Analysis of the Psychology of True Monotheists
Lecture 3 in Tafseer series on Surah Kahf in Month of Ramadaan delivered by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider at Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town on 5 April 2022
Verse 9 of Surah Kahf (chapter 18 of the Holy Quran) reads as follows:
أَمْ حَسِبْتَ أَنَّ أَصْحَابَ الْكَهْفِ وَالرَّقِيمِ كَانُوا مِنْ آيَاتِنَا عَجَبًا
Or, do you think that the Fellows of the Cave and the Inscription were of Our wonderful signs?
WHAT IS RAQEEM (INSCRIPTION)?
Interesting is the reference in this verse to the companions of the Cave and the Inscription. The reference to the inscription is due to these important pious people being discovered afterwards, and due to their devotion, it was inscribed that it is the cave of the pious people. That is how this story became known as the story of the companions of the cave with inscription.
There are also other interpretations. An example is that some people believed that Raqeem was the name of the city, and so “Ashabal Kahfi wal Raqeem” means people of the cave in the city of Raqeem. However, this interpretation is seen as a bit far-fetched.
Another interpretation is that there were two groups of people. The one group was the Ashabal Kahf, whose number was seven, and the other group was the Ashabal Raqeem, whose number was three. Again, this interpretation is also seen as a bit far-fetched, because the trend of the story is about one group of people.
We can therefore conclude that Raqeem most likely refers to inscription at the opening of the cave. Therefore, these people were referred to as “Ashabal Kahfi wal Raqeem” ie. people of the cave with inscription.
BEING YOUTHFUL IS NOT RELATED TO AGE
Verse 10 of Surah Kahf (chapter 18 of the Holy Quran) reads as follows:
إِذْ أَوَى الْفِتْيَةُ إِلَى الْكَهْفِ فَقَالُوا رَبَّنَا آتِنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ رَحْمَةً وَهَيِّئْ لَنَا مِنْ أَمْرِنَا رَشَدًا
When the youths sought refuge in the cave, they said: Our Lord! grant us mercy from Thee, and provide for us a right course in our affair.
The story which we discussed in the previous lecture also circled around young people. However, in the explanations provided by the Ahlul Bait (a.s), we understand that the definition of being young means to be someone with strength and fervour. Hence, you will find people who may not be very young in age, but they are very powerful through their spirit and willpower. Such people are therefore also regarded as young, in the eyes of the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
This is quite an interesting point, in that youth is not simply defined by young age, but rather, it is by spirit. Our 6th Imam of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) once posed this question to the people, asking them who they consider to be young. The response from the people was “whoever is young in age”.
Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) explained by drawing reference to the people of the cave, saying that these people were all seniors, but Almighty Allah (SWT) called them young, because of their Imaan (faith). This means that even an old person with that firm spirit and strong faith to resist is also regarded as young, according to the Quranic definition!
HAVING ABSOLUTE CONFIDENCE ONLY IN ALMIGHTY ALLAH
We read in verse 10 above, that when the people took refuge in the cave, they implored Almighty Allah (SWT) to grant them a mercy from Himself. Naturally, there is a detailed discussion amongst our religious scholars about what this means.
Basically, in very simple terms, we learn from this verse that these people of the cave reached the stage where they cut all their hopes and expectations from anyone other than Almighty Allah (SWT). This is a very special status! When we make dua (supplicate), we have in the back of our mind that hopefully something else will work out, but we will still make dua as well!!!
Example we pray for income or for a sick person’s health to be restored but at the back of our mind we focus on the possibility that an operation will help the sick person and then after exploring material means we pray to Almighty Allah also to help us.
But the Dua:
رَبَّنَا آتِنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ رَحْمَةً
“Our Lord! grant us mercy from Thee”
Means that we are exclusively seeking Allah’s Mercy and nothing else.
And then consider the remainder of the Dua:
وَهَيِّئْ لَنَا مِنْ أَمْرِنَا رَشَدًا
“and provide for us a right course in our affair”
“Tahayyi’ah” (تهيءة) means “preparation”. So besides seeking Mercy exclusively from Almighty Allah, the expectation is that their matters will also be exclusively resolved by Almighty Allah.
SYMBOLIC MEANING OF TAKING REFUGE IN CAVE
The youth of the cave came from the elite of society being children of members of the court of the emperor and even being among his ministers and thus enjoying a high lifestyle living in luxury.
However they took refuge in a cave which was taking a major step down in material terms. Usually when we take refuge, we go from difficult conditions to better conditions. But while their life was comfortable, they took shelter in difficulty! A cave of darkness, dampness, devoid of facilities, filled with possible dangers of animals became their refuge!
The Quran gives another example of someone who chose a place of difficulty as a place of refuge and gave up the good life in the palace that he lived in.
In the story of Prophet Yusuf (a.s), the women all tried to seduce him when he lived in the palace of the governor of Eqypt. To escape this, he said to His Lord that he prefers being in prison, which is a place of difficulty, than to live in a palace but being subjected to possible disobedience to Almighty Allah.
In Surah Yusuf Verse 33 we read:
قَالَ رَبِّ السِّجْنُ أَحَبُّ إِلَيَّ مِمَّا يَدْعُونَنِي إِلَيْهِ
“He said: ‘My Lord! The prison is dearer to me than that to which they invite me”.
We learn from this that people who have belief in Tauheed have different criteria in that their comfort and luxuries are different. For such people, any place where they can protect their faith is the best place and they are the most comfortable in that environment.
Such people love to migrate/perform hijra. And that’s what the youth did – migrated from the luxurious life of the city to the difficult life of the cave where their faith was protected.
ETERNAL KNOWLEDGE OF ALMIGHTY ALLAH
Verse 11 of Surah Kahf has a point that requires clarity. The verse states:
ثُمَّ بَعَثْنَاهُمْ لِنَعْلَمَ أيُّ الْحِزْبَيْنِ أَحْصَي لِمَا لَبِثُوا أَمَداً
“Afterwards We raised them up in order to test which of the two parties would better calculate the time they had tarried.”
The reference to لنعلم literally means “so that We may know” should not be mistaken to think that Allah does not know what their calculation will be. This is because Almighty Allah’s knowledge is Eternal.
In earlier verses there was reference to Allah wanting to test human beings to see who performs the best actions. This does not mean that Allah does not know before the time how we will perform.
The knowledge that comes from testing us goes back to us being the one’s who get to know something new. In the same way the raising of the youth of the cave from their long sleep was to show them who would be most accurate in their calculation of how long they slept.
NARRATION OF THE DETAILS OF THE PEOPLE OF THE CAVE
In verse 13 of Surah Kahf it states:
نَحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ نَبَاَهُم بِالْحَقِّ إِنَّهمْ فِتْيَةٌ ءَامَنُوا بِرَبّـِهِمْ وَزِدْنَاهُمْ هُدًي
“We relate to you their story with the truth; verily they were youths who believed in their Lord and We increased them in guidance.”
Verse 14 of Surah Kahf states:
وَرَبَطْنَا عَلَي قُلُوبِهِمْ إِذْ قَامُوا فَقَالُوا رَبُّنَا رَبُّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالاَرْضِ لَن نَدْعُوَاْ مِن دُونِهِ إِلَهاً لَقَدْ قُلْنَآ إِذاً شَطَطاً
“And We strengthened their hearts, when they stood up and said: ‘Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth; never will we call upon any god besides Him, for then we should have uttered extravagantly’.”
Verse 15 of Surah Kahf states:
هَؤُلآءِ قَوْمُنَا اتَّخَذُوا مِن دُونِهِ ءَالِهَةً لَّوْلاَ يَأْتُونَ عَلَيْهِم بِسُلْطَانٍ بَيّـِنٍ فَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنِ افْتَرَي عَلَي اللَّهِ كَذِباً
“These our people have taken gods other than Him; why do they not bring any clear authority regarding them? Who is then more unjust than he who forges a lie against Allah?”
Verse 16 of Surah Kahf states:
وَإِذِ اعْتَزَلْتُـمُوهُمْ وَمَا يَعْبُدُونَ إِلاَّ اللَّهَ فَأْووا إِلَي الْكَهْفِ يَنشُرْ لَكُمْ رَبُّكُم مِن رَّحْمَتِهِ وَيُهَيّءْ لَكُم مِن أَمْرِكُم مِرْفَقاً
“And when you withdraw from them and what they worship save Allah, then seek refuge in the Cave, (and) your Lord will shower on you of His mercy, and furnish you with a gentle issue of your affair.”
In the previous verses the Surah revealed the story of the Youth of the Cave in terms of it’s core features and now narrates its details.
THREE TYPES OF RESPONSES TO FALSEHOOD
After the story of their Monotheism leaked to the emperor, the details of how they responded is now discussed.
It should be noted that normally when a confrontation of this nature appears that there are 3 types of people who respond in various ways:
- there are those who choose to go with the flow in fear of their lives. The logic of such people is captured in Surah Muddath-thir Verse 45 when it says:
وَكُنَّا نَخُوضُ مَعَ الْخَائِضِينَ
“And we used to talk falsehood with vain talkers.”
While they know the truth, they don’t take any position
- then there are those who refuse to go with the flow. The youth of the Cave fall into this category
- then there is a third group of people who respond even more profoundly. They don’t only refuse to go with the flow, they work towards revolution and changing the very false system that they don’t believe in. Prophets, Messengers and Ahlul Bait (a.s) fall into this category. Their mission includes:
وَيُزَكِّيهِمْ وَيُعَلِّمُهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْحِكْمَةَ
“and purify them and to teach them the Book and the Wisdom” (Surah Aali-Imraan Verse 164)
However even if a person falls into the second category and protects his faith, there’s great value in that.
In a hadith recorded in our resources it indicates that the Youth of the Cave will be part of the soldiers of Imam Mahdi (a.s) when he returns from occultation!
QURANIC STORIES ARE FACT, NOT FICTION
Another important point in the latter verses that we have been discussing should be considered from the wording of the verse:
نَحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ نَبَاَهُم بِالْحَقِّ
“We relate to you their story with the truth”
Quranic stories are true and factual, not fiction. Stories contained in the Quran are neither for entertainment purposes either.
TAKING INITIATIVE TOWARDS TRUTH RESULTS IN INCREASED GUIDANCE
It’s also interesting how this true story of the Youth of the Cave is introduced in Verse 13 of Surah Kahf when it says:
إِنَّهمْ فِتْيَةٌ ءَامَنُوا بِرَبّـِهِمْ وَزِدْنَاهُمْ هُدًي
“verily they were youths who believed in their Lord and We increased them in guidance.”
The idea of Youth was already discussed earlier. However in addition to that, they had faith in their Lord and this resulted in Almighty Allah increasing them in guidance! If you take one step towards Allah, He responds by taking multiple more steps towards you by guiding you further! We further learn about this reality in Surah Ankaboot Verse 69:
وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا
“And those who strive hard for Us, We will certainly guide them in Our ways”
Almighty Allah is so kind – all He expects from us is to take the initiative and He will add to our initiative multiple times. Almighty Allah does not only add to our guidance but fortifies our hearts.
In all the movements of the Prophets and Ahlul Bait (a.s), this phenomenon is seen to flourish.
How is it that in Karbala an ill equipped army of 72 people confidently take a stand against an army of 30000 highly equipped soldiers? It’s because Almighty Allah fortified their hearts!
It is narrated that after the tragedy of Karbala, the head of Imam Husayn (a.s) was placed on a spear, as was the case with the heads of the other martyrs. When the head of Imam Husayn (a.s) entered Kufa, it was reciting this verse:
أَمْ حَسِبْتَ أَنَّ أَصْحَابَ الْكَهْفِ وَالرَّقِيمِ كَانُوا مِنْ آيَاتِنَا عَجَبًا
“Or do you think that the Fellows of the Cave and the Inscription were of Our wonderful signs?”
The parading of the head of Imam Husayn (a.s) in the markets of Kufa was even more “wonderous” and shocking as these people believed in the Prophethood of his very own grandfather.
It is also an indirect hint that the sacrifice of the Youth of the Cave is incomparable to the sacrifice of Imam Husayn (a.s) and his family and companions in Karbala.
POLYTHEISTS ARE DEVOID OF LOGIC
Verse 15 quoted above indicates that the polytheists who worship idols don’t have any sound logical basis for it. Their arguments for such practices are usually based on blind following of their forefathers or cultures, traditions, etc.
So the leader of the Youth of the Cave declared that they would dissociate from worshipping idols and from the idol worshippers themselves! In other words they dissociated themselves from a shirk based society.
And then eventhough they took refuge in difficult conditions, they believed that Almighty Allah would make it easy for them. And that is an eternal Quranic principle as we read in Surah Inshirah Verses 5 and 6 the following:
فَإِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا
إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا
“Then, surely with hardship comes ease:”
“Surely, with hardship comes ease”.