Masjid al-Haram

A Parable of Blessing

The Significance and Message of the Qur'anic Account of 'The Companions of the Cave'

al-Khidr and Moses

The Parable of 'The Companions of the Cave' in Context

The eighteenth chapter of the Qur'an, entitled "The Sūra of the Cave" (Sūrat al-Kahf) has long been recognized among Muslims to be a goldmine of spiri­tual riches and guidance for those who would recite it, contemplate it, and thereby plumb the depths of meaning contained therein. Its virtues are ex­tolled in a number of hadiths. According to one of these, this sūra was "spread abroad by 70,000 angels." Another proclaims that "whoever recites the sūra of the Companions of the Cave on Friday will have all of his sins forgiven until the following Friday, plus three days more, he will be given light that reaches to Heaven, and he will be protected from the temptations of the Anti-Christ (al-dajjāl)."[1]

Al-Tha'lab relates on the authority of Samurah ibn Jundub that the Prophet once said, "Whoever recites ten verses of Sūrat al-Kahf from memory will not be harmed by the wiles of the Anti-Christ, and he who recites the entire sūra will enter Paradise."[2] Moreover, given that the crowning miracle of Islam "is not the incarnation of God, but a book,"3 the central importance of this sūra may be seen in the striking parallel drawn by one author between the Friday recitation of sūra 18 and the Christian liturgy of the Eucharist. "In Islam the Body is the book, and the part that represents the whole is sūra 18."4

Sūra 18 begins with an introductory section which sets forth the themes which recur throughout the sūra as a whole. The focus of the present study is the parable of "the Companions of the Cave" (ahl al-kalf) in verses 9-26. This parable is followed by a series of exhortations to the Prophet concerning truth-telling, forbearance toward believers, and promises of rewards to the faithful (vv. 27-31), after which he is urged to relate another parable (mathal) concerning… [incomplete]

This article appeared in The Muslim World Vol. LXXXIII, No. 3-4, July-October, 1993

End Notes

[1] These are attributed by al-Qurtuhi to Ishāq ibn ‘Abdallāh ibn Abi Farwah. (Abu ‘Abdallāh Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Ansāri al-Qurtubi. Al-Jami'li Ahkām al-Qur'ān Vol. 10 [Cairo Dār al-Kitāb al-‘Arabi li al-Tibā'ah Wa aI-Nashr, 1967], 346)

[2] Ibid