Surah Al Khaf Ayat 18-29

{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.}

Their Sleep in the Cave

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.” (At-Tabari 17:620)  “and their dog stretching forth his two forelegs at the Wasid” Ibn Abbas, Mujahid, Said bin Jubayr and Qatadah said: “The Wasid means the threshold.” (At-Tabari 17:624,625) 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. (At-Tabari 17:625) “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.” (At-Tabari 17:625) 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. (Abu Dawud 2:192-193 with a different wording) 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.”}

Their awakening and sending One of Themselves to buy Food

Allah says: ‘just as We caused them to sleep, We resurrected them with their bodies, hair and skin intact, and nothing lacking in their form and appearance.’ This was after three hundred and nine years. This is why they asked each other,“How long have you stayed (here)?” meaning, ‘how long have you slept?’ “They said: “We have stayed a day or part of a day.” because they entered the cave at the beginning of the day, and they woke up at the end of the day, which is why they then said, “…or a part of a day.” They said: “Your Lord knows best how long you have stayed…” meaning, ‘Allah knows best about your situation.’ It seems that they were not sure about how long they had slept, and Allah knows best. Then they turned their attention to more pressing matters, like their need for food and drink, so they said: “So send one of you with this silver coin of yours” They had brought with them some Dirhams (silver coins) from their homes, to buy whatever they might need, and they had given some in charity and kept some, so they said: “So send one of you with this silver coin of yours to the town” meaning to their city, which they had left. The definite article indicates that they were referring to a known city. “and let him find out which is the Azka food.” Azka means “purest”, as Allah says elsewhere, “And had it not been for the grace of Allah and His mercy on you, not one of you would ever have been pure [Zaka] from sins” (24:21) and “Indeed whosoever purifies himself [Tazakka] shall achieve success.” (87:14) From the same root also comes the word Zakah, which makes one’s wealth good and purifies it. “And let him be careful” meaning when he goes out buying food and coming back. They were telling him to conceal himself as much as he could, “and let no man know of you. For, if they come to know of you, they will stone you” means, ‘if they find out where you are,’ “they will stone you or turn you back to their religion” They were referring to the followers of Decianus, who they were afraid might find out where they were, and punish them with all kinds of torture until they made them go back to their former religion, or until they died, for if they agreed to go back to their (old) religion, they would never attain success in this world or the Hereafter. So they said: “and in that case you will never be successful.”

{21. And thus We made their case known, that they might know that the promise of Allah is true, and that there can be no doubt about the Hour. (Remember) when they (the people) disputed among themselves about their case, they said: “Construct a building over them; their Lord knows best about them,” (then) those who won their point said: “We verily, shall build a place of worship over them.”}

How the People of the City came to know about Them; building a Memorial over the Cave

“And thus We made their case known,” means, ‘We caused the people to find them.’ “that they might know that the promise of Allah is true, and that there can be no doubt about the Hour.” Several scholars of the Salaf mentioned that the people of that time were skeptical about the Resurrection. Ikrimah said: “There was a group of them who said that the souls would be resurrected but not the bodies, so Allah resurrected the people of the Cave as a sign and proof of resurrection.” (Tarikh At-Tabari 2:9) They mentioned that when they wanted to send one of their members out to the city to buy them something to eat, he disguised himself and set out walking by a different route, until he reached the city, which they said was called Daqsus. He thought that it was not long since he left it, but in fact century after century, generation after generation, nation after nation had passed, and the country and its people had changed. He saw no local landmarks that he recognized, and he did not recognize any of the people, elite or commoners. He began to feel confused and said to himself, “Maybe I am crazy or deluded, maybe I am dreaming.” Then he said, “By Allah, I am nothing of the sort, what I know I saw last night was different from this.” Then he said, “I had better get out of here.” Then he went to one of the men selling food, gave him the money he had and asked him to sell him some food. When the man saw the money he did not recognize it or its imprint, so he passed it to his neighbor and they all began to pass it around, saying, “Maybe this man found some treasure.” They asked him who he was and where he got this money. Had he found a treasure Who was he He said, “I am from this land, I was living here yesterday and Decianus was the ruler.” They accused him of being crazy and took him to the governor who questioned him about his circumstances, and he told him. He was confused about his situation. When he told them about it, they – the king and the people of the city – went with him to the cave, where he told them, “Let me go in first and let my companions know.” It was said that the people did not know how he entered it, and that the people did not know about their story. It was also said that they did enter the cave and see them, and the king greeted them and embraced them. Apparently he was a Muslim, and his name was Tedosis. They rejoiced at meeting him and spoke with him, then they bid farewell to him and went back to sleep, then Allah caused them to die. And Allah knows best. (Tarikh At-Tabari 2:9)

“And thus We made their case known” meaning, ‘just as We caused them to sleep then woke them up physically intact, We made their story known to the people of that time.’ “that they might know that the promise of Allah is true, and that there can be no doubt about the Hour. (Remember) when they (the people) disputed among themselves about their case,” meaning, about Resurrection. Some believed in it and some denied it, so Allah made their discovery of the people of the cave evidence either in their favor or against them. “they said: “Construct a building over them; their Lord knows best about them,” meaning, seal the door of their cave over them, and leave them as they are. “those who won their point said: “We verily, shall build a place of worship over them.”

Those who said this were the people of power and influence, but were they good people or not? There is some debate on this point, because the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:

“Allah has cursed the Jews and the Christians who took the graves of their Prophets and righteous people as places of worship” (Fath Al-Bari 1:634)

Warning against what they did. We have reported about the Commander of the faithful Umar bin Al-Khattab that when he found the grave of Danyal (Daniel) in Iraq during his period of rule, he gave orders that news of this grave should be withheld from the people, and that the inscription containing mention of battles etc., that they found there should be buried. (Al-Bidayah Wan-Nihayah 7:88)

{22. They say they were three, the dog being the fourth among them; and they say they were five, the dog being the sixth, guessing at the unseen; and they say they were seven, and the dog being the eighth. Say: “My Lord knows best their number; none knows them but a few.” So debate not except with the clear proof. And consult not any of them (about the people of the Cave).}

Their Number

Allah tells us that people disputed over the number of the people of the Cave. The Ayah mentions three views, proving that there was no fourth suggestion. Allah indicates that the first two opinions are invalid, by saying, “guessing at the unseen”, meaning that they spoke without knowledge, like a person who aims at an unknown target – he is hardly likely to hit it, and if he does, it was not on purpose. Then Allah mentions the third opinion, and does not comment on it, or He affirms it by saying, “and the dog being the eighth.” indicating that this is correct and this is what happened. “Say: “My Lord knows best their number…” indicating that the best thing to do in matters like this is to refer knowledge to Allah, because there is no need to indulge in discussing such matters without knowledge. If we are given knowledge of a matter, then we may talk about it, otherwise we should refrain. “none knows them but a few.” of mankind. Qatadah said that Ibn Abbas said: “I am one of the few mentioned in this Ayah; they were seven. ” (At-Tabari 17:642) Ibn Jurayj also narrated that Ata’ Al-Khurasani narrated from him, “I am one of those referred to in this Ayah,” and he would say: “Their number was seven.” (At-Tabari 17:642) Ibn Jarir recorded that Ibn Abbas said: “none knows them but a few.” “I am one of the few, and they were seven.” The chains of these reports narrated from Ibn Abbas, which say that they were seven, are Sahih, and this is in accordance with what we have stated above. “So debate not except with the clear proof.” meaning, gently and politely, for there is not a great deal to be gained from knowing about that. “And consult not any of them (about the people of the Cave).” meaning, ‘They do not have any knowledge about it except what they make up, guessing at the unseen; they have no evidence from an infallible source. But Allah has sent you, O Muhammad, with the truth in which there is no doubt or confusion, which is to be given priority over all previous books and sayings.’

{23. And never say of anything, “I shall do such and such thing tomorrow.” 

24. Except (with the saying), “If Allah wills!” And remember your Lord when you forget and say: “It may be that my Lord guides me to a nearer way of truth than this.”}

Saying “If Allah Wills” when determining to do Something in the Future

Here Allah, may He be glorified, shows His Messenger the correct etiquette when determining to do something in the future; this should always be referred to the will of Allah, the Knower of the Unseen, Who knows what was and what is yet to be and what is not to be, and how it will be if it is to be. It was recorded in the Two Sahihs that Abu Hurayrah said that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:

“Sulayman bin Dawud (peace be upon them both) said: “Tonight I will go around to seventy women [according to some reports, it was ninety or one hundred women] so that each one of them will give birth to a son who will fight for the sake of Allah.” It was said to him, [according to one report, the angel said to him] “Say: ‘If Allah wills'”, but he did not say it. He went around to the women but none of them gave birth except for one who gave birth to a half-formed child.”

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said,

“By the One in Whose hand is my soul, had he said, “If Allah wills,” he would not have broken his oath, and that would have helped him to attain what he wanted.”

According to another report,

“They would all have fought as horsemen in the cause of Allah.” (Fath Al-Bari 6:41, Muslim 3:1275)

At the beginning of this Surah we discussed the reason why this Ayah was revealed: when the Prophet was asked about the story of the people of the Cave, he said, “I will tell you tomorrow.” Then the revelation was delayed for fifteen days. Since we discussed this at length at the beginning of the Surah, there is no need to repeat it here. “And remember your Lord when you forget” It was said that this means, if you forget to say “If Allah wills”, then say it when you remember. This was the view of Abu Al-Aliyah and Al-Hasan Al-Basri. (At-Tabari 17:645) Hushaym reported from Al-Amash from Mujahid that concerning a man who swears an oath, Ibn Abbas said “He may say ‘If Allah wills’ even if it is a year later.” Ibn Abbas used to interpret this Ayah: “And remember your Lord when you forget” in this way. Al-Amash was asked, “Did you hear this from Mujahid?” He said, “Layth bin Abi Salim told it to me.” (At-Tabari 17:645) The meaning of Ibn Abbas’ view, that a person may say “If Allah wills”, even if it is a year later, is that if he forgets to say it when he makes the oath or when he speaks, and he remembers it later, even a year later, the Sunnah is that he should say it, so that he will still be following the Sunnah of saying “If Allah wills”, even if that is after breaking his oath. This was also the view of Ibn Jarir, (At-Tabari 17:646) but he stated that this does not make up for breaking the oath or mean that one is no longer obliged to offer expiation. What Ibn Jarir said is correct, and it is more appropriate to understand the words of Ibn Abbas in this way. And Allah knows best.

“And never say of anything, “I shall do such and such thing tomorrow.” Except (with the saying), “If Allah wills!” And remember your Lord when you forget” At-Tabarani recorded that Ibn Abbas said that this meant saying, “If Allah wills.” (At-Tabarani in Al-Awsat 7:4545) “and say: “It may be that my Lord guides me to a nearer way of truth than this.” meaning, ‘if you (O Prophet) are asked about something you know nothing about, ask Allah about it, and turn to Him so that He may guide you to what is right.’ And Allah knows best.

{25. And they stayed in their cave three hundred years, adding nine. 

26. Say: “Allah knows best how long they stayed. With Him is the unseen of the heavens and the earth.” How clearly He sees, and hears (everything)! They have no protector other than Him, and He makes none to share in His decision and His rule.}

The Length of their Stay in the Cave

Here Allah tells His Messenger, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, the length of time the people of the Cave spent in their cave, from the time when He caused them to sleep until the time when He resurrected them and caused the people of that era to find them. The length of time was three hundred plus nine years in lunar years, which is three hundred years in solar years. The difference between one hundred lunar years and one hundred solar years is three years, which is why after mentioning three hundred, Allah says, ‘adding nine.’ “Say: “Allah knows best how long they stayed…” ‘If you are asked about how long they stayed, and you have no knowledge of that and no revelation from Allah about it, then do not say anything. Rather say something like this: “Allah knows best how long they stayed. With Him is (the knowledge of) the Unseen of the heavens and the earth.” meaning, no one knows about that except Him, and whoever among His creatures He chooses to tell. What we have said here is the view of more than one of the scholars of Tafsir, such as Mujahid and others among the earlier and later generations. “And they stayed in their cave three hundred years” Qatadah said, this was the view of the People of the Book, and Allah refuted it by saying: “Say: “Allah knows best how long they stayed…’‘ meaning, that Allah knows better than what the people say. (At-Tabari 17:647) This was also the view of Mutarraf bin Abdullah. (At-Tabari 17:648) However, this view is open to debate, because when the People of the Book said that they stayed in the cave for three hundred years, without the extra nine, they were referring to solar years, and if Allah was merely narrating what they had said, He would not have said, “adding nine.” The apparent meaning of the Ayah is that Allah is stating the facts, not narrating what was said. This is the view of Ibn Jarir (may Allah have mercy on him). And Allah knows best. “How clearly He sees, and hears (everything)!” He sees them and hears them. Ibn Jarir said, “The language used is an eloquent expression of praise.” (At-Tabari 17:650) The phrase may be understood to mean, how much Allah sees of everything that exists and how much He hears of everything that is to be heard, for nothing is hidden from Him! It was narrated that Qatadah commented on this Ayah: “How clearly He sees, and hears (everything)!” “No one hears or sees more than Allah.” (At-Tabari 17:650) “They have no protector other than Him, and He makes none to share in His decision and His rule.” meaning, He, may He be glorified, is the One Who has the power to create and to command, the One Whose ruling cannot be overturned; He has no adviser, supporter or partner, may He be exalted and hallowed.

{27. And recite what has been revealed to you (O Muhammad) of your Lord’s Book. None can change His Words, and none will you find as refuge other than Him. 

28. And keep yourself (O Muhammad) patiently with those who call on their Lord morning and afternoon, seeking His Face; and let not your eyes overlook them, desiring the pomp and glitter of the life of the world; and obey not him whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance, and who follows his own lusts, and whose affair has been lost.}

The Command to recite the Qur’an and to patiently keep Company with the Believers

Commanding His Messenger to recite His Holy Book and convey it to mankind, Allah says,“None can change His Words” meaning, no one can alter them, distort them or misinterpret them. “and none will you find as a refuge other than Him.” It was reported that Mujahid said, “A shelter,” (At-Tabari 17:651) and that Qatadah said, “A helper or supporter.” (At-Tabari 17:651) Ibn Jarir said: “Allah is saying, ‘if you O Muhammad, do not recite what is revealed to you of the Book of your Lord, then you will have no refuge from Allah.”’ (At-Tabari 17:651) As Allah says: “O Messenger! Proclaim (the Message) which has been sent down to you from your Lord. And if you do not, then you have not conveyed His Message. Allah will protect you from mankind.” (5:67) “Verily, He Who has given you the Qur’an, will surely bring you back to the place of return.” (28:85) meaning, ‘He will call you to account for the duty of conveying the Message which He entrusted you with. ‘ “And keep yourself patiently with those who call on their Lord morning and afternoon, seeking His Face” meaning, sit with those who remember Allah, who say “La Ilaha Illallah”, who praise Him, glorify Him, declare His greatness and call on Him, morning and evening, all the servants of Allah, whether rich or poor, strong or weak. It was said that this was revealed about the nobles of Quraysh when they asked the Prophet to sit with them on his own, and not to bring his weak Companions with him, such as Bilal, Ammar, Suhayb, Khabbab and Ibn Masud. They wanted him to sit with them on his own, but Allah forbade him from doing that, and said, “And turn not away those who invoke their Lord, morning and afternoon.) Allah commanded him to patiently content himself with sitting with those people (the weak believers”, and said: “And keep yourself patiently with those who call on their Lord morning and afternoon…” Imam Muslim recorded in his Sahih that Sad bin Abi Waqqas who said: “There was a group of six of us with the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. The idolators said, ‘Tell these people to leave so they will not offend us.’ There was myself, Ibn Masud, a man from Hudayl, Bilal and two other men whose names I have forgotten. Allah’s Messenger thought to himself about whatever Allah willed he should think about, then Allah revealed:“And turn not away those who invoke their Lord, morning and afternoon.” Only Muslim reported this; excluding Al-Bukhari. (Muslim 4:1878) “and let not your eyes overlook them, desiring the pomp and glitter of the life of the world” Ibn Abbas said, ‘(this means) do not favor others over them, meaning do not seek the people of nobility and wealth instead of them.’ (At-Tabari 18:6)  “and obey not him whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance” means, those who are distracted by this world from being committed to the religion and from worshipping their Lord. “and whose affair (deeds) has been lost.” means, his actions and deeds are a foolish waste of time. Do not obey him or admire his way or envy what he has. As Allah says elsewhere: “And strain not your eyes in longing for the things We have given for enjoyment to various groups of them, the splendor of the life of this world, that We may test them thereby. But the provision of your Lord is better and more lasting.” (20:131)

{29. And say: “The truth is from your Lord.” Then whosoever wills, let him believe; and whosoever wills, let him disbelieve. Verily, We have prepared for the wrongdoers, a Fire whose walls will be surrounding them. And if they ask for drink, they will be granted water like Al-Muhl, that will scald their faces. Terrible is the drink, and an evil Murtafaq!}

The Truth is from Allah, and the Punishment of Those Who do not believe in it

Allah says to His Messenger Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, “Say to the people, ‘What I have brought to you from your Lord is the truth, in which there is no confusion or doubt.”’ “Then whosoever wills, let him believe; and whosoever wills, let him disbelieve.” This is a type of threat and stern warning, after which Allah says, “Verily, We have prepared”, meaning made ready, “for the wrongdoers” meaning those who disbelieve in Allah, His Messenger and His Book, “a Fire whose walls will be surrounding them.” Ibn Jurayj said that Ibn Abbas said, “a Fire whose walls will be surrounding them.” “A wall of fire.” (At-Tabari 18:11)  “And if they ask for drink, they will be granted water like Al-Muhl, that will scald their faces.” Ibn Abbas said; “Al-Muhl is thick water which is similar to the sediment in oil.” (At-Tabari 18:13) Mujahid said, “It is like blood and pus.” (At-Tabari 18:13) Ikrimah said, “It is the thing that is heated to the ultimate temperature.” Others said: “It is everything that is melted.” (At-Tabari 18:12)

Qatadah said, “Ibn Masud melted some gold in a grove, and when it became liquid and foam rose to the top, he said, this is the thing that is most like Al-Muhl.” (At-Tabari 18:13) Ad-Dahhak said: “The water of Hell is black, and it itself is black and its people are black.” (At-Tabari 18:13) There is nothing contradictory in these comments, for Al-Muhl includes all of these unpleasant characteristics, it is black, evil-smelling, thick and hot, as Allah said, “[it] will scald their faces.” meaning because of its heat. When the disbeliever wants to drink it and brings it close to his face, it will scald it so that the skin of his face falls off into it.

Said bin Jubayr said, “When the people of Hell get hungry, they will ask for relief from it, and they will be given the tree of Zaqqum from which they will eat. The tree will tear off the skin of their faces, and if anyone who knew them were to pass by, he would recognize the skin of their faces in the tree. Then they will feel thirsty, so they will ask for drink, and they will be granted water like Al-Muhl, that is what has been heated to the ultimate temperature. When it is brought near their mouths, the flesh of their faces from which the skin has been torn off will be baked.” (At-Tabari 18:14) After describing this drink in these horrifying qualities, Allah says: “Terrible is the drink” meaning, how awful this drink is. Similarly, He says in another Ayah:“and be given to drink boiling water so that it cuts up their bowels.” (47:15) “They will be given to drink from a boiling spring.” (88:5) “They will go between it (Hell) and the fierce boiling water.” (55:44) “and an evil Murtafaq!” means, how evil a place is the Fire to dwell and rest and gather. As Allah says elsewhere: “Evil indeed it (Hell) is as an abode and as a place to rest in.” (25:66)

Tafsir Ibn Kathir Vol 6 (Abridged) Pages 128-148

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