Lecture 5 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 7 April 2022
We continue our discussion about the details of the Companions of the Cave.
WHAT WAS THE NUMBER OF COMPANIONS IN THE CAVE?
Verse 22 of Surah Kahf states:
سَيَقُولُونَ ثَلاَثَةٌ رَابِعُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ وَيَقُولُونَ خَمْسَةٌ سَادِسُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ رَجْماً بِالْغَيْبِ وَيَقُولُونَ سَبْعَةٌ وَثَامِنُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ قُل رَبّـِي أَعْلَمُ بِعِدَّتِهِم مَا يَعْلَمُهُمْ إِلاَّ قَلِيلٌ فَلاَ تُمَارِ فِيهِمْ إِلاَّ مِرَاءً ظَاهِراً وَلاَ تَسْتَفْتِ فِيهِم مِنْهُمْ أَحَداً
“Soon they will say: ‘(They were) three, the fourth of them was their dog’; and (some) say: ‘Five, the sixth of them was their dog’, guessing at the unseen, and (yet the others) say: ‘Seven, and the eighth of them was their dog’. Say: ‘My Lord knows best their number, none knows them but a few’. So do not dispute with them, except in outward disputation, and do not ask any one for a pronouncement about them.”
When the people of the City went to the Cave to see its companions, they were not able to enter it and thus disputed about the number of companions who were in the Cave.
The verse is saying then when such uncertain scenarios occur, you find people who venture to guess about what happened with no real proof.
The reference to them being seven and their dog being the eighth and the closeness of this part of the verse to the statement that Almighty Allah knows best is probably a hint that the number 7 is the accurate one.
Prophet Muhammad (sawa) is then told not to dispute with them except on concrete matters. It could also mean he should not debate with them secretly but rather do so openly as his words in a secret debate could become misconstrued.
DOGS IN ISLAMIC CULTURE
At the beginning of this story there was no reference to a dog but it was brought in under the discussion about the chamber in which the Companions of the Cave slept. There are various narrations about how the dog became part of this story. One such narration indicates that when they escaped from the City in seeking refuge, along the way they found a shepherd with sheep and they invited him towards Monotheism. Some narrations then state that he accepted their invitation, returned the sheep to his people and the shepherd and his dog joined the companions of the Cave.
Loyalty of dogs is well known and thus it became part of this story.
The other narration indicates that the shepherd did not accept their invitation but his dog decided to join the companions of the Cave! The words of Tauheed affected the dog who decided to follow the Companions of the Cave and to protect them.
Interestingly this verse seems to speak very positively about a dog. However we seem to find that Islam’s view of a dog does not overall appear to be positive as firstly it considers it to be najis or physically impure. Example if a wet dog touches you, then you become physically impure (mutanajjis) and can’t pray in that condition without first purifying yourself.
Similarly if a dog licks a plate it needs to be purified in a particular manner before using it.
Furthermore keeping dogs as pets is not recommended in Islamic culture. Example there are Ahadith that indicate that houses wherein dogs are kept result in the Angels leaving it. The Mercy of Almighty Allah seems reduced in such homes. There are even narrations that state that one should not pray in a house wherein there are dogs. So a negative picture seems to be portrayed about dogs.
But then the question comes why this is the case as dogs are Almighty Allah’s creation who has a number of positive qualities.
CLARITY ON ISLAMIC POSITION ON DOGS
– Islam does consider dogs as Najis from the Shariah perspective with the related legal implications that go with it
– this does not mean that a dog by itself is something bad
– consider the issue of human blood – which is also najis. But nobody will say that human blood itself is bad as you can’t survive without it!
– the same can be said about human sperm which is the source of life – yet it is considered najis as well – nobody will say that human sperm by itself is something bad
– thus we are legally required to not have the abovementioned najis items on us when praying
– dogs are Allah’s creation and Allah does not create evil
– Islamic Shariah DOES simultaneously permit for certain dogs to be kept example hunting dogs and shepherd dogs or dogs for protection. The sticky point then remains why dogs are Najis and why we under normal circumstances should not keep them in our homes. The real answer is that only Almighty Allah knows why dogs are najis.
– we don’t understand the Wisdom and reason behind every Shariah ruling. There are many examples of this. We don’t know why Magrieb salaah is 3 rakaats while Esha salaah is 4 rakaats and so on.
– the same goes for our ignorance about why fish with scales are halaal while fish without scales is haraam (in Shia Fiq). Or why prawns are halaal while crayfish is haraam.
– some of the philosophies of the Sharia rulings have been explained to us in the Quran or the Ahadith but there are many rulings wherein we don’t know the reason behind it
– some people have ventured into trying to explain from medical perspectives why dogs are najis but the reality is that we don’t know
DOGS IN WESTERN CULTURE
The culture of dogs as a pet as a very dear part of one’s family is very much a Western culture wherein dogs sleep in your bed and so much physical affection is shown to it and food is served to them of a much better standard than what they serve to human beings who are work as their maids.
They will take a dog to a vet when it is sick for specialized treatment but not care about how their farm workers die from simple illnesses.
When people don’t have spouses or children, dogs become it’s replacement who even inherit wealth from their owners instead of giving their wealth to needy human beings! It’s probable that Islam has reservations about dogs from this perspective too where the value of a dog becomes more than that of a human being.
– however, notwithstanding the abovementioned, Islam certainly gives respect to dogs and establishes rights for it.
– a hadith of Imam Ali (a.s) which he narrates from Prophet Muhammad (sawa) states: “I warn you about disrespecting dead bodies, even that of a harmful dog”
Islam always condemned the practise of disrespecting a dead human body and desecrating it – even that of a non believer and here it is specifically extended to a dog.
– Najay narrate that he saw the second Imam Hassan Mujtaba (a.s) eating and in front of him was a dog with whom he shared his food in the same proportion. Najay suggested to the Imam to remove the dog from the food he was eating. The Imam refused and said he feels shy in front of Allah that a living animal is looking at him while he is eating but does not feed him
Sheikh Tusi narrates a Hadith linked to Prophet Muhammad (sawa) about the night of Miraj as follows: Prophet Muhammad (sawa) saw a corrupt woman (prostitute) in Paradise. Prophet Muhammad (sawa) then asked about how such a woman ended up in Paradise and he was informed that when she was alive she one day passed by an extremely thirsty dog. So she took her belt and dipped it in water and squeezed the water out into the dog’s mouth. This act of courtesy saved her!
ALWAYS SPEAK ABOUT FUTURE BEING CONDITIONAL ON ALLAH’S WILL
Verse 23 of Surah Kahf states:
وَلاَ تَقُولَنَّ لِشَيْءٍ إِنّـِي فَاعِلٌ ذَلِكَ غَداً
“And do not say, regarding anything, ‘I will do that tomorrow,’”
Verse 24 of Surah Kahf states:
إِلَّا أَن يَشَاءَ اللَّهُ ۚ وَاذْكُر رَّبَّكَ إِذَا نَسِيتَ وَقُلْ عَسَىٰ أَن يَهْدِيَنِ رَبِّي لِأَقْرَبَ مِنْ هَٰذَا رَشَدًا
“Save (say): ‘If Allah pleases’, and remember your Lord when you forget, and say: ‘It may be that my Lord will guide me to a nearer way to the right than this’.”
We should never speak about doing something in the future without conditioning it upon the will of Allah. We indicated in previous parts that this is alluded to refer to Prophet Muhammad (sawa) when he said to the Quraish that he would answer their questions the next day without conditioning his statement with “In-sha’Allah”. This apparently resulted in a break in revelation for up to 40 days.
This is very important as our claiming to do things in the future without conditioning it on In-sha’Allah indicates a mentality that we think matters occur by our own will independently. This is not true as the absence of the will of Allah together with your will make it impossible for you to do anything.
Unfortunately in today’s custom, usage of the phrase In-sha’Allah has become a habit with little attention to its meaning. Sometimes the same In-sha’Allah is used to mean something will not happen or I don’t intend to do something!
It should also be noted that absence of the usage of In-sha’Allah renders actions void of blessing.
DOES PROPHET MUHAMMAD (SAWA) EVER FORGET?
The remainder of the abovementioned verse solicits some serious questioning when it says:
وَاذْكُر رَّبَّكَ إِذَا نَسِيتَ
“and remember your Lord when you forget”
This indicates that we should say In-sha’Allah when we remember. But the question is does Prophet Muhammad (sawa) whom we consider infallible ever forget??
The answer is that when the Quran addresses Prophet Muhammad (sawa), it does not always refer to him but refers to his Ummah as a whole.
There’s a saying in Farsi “we said something to the door so the wall could also listen”.
DIFFERENCE IN CALCULATION OF THE PERIOD IN THE CAVE
Verse 25 of Surah Kahf states:
وَلَبِثُوا فِي كَهْفِهِمْ ثَلاَثَ مِاْئَةٍ سِنِينَ وَازْدَادُوا تِسْعاً
“And they remained in their Cave three hundred years, and (to that also) they added nine more.”
This story is not contained in the Bible as it occurred long after the arrival of Prophet Eesa (a.s). However it is well recorded and discussed in the Christian literature. Traces of this story is even found in Jewish literature. That is because we see some Jews having questioned Imam Ali (a.s) about how long the Companions of the Cave slept in it and he gave the Quranic reply of 309 years. However the Christian and Jewish records give a different number.
You may ask why the Quran says 300 plus 9 years instead of a straight forward number of 309 years. And the answer is that in terms of a solar calendar it was 300 years and in terms of the lunar calendar it was 309 years. This is one of those places in the Quran which proves its authenticity to us.
Verse 26 of Surah Kahf states:
قُلِ اللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا لَبِثُوا لَهُ غَيْبُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالاَرْضِ أَبْصِرْ بِهِ وَأَسْمِعْ مَا لَهُم مِن دُونِهِ مِن وَلِيٍّ وَلاَ يُشْرِكُ فِي حُكْمِهِ أَحَداً
“Say: ‘Allah knows best how long they remained. To Allah belongs the Unseen of the heavens and the earth. How clear of sight is He and keen of hearing! There is none to be a guardian for them besides Him; and He makes none to share in His Sovereignty”
This verse again establishes the authority and knowledge of Almighty Allah.
Verse 27 of Surah Kahf concludes this story when it states:
وَاتْلُ مَآ اُوحِيَ إِلَيْكَ مِن كِتَابِ رَبّـِكَ لاَ مُبَدِّلَ لِكَلِمَاتِهِ وَلَن تَجِدَ مِن دُونِهِ مُلْتَحَداً
“And recite that which has been revealed unto you of the Book of your Lord; none shall change His words, and you shall not find any refuge besides Him.”
One must remember the background to this Surah which was previously discussed which was meant to respond to the questions of the Quraish. This verse is thus instructing Prophet Muhammad (sawa) to basically recite these answers to them.
Our positions about matters often changes as we make new discoveries, but Almighty Allah’s words don’t change.
In conclusion about the story of the Companions of the Cave it should be noted that many books have been written on this story and some of these narratives match the Quranic narrative while others don’t match it at all.
SUMMARY OF IMPORTANT LESSONS OF THE STORY OF THE COMPANIONS OF THE CAVE
1. Breaking away from society and not subscribing to their false beliefs is praiseworthy
2. Besides not following false beliefs, taking a stand against false beliefs even if it requires hijra (migration) is praiseworthy
3. For people of faith, luxuries in life are not their criteria but freedom to practice what they believe is important
4. Practising constructive/positive Taqiyyah is also praiseworthy
5. In the path of Allah there’s no difference between rich and poor
6. Taking initiative in the path of Allah earns Divine assistance
7. In the most difficult conditions, never forget to be particular about what you eat.
8. We will be resurrected on the day of Judgement with our physical bodies
Part 6 in this series continues tomorrow In-sha’Allah.
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