Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Cave of The Seven Sleepers

On the outskirts of Amman, the capital of Jordan, there is a historic site where it is believed that seven young men hid in a cave to escape religious persecution from their tyrant ruler. They fell asleep for what they thought to be a day or so, but turned out to be for a much longer period. Upon rising from their slumber, one of the youths went out to the nearby town to buy food and when he wanted to pay for his purchase, the shop owner discovered that the coins offered came from a time when a different emperor ruled many years earlier.

This story of the People of The Cave or As-habul Kahfi, is well-known in Islamic teachings and even has a parallel in Christian tradition. The story is mentioned in Surah 18 of the holy Al-Qur'an, beginning from Verse 9 to Verse 26. While popular accounts put the number of the young men at 7, the Qur'an does not give an exact figure. Verse 22 indicates the possible number at 3 or 5 or 7, but with a gentle reminder from the Almighty that such an uncertainty should not be leading us to arguments amongst ourselves. Only the Lord knows... plus a few others. And who might these few others be, I wonder.

Another interesting aspect of this story is that the young men had a dog with them. This pet canine kept watch at the cave's entrance, possibly deterring any unwanted parties from venturing into the cave and discovering the hiding place. Such a loyal trait that has been recorded in divine revelation.

Within those 18 verses that tell the story of the cave-sleepers is perhaps another important lesson for the Muslim faithful. Verse 23 and 24 are translated as such :

23 - And never say of anything, "Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,"

24 - Except [when adding], "If Allah wills." And remember your Lord when you forget [it] and say, "Perhaps my Lord will guide me to what is nearer than this to right conduct."

The said verses impart to us the need to cite the phrase `Insha Allah', meaning `if Allah wills' whenever we mention our intention to carry out something in the future. There is an interesting backstory to this.

Prophet Muhammad (sallalahu alaihi wa-sallam) faced a lot of scepticism and doubters during his early days of preaching to the people of Makkah. The leaders of Makkah sent two of their men to check with the Jewish rabbis of Madinah on Muhammad's claim of being a prophet. Since the Jews are people of the book, they would have more knowledge about such matters. The men described the new prophet and his teachings to the rabbis who then told them to ask Muhammad (s.a.w.) three questions, the answers to which would reveal the proof of authenticity.

 "Ask him about three things which we will tell you to ask, if he answers them then he is a Prophet who has been sent (by Allah); if he does not, then he is saying things that are not true, in which case how you will deal with him will be up to you. Ask him about some young men in ancient times, what was their story? For there is a strange and wondrous tale. Ask him about a man who traveled a great deal and reached the east and the west of the earth. What was his story? And ask him about the Ruh (soul or spirit), what is it?"

The men returned to Makkah and relayed the questions to the Prophet (s.a.w.) who accordingly replied, "I will tell you tomorrow." He had neglected to add, "Insha Allah".

The Prophet (s.a.w.) waited for Allah's revelation to enable him to give the answers. A whole day passed and the revelation did not come. As more days went by without any divine assistance, the people of Makkah made more fun of him and accused him of not keeping to his word. The Messenger of Allah was very sad to face such ridicule. It was only after 15 days that the angel Jibreel (alaihi-salam) came to the Messenger with the revelation of Surah Al-Kahfi which had the answers to questions posed by the rabbis. Indeed, also contained within the surah is the subtle reminder on the proper etiquette when promising to do something. Allahu-akbar!

And so my friends, what about the questions concerning the man who traveled a great deal or about the Ruh? Perhaps I will explore the answers to these questions in future postings... insha 'Allah.

Signboard at the cave site
Entrance to the cave located at a hill slope

Footnote : Apart from this place in Jordan, another site in Turkey called Ephesus also claims to be the Cave of the 7 Sleepers.


Amelia said...

Hi Old Stock, Selamat Hari Raya to you and family.

Excellent posting, thanks for sharing.
Have a wonderful holiday, warmest regards.

Oldstock said...

Hi Amelia. Thanks for the raya greeting. Hope you enjoy the holidays too.