Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sura 18 - The Cave

The title comes from one of the stories in the sura.

Date, Context and Theme

It is a middle Meccan sura and deals not this time with “Biblical” stories but with folk stories that were known at the time. These stories are used as signs as to why the Meccans should accept Muhammad and Allah.


vv. 1-8 Opening statement that the Qur’an is from God and the challenge to the Meccans to accept it because of the signs that Allah gives.

vv. 9-27 The sign of the sleepers in the cave.

vv. 28-32 Warning the Meccans again.

vv. 33-45 The parable of the two gardeners, one who thanks Allah and the other who doesn’t.

v. 46 Parable of life, comes from water, dies and is scattered by the wind.

vv. 47-50, The coming of judgement on all.

vv. 51-60 Therefore turn to God now and don’t be deceived.

Vv. 61-83 Moses and his servant sail a boat, lose their food, meet a man, travel with the man and then have all of the events in the days explained as to why they happened. The reason for each thing was not apparent at the time.

Vv. 84-102 Muhammad is asked about Dhu'l-Qarneyn.

Vv. 103-111 Final address to the Meccans to accept Muhammad and Allah.

What I found interesting.

1. The use of stories as signs. In this sura there are many non-biblical stories. It seems that Muhammad was asked about these stories (possibly as a test). But on this occasion Muhammad assumed that he would receive a revelation to answer their question and he was rebuked.
And say not of anything: Lo! I shall do that tomorrow, except if Allah will. And remember thy Lord when thou forgettest, and say: It may be that my Lord guideth me unto a nearer way of truth than this. 18:24-25

But even when the answer comes I found it vague. In the story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (a Christian hagiography about Christian martyrs sealed in a cave) Muhammad is asked how many sleepers there were and how long they were in the cave. To both these he basically says,
Say: Allah is Best Aware how long they tarried. 18:27

It just seems that Muhammad cannot really answer their questions.

2. The story about Moses traveling and having different events happen and then having the events explained was quite interesting and showed how revelation makes sense of random events. I thought this was a useful message.

3. The story of Dhu'l-Qarneyn is about a man who travels to the furthest part of the world. It seems that he actually finds the place where the sun sets!
Till, when he reached the setting-place of the sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring 18:87

The people he meets ask for help from Gog and Magog and so he build them and iron wall (v. 97). It would be good to examine these stories historically.

4. Again, Muhammad is the context of this sura because it is his interactions with the Meccans that are shaping the use of these stories.

5. "And to warn those who say: Allah hath chosen a son" 18:4

6. There does seem to be a sense of assurance in this verse.
Lo! as for those who believe and do good works - Lo! We suffer not the reward of one whose work is goodly to be lost. 18:31

7. Here is a short description of paradise.
As for such, theirs will be Gardens of Eden, wherein rivers flow beneath them; therein they will be given armlets of gold and will wear green robes of finest silk and gold embroidery, reclining upon throne therein. Blest the reward, and fair the resting-place! 18:32

8. The doctrine of human free will and God’s sovereignty are taught side by side.
And naught hindereth mankind from believing when the guidance cometh unto them, and from asking forgiveness of their Lord unless ...18:56
... Lo! on their hearts We have placed coverings so that they understand not, and in their ears a deafness. And though thou call them to the guidance, in that case they can never be led aright. 18:58

9. God’s words are unchangeable.
And recite that which hath been revealed unto thee of the Scripture of thy Lord. There is none who can change His words, and thou wilt find no refuge beside Him. 18:28


  1. > Say: Allah is Best Aware how long they tarried. 18:27

    >It just seems that Muhammad cannot really answer their questions.

    You are being either very lazy or insincere in your reading:

    [18:25] They stayed in their cave three hundred years, increased by nine.

    [18:26] Say, "GOD is the best knower of how long they stayed there." He knows all secrets in the heavens and the earth. By His grace you can see; by His grace you can hear. There is none beside Him as Lord and Master, and He never permits any partners to share in His kingship.

  2. thanks for the correction, I will edit the post

  3. Actually I just read it again and I think I am correct. 18:25 is what the local people were saying as to how long they were in the cave. 18:25 does not seem to be Allah's explanation. Allah's explanation is 18:26. So I think my point stands.

  4. Can you tell me why you say that? I don't see any indication of that in 18:25.
    From what I read, I see 18:25 as the categorical response, and 18:26 as a response to the doubts people had regarding God's knowledge. Please let me know why you think I'm mistaken.

  5. We seem to be using a different verse numbering system. I still think my reading is correct.

  6. If you were sincere in that belief you would have posted from the many online sources of the quran. Here is my source:

    Please tell me according to this page which verses you're talking about when I say 18:25 and 18:26. We may bridge this gap yet.....

  7. >We seem to be using a different verse numbering system. I still think my reading is correct.

    By the way, there are no 'verse numbering systems' in the quran. Any verse in any quran anywhere will have the same verse number as any other quran. Either we are using the correct verse number or we're not.
    In any case, you can look at the link I pasted and tell me which verse number you are talking about.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Hi Imran,
    In response to the numbering system dilemma, I've just compared the PICKTHAL translation (Mentor Books, NY, 1960) that I am using with the above link and have noticed that the total number of verses in this Surah varies (The former with 111, the later with 110). The change comes in verse 18 & 19. The former is arranged thus:
    18. And thou wouldst have deemed them waking though they were asleep, and We caused them to turn over to the right and the left, and their dog stretching out his paws on the threshold.
    19. If thou hadst observed them closely thou hadst assuredly turned away from them in flight, and hadst been filled with awe of them.

    While the later combines the two verses into the one (v.18).

    Subsequently, this means that all the following verses are out of place.
    Comparing Samuel's later quotes, which line up with mine, but are out of sync with your version, this seems to be the problem.

    Other online sources (sorry, I haven't had a chance to check print editions) seem to agree with your version including
    so yours seems to be more reliable.


  10. to read the verses in simple context order and context for yourself : http://quran.com | you can also email me to hear from a Muslim islaam@gmail.com