Asalaamu alaykum, and thank you for the question.
- The king and his disciples might have scoffed at how these youths ‘ran away’. Yet, we should ponder, who got ‘the last laugh’? When these youths awoke, they hadn’t even aged. Their faith and selves were intact. Yet, their enemies — the king and their townspeople, — were long dead and gone.
- Muslim youth today, should also opt for long-term success in religion, over temporary worldly gains.
- The earth is vast for the believer. We focus much on community acceptance, social prestige, wealth, and our status among the people. We pigeon-hole ourselves into the limited lifestyle that society tells us to adopt.
- Yet, the Quran teaches us the opposite. That even a cave can serve as a sanctuary for the believer who has the courage to take a stand for the sake of Allah.
The story of the seven sleepers, or the “companions of the cave”, is narrated in the 18th chapter of the Quran (Surah Al-Kahf). This story has great lessons for everyone, especially young Muslims. It was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as the response to a test by the Quraish in Madinah. The latter sent a message to the Jewish rabbis, to ask Prophet Muhammad about these youths, among other things.
Background: privileged young men, united in faith
According to Tafsir ibn Kathir, these seven sleepers were the young sons of rich noblemen in the city of Byzentium. This was ruled by an arrogant king, Decianus. The city’s mainstream religion was the worship of idols. A periodic festival was held in which the locals engaged in several acts of idol-worship. These young men were granted pure faith in the oneness of Allah. As a result, they began to withdraw from their people, and shun their gatherings.
They met under a tree, absolute strangers at first. Drawn together through monotheism, they confessed their faith before each other. The king was informed, when the people saw them worshipping Allah together. They proclaimed the oneness of Allah before him, but he rejected their message. Expectedly, they were banished from their community. The king gave them a deadline to turn back to their former religion, or face persecution.
Consequently, they fled from their town and its people, in order to save their faith and lives. Allah protected them, so that when the king ordered a search for them, not a single trace was found.
Miracles as rewards and protection
The Quran mentions the many ways that Allah rewarded these young men. Miracles of sorts happened to them, as reward for their steadfastness and patience.
It is not easy at all to do what these brave youths had done. At their age, taking a stand before authority figures is unimaginable. They did not just remain steadfast upon true faith once it blossomed in their hearts. They also proclaimed this faith before a tyrannical king.
Allah granted them refuge in a cave in the wilderness. Further, He made some miraculous things happen, which protected them. A sleep overcame them, which lasted not decades, but centuries. This would ensure that all their enemies expired when they awoke.
The effect of sunlight and shade was such that natural elements did not harm them. Allah made them turn over regularly. Their eyes remained open while sleeping. Allah gave them an appearance that scared away anyone who happened upon their cave. And a dog guarded its entrance for them throughout.
“..That was from the signs of Allah..” [Quran 18:17]
On awaking, they thought that they had slept just one day, or a part of it. This makes it clear that they had not aged at all in the centuries that they were asleep. They were still young men, and upon true faith.
Their archenemies, however, along with their idols, wealth, and ethos, had died long, long ago.
5 Hidden Gems in Surah Al-Kahf for Muslim Youth
There is immense benefit in the story of the seven sleepers, for anyone who reflects.
“When the youths retreated to the cave and said, “Our Lord, grant us from Yourself mercy and prepare for us from our affair right guidance.” [Quran 18:10]
Youth is a time of life that is fleeting. Few young people have the strength to face opposition, marginalization, and persecution from peers. Let alone from their families, society elders, wider communities and political leaders. Young people often do not possess the clout or economic power to ward off serious harm to their life.
Keeping this in mind, it is amazing how strong these seven young men were, in faith. Further, Allah granted them steadfastness and patience in the face of severe adversity. They gave up their families, homes, wealth, and prosperous futures, all for the sake of Allah. These are just some lessons that today’s Muslim youth can glean from their inspiring example:
- Strong faith can cause seismic social change and paradigm shift. This happens on a social, communal and political level. However, the change happens over time. So, we should never underestimate the power of true, sincere faith in Allah.
- Allah tests those whom He loves. When someone believes in Allah, Allah tests him or her in their family, wealth, and status. At times, a young person temporarily loses these blessings when they proclaim their faith. Yet, if he or she passes the test, these blessings return to their lives, in better form.
- When a sincere believer passes the tests that Allah puts them through, the rewards are other-worldly. Miracles of sorts can happen to such believers. Especially when it comes to being protected from the harm that people intend to inflict. Divine protection that borders on the miraculous, is a special gift that Allah reserves for His special slaves.
- Fleeing from a place or people, to ward off serious harm to one’s faith, is prescribed in Islam. Only time tells who is truly victorious. Many tyrants gloat and rejoice when they kill someone off unjustly. Yet, Allah’s punishment descends upon them slowly, but surely. At first, it might have seemed as if the disbelieving king had ‘won’, and the seven youths ‘lost’. This was when they ran away and retreated to their cave. The king and his disciples might have scoffed at how these youths ‘ran away’. Yet, we should ponder, who got ‘the last laugh’? When these youths awoke, they hadn’t even aged. Their faith and selves were intact. Yet, their enemies — the king and their townspeople, — were long dead and gone. Muslim youth today, should also opt for long-term success in religion, over temporary worldly gains.
- The earth is vast for the believer. We focus much on community acceptance, social prestige, wealth, and our status among the people. We pigeon-hole ourselves into the limited lifestyle that society tells us to adopt. Yet, the Quran teaches us the opposite. That even a cave can serve as a sanctuary for the believer who has the courage to take a stand for the sake of Allah.
And Allah knows best.
I hope that this answers your question.
Salam. Please stay in touch.
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