OVERCOMING TRIALS THE MESSAGE OF SURAH AL KAHF
Allah, the Most High, informs us that the Qur’an is meant for reflection and contemplation. Allah states: A Book which We have sent down to you, full of blessings that they may ponder over its Verses, and that men of understanding may remember.” Sad:29.
كِتَابٌ أَنزَلْنَاهُ إِلَيْكَ مُبَارَكٌ لِّيَدَّبَّرُوا آيَاتِهِ وَلِيَتَذَكَّرَ أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
One of the many reasons we find ourselves disconnected from the Qur’an is due to us losing this ability to ponder and reflect over the greatest of Speech. The Pagan Arabs for all their polytheistic beliefs and enmity to Islam were overwhelmed by the linguistic beauty of the Qur’an. Indeed, even the most formidable of creations such as the mountains cannot withstand its power. Al-Hashr 21.
وْ أَنزَلْنَا هَـٰذَا الْقُرْآنَ عَلَىٰ جَبَلٍ لَّرَأَيْتَهُ خَاشِعًا مُّتَصَدِّعًا مِّنْ خَشْيَةِ اللَّـهِ وَتِلْكَ الْأَمْثَالُ نَضْرِبُهَا لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
The Surah al-Kahf, the eighteenth chapter of the Qur’an, the beauty of this surah never ceases to amaze us. It was from amongst the early portions of the Qur’an to be revealed as is mentioned in the ḥadith of the Prophet. Imam Buhari. It is the chapter, which we are encouraged to recite every Friday. Mishkatul Sabah, and told that by memorizing or reading its opening passage we will gain protection from the Dajjal. Imam Muslim. Yet over and above this, the four stories mentioned within this surah are unique to it. In this khutbah I want to analyze the central theme and message of this surah as well as why from the 114 chapters of the Qur’an, it is this one which affords us protection from the Dajjal.
Abu Ad-Darda reported: The Prophet said: Whoever memorizes ten verses from the beginning of Surah Al-Kahf will be protected from the False Messiah. – Imam Muslim.
مَنْ حَفِظَ عَشْرَ آيَاتٍ مِنْ أَوَّلِ سُورَةِ الْكَهْف عُصِمَ مِنْ الدَّجَّالِ
According to the version recorded by At-Tirmidhi: Whoever memorizes three verses from the beginning of Surah Al-Kahf.
مَنْ حَفِظَ ثَلَاثَ آيَاتٍ مِنْ أَوَّلِ الْكَهْف
Every chapter of the Qur’an has a theme; a central subject matter which it discusses. The verses, stories and main discussion points of the chapter will then all establish that theme. It is for this reason that Allah mentions only certain parts of a story of a particular Prophet in one surah and other parts of the same story in another surah. The reason is often that only this portion of the story is relevant to the theme. This is also why we find certain similar verses repeated throughout the Qur’an, often with very slight variations; a word added or removed.
The Muslims in the early years of Islam faced various trials and difficulties. Those trials would change over time and evolve as the situation of the Muslims progressed. Therefore, it is as if Allah revealed this chapter in the early part of Prophet hood so that the Muslims would be aware of the challenges they would face, and more importantly how to overcome them. Thus the theme of Surah al-Kahf revolves around the most common trials faced by the faithful and their solutions. Allah says in the seventh verse of this surah, “Verily! We have made that which is on earth as an adornment for it, in order that We may test them as to which of them are best in deeds.” Al-Kahf :7 انَّا جَعَلْنَا مَا عَلَى الْأَرْضِ زِينَةً لَّهَا لِنَبْلُوَهُمْ أَيُّهُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا
These trials are depicted through the four unique stories found within this surah; the people of the cave (Lesson: Trial of faith) the man with the two gardens (Trial of wealth), Musa’s journey with Khidr (Trial of knowledge) and Dhul-Qarnayn (Trial of power).
A Trial of Persecution of One’s Beliefs! The story of the people of the cave centers on a group of believing young men who lived in a society of shirk, wherein those young men were persecuted for their beliefs. Allah records how they stood firm upon their beliefs, addressing their despot ruler and their people: “And We made their hearts firm and strong when they stood up and said: ‘Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, never shall we call upon any god other than Him; if we did, we should indeed have uttered an enormity in disbelief.’” Al-Kahf 14.
وَرَبَطْنَا عَلَىٰ قُلُوبِهِمْ إِذْ قَامُوا فَقَالُوا رَبُّنَا رَبُّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ لَن نَّدْعُوَ مِن دُونِهِ إِلَـٰهًا لَّقَدْ قُلْنَا إِذًا شَطَطًا
In many ways this resembles the situation of the early Muslims when they were often tortured and persecuted simply for saying ‘La ilaha illa Allah. Those believing young men fled their city for fear of their lives just as the Companions fled Mecca seeking the sanctuary of Medina. “And when you withdraw from them, and that which they worship, except Allah, then seek refuge in the Cave, your Lord will open a way for you from His Mercy and will make easy for you your affair.” Al-Kahf 16.
وَإِذِ اعْتَزَلْتُمُوهُمْ وَمَا يَعْبُدُونَ إِلَّا اللَّـهَ فَأْوُوا إِلَى الْكَهْفِ يَنشُرْ لَكُمْ رَبُّكُم مِّن رَّحْمَتِهِ وَيُهَيِّئْ لَكُم مِّنْ أَمْرِكُم مِّرْفَقًا
Allah answered this supplication and gave these young men a great miracle, showing His mercy towards the believers, and His power over the creation. “And they stayed in their Cave three hundred years, and add nine.”Al-Kahf 25. This too was the case with the Prophet and his Companions, who were often given victory despite the odds. “And thus We made their case known to the people, that they might know that the Promise of Allah is true, and that there can be no doubt about the Hour.” Al-Kahf 21.
وَكَذَٰلِكَ أَعْثَرْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ لِيَعْلَمُوا أَنَّ وَعْدَ اللَّـهِ حَقٌّ وَأَنَّ السَّاعَةَ لَا رَيْبَ فِيهَا إِذْ يَتَنَازَعُونَ بَيْنَهُمْ أَمْرَهُمْ ۖ فَقَالُوا ابْنُوا عَلَيْهِم بُنْيَانًا ۖرَّبُّهُمْ أَعْلَمُ بِهِمْ ۚ قَالَ الَّذِينَ غَلَبُوا عَلَىٰ أَمْرِهِمْ لَنَتَّخِذَنَّ عَلَيْهِم مَّسْجِدًا
This is one of the most common trials the believers will face; trials to do with their faith. At its most extreme, it can lead to persecution and torture, but there are many other forms it can take. Derogatory remarks, uncomfortable stares and sometimes a deficiency complex when having to openly show our religion in front of others are all forms many of us have experienced. At times, it can be our own family and friends who attempt to turn away us when we want to increase in our attempts to practice Islam. Throughout this story we are told of the ways to overcome this trial; strong iman, turning to Allah, depending and trusting in Him and making du’a to Him. “Truly! They were young men who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.” Al-Kahf 13. إِنَّهُمْ فِتْيَةٌ آمَنُوا بِرَبِّهِمْ وَزِدْنَاهُمْ هُدًى
A trial of Wealth! The second trial mentioned within this chapter is depicted through the story of the man who possessed two gardens. The story and thus the trial revolves around wealth. Allah had blessed this man with much wealth as is described in vivid detail in the Qur’an. “And put forward to them the example of two men; unto one of them We had given two gardens of grapes, and We had surrounded both with date-palms; and had put between them cultivated fields. Each of those two gardens brought forth its produce, and failed not in the least therein, and We caused a river to gush forth in the midst of them. And he had fruit…” Al-Kahf 32-34.
وَاضْرِبْ لَهُم مَّثَلًا رَّجُلَيْنِ جَعَلْنَا لِأَحَدِهِمَا جَنَّتَيْنِ مِنْ أَعْنَابٍ وَحَفَفْنَاهُمَا بِنَخْلٍ وَجَعَلْنَا بَيْنَهُمَا زَرْعًا. كِلْتَا الْجَنَّتَيْنِ آتَتْ أُكُلَهَا وَلَمْ تَظْلِم مِّنْهُ شَيْئًا ۚ وَفَجَّرْنَا خِلَالَهُمَا نَهَرًا كَانَ لَهُ ثَمَرٌ فَقَالَ لِصَاحِبِهِ وَهُوَ يُحَاوِرُهُ أَنَا أَكْثَرُ مِنكَ مَالًا وَأَعَزُّ نَفَرًا.
Thus, the man not only possessed the best of wealth as is alluded to through the mention of grapes; historically a fruit associated with the nobility, but the upkeep of his gardens was minimal due to the naturally flowing rivers, and his harvest was full every season. Additionally, he also enjoyed the blessing of children, servants and other supporters.
Yet all of the above only led him to arrogance and haughtiness. He belittled his much poorer friend and ridiculed his advice to show gratitude to Allah.“And he went into his garden while in a state of injustice to himself. He said: ‘I think not that this will ever perish. And I think not the Hour will ever come, and if indeed I am brought back to my Lord, I surely shall find better than this when I return to Him.’” Al-Kahf 35-36.
وَدَخَلَ جَنَّتَهُ وَهُوَ ظَالِمٌ لِّنَفْسِهِ قَالَ مَا أَظُنُّ أَن تَبِيدَ هَـٰذِهِ أَبَدًا. مَا أَظُنُّ السَّاعَةَ قَائِمَةً وَلَئِن رُّدِدتُّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّي لَأَجِدَنَّ خَيْرًا مِّنْهَا مُنقَلَبًا
He foolishly thought that his wealth and manpower was a sign of Allah’s love and acceptance. Why else would he receive such blessings?! Therefore, even if there was to be a resurrection, surely a God who loved him and showered him with such blessings in this life, would only increase him manifold in the next.
Allah destroyed the wealth of this man to show him and us that the wealth of this world is not a sign of Allah’s pleasure or displeasure, but rather a test through which Allah examines our belief, action and character. It is not about the wealth in and of itself, but how you earn and spend it. “So his fruits were encircled with ruin. And he remained clapping his hands with sorrow over what he had spent upon it, while it was all destroyed on its trellises, he could only say: ‘Would I had ascribed no partners to my Lord!’ And he had no group of men to help him against Allah, nor could he defend or save himself.” Al-Kahf, 42-43.
A dichotomy is presented within this story in the poor sincere friend who admonished his richer companion for his beliefs and actions. In many ways, it is this humbleness, humility and gratitude for the blessings of Allah, which helps one, overcome this trial. The Prophet said; “By Allah, it is not poverty which I fear for you but that the world will be spread out before you just as it was spread out for those who came before you, and you compete in it as they did, so it destroys you as it did them.” Imam Buhari.
It should not be understood from this that wealth is evil or to be wealthy is upraise worthy. Indeed, there were numerous wealthy and prosperous Companions such as Abu Bakr and Uthman. However, the evil in wealth is when it becomes the goal in life, rather than a means to the real goal of pleasing Allah. When this happens, wealth can easily leads to arrogance, pride and belittling others.