May 18, 2024

In the Name of Allah—the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.

Ashab al-Kahf: The Seven Sleeping Saints

Ashab al-Kahf: The Seven Sleeping Saints

Author: Sajid Mahmood Ansari

The
Holy Qur’an, in 18th Surah Al-Kahf, narrates the story of a few
young believers, who fled from a tyrant polytheist king, hid inside
a cave, and kept sleeping there for a number of years. After sleeping for
centuries, they woke up and came to know that 
they slept for three centuries.

Qur’anic Narrative:

The
Holy Qur’an narrates the story as follows:

Don’t you think that the people of the Cave and the Raqeem
were one of Our wondrous signs? When those youths sought refuge in the Cave and
said: “Our Lord! Grant us mercy from Yourself and provide for us rectitude
in our affairs.” We lulled them to sleep in that cave for a number of
years and then roused them so that We might see which of the two parties could
best tell the length of their stay. We narrate to you their true story. They
were a party of young men who had faith in their Lord, and We increased them in
guidance; and strengthened their hearts when they stood up and proclaimed:
“Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth. We shall call upon no
other god beside Him; (for if we did so), we shall be uttering a
blasphemy.” (Then they conferred among themselves and said): “These
men, our own people, have taken others as gods beside Him: why do they not
bring any clear evidence that they indeed are gods? Who can be more unjust than
he who foists a lie on Allah? And now that you have dissociated yourselves from
them and from whatever they worship beside Allah, go and seek refuge in the
Cave. Your Lord will extend His mercy to you and will provide for you the means
for the disposal of your affairs.” Had you seen them in the Cave it would
have appeared to you that when the sun rose, it moved away from their Cave to
the right; and when it set, it turned away from them to the left, while they
remained in a spacious hollow in the Cave. This is one of the Signs of Allah.
Whomsoever Allah guides, he alone is led aright; and whomsoever Allah lets go
astray, you will find for him no guardian to direct him. On seeing them you
would fancy them to be awake though they were asleep, and We caused them to
turn their sides to their right and to their left, and their dog sat stretching
out its forelegs on the threshold of the Cave. Had you looked upon them you
would have certainly fled away from them, their sight filling you with terror?
Likewise, We roused them in a miraculous way that they might question one
another. One of them asked: “How long did you remain (in this
state)?” The others said: “We remained so for a day or part of a
day.” Then they said: “Your Lord knows better how long we remained in
this state. Now send one of you to the city with this coin of yours and let him
see who has the best food, and let him buy some provisions from there. Let him
be cautious and not inform anyone of our whereabouts. For if they should come
upon us, they will stone us to death or force us to revert to their faith
whereafter we shall never prosper.” Thus did We make their case known to
the people of the city so that they might know that Allah’s promise is true and that there is absolutely no doubt that the Hour will come to pass. But
instead of giving thought to this, they disputed with one another concerning
the People of the Cave, some saying: “Build a wall over them. Their Lord
alone knows best about them.” But those who prevailed over their affairs
said: “We shall build a place of worship over them.” Some will say
concerning them: “They were three and their dog, the fourth”; and
some will say: “They were five, and their dog, the sixth” — all this
being merely guesswork; and still others will say: “They were seven, and
their dog, the eighth.” Say: “My Lord knows their number best. Only a
few know their correct number. So do not dispute concerning their number, but
stick to what is evident, and do not question anyone about them.” [1]

 The Holy Qur’an explicitly declares it a story
of a miracle. A miracle is a Divine Decree, out of question, beyond a reasonable
doubt. This Qur’anic narrative is brief and objective. Mufassirin, scholars of
the Qur’an, elaborated this narrative subjectively. So, we will discuss the
story in detail in this paper to address the historicity, geography,
perspective, and outcomes.

Who were Companions of Cave?

The Companions of Cave, as translates the title of Ashab
al-Kahf, were true followers of Tawhid (monotheism). A number of
theories have been proposed regarding their origin. But, the most reliable theory
that is supported by archaeological evidence, was proposed by Abdullah ibni
Abbas (May Allah shower His blessings upon him)
as it has been recorded by
Muhammad ibni Jarir at-Tabri on behalf of Muhammad ibni Sa’ad. [2]

Abdullah ibni Abbas (May Allah shower His blessings upon him)
said about the word Ar-Raqeem that appeared in the aforementioned
narrative from Surah Al-Kahf (Ayat 9):

الرقيم: واد بين عُسْفان وأيَلة دون فلسطين، وهو
قريب من أيَلة

Ar-Raqeem is name of a valley located between Usfan and
Aylah, nearby Palestine, that is closer to Aylah.

Aylah was a famous city of ancient Syria (Ash-Sham) and has been well recorded
in the history. Arab historians have mentioned Aylah in their historical
accounts related to
Byzantine Empire. Aylah has also been mentioned as a city in a few
authentic Hadiths (
Jami at-Tirmidhi: H#2445). The famous Muslim geographer Yaqut al-Hemawi gave a detailed account of Aylah in his compendium Mo’ajam
al-Buldan
, which is considered an outstanding encyclopedia of ancient
cities. Yaqut al-Hemawi observes:

Aylah is a city located on the Mediterranean coast, nearby
ash-Sham (Assyria).[3]

Wikipedia observes:

Elath (HebrewאֵילַתModern: Elat, Tiberian: ʼÊláṯ; LatinAilaAncient Greek: Ελά,[1] Ἀηλά,[1] Αἴλανα,[2] Αἰλανίτης,[3] Αἰλανή,[4] Ἐλάνα,[4] Αἴλανον,[4] Αἰλάς,[4] Αἰλάθ,[4] Αἰλών,[4] Ἡλάθ,[4] Αϊλά),
or Eloth,
[5] was an ancient
city mentioned in several places in the 
Hebrew Bible[6] on the
northern tip of the 
Gulf of Aqaba. It was in the same
vicinity as Ezion-Geber.

The name survived into the Roman period as Aela, adopted into Byzantine Greek
as Aila and into Arabic as Aylah (the Arab settlement was
built outside the ruins of the ancient city), later becoming Aqabat Aylah
(“Aylah Ascent”), eventually shortened down to 
Aqaba.[4]

 The modern name of the same city is Eilat.

Ar-Raqeem and Aylah were part of the Eastern Roman Empire, which is also known
as
Byzantine Empire. Both of these localities were
situated in the region that was called Petra by Romans. Fortunately, the famous
Jewish historian Josephus Flavius recorded in his exceptional work
Antiquities of the Jewsthat the
original name of Petra was Raqmu that referred the king Rekem.[5]

The editors of the work Men on the Rocks: The
Formation of Nabataean Petra
observes:

Should we take the strange “so-called Petra” as
an indication that the Greeks had knowledge about the Arab name of Petra,
Raqmu, but decided to continue with the traditional Greek name? Li-kan is
believed to be a translation of Raqmu in a Chinese source dating between
138-122 BC (Graf 1996:207-210). The Nabataean inscription of the Nefesh of
Petraios son of Threptos, dated to the late 1st century BC, gives
the old name Raqmu. [6]

Raqmu, the original name of Petra, is a somewhat
distorted dialect of the original dialect Raqem.
George
Albert Cooke
, the
editor of an article on Petra compiled in the 1911 version of Encyclopedia
Britannica
, explicitly mentioned the name Rekem.

Eusebius and Jerome (Onom. sacr. 286, 71
145, 9, 228, 55. 287, 94), apparently on the authority of Josephus (Ant. iv. 7,
1; 4, 7), assert that Rekem was the native name. [7]

The same editor of Encyclopedia Britannica describes
the location and significance of Petra as follows:

PETRA (ἡ Πέτρα= the
rock), a ruined site, 30° 19′ N . and 35° 31′ E., lying in a basin among the
mountains which form the eastern flank of Wadi el-‛Arāba, the great valley
running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of ‛Akăba. The descriptions of Strabo
(xvi. p. 779), Pliny (N.H. vi. 32), and other writers leave no doubt as to
the identity of this site with the famous capital of the 
Nabataeans (q.v.) and the center of their caravan trade. Walled in by
towering rocks and watered by a perennial stream, Petra not only possessed the
advantages of a fortress but controlled the main commercial routes which passed
through it to Gaza in the west, to Bostra and Damascus in the north, to Elath
and Leucè Comè on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf. [8]

According to the editor, Elath (Aylah)
was a neighboring city of Petra. Look how beautifully, the statement Abdullah
ibn Abbas (May Allah shower His blessing upon him) has been confirmed. Now it
has been proven through pure Islamic literature, historical and archaeological
records that Ar-Raqeem was the original name of Petra.

The
Western scholarship agrees that the Nabataeans were originally Arab
people who inhabited Petra (Ar-Raqeem). The Qur’anic name Ar-Raqeem
indicates that it is Arabic in nature, which confirms the Arabian origin of Nabataeans.
Moreover, Nabataeans inscriptions record that most of the gods worshipped
in Petra, were same as were worshipped in Makkah according to the Qur’an.

George Albert Cooke notes:

The chief god of Petra was Dhū-sharā (Δονσάρης), i.e. the lord or owner of Sharā,[9] he was
worshipped under the form of a black rectangular stone, a sort of Petraean
Ka’aba (Suidas Lex’. s v. Θεός Αρης,
and cf. Epiphan. above). Associated with Dhū-sharā was
Allāt, the chief
goddess of the ancient Arabs.[9]

W.W. Hallo, the editor of The Context of
Scripture

(2003), quoted a number of Nabataean inscriptions, found carved in 38 tombs, located
in Madain Salih (Saudi Arabia).
One of these Nabataean inscriptions mentions Nabataean gods and
goddesses (idols) including Dhu-Shara, Allat, Manat, and Habal as follows:

And may [the supreme god] Dushara
and his throne and [the goddess] Allat of Amnad
and [the goddess] Manotu and her Qaysha curse
anyone who sells this tomb or who buys it or gives it in pledge or makes a gift
of it or removes from it body or limb or who buries in it anyone other than
Kamkam and her daughter and their descendants.

And whoever does not act according to what is
written above, shall be liable to Dushara and Hubalu and to Manotu in
the sum of five shamads and to the exorcist priest
for a fine of a thousand Aretite sela‘s, except that
whoever produces in his hand a document from the hand of Kamkam or Kulaybat,
her daughter, regarding this tomb, this document will be valid.[10]

We know that these were the idols that were worshipped by
people of Hejaz. So the striking resemblance between, language, names, and
deities leads us to conclude that Nabataean were the Arabs who share the same
linage with Arabs of central Arabia.

So all these facts confirm the Arabian origin of
Nabataeans. According to Josephus Flavius, Nabataeans were descendants of Nabit
ibni Ismael, the grandson of Prophet Ibrahim )May
Allah shower His blessings upon him).

Nabajoth is specifically
mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus, who identified the Nabataeans of
his time with Ishmael’s eldest son. He claimed that the Nabataeans lived
through the whole country extending from the Euphrates to the Red Sea, and
referred to this area as ‘Nabatene,’ or the area that the Nabataeans ranged in.
Josephus goes on to say that it was the Nabataeans who conferred their names on
the Arabian nations. (Jewish Antiquities I.22,1) Josephus lived and wrote
during the time that the Nabataeans were in existence, and supposedly, he
obtained his information directly from the Nabataeans themselves. These
Nabataeans spoke and wrote an early form of Arabic and thus they were often
referred to as ‘Arabs’ by Greek and Roman historians.
[11]

A
well know Indian Muslim scholar Sayed Sulayman Nadwi, in his famous work Ardh
al-Qur’an (The Land of Qur’an), also claimed that Anbat or Nabataeans were
descendants of Ismael (May Allah shower His blessings upon him). [12]
Dr. Jawad Ali also included them in Arabs. [13]
There is no need to mention that Nabajoth is a distorted dialect for Nabit ibni
Ismael.

So
it is not a farfetched idea that Ashab al-Kahf belonged to the region Ar-Raqeem
(Petra) and they were descendants of Nabit ibni Ismael. Their original language
was Arabic, however, its dialect was greatly affected by Aramaic language, which
has been a language of northern parts of the Arabian Peninsula, especially Petra.

Persecution

The Qur’an clearly describes that the reason behind the
persecution of Ashab al-Kahf was their strong and unshakable belief in the oneness of Almighty God, both in His Essence and attributes. They were staunch
supporters of monotheism and refused to practice idol worshipping. When we
investigate the history of the world, particularly northern Arabia, we find
the Roman king Decius the tyrant, who persecuted the true believers in the oneness
of God Almighty. The Christian scholars claim that the seven sleepers were
Christians. While we believe that they were true followers of Jesus the Christ.

Most of the Muslim historians, including Imam Ibn
al-Athir (d. 630 H) listed the story of Ashab al-Kahf after the story of
Eisa (Jesus ) the Christ (May Allah shower His blessings upon him). Imam Ibn
al-Athir begins the story with these words:

Ashab al-Kahf belonged to the days of King Dikyos, that
is also dubbed as Diqyanos and they lived in the Roman city Efsus (
Ephesus). [14]

Imam Muhammad ibn Ishaq explicitly claimed that Ashab
al-Kahf
were followers of Eisa (Peace be on him), as Ibni al-Athir quoted
him.[15]

The Editors of Encylopedia Britannica observe:

Before
Decius’s reign, persecution of the Christians in the empire had been sporadic
and local, but about the beginning of January 250, he issued an edict ordering all
citizens to perform a religious sacrifice in the presence of commissioners. A
large number of Christians defied the government, for which the bishops of
Rome, Jerusalem, and Antioch lost their lives and many others were arrested. [16]

Wikipedia introduces Decius in these words:

Gaius Messius
Quintus Traianus Decius
 (c. 201
AD – June 251 AD), sometimes translated as Trajan Decius or Decius,
was the emperor of
the Roman Empire from
249 to 251.

A distinguished
politician during the reign of Philip the Arab, Decius was proclaimed emperor
by his troops after putting down a rebellion in Moesia. In 249, he defeated and killed Philip
near Verona and
was recognized as emperor by the Senate afterward. During his reign, he
attempted to strengthen the Roman state and its religion, leading to the Decian persecution,
where a number of prominent Christians (including Pope Fabian) were put to death. In the last
year of his reign, Decius co-ruled with his son Herennius Etruscus,
until they were both killed by the Goths in
the Battle of Abritus.[17]

The Cave of the Seven Sleepers

Several sites have been attributed as Cave of Seven
Sleepers in Turkey and Jordan. However, reports mentioned by Abdullah bin Abbas
(May Allah be pleased with him) supports the site of Amman (Jordan).

Ashab al-Kahf: The Seven Sleeping Saints


Madain Project reminds:

Cave
of Ashab Kahf (اصحاب الکهف)
or the Cave of the Seven Sleepers (كهف السبعة النائمين)
in Jordan is a partly natural and partly man-made burial cave dating back to
the Byzantine era, believed to be the cave of Ashab Kahf mentioned in Quran.
The cave is also known as the Kahf of Raqeem (كهف
الرقيم
) mentioned in Quran’s chapter 18 (Sura al-Kahaf).[18]

Interestingly,
the entrance of the cave faces south, which conforms with the Qur’anic narrative:

Had you
seen them in the Cave it would have appeared to you that when the sun rose, it
moved away from their Cave to the right; and when it set, it turned away from
them to the left, while they remained in a spacious hollow in the Cave.

Ashab al-Kahf: The Seven Sleeping Saints



This narrative indicates that the sunlight does not fall
on the entrance of the cave directly, neither at the time of sunrise nor
sunset. It means the cave mentioned above faces southward or northward. So this
narrative also supports that the cave identified as Seven Sleepers’ cave in
Jordan is the strongest candidate.

Allah knows the best.

 



[12] Sayed
Sulayman Nadwi, Ardh al-Qur’an: p.67

[13]
Al-Mafassal fi Tarikh al-Arab

[14]
Ibn al-Athir, Al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, vol.1, p. 274, Dar al-KUtb al-Ilmiyah,
Beirut, Lebanon, 1987

[15]
Ibid

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