Story of Youth of the Cave - Story of Youth of the Cave -1/3-

Since 2014-04-08

Young Men with Clear Insight..

Story of Youth of the Cave -1/3-

By Sayyid Qutb

After its brief opening, Surat Al-Kahf (The Cave, Surah 18) speaks about the people of the cave, depicting the effect faith has on believers: giving them reassurance and inner peace. Hence, they prefer it to all material riches and pleasures. When they find it hard to live as believers within their community, they seek refuge in a cave where they receive God’s care and protection and enjoy His grace.

There are countless reports that speak about the sleepers in the cave, and just as many versions of their story. However, we have no use for any of these; we will confine ourselves to what the Qur’an tells us about them as it is the only source that provides true information.

There may be other reports that have found their way into books of commentary on the Qur’an, but we will disregard all these as they lack proof of authenticity. In this we rely on good counsel, because the surah contains an order prohibiting argument concerning the people of the cave and reference to any source other than the Qur’an in trying to establish the truth about them.

It is reported that the reason for the revelation of this story and that of Dhul-Qarnayn, related later in the surah, is that the Jews persuaded the people of Makkah to put to the Prophet questions concerning them, and also concerning the spirit.

It is also said that the people of Makkah themselves asked the Jews to prepare some questions for them to test whether Muhammad was a true Prophet. This may be partially or totally true, especially since the account giving the history of Dhul- Qarnayn begins with, {They will ask you about Dhul-Qarnayn. Say: I will give you an account of him} [Al-Kahf 18: 83]. But no reference is made to any question about the people of the cave. We leave this point aside and proceed to discuss the story as it is related, since it is clearly relevant to the main theme of the surah.

The structure of the story begins with a short summary before its narration in detail. It is shown in a series of scenes with some gaps left in between. Nevertheless, all omissions are clearly understood.

The story begins as follows:

{Do you think that the people of the cave and the inscription were a wonder among Our signs? When those youths took refuge in the cave, they said: ‘Our Lord! Bestow on us Your grace, and provide for us right guidance in our affair.’ So We drew a veil over their ears in the cave, for a number of years, and then We awakened them so that We might mark out which of the two parties managed to calculate the time they had remained in that state} [Al-Kahf:9-12].

This sums up the whole story showing its main lines and features. We learn from it that the people of the cave were youths, whose number is not mentioned, and that they went to the cave to isolate themselves from their community because they believed in God. We also learn that they were made to sleep in the cave for a number of years, which is not stated here, before they were aroused from their long slumber.

We are told of two groups arguing about them, so they were awakened to make clear which of the two groups calculated their stay in the cave better. We are clearly told that, strange as their history is, it is not particularly marvelous among the miracles and signs given by God. Indeed there are numerous things that are much more marvelous and miraculous in the universe than the story of the cave people.

Those youths are referred to in the surah as {the people of the cave and the inscription}. A cave is a natural chamber in a mountain or under rocky ground, while the inscription refers, most probably, to the record of their names which was, perhaps, the one hung at the entrance of the cave, where they were eventually found.

After this summary which heightens our interest in the story, the surah begins by stating that the account about to be given is the whole truth concerning their affair:

{We shall relate to you their story in all truth. They were young men who believed in their Lord, so We increased them in guidance.

We put courage in their hearts, so that they stood up and said: ‘Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth. Never shall we call upon any deity other than Him. If we did, we should indeed have uttered an enormity!

These people of ours have taken for worship deities other than Him, without being able to show any convincing proof of their beliefs. Who does more wrong than he who invents a lie about God?

{Hence, now that you have withdrawn from them and all that they worship instead of God, take refuge in the cave. God may well spread His grace over you and make fitting arrangements for you in your affairs} [Al-Kahf:13-16].

This is the first scene. Those believing youths were increased in guidance in order to be able to manage their affairs with their community. Along with this increased guidance, {We put courage in their hearts,} to make them solid in their attitude, firm in their belief in the truth, proud of the faith they had chosen.

Then we are informed that {they stood up,} which signifies a movement indicating resolve and firmness. {They stood up and said: ‘Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth.} [Al-Kahf:14]. He is indeed the Creator, Lord and Sustainer of the whole universe.

{Never shall we call upon any deity other than Him.} (Al-Kahf 18:14) For He is the One without partners of any sort. We make this pledge, because if we were to call upon anyone else, {we should indeed have uttered an enormity!} [Al-Kahf :14] We would have gone beyond all proper limits and be in total error.

They now turn to the prevailing situation among their people and express their rejection of it. They are clear that what their people do has no foundation whatsoever:

{These people of ours have taken for worship deities other than Him, without being able to show any convincing proof of their beliefs} [Al-Kahf:15].

Indeed any faith should be founded on solid evidence of the truth. Only with such evidence can it have its say to turn people’s hearts and minds to its argument. Without such proof, it is utter fabrication. What is worse is that such falsehood is asserted in relation to God Himself:  {Who does more wrong than he who invents a lie about God?} [Al-Kahf:15].

Up to this point the attitude of the youths appears to be clear, open and straightforward. They are resolute in their adoption of the faith, betraying no hesitation whatsoever. Indeed they are shown to be very strong physically and mentally, and strong in their faith and in their rejection of the way followed by their community.

Here they are talking about two vastly different ways of life. There can be no meeting point between the two, and there can be no participation by these young believers in the life of their community. They had no choice but to flee in order to protect their faith. They are not prophets able to present to their community the true faith, calling on them to accept it. They are simply a group of young people who have been able to discern the right path out of a bleak, unbelieving environment.

Should they have stood up in public to declare their faith, they might well not have been able to withstand the pressure on them to abandon it. Nor could they resort to pretense and avoidance, appearing to concur with their people while worshipping God in secret. Furthermore, it appears that, most probably, their secret was found out. Hence they had no option but to flee, seeking God’s protection and support.

They preferred life in the cave to all the attractions that their society offered.

More reflections on the story will be continued in part 2.


Sayyid Qutb

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