This Surah takes its name from v. 9 in which the word (al-kahf)
Period of Revelation
This is the first of those Surahs which were sent down in the
third stage of Prophethood at Makkah. We have already divided
the life of the Holy Prophet at Makkah into four stages in
the Introduction to Chapter VI. According to that division
the third stage lasted from the fifth to the tenth year of
What distinguishes this stage from the second and the fourth
stages is this. During the second stage the Quraish mainly
resorted to ridiculing, scoffing, threatening, tempting, raising
objections and making false propaganda against the Holy Prophet
and his followers in order to suppress the Islamic Movement.
But during the third stage they employed the weapons of persecution,
man handling and economic pressure for the same purpose. So
much so that a large number of the Muslims had to emigrate
from Arabia to Habash, and those who remained behind were besieged
in Shi'ib Abi Talib along with the Holy Prophet and his family.
To add to their misery, a complete social and economic boycott
was applied against them. The only redeeming feature was that
there were two personalities, Abu Talib and Hadrat Khadijah,
whose personal influence had been conducive to the support
of two great families of the Quraish. However, when in the
tenth year of Prophethood these two persons died, the fourth
stage began with such revere persecutions as forced the Holy
Prophet and all his Companions to emigrate from Makkah.
It appears from the theme of the Surah that it was revealed
at the beginning of the third stage when in spite of persecutions
and opposition, migration to Habash had not yet taken place.
That is why the story of "Ashab-i-Kahf" (the Sleepers of the
Cave) has been related to comfort and encourage the persecuted
Muslims and to show them how the righteous people have been
saving their Faith in the past.
Subject and Topics
While the Quran turned the tables on the questioners who had
tried to "expose" the Holy Prophet, in the end of the Surah
the same things have been reiterated that were stated at its
beginning: "Tauhid and the Hereafter are absolutely true and
real and for your own good you should accept these doctrines,
mend your ways in accordance with them and live in this world
with this conviction that you are accountable to Allah: otherwise
you shall ruin your life and all your doings shall be set at
- This Surah was sent down in answer to the three questions
which the mushriks of Makkah, in consultation with the
people of the Book, had put to the Holy Prophet in order
to test him. These were:
(1) Who were "the Sleepers of' the Cave" ?
(2) What is the real story of Khidr? and
(3) What do you know about Zul- Qarnain?
As these three questions and the stories involved concerned
the history of the Christians and the Jews, and were unknown
in Hijaz, a choice of these was made to test whether the
Holy Prophet possessed any source of the knowledge of the
hidden and unseen things. Allah, however, not only gave
a complete answer to their questions but also employed
the three stories to the disadvantage of the opponents
of Islam in the conflict that was going on at that time
at Makkah between Islam and un-belief:
- The questioners were told that "the Sleepers of the Cave" believed
in the same doctrine of Tauhid which was being put forward
in the Quran and that their condition was similar to the
condition of the persecuted Muslims of Makkah. On the other
hand, the persecutors of the Sleepers of the Cave had behaved
in the same way towards them as the disbelievers of the
Quraish were behaving towards the Muslims.
Besides this, the Muslims have been taught that even if
a Believer is persecuted by a cruel society, he should
not bow down before falsehood but emigrate from the place
all alone, if need be, with trust in God. Incidentally
the disbelievers of Makkah were told that the story of
the Sleepers of the Cave was a clear proof of the creed
of the Hereafter, for this showed that Allah has the power
to resurrect anyone He wills even after a long sleep of
death as He did in case of the Sleepers of the Cave.
- The story of the Sleepers of the Cave has also been used
to warn the chiefs of Makkah who were persecuting the small
newly formed Muslim Community. At the same time, the Holy
Prophet has been instructed that he should in no case make
a compromise with their persecutors nor should he consider
them to be more important than his poor followers.
On the other hand, those chiefs have been admonished that
they should not be puffed up with the transitory life of
pleasure they were then enjoying but should seek after
those excellences which are permanent and eternal.
- The story of Khidr and Moses has been related in such
a way as to supply the answer to the question of the disbelievers
and to give comfort to the Believers as well. The lesson
contained in this story is this "You should have full faith
in the wisdom of what is happening in the Divine Factory
in accordance with the will of Allah.
As the reality is hidden from you, you are at a loss to
understand the wisdom of what is happening, and sometimes
if it appears that things are going against you, you cry
out, 'How and why has this happened'. The fact is that
if the curtain be removed from the "unseen", you would
yourselves come to know that what is happening here is
for the best. Even if some times it appears that something
is going against you, you will see that in the end it also
produces some good results for you.
- The same is true of the story of Zul-Qarnain for it also
admonishes the questioners, as if to say, "0 you vain chiefs
of Makkah you should learn a lesson from Zul-Qarnain. Though
he was a great ruler, a great conqueror and the owner of
great resources, yet he always surrendered to his Creator,
whereas you are rebelling against Him even though you are
insignificant chieftains in comparison with him.
Besides this, though Zul-Qarnain built one of the strongest
walls for protection, yet his real trust was in Allah and
not in the "wall". He believed that the wall could protect
him against his enemies as long as it was the will of Allah
and that there would be crack and holes in it, when it
would be His will : whereas you who possess only insignificant
fortified abodes and dwellings in comparison with him,
consider yourselves to be permanently safe and secure against
all sorts of calamities."