Lecture 1 in Tafseer series on Surah Kahf in the Month of Ramadaan delivered by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider at Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town on 3 April 2022.
Surah Kahf is the 18th Chapter in the Quran which was revealed in Mecca in its entirety except verse 28 which some scholars believe was revealed in Madina.
The Surah has 110 verses and the background to the revelation of this Surah is very interesting.
The Quraish of Mecca, after depleting all possible arguments against Prophet Muhammad (sawa) and not being able to resist his logic, started looking for excuses. So they sent some people to Madina where some Jews used to live to consult with them. According to some narrations they also sent people to Najran where Christians used to live to consult them too. The consultation was to solicit ideas on how to counter the new Prophet of Islam.
So the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) sent a message to the People of Mecca (Quraish) to question the new Prophet about three things to determine his authenticity (some reports say they suggested 2 questions while other reports indicate that they suggested 4 questions).
The 3 questions were:
- ask him about the story of the People of the Cave
- ask him about Prophet Musa (a.s) and Prophet Khithr (a.s)
- ask him about Thul Qarnayn and Ya’jooj & Ma’jooj (Gog & Magog)
The reports that indicate a 4th question suggested to ask him about the reality of the soul (ruh).
Some reports indicate a 5th question being suggested which was to ask him about the exact time when the Hereafter will occur.
The Quraish then presented these questions to Prophet Muhammad (sawa) and this Surah Kahf was revealed in response thereto.
THREE ATMOSPHERES AROUND WHICH QURAN WAS REVEALED
The revelation of the Quran often was in response to a historical incident but its message is not confined to that historical incident. We believe that the Quran is an eternal message of guidance. If one should ever confine the Quran to a historical incident, then it will be irrelevant to us today.
Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli explains that there are three atmospheres in which the Quran is revealed. These are:
- the historical atmosphere at the time of revelation, or
- the whole atmosphere of the whole world at the time of revelation
- the eternal atmosphere looking at the whole world until the day of Judgement and its challenges until then
With respect to this Surah, our ulama have worked very hard to determine the background to its revelation and thus all Tafaasir have an explanation for it.
However, the scholars have hardly delved into the other two atmospheres in relation to this Surah.
That being said it should be emphasized that the message of this Surah is not confined to history.
The Surah is known as Surah Kahf. The word “Kahf” in Arabic means “cave”. The Surah is named as such since the very first story narrated therein is the story of the People of the Cave.
THREE MAJOR STORIES NARRATED IN THIS SURAH
There are three main stories that are narrated in detail in this Surah as follows:
- the story of the People of the Cave
- the story of Prophet Musa (a.s) and Prophet Khithr (a.s) which is a fascinating story that solicits many questions regarding the apparent strange actions of Prophet Khithr (a.s) which caused Prophet Musa (a.s) to question him.
- the third story is about Thul Qarnayn and Ya’jooj & Ma’jooj (Gog & Magog)
USUL AL-DEEN IS MAJOR THEME OF SURAH KAHF
The main emphasis of the theme of this Surah is on Usulu Deen or Principles of Religion. There are no Furu ud-deen or Branches of religion discussed in this Surah. However there are some Ethical discussions as well like Verse 50 which speaks about when Iblis refused to prostrate to Prophet Adam (a.s).
Among its merits it should be noted that it is highly recommended to recite this Surah in the night and Day of Jumuah. The hadith narrations state that this practice protects you from the influence of satan until the next jumuah. Even the reward of being a martyr mentioned for this good practise. However this level of reward is not just for ritual recitation of this Surah but should include understanding thereof.
CORE MESSAGE OF QURAN IS MANIFESTATION OF MERCY
The Surah starts with:
بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ
“In the Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful”
We will not repeat our discussion of the Basmalla which has been done many times in the past.
However suffice to say for the purpose of our present discussion that the Quran has taught us Etiquette of starting everything in the Name of Allah. “Allah” is ismu-jalaala which is a Name that contains all the Attributes of Allah.
Then from all the Attributes of Allah, the Attributes of Rahman and Raheem which come from the same root of Mercy or Rahma is mentioned along with the Name “Allah” as the Quran, which is the Message of Allah, is a manifestation of Rahman and Raheem.
Rahman is an inclusive Mercy which extends to even those who do not believe while Raheem is an exclusive Mercy reserved for the Believers. The Quran thus, by default, is based upon Mercy, Compassion and Kindness, and is not by default based upon Anger, Revenge or Punishment – that is the exception to the default position.
WHY QURAN IS WORTHY OF PRAISE
Verse 1 of Surah Kahf states:
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَي عَبْدِهِ الْكِتَابَ وَلَمْ يَجْعَل لَّهُ عِوَجَا
“(All) praise is (only) Allah’s, Who sent down upon His servant the Book (the Qur’an) and did not make in it any crookedness.”
Verse 2 of Surah Kahf states:
قَيّـِماً لّـِيُنذِرَ بَأْساً شَدِيداً مِن لَّدُنْهُ وَيُبَشّـِرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ الَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ الصَّالِحَاتِ أَنَّ لَهُمْ أَجْراً حَسَناً
“(A Book which is, over other heavenly Books,) upright, to give warning of a severe punishment from Him, and to give good tidings unto the believers who do righteous deeds, that there will be for them a goodly reward.”
Verse 3 of Surah Kahf states:
مَاكِثِينَ فِيهِ أَبَداً
“Where in they will abide forever.”
Verse 4 of Surah Kahf states:
وَيُنْذِرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا اتَّخَذَ اللَّهُ وَلَداً
“And to warn those who say: ‘Allah has taken (to Himself) a son’.”
Verse 5 of Surah Kahf states:
مَا لَهُم بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ وَلاَ لاِبَآئِهِمْ كَبُرَتْ كَلِمَةً تَخْرُجُ مِنْ أَفْوَاهِهِمْ إِن يَقُولُونَ إِلاَّ كَذِباً
“They have no knowledge of it, nor had their fathers, Grievous is the word that comes out of their mouths. They speak naught but a lie.”
The Surah starts with al-Hamd or Praise of Allah. There are a few Surahs in the Quran that start in this manner. Example:
- Surah Fatiha
- Surah An’aam
- Surah Saba
- Surah Faatir
- Surah Kahf
In Surah Fatiha this Praise is as follows:
الْحَمْدُ للّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
“(All) praise is (only) Allah’s, the Lord of the Worlds”
In Surah An’aam, Saba and Faatir this Praise is followed by reference to Allah’s Creation.
However in Surah Kahf the Praise is followed by:
“Who sent down upon His servant the Book (the Qur’an) and did not make in it any crookedness.”
In other words our observation of the wonders of this world causes us to believe that we must Praise Allah. These wonders are deep and prompt us to Praise Him. In the same way is the Book of Allah which is deep and prompts us to Praise Him.
STATION OF SERVANTHOOD
The verse then says that the Book has been revealed upon His “Servant”.
In Quran the word “abd” or “Servant” is used on its own without any qualification or limitation ONLY for Prophet Muhammad (sawa).
Others examples of this same usage exclusively referring to Prophet Muhammad (sawa) are as follows:
Surah Israa Verse 1:
سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي أَسْرَي بِعَبْدِهِ لَيْلاً مِنَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ إِلَي الْمَسْجِدِ الاَقْصَا الَّذِي بَارَكْنَا حَوْلَهُ لِنُرِيَهُ مِنْ ءَايَاتِنَآ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ
“Glory be to Him Who took his servant by night from Masjid-ul-Har am to Masjid-ul-’Aqsa the precincts of which We have blessed that We show him (some) of Our signs. Verily, He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.”
Or Surah Furqaan Verse 1:
تَبَارَكَ الَّذِي نَزَّلَ الْفُرْقَانَ عَلَى عَبْدِهِ لِيَكُونَ لِلْعَالَمِينَ نَذِيراً
“Blessed is He Who sent down the Furqan (The Distinction of right and wrong) upon His servant that he may be a Warner to the worlds;”
Or Surah Najm Verse 10:
فَأوْحَی إِلَی عَبْدِهِ مَا أوْحَی
Therefore, [Allah] revealed unto His servant whatever He revealed.
The most important point to appreciate is that the highest level that a human being can reach is the status of being an “abd” or “servant” (of Allah).
THE BOOK OF ALLAH IS AN UPRIGHT BOOK
This Quran has no crookedness (عوج). What does this mean? Lots of discussion exists on this point. This essentially means that there is no weakness or contradiction or uncertainty or doubt in this Book. And therefore it is called “upright” (قيما)
Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli says this is exactly alluded to in the second verse of Surah Baqarah which states:
ذَلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لاَ رَيْبَ فِيهِ
“This is the (True) Book wherein is no doubt”
Then the verse of Surah Baqarah concludes that as a result of the Quran having no doubt in it that it is:
“a guidance to the God conscious ones”
Similarly Surah Kahf says the Quran has no crookedness in it and is therefore upright.
“Qayyiman” comes from “Qiyaam” which means to stand. One of the most important Attributes of Almighty Allah is al-Qayyum which means He is Self Subsistent and everyone else depends on Him.
Quran being upright means this is the Book that has capacity to guide upon which we can depend.
Our Imams then explain that the Quran is upright (قيم) for the previous Divine Books and for the people.
PURPOSE OF THE UPRIGHT BOOK
The Quran as an upright Book then has two basic purposes:
- providing glad tidings
The glad tidings is for believers who continuously do good deeds.
The warning extends, among others, to those who say Allah has a son. It should be noted that Christians are not the only ones who claim that Allah has a son (or believe in such a concept).
Among mushrikeen of Mecca there were people who, for example believed Allah has daughters.
There was also a particular sect of Jews who believed that Uzair was the son of God.
DON’T EXAGGERATE IN RELIGION
Some scholars have further expanded upon this point to indicate that the Message of Pure Tawhid is very important.The issue of exaggeration arises when we glorify some people and in the process we forget basic logic and raise people to a status higher than what they are in reality.
This is the broader message of these verses which state that any time that one takes the creation of Allah to a level of the Creator Himself, it is problematic!! This is shirk. This is where people lose their balance.
Thus another important meaning of Qayyim (قيم) is al-I’tidaal (ال اعتدال) or balance. The Quran is a Book which is balanced and has no exaggeration in it. The Quran speaks in a rational, balanced, focused manner.