cave. Similarly, Ibn Jurayj reported Mujahid saying about,
(Do you think that the people of Al-Kahf and Ar-Raqim were a wonder among Our signs) "Among Our signs are things that are more amazing than this.'' Al-`Awfi reported that Ibn `Abbas said:
(Do you think that the people of Al-Kahf and Ar-Raqim were a wonder among Our signs) "What I have given to you of knowledge, the Sunnah and the Book is far better than the story of the people of Al-Kahf and Ar-Raqim.'' Muhammad bin Ishaq said: "(It means) I have not shown My creatures a proof more amazing than the story of the people of the Al-Kahf and Ar-Raqim.'' Al-Kahf refers to a cave in a mountain, which is where the young men sought refuge. With regard to the word Ar-Raqim, Al-`Awfi reported from Ibn `Abbas that it is a valley near Aylah. This was also said (in another narration) by `Atiyah Al-`Awfi and Qatadah. Ad-Dahhak said: "As for Al-Kahf, it is a cave in the valley, and Ar-Raqim is the name of the valley.'' Mujahid said, "Ar-Raqim refers to their buildings.'' Others said it refers to the valley in which their cave was. `Abdur-Razzaq recorded that Ibn `Abbas said about Ar-Raqim: "Ka`b used to say that it was the town.'' Ibn Jurayj reported that Ibn `Abbas said, "Ar-Raqim is the mountain in which the cave was.'' Sa`id bin Jubayr said, "Ar-Raqim is a tablet of stone on which they wrote the story of the people of the Cave, then they placed it at the entrance to the Cave.''
((Remember) when the young men fled for refuge to Al-Kahf. They said: "Our Lord! Bestow on us mercy from Yourself, and facilitate for us our affair in the right way!'') Here Allah tells us about those young men who fled from their people for the sake of their religion, fearing persecution. So they fled taking refuge in the cave of a mountain, where they hid from their people. When they entered the cave, they asked Allah to show mercy and kindness towards them,
(Our Lord! Bestow on us mercy from Yourself,) meaning, `give us Your mercy and conceal us from our people.'
(and facilitate for us our affair in the right way.) means, direct our matter well, i.e., grant us a good end. As was reported in the Hadith:
(Whatever You have decreed for us, make its consequences good).
(Therefore, We covered up their hearing in the cave for a number of years.) meaning, `We caused them to sleep when they entered the cave, and they slept for many years.'
(Then We raised them up) from that slumber, and one of them went out with his Dirhams (silver coins) to buy them some food, as it will be discussed in more detail below. Allah says:
(Then We raised them up, that We might test which of the two parties) meaning, the two parties who disputed about them,
(was best at calculating the time period that they tarried.) It was said that this refers to how long they stayed in the cave.
(13. We narrate unto you their story with truth: Truly, they were young men who believed in their Lord (Allah), and We increased them in guidance.) (14. And 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.) (15. These our people have taken for worship gods other than Him. Why do they not bring for them a clear authority And who does more wrong than he who invents a lie against Allah.) (16. (The young men said to one another:) "And when you withdraw from them, and that which they worship, except Allah, then seek refuge in the cave; your Lord will open a way for you from His mercy and will make easy for you your affair.'')
From here Allah begins to explain the story in detail. He states that they were boys or young men, and that they were more accepting of the truth and more guided than the elders who had become stubbornly set in their ways and clung to the religion of falsehood. For the same reason, most of those who responded to Allah and His Messenger were young people. As for the elders of Quraysh, most of them kept to their religion and only a few of them became Muslims. So Allah tells us that the people of the cave were young men. Mujahid said, "I was informed that some of them wore some kind of earrings, then Allah guided them and inspired them to fear Him, so they recognized His Oneness, and bore witness that there is no god besides Him.''
(and We increased them in guidance.) From this and other similar Ayat, several scholars, such as Al-Bukhari and others, understood that faith may increase, that it may vary in degrees, and that it may fluctuate. Allah says:
(and We increased them in guidance.) as He said elsewhere:
(While as for those who accept guidance, He increases their guidance and bestows on them their Taqwa.) (47:17)
(As for those who believe, it has increased their faith, and they rejoice.) (9:124),
(...that they may grow more in faith along with their (present) faith.) (48:4) There are other Ayat indicating the same thing. It has been mentioned that they were followers of the religion of Al-Masih `Isa, `Isa bin Maryam, but Allah knows best. It seems that they lived before the time of Christianity altogether, because if they had been Christians, the Jewish rabbis would not have cared about preserving because of their differences. We have mentioned above the report from Ibn `Abbas that the Quraysh sent a message to the Jewish rabbis in Al-Madinah to ask them for things with which they could test the Messenger of Allah , and they told them to ask him about these young men, and about Dhul-Qarnayn (the man who traveled much) and about the Ruh. This indicates that this story was something recorded in the books of the People of the Book, and that it came before Christianity. And Allah knows best.
(And We made their hearts firm and strong when they stood up and said: "Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth,) Here Allah is saying: `We gave them the patience to go against their people and their city, and to leave behind the life of luxury and ease that they had been living.' Several of the earlier and later Tafsir scholars have mentioned that they were sons of the kings and leaders of Byzantium, and that they went out one day to one of the festivals of their people. They used to gather once a year outside the city, and they would worship idols and offer sacrifices to them. They had an arrogant, tyrannical king who was called Decianus, who commanded and encouraged the people to do that. When the people went out to attend this gathering, these young men went out with their fathers and their people, and when they saw their people's actions with clear insight, they realized that the prostrations and sacrifices the people were offering to their idols should only be dedicated to Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth. Each of them started to withdraw from his people and keep aloof from them. The first one of them to move away on his own went and sat in the shade of a tree, then another came and sat with him, then another came and sat with them, then four more followed suit one by one. None of them knew the others, but they were brought together by the One Who instilled faith in their hearts. As it says in the Hadith recorded by Al-Bukhari with an incomplete chain of narrators from `A'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), the Messenger of Allah said:
(Souls are like recruited soldiers. Those that recognize one another will come together, and those that do not recognize one another will turn away from each another). Muslim also recorded this in his Sahih from the Hadith of Suhayl from his father from Abu Hurayrah from the Messenger of Allah. People say that similar qualities or characteristics are what bring people together. So each of the young men was trying to conceal what he really believed from the others, out of fear of them, not knowing that they were like him. Then one of them said, "O people, you know by Allah that only one thing is making you leave your people and isolate yourselves from them, so let each one of you say what it is in his case.'' Another said, "As for me, by Allah I saw what my people are doing and I realized that it was false, and that the only One Who deserves to be worshipped Alone with out partner or associate is Allah Who created everything, the heavens, the earth and everything in between.'' Another said, "By Allah, the same thing happened to me.'' The others said the same, and they all agreed and became brothers in faith. They adopted a particular location as a place of worship and began worshipping Allah there, but their people found out about them and told their king about them. The king ordered them to appear before him, and asked them about their beliefs. They told him the truth and called him to Allah, as Allah says about them:
(And 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...'') "Never" (Lan) implies an absolute and eternal negation, meaning, `this will never happen, and if we were to do that it would be false.' So Allah says about them:
(...if we did, we should indeed have uttered an enormity in disbelief.) meaning, untruth and utter falsehood.
(These, our people, have taken for worship gods other than Him (Allah). Why do they not bring for them a clear authority) meaning, why do they not produce some clear evidence and genuine proof for their behavior
(And who does more wrong than he who invents a lie against Allah.) They said: `but by saying that they are lying transgressors.' It was said that when they called their king to believe in Allah, he refused, and warned and threatened them. He commanded them to be stripped of their clothing bearing the adornments of their people, then he gave them some time to think about the situation, hoping that they would return to their former religion. This was a way that Allah showed kindness for them, because during that time they managed to escape from him and flee from persecution for the sake of their religion. This is what is prescribed in the Shari`ah during times of trial and persecution -- a person who fears for his religion should flee from his persecutors, as was reported in the Hadith:
(Soon there will come a time when the best wealth any of you can have will be sheep, which he can follow to the tops of the mountains and places where rain falls, (fleeing) for the sake of his religion from persecution. ) In such cases, it is allowed to seclude oneself from people, but this is not prescribed in any other case, because by such seclusion one loses the benefits of congregational and Friday prayers. These young men were determined to flee from their people, and Allah decreed that for them, as He says about them,
(And when you withdraw from them, and that which they worship, except Allah,) meaning, when you depart from them and follow a different religion, opposing their worship of others besides Allah, then separate from them in a physical sense too,
(then seek refuge in the cave; your Lord will open a way for you from His mercy) meaning, He will bestow His mercy upon you, by which He will conceal you from your people.
(and will make easy for you your affair.) means, He will give you what you need. So they left and fled to the cave where they sought refuge. Then their people noticed they were missing, and the king looked for them, and it was said when he could not find them that Allah concealed them from him so that he could not find any trace of them or any information about them, as Allah concealed His Prophet Muhammad and his Companion (Abu Bakr) As-Siddiq, when they sought refuge in the cave of Thawr. The Quraysh idolators came in pursuit, but they did not find him even though they passed right by him. When the Messenger of Allah noticed that As-Siddiq was anxious and said, "O Messenger of Allah, if one of them looks down at the place of his feet, he will see us,'' he told him:
(O Abu Bakr, what do you think of two who have Allah as their third) And Allah said:
(If you help him not, for Allah did indeed help him when the disbelievers drove him out, the second of the two; when they were in the cave, he said to his companion: "Do not grieve, surely, Allah is with us.'' Then Allah sent down His tranquility upon him, and strengthened him with forces which you saw not, and made the word of those who disbelieved the lower, while the Word of Allah became the higher; and Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise.) (9:40) -The story of this cave (Thawr) is far greater and more wondrous than that of the people of the Cave.
(17. And you might have seen the sun, when it rose, declining to the right from their cave, and when it set, turning away from them to the left, while they lay in the midst of the cave. That is from the Ayat of Allah. He whom Allah guides, he is the rightly-guided; but he whom He sends astray, for him you will find no guardian to lead him.)
(the right), meaning that the shade decreased towards the right, as Ibn `Abbas, Sa`id bin Jubayr and Qatadah said:
(declining) means leaning. Every time the sun rises on the horizon, its rays decline until there is nothing left in such a place when it reaches its zenith. So Allah said,
(and when it set, turning away from them to the left,) meaning, it entered their cave from the left of its entrance, which means from the west. This proves what we say, and it is clear to anyone who thinks about the matter and has some knowledge of astronomy and the paths of the sun, moon and stars. If the entrance of the cave faced east, nothing would have entered it when the sun set, and if it faced the direction of the Qiblah (in this case, south), nothing would have entered it at the time of sunrise or sunset, and the shadows would have leaned neither to the right nor the left. If it had faced west, nothing would have entered it at the time of sunrise, until after the sun had passed its zenith, and would have stayed until sunset. This supports what we have said, and to Allah is the praise. Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid and Qatadah said that "turning away from them'' means that it would shine on them and then leave them. Allah has told us this, and He wants us to understand it and ponder its meaning, but He did not tell us the location of this cave, i.e., in which country on earth it is, because there is no benefit for us in knowing that, and no legislative objective behind it. If there was any spiritual or religious interest that could be served by our knowing that, Allah and His Messenger would have taught us about it, as the Prophet said:
(I have not left anything that will bring you closer to Paradise and keep you further away from Hell but I have certainly taught you about it.) So Allah has told us about the features of the cave, but He did not tell us where it is, and He said,
(And you might have seen the sun, when it rose, declining from their cave.) Malik narrated from Zayd bin Aslam, "Leaning.''
(the right, and when it set, turning away from them to the left, while they lay in the midst of the cave.) meaning, the sun entered the cave without touching them, because if it had touched them, it would have burnt their bodies and clothes. This was the view of Ibn `Abbas.
(That is from the Ayat of Allah), how He guided them to this cave where He kept them alive, and the sun and wind entered the cave preserving their bodies. Allah says,
(That is from the Ayat of Allah.) Then He says:
(He whom Allah guides, he is the rightly-guided;) meaning that He is the One Who guided these young men to true guidance among their people, for the one whom Allah guides is truly guided, and the one whom Allah leaves astray will find no one to guide him.
(18. And you would have thought them awake, whereas they were asleep. And We turned them on their right and on their left sides, and their dog stretching forth his two forelegs at the Wasid. Had you happened upon them, you would certainly have turned back from them in flight, and would certainly have been filled with awe of them.)
Some of the scholars mentioned that when Allah caused them to sleep, their eyelids did not close, lest disintegration took hold of them. If their eyes remained open to the air, this would be better for the sake of preservation. Allah says:
(And you would have thought them awake, whereas they were asleep.) It was mentioned that when the wolf sleeps, it closes one eye and keeps one eye open, then it switches eyes while asleep.
(And We turned them on their right and on their left sides,) Ibn `Abbas said: "If they did not turn over, the earth would have consumed them.''
(and their dog stretching forth his two forelegs at the Wasid) Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, Sa`id bin Jubayr and Qatadah said: "The Wasid means the threshold.'' Ibn `Abbas said: "By the door.'' It was said: "On the ground.'' The correct view is that it means on the threshold, i.e., at the door.
(Verily, it shall be closed upon them) (104:8) Their dog lay down at the door, as is the habit of dogs. Ibn Jurayj said, "He was guarding the door for them.'' It was his nature and habit to lie down at their door as if guarding them. He was sitting outside the door, because the angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog, as was reported in As-Sahih, nor do they enter a house in which there is an image, a person in a state of ritual impurity or a disbeliever, as was narrated in the Hasan Hadith. The blessing they enjoyed extended to their dog, so the sleep that overtook them overtook him too. This is the benefit of accompanying good people, and so this dog attained fame and stature. It was said that he was the hunting dog of one of the people which is the more appropriate view, or that he was the dog of the king's cook, who shared their religious views, and brought his dog with him. And Allah knows best. Allah says:
(Had you happened upon them, you would certainly have turned back from them in flight, and would certainly have been filled with awe of them.) meaning that Allah made them appear dreadful, so that no one could look at them without being filled with terror, because of the frightening appearance they had been given. This was so that no one would come near them or touch them until the appointed time when their sleep would come to an end as Allah willed, because of the wisdom, clear proof and great mercy involved in that.
(19. Likewise, We woke them that they might question one another. A speaker among them said: "How long have you stayed (here)'' They said: "We have stayed a day or part of a day.'' They said: "Your Lord knows best how long you have stayed (here). So send one of you with this silver coin of yours to the town, and let him find out which is the Azka food, and bring some of that to you. And let him be careful and let no man know of you.'') (20. "For, if they come to know of you, they will stone you or turn you back to their religion; and in that case you will never be successful.'')