This sūrah starts in the fifteenth juz and is concluded in the sixteenth. It is highly recommended that we recite it every Friday. Several ahadith promise that those who do so will be protected from the deceptions of Dajjāl. The Dajjāl will be a person who personifies deception. His will be an era of extreme trials and tribulations for the believers. We are asked to always pray for protection against those trials. While the Dajjāl has not yet appeared, we are indeed living in an age when dajjālic deceptions are increasingly manifest all around us.
The story of the People of the Cave is narrated in āyahs 9-26. These were young people for whom their faith was all important. They lived at a time when the people of faith were being persecuted by a ruthless king. They could not fight him, nor could they surrender to him. So they took refuge in a cave. They put their affair in the Hands of Allāh and He saved them from persecution through a miraculous sleep that lasted for three centuries.
The story of Prophet Mūsā and Khiḍr is narrated in āyahs 60-82. Its most important moral is that things are not always what they appear to be. We should not be deceived or disheartened by the events that unfold before us every day. What seems to be an imperfect world is actually a perfect testing ground.
The story of Dhul Qarnayn is told in āyahs 83-98. He was a powerful, just, and Allāh fearing king. Two actions of his are specially highlighted.
1) His declaration that he would punish the unjust and deal kindly with the virtuous. This makes moral purpose and virtue as the yardstick with which to measure any ruler. In contrast secular western democracy holds that the government has no business deciding morality or virtue.
2) He refused to tax the people for a national project even when the tax was offered by the people. This was obviously not for the purpose of improving his chances of reelection; it was the extension of morality and virtue to the economic field.
Here are reflections on some āyahs from this sūrah.
َلَا تَقُولَنَّ لِشَيْءٍ إِنِّي فَاعِلٌ ذَٰلِكَ غَدً إِلَّا أَن يَشَاءَ اللَّهُ ۚ وَاذْكُر رَّبَّكَ إِذَا نَسِيتَ
And never say about anything, “I shall surely do this tomorrow,” without (adding), “If Allāh so wills.” And remember your Lord if you forget. (Al-Kahf, 18:23-24).
Here is the background for this āyah. The account of the Seven Sleepers, the encounter between Prophet Mūsā and Khiḍr, and the story of the king Dhul Qarnayn were unknown to the Arabs. The Quraysh of Makkah were advised by Jewish scholars in Madinah to ask the Prophet ﷺ about them as a test of the authenticity of his prophethood. He promised to answer the question the next day expecting the revelation to come by that time. This sūrah was the answer. (This was a most brilliant answer that not only gave details about them, but also applied their stories to the situation at hand to show that the Quraysh were on the side of wrong in the stories about right and wrong. Unfortunately obstinacy kept the Quraysh and the Jews from accepting the Truth.)
This sūrah was the answer, but it was delayed by two weeks. The two anxious weeks were a Divine reminder of an important message mentioned in this āyah. We should never announce plans about the future as if we control it. Rather we should qualify these by the words, inshāAllāh (If Allāh wills). There was a time when in the Western world, the phrase God willing, carried the same message. Today the secularized discourse shies away from acknowledging that we do not control the future. And even when it does acknowledge that, it refuses to acknowledge that the control belongs to God. So “God willing” is replaced by any number of clumsy expressions, whose common concern is to avoid mentioning God, like “If fate decrees,” “If the wind blows right,” “Hope it’s my lucky day,” “Barring some unforeseen (circumstance/ incident/accident),” “If things work out,” and “If things go according to plan.” Superstition also reigns supreme as people normally say “knock on wood” or “keep your fingers crossed.”
We should not give in to this secular madness. We need to bring inshāAllāh2 (and God willing) back to our everyday discourse—on every continent and in every language of the world. For wherever we are and whatever language we speak, the future is always totally in the Hands of Allāh.
وَاصْبِرْ نَفْسَكَ مَعَ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُم بِالْغَدَاةِ وَالْعَشِيِّ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَهُ ۖ وَلَا تَعْدُ عَيْنَاكَ عَنْهُمْ تُرِيدُ زِينَةَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَلَا تُطِعْ مَنْ أَغْفَلْنَا قَلْبَهُ عَن ذِكْرِنَا وَاتَّبَعَ هَوَاهُ وَكَانَ أَمْرُهُ فُرُطًا
Keep yourself content with those who call their Sustainer morning and evening, seeking His countenance, and let not your eyes overlook them, seeking the splendor of the worldly life. And do not obey the one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance, and who has followed his desire and whose behavior has exceeded the limits. (Al-Kahf, 18:28)
Here is the most profound—and ignored—truth about extremism. Those who do not remember Allāh end up following their own desires and go to extremes in satisfying them. It all starts from a single minded devotion to the splendor of this worldly life. Extremism is thus a direct and inevitable result of materialism and unbelief. And turning to Allāh—and away from obedience to our lusts and greed—is the only way to fight it.
Recently the spelling of this expression has received undue attention due to some misconceptions about the meaning of the phrase when “inshā” is written together in English (as opposed to “in shā”). The fact is that readers of English tend to pronounce and understand it in the same manner when written as “inshallāh” or “inshāAllāh» or «in shaa Allāh.» In all cases they clearly understand it to mean «If Allāh wills.» So all are valid forms as affirmed by many scholars.
The Life of this World.
وَاضْرِبْ لَهُم مَّثَلَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا كَمَاءٍ أَنزَلْنَاهُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ فَاخْتَلَطَ بِهِ نَبَاتُ الْأَرْضِ فَأَصْبَحَ هَشِيمًا تَذْرُوهُ الرِّيَاحُ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ مُّقْتَدِرًا
Set forth to them the similitude of the life of this world: It is like the rain which we send down from the skies: the earth’s vegetation absorbs it, but soon it becomes dry stubble, which the winds do scatter: it is (only) Allāh who prevails over all things. (Al-Kahf,18:45)
All the pleasures and riches of this world are short-lived. Here today, gone tomorrow. How foolish that one should make them the yardstick to measure success in life. This comment follows the account of the encounter of two characters: a rich non-believer and a poor believer. The latter was not at all impressed by the riches of the former and was much concerned about his unbelief and ungratefulness towards Allāh. The former refused to listen to him and was destroyed. This āyah captures the moral of the story. That encounter continues today and so does the need for remembering the story and its moral.
The Greatest Loss
قُلْ هَلْ نُنَبِّئُكُم بِالْأَخْسَرِينَ أَعْمَالًا. الَّذِينَ ضَلَّ سَعْيُهُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ يَحْسَبُونَ أَنَّهُمْ يُحْسِنُونَ صُنْعًا. أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا بِآيَاتِ رَبِّهِمْ وَلِقَائِهِ فَحَبِطَتْ أَعْمَالُهُمْ فَلَا نُقِيمُ لَهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ وَزْنًا
Say, “Shall We tell you about the greatest losers in respect of (their) deeds? Those are the ones whose effort in the worldly life has gone in vain, while they think they are doing well. Those are the ones who rejected the signs of their Sustainer and (the concept of ) meeting with Him, so their deeds have gone to waste, and We shall assign to them no weight at all.” (Al-Kahf, 18:103-105)
Good deeds without the right motives are a waste. Motives are the soul of every action. In turn motives are driven by belief. When belief in Allāh and the Hereafter is absent then one’s good deeds are soulless. This is an all important reminder that we need to purify both our intentions and our actions. If we do not seek rewards from Allāh in the Hereafter, we’ll surely not get them.
The Blessed People
أُولَٰئِكَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِم مِّنَ النَّبِيِّينَ مِن ذُرِّيَّةِ آدَمَ وَمِمَّنْ حَمَلْنَا مَعَ نُوحٍ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّةِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْرَائِيلَ وَمِمَّنْ هَدَيْنَا وَاجْتَبَيْنَا ۚ إِذَا تُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُ الرَّحْمَٰنِ خَرُّوا سُجَّدًا وَبُكِيًّا
Those are the people on whom Allāh bestowed His grace, the prophets from the progeny of ’Ādam, and of those whom We caused to board (the Ark) along with Nūḥ, and from the progeny of Ibrāhīm and Isrā’īl ( Jacob), and (all of them were) whom We guided and selected. When the āyahs of The Raḥmān (The All-Merciful) were recited before them, they used to fall down in Sajdah (prostration), while they were weeping. (Maryam, 19:58)
In sūrah al-Fātiḥah we make the dua to be shown the path of those on whom Allāh bestowed His grace. Here the same exact word is being used to tell us that the prophets were the people who were so favored. So anyone sincerely looking to find Allāh’s true favors and blessings should be following in the footsteps of the prophets.
And the thing to note in their behavior is their attitude toward the words and commands of Allāh. Falling down in sajdah with tears of love and awe in their eyes captures their willing and loving devotion to Allāh and His commands.
We can judge where we stand with reference to Allāh’s true blessings and grace, by seeing where we stand in relationship to Allāh’s words and commands.
Reflections on Āyahs of Sajdah (Prostration)
This is one of the fourteen āyahs of sajdah in the Qur’ān. These āyahs are themselves a reminder of the miracle of the Qur’ān. When reciting any of these āyahs, or listening to their recitation, inside the ṣalāh or outside, believers always perform sajdah. That simple act of prostration that we do not think much of is in reality an extraordinary event. To realize that we can ask if anyone can produce a book such that whenever readers reach a certain point in it they will perform a prescribed act of devotion. All of them. All the time. We can challenge the multibillion dollar publishing empires to pool all their resources and marketing talents to produce such a book. They will fail. For only the Words of Allāh can command such devotion.
There is another important message here. We cannot approach the Qur’ān as another book, to be critically evaluated and judged and selectively accepted or rejected based on one’s understanding. This is the way an Orientalist will approach the Qur’ān. But for a Muslim these āyahs set the tone for all our interaction with it; it is one of total and loving submission.
Importance of Ṣalāh
فَخَلَفَ مِن بَعْدِهِمْ خَلْفٌ أَضَاعُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَاتَّبَعُوا الشَّهَوَاتِ ۖ فَسَوْفَ يَلْقَوْنَ غَيًّا
Then came after them the successors who neglected Ṣalāh and followed their lusts and desires. So they will soon face Destruction. (Maryam, 19:59)
This emphasis on Ṣalāh came in Makkah (in the 5th year of Prophethood) about five years before the five daily prayers were ordained. After narrating the stories of many prophets, we are told how deviations came in their followers. The prophets had shown the Straight Path. With the passage of time, their followers were overcome by lusts and turned away from this path. And the first error they committed, which finally led to this tragic result, was being negligent in ṣalāh. A famous hadith gives the same message. Ṣalāh is the pillar of dīn, the Islamic way of life. Whoever destroys it destroys his dīn. In other words one cannot build an Islamic life, an Islamic community, an Islamic institution, or an Islamic government while neglecting or weakening this pillar.
In one of his circulars Sayyidnā ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb sent instructions to all his administrators saying, “In my opinion, ṣalāh is the most important of your obligations. Whoever takes good care of it and safeguards it safeguards his religion and whoever neglects it will neglect other things even more.” He then added instructions about the times for the five ṣalāhs and admonition against dozing off before Isha.
This letter from the ruler of a vast empire to the officials of his government—shall we call it Executive Order?—gives us a lot to reflect upon. For ṣalāh is among the most emphasized