English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran (2010)

by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Chapter 18: Al-Kahf — The Cave (Revealed at Makkah: 12 sections, 110 verses)

Section 3 (Verses 18:18–18:22): The Dwellers in the Cave


وَ تَحۡسَبُہُمۡ اَیۡقَاظًا وَّ ہُمۡ رُقُوۡدٌ ٭ۖ وَّ نُقَلِّبُہُمۡ ذَاتَ الۡیَمِیۡنِ وَ ذَاتَ الشِّمَالِ ٭ۖ وَ کَلۡبُہُمۡ بَاسِطٌ ذِرَاعَیۡہِ بِالۡوَصِیۡدِ ؕ لَوِ اطَّلَعۡتَ عَلَیۡہِمۡ لَوَلَّیۡتَ مِنۡہُمۡ فِرَارًا وَّ لَمُلِئۡتَ مِنۡہُمۡ رُعۡبًا ﴿۱۸﴾

18:18 And you might think them awake while they were asleep, and We turned them about to the right and to the left, with their dog outstretching its paws at the entrance. If you looked at them, you would turn back from them in flight, and you would be filled with awe because of them.1

وَ کَذٰلِکَ بَعَثۡنٰہُمۡ لِیَتَسَآءَلُوۡا بَیۡنَہُمۡ ؕ قَالَ قَآئِلٌ مِّنۡہُمۡ کَمۡ لَبِثۡتُمۡ ؕ قَالُوۡا لَبِثۡنَا یَوۡمًا اَوۡ بَعۡضَ یَوۡمٍ ؕ قَالُوۡا رَبُّکُمۡ اَعۡلَمُ بِمَا لَبِثۡتُمۡ ؕ فَابۡعَثُوۡۤا اَحَدَکُمۡ بِوَرِقِکُمۡ ہٰذِہٖۤ اِلَی الۡمَدِیۡنَۃِ فَلۡیَنۡظُرۡ اَیُّہَاۤ اَزۡکٰی طَعَامًا فَلۡیَاۡتِکُمۡ بِرِزۡقٍ مِّنۡہُ وَ لۡـیَؔ‍‍‍تَلَطَّفۡ وَ لَا یُشۡعِرَنَّ بِکُمۡ اَحَدًا ﴿۱۹﴾

18:19 And thus did We rouse them that they might question each other. A speaker from among them said: How long have you stayed? They said: We have stayed for a day or a part of a day. (Others) said: Your Lord knows best how long you have stayed.2 Now send one of you with this silver (coin) of yours to the city, then let him see what food is purest, and bring you provision from it, and let him behave with gentleness, and not make your case known to anyone.3

اِنَّہُمۡ اِنۡ یَّظۡہَرُوۡا عَلَیۡکُمۡ یَرۡجُمُوۡکُمۡ اَوۡ یُعِیۡدُوۡکُمۡ فِیۡ مِلَّتِہِمۡ وَ لَنۡ تُفۡلِحُوۡۤا اِذًا اَبَدًا ﴿۲۰﴾

18:20 For if they prevail against you, they would stone you to death or force you back to their religion, and then you would never succeed.

وَ کَذٰلِکَ اَعۡثَرۡنَا عَلَیۡہِمۡ لِیَعۡلَمُوۡۤا اَنَّ وَعۡدَ اللّٰہِ حَقٌّ وَّ اَنَّ السَّاعَۃَ لَا رَیۡبَ فِیۡہَا ۚ٭ اِذۡ یَتَنَازَعُوۡنَ بَیۡنَہُمۡ اَمۡرَہُمۡ فَقَالُوا ابۡنُوۡا عَلَیۡہِمۡ بُنۡیَانًا ؕ رَبُّہُمۡ اَعۡلَمُ بِہِمۡ ؕ قَالَ الَّذِیۡنَ غَلَبُوۡا عَلٰۤی اَمۡرِہِمۡ لَنَتَّخِذَنَّ عَلَیۡہِمۡ مَّسۡجِدًا ﴿۲۱﴾

18:21 And thus did We make (people) to get knowledge of them,4 that they might know that Allah’s promise is true and that the Hour — there is no doubt about it.5 When they disputed among themselves about their affair and said: Erect an edifice over them.6 Their Lord knows best about them. Those who prevailed in their affair said: We shall certainly build a place of worship over them.7

سَیَقُوۡلُوۡنَ ثَلٰثَۃٌ رَّابِعُہُمۡ کَلۡبُہُمۡ ۚ وَ یَقُوۡلُوۡنَ خَمۡسَۃٌ سَادِسُہُمۡ کَلۡبُہُمۡ رَجۡمًۢا بِالۡغَیۡبِ ۚ وَ یَقُوۡلُوۡنَ سَبۡعَۃٌ وَّ ثَامِنُہُمۡ کَلۡبُہُمۡ ؕ قُلۡ رَّبِّیۡۤ اَعۡلَمُ بِعِدَّتِہِمۡ مَّا یَعۡلَمُہُمۡ اِلَّا قَلِیۡلٌ ۬۟ فَلَا تُمَارِ فِیۡہِمۡ اِلَّا مِرَآءً ظَاہِرًا ۪ وَّ لَا تَسۡتَفۡتِ فِیۡہِمۡ مِّنۡہُمۡ اَحَدًا ﴿٪۲۲﴾

18:22 (Some) say: (They were) three, the fourth of them their dog; and (others) say: Five, the sixth of them their dog, making conjectures about the unseen. And (others) say: Seven, and the eighth of them their dog. Say: My Lord best knows their number — none knows them but a few. So do not contend in their matter but with a clear argument, and do not question any of them concerning them.8


  1. What is related in this section is clearly applicable to the story of the seven sleepers, as also to the later history of Christianity. In the first case, the meaning is that the youths, who fled for fear of persecution and betook them­selves to a cave, slept for some time with a dog at the door of the cave. The whole scene was rather awe-inspiring: a dark cave, in some distant and uninhabi­ted part of the country, with some men sleeping in it and a dog at the door. Applied to the history of Christianity the statement is equally true. In this case it should be borne in mind that ruqūd (“asleep”) also means inactive or stagnant. Similarly aiqāẓ (“awake”) means vigilant or wary. The turning about to the right and to the left, which signifies an uneasy condition while sleeping, may be used as expressing the activities of a man or a nation. Thus there may be a reference here to the lethargy in which the Christian nations remained for a long time, and to their subsequent going about in the world in all directions. It may also be noted that Europeans are generally fond of dogs.
  2. This may refer either to the time for which the youths slept or to the centuries of inactivity of the Christian nations. A day of a thousand years is spoken of in the Quran (see 22:47, etc.), and therefore the word day, applied to the history of a nation, may signify a thousand years.
  3. After having been refreshed with sleep, which might have been brought on by the fatigue of the journey, they thought of procuring food for them­selves in that solitary cave and sent one of them to the city, and impressed on him that he should be gentle and should not give an inkling of their whereabouts to anyone. In reference to the history of Christianity, this speaks of the commer­cial activities of the Christian nations (i.e. in Asia and Africa, by means of which their rule was established. The words “and not make your case known to anyone” apply to their hidden intentions of gaining rule under the pretext of trade. — Editor)
  4. It was their going out to purchase food that brought them to the know­ledge of the outside world. It is not stated how long they continued in this state. Comparing this with v. 11, however, we may say that they passed several years in this condition.
  5. The result of their becoming known is described in words which show that they were put to death, because the promise of Allah as to a future state of life is fully realized only after death.
  6. These words show that their death was brought about by closing the mouth of the cave. This is what is meant by the erection of an edifice over them. The words may also signify the erection of a monument.
  7. The people spoken of here are those who prevailed in their affair. This is a later incident, when Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire, and the reference here seems to be to the saint-worship which was prevalent in Christianity.
  8. This verse and v. 25 show that these are only conjectures of the people with regard to them. Their number and the number of years during which they remained in the cave are both matters which are said to be only known to Allah. Ibn Abbas is, however, of the opinion that the words condemning the first two as conjectures show that the last-mentioned number, i.e., seven, is correct. (Editor’s Note: In his Urdu commentary, Maulana Muhammad Ali has applied this number to the number of Western powers, whose number varies depending on whether they are counted individually or in groups according to their treaty alliances.) According to Ibn Jarir’s commentary the people referred to in the concluding words, any of them, are the people of the Book, or the Christians. It is clear from this that it is really the history of Christianity that is dealt with in the story of the Companions of the Cave. V. 25, which again speaks of the same people who are spoken of here, makes it clear that it is the history of Christianity that is really aimed at.