Surah Al-Kahf (Reasons and Period of Revelation)


Surah Al-Kahf

  • Ayahs -110
  • Pages - 293-304
  • Revelation Place -Makkah
  • Name - This Surah takes its name from verse 9 in which the word (al-kahf) occurs.
  • Surah Al-Kahf
    Surah Al-Kahf

  • Period of Revelation

    This is the first of those Surahs which were sent down in the third stage of Prophethood at Makkah. We have already divided the life of the Holy Prophet at Makkah into four stages in the Introduction to Chapter VI. According to that division the third stage lasted from the fifth to the tenth year of Prophethood. What distinguishes this stage from the second and the fourth stages is this. During the second stage the Quraish mainly resorted to ridiculing, scoffing, threatening, tempting, raising objections and making false propaganda against the Holy Prophet and his followers in order to suppress the Islamic Movement. But during the third stage they employed the weapons of persecution, man handling and economic pressure for the same purpose. So much so that a large number of the Muslims had to emigrate from Arabia to Habash, and those who remained behind were besieged in Shi'ib Abi Talib along with the Holy Prophet and his family. To add to their misery, a complete social and economic boycott was applied against them. The only redeeming feature was that there were two personalities, Abu Talib and Hadrat Khadijah, whose personal influence had been conducive to the support of two great families of the Quraish. However, when in the tenth year of Prophethood these two persons died, the fourth stage began with such revere persecutions as forced the Holy Prophet and all his Companions to emigrate from Makkah.

    It appears from the theme of the Surah that it was revealed at the beginning of the third stage when in spite of persecutions and opposition, migration to Habash had not yet taken place. That is why the story of "Ashab-i-Kahf " (the Sleepers of the Cave) has been related to comfort and encourage the persecuted Muslims and to show them how the righteous people have been saving their Faith in the past.

    Subject and Topics

    This Surah was sent down in answer to the three questions which the mushriks of Makkah, in consultation with the people of the Book, had put to the Holy Prophet in order to test him. These were: (1) Who were "the Sleepers of' the Cave"? (2) What is the real story of Khidr? and (3) What do you know about Zul-Qarnain? As these three questions and the stories involved concerned the history of the Christians and the Jews, and were unknown in Hijaz, a choice of these was made to test whether the Holy Prophet possessed any source of the knowledge of the hidden and unseen things. Allah, however, not only gave a complete answer to their questions but also employed the three stories to the disadvantage of the opponents of Islam in the conflict that was going on at that time at Makkah between Islam and un-belief:

    1. The questioners were told that "the Sleepers of the Cave" believed in the same doctrine of Tauhid which was being put forward in the Quran and that their condition was similar to the condition of the persecuted Muslims of Makkah. On the other hand, the persecutors of the Sleepers of the Cave had behaved in the same way towards them as the disbelievers of the Quraish were behaving towards the Muslims. Besides this, the Muslims have been taught that even if a Believer is persecuted by a cruel society, he should not bow down before falsehood but emigrate from the place all alone, if need be, with trust in God. Incidentally the disbelievers of Makkah were told that the story of the Sleepers of the Cave was a clear proof of the creed of the Hereafter, for this showed that Allah has the power to resurrect anyone He wills even after a long sleep of death as He did in case of the Sleepers of the Cave.

    2. The story of the Sleepers of the Cave has also been used to warn the chiefs of Makkah who were persecuting the small newly formed Muslim Community. At the same time, the Holy Prophet has been instructed that he should in no case make a compromise with their persecutors nor should he consider them to be more important than his poor followers. On the other hand, those chiefs have been admonished that they should not be puffed up with the transitory life of pleasure they were then enjoying but should seek after those excellences which are permanent and eternal.

    3. The story of Khidr and Moses has been related in such a way as to supply the answer to the question of the disbelievers and to give comfort to the Believers as well. The lesson contained in this story is this "You should have full faith in the wisdom of what is happening in the Divine Factory in accordance with the will of Allah. As the reality is hidden from you, you are at a loss to understand the wisdom of what is happening, and sometimes if it appears that things are going against you, you cry out, 'How and why has this happened'. The fact is that if the curtain be removed from the "unseen", you would yourselves come to know that what is happening here is for the best. Even if some times it appears that something is going against you, you will see that in the end it also produces some good results for you.

    4. The same is true of the story of Zul-Qarnain for it also admonishes the questioners, as if to say, "0 you vain chiefs of Makkah you should learn a lesson from Zul-Qarnain. Though he was a great ruler, a great conqueror and the owner of great resources, yet he always surrendered to his Creator, whereas you are rebelling against Him even though you are insignificant chieftains in comparison with him. Besides this, though Zul-Qarnain built one of the strongest walls for protection, yet his real trust was in Allah and not in the "wall". He believed that the wall could protect him against his enemies as long as it was the will of Allah and that there would be crack and holes in it, when it would be His will : whereas you who possess only insignificant fortified abodes and dwellings in comparison with him, consider yourselves to be permanently safe and secure against all sorts of calamities."

    While the Quran turned the tables on the questioners who had tried to "expose" the Holy Prophet, in the end of the Surah the same things have been reiterated that were stated at its beginning: "Tauhid and the Hereafter are absolutely true and real and for your own good you should accept these doctrines, mend your ways in accordance with them and live in this world with this conviction that you are accountable to Allah: otherwise you shall ruin your life and all your doings shall be set at naught."

    Reasons for the Revelation of the Surah:

    From the time of Prophet Isma’il (AS) and for thousands of years before the birth of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), there was no any Prophet/ Messenger rose among the Arabs. As time goes on, the religion preached by Prophet Ibrahim and his son Prophet Isma’il (AS) became corrupted and this made the Arabs to worship idols. Although they recognized Allah to be the Supreme Being yet they worshipped idols in order to bring them closer to Him. It was based on this that Almighty Allah mentions in His Book that:

    Is it not to Allah that sincere devotion is due? But those who take for protectors other than Allah (say): "We only serve them in order that they may bring us nearer to Allah." Truly Allah will judge between them in that wherein they differ. But Allah guides not such as are false and ungrateful.

    It was in this situation a Noble person was born into the tribe of Quraysh, who was a Prophet and final

    Messenger of Allah. He therefore, refused to join them in their idol worship, and instead, denied idolatry and polytheism. As against their mode of worship, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) made it clear and cogent that there is none truly to be worshiped except Allah and that He had neither son nor daughter. Making it further understood, he told them that Allah had never appeared to be in the form of either wood, marble or stone as they claimed. Upon this they began to device means of how to respond to these challenges. In an attempt, they counseled themselves and decided to seek assistance from the Jews in order to get rid of the matter. 

    The pagan Arabia resorted to waging unjust war against Islam and Muslims, which as a result, the prophet (SAW) had to leave his beloved city of Makkah and seek refuge in the distant Northern Arabian city of Yathrib. The polytheists decided to send a delegation to Yathrib with a view to enquiring from the Jews as to how can they tell whether Muhammad (SAW) is, indeed, a Prophet or not?. The Quraysh wished to consult the Rabbis about the matter reasoning that they had superior knowledge of the scriptures and about the prophets of Allah (SWT). They therefore concluded that since the Jews had such an experience and vast knowledge concerning the Prophets they would be in a best position to advice on the validity of Muhammad’s claim being a Prophet. The delegation was instructed by the Jewish Rabbis in the following words: 

    Ask him about three (3) things (of which we will instruct you); if he gives you the right answer, then, he is an authentic Prophet. But if he does not, then, he is rogue, so form your opinion about him. As for the first question, ask him what happened to the young men who disappeared in ancient times (days), for they have a marvelous story; as for the second, ask him about the mighty traveler who reached the confines of both east and west. As for the third; ask him what the spirit (Ruh) is. If he can give you the answer, then, follow him for he is a Prophet. But if he cannot, then, he is a forger, so treat him the way you like.

    The Rabbis were interested in knowing the outcome of this encounter, and for the Quraysh, they would have to refer to them to corroborate whether the answers to be given by the Prophet, Muhammad (SAW) were true or false. So, the delegation came back to the Quraysh and reported: O people of Quraysh, we have come to you with a decisive solution which will put an end to the problem between you and Muhammad. 

    They approached the Prophet (SAW) posed the three questions before him and challenged him to answer them correctly, if he was indeed a Prophet of Allah. The Prophet (SAW) said to them, ‘I will tell you that which you have asked’ but he did not say `If Allah wills. So, they went away, and the Prophet of Allah stayed for fifteen days without any revelation from Allah. The people of Makkah started to doubt him, and said, `Muhammad promised to tell us the next day, and now fifteen days have gone without anything in response to the questions asked.' He felt sad because of the delay in revelation, and was grieved by what the people of Makkah were saying about him. Jibril (AS) came with the revelation of Surah Al-Kahf, in which he reproaches him for his feeling sad and then told him the answers of their questions. An eminent scholar, Abul A’la Maududi, maintained that the third of the three questions pertained to someone al-Khidr whose mystical encounter with Prophet Musa (AS) was described in the Surah under review

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