Tafsir of Surat Al-Kahf

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Insha’Allah we start the tafsir (exegesis) of Surat al-Kahf (the Chapter of the Cave). This is the eighteenth chapter of the Qur’an. Surat al-Kahf takes its name from the ninth verse of this chapter (18:9).

The goal is to understand Surah Al Kahf, a surah that most of us read every Friday. I’m sure that we’ve read it so many times that we’ve started to actually memorize it. This is a great blessing of Allah who sent the Qur’an and promised to protect the Qur’an.

Tafsir itself began at the time of the Prophet . There are some important tools that we should have when we talk about the Qur’an. The word ‘tafsir’ comes from a word which means “to be clear, to be apparent,” so Tafsir al-Qur’an means “Explanation of the Qur’an.” The goal of this tafsir is not to make things simple.

As Imam Sirti , who died 911 years after Hijri, mentions in his book, that the tafsir al-Qur’an is the tool needed for someone to be able to gain a scholarly connection with the Qur’an and understand its meanings, its application and context, and also to derive rulings.

For us here in America, especially those of us working 9 to 5, struggling to pay $4.50 at the gas pump, what we need from tafsir al-Qur’an is basic application: how to practice the religion correctly, how to preserve the religion amongst our family and how to do something good in the society-that is what we need.

How do we develop an intimacy with the Qur’an that will empower us to transcend our own weaknesses and articulate our religious expression within the confines of Northern California? If we can do that, alhamdullillah!

Those of us who study overseas, we have the tendency sometimes to come back and say things that nobody understands except us. That is a disaster! There is a separation between the scholars and the students of knowledge, and the masses of the people. A woman once came to me once in this community and told me, “I have decided to take Joel Austin as my imam.”

Are you aware who Joel Austin is? Audience: “Yes! He is a Christian TV preacher.”

He’s a very charismatic speaker. So I asked her how come you have decided to take him as your imam? She answered: ” I have visited many mosques in America, and I have come to the conclusion that you don’t know what you are talking about. None of these people know what they are talking about! I went through divorce, I lost my kids, I have this and that problem, and when I went to the mosque to find some type of basic support system, what I found was doom and gloom.”

We want to empower ourselves by getting close to the Qur’an-our source of guidance-to get close to Allah . We want to develop a personal relationship with Allah !

One of the dangers of the discourse that has permeated America within the last ten years is that in order to develop a basic understanding of the Qur’an, you have to study in Al Azhar and get a PhD, or climb some mountain in the Alps and sit with Yoda…

But as Imam al-Rasi and Imam al-Tabarini mention, the verses of the Qur’an are divided into three. One of those are the verses that everybody can understand! Everybody can pick up the Qur’an and read, 

“Qul hu allahu ahad"
(Say: ‘He is Allah, [who is] One’)” (112:1) and understand it,
or “Aqeemoo assalaat" – establish prayer!

We have to be careful in an age of post-modernity, where people are looking for some type of spiritual anchor, that we don’t distance them from their own book, that Allah sent!

You and me need to be able to “plug into the Qur’an,” man! As a brother who goes to work every day-how can the Qur’an become relevant to you at Cisco? How can the Qur’an be relevant to a young professional? How can the Qur’an be relevant to you if you’re single and about to die? How can it be relevant to you as a mother or as a father?

We need relevancy when it comes to our religion!

And we’re lacking that. Even in the Middle East, the masses of the Muslims are totally separated from the scholarly class. I’ve been in discussions where people were discussing the sharing of slave women. Can a slave woman be shared by two men? What kind of relevancy does this have for 30 million people in Cairo?

While hunger, malnutrition, absence of literacy and basic organizational skills-a humanitarian crisis-is facing these massive urban centers, we are worried about a slave woman being shared by two owners. La hawla wa la quwwata illah billah (there is no power or strength except through Allah)!

Insha’Allah, this tafsir will give us some relevancy in our lives. We ask Allah to make the Qur’an relevant and applicable to us-ameen. At the same time we have to rely on scholars for anything that we do not understand. We should ask the people who know insha’Allah.

Tafsir started in the time of the Prophet ; scholars have developed a simple methodology when it comes to tafsir:

  1. The Qur’an explains itself.
  2. The Prophet explains the Qur’an with the Sunnah.
  3. Then comes the tafsir of the Sahaba and their students, who came after them, like Mujaheeb . Ibn Abbas read the Qur’an numerous times and made tafsir of each verse, but unfortunately his tafsir was lost.
  4. Then comes the centers in the Muslim world of tafsir in Madinah, in Mecca.
  5. After that, the tafsir of the `Ulema’ (scholars), Saliheen, Mutt al-Arba and other scholars are looked at.
  6. And then, the tafsir of the language is examined. What does the Arabic language say about this verse?
  7. After that is the tafsir of opinion with some conditions. I don’t have time to mention all of them, but the `Ulama’ mentioned about 13-15 conditions for somebody that makes the tafsir of Qur’an by his opinion.

Don’t be shy if you don’t understand something from the Qur’an. Sometimes Umar would not understand a verse of the Qur’an. Even he said to the Companions, “What does this verse mean?” This is Umar, none of us were like Umar. Even those of us who speak Arabic, our Arabic is not even like one drop of the Arabic of Umar!

So don’t feel distanced. Those of you who are born of Arab families and the only thing you speak is `amiyya (vernacular Arabic), don’t allow yourself to feel down about this. The Arabic language hasn’t been spoken correctly for more than a thousand years.

Don’t allow these complexes to weaken your ability to relate to the Qur’an. It’s very important that you feel empowered when it comes to the Qur’an. The Qur’an gives you that boost!

That takes us to the 18th chapter of the Qur’an, masha’ Allah what a chapter! It is a very beautiful chapter. I read Surat al-Kahf before I became Muslim and after I became Muslim; really those were some very fond memories of this surah. Even though I didn’t understand any Arabic in those days, I was just mesmerized by the beauty and power of this chapter.

The Prophet said in another authentic hadith that the best of you are those who read and who learn and teach the Qur’an; so we ask Allah in this gathering to make us from those to study the Qur’an and learn the Qur’an, ameen. That doesn’t mean just the memorization of the Qur’an, it is also the struggle to understand the Qur’an itself. The most difficult thing is not to memorize the Qur’an – the most difficult thing is to understand the book of Allah .

The Prophet said in a hadith that the people of the Qur’an are the people of Allah .

This chapter gets its name from the ninth verse of Surat al Kahf. This chapter is one of five chapters which start with “Al hamd (the praise).” Who can name another?

Audience: “Surat al-Fatiha, Surat al-An`am, Surat al-Kahf.”

Suhaib: “Subhaan Allah! Masha’ Allah, I didn’t think anyone was gonna saying that! Anything else? Surat al Fatir and what else? …Saba.

This chapter contains three of the most amazing stories of the Qur’an. There is wisdom behind stories. Imam Abu Hanifa (ra) said that the stories of the righteous people are more beloved to him than fiqh (jurisprudence). Why do you think that is? Why do you think that Abu Hanifa likes to read the stories of the righteous people?”

Audience: “Inspiration.”

Suhaib: “Inspiration! Stories are very inspirational! I remember a couple of years ago in the US this book Chicken Soup for the Soul, which is a collection of motivational stories, was number one in the book shops. What else?”

Audience: “These stories represent real life.”

Suhaib: “Good point! How can stories represent real life? How many of us have read a story in the Qur’an and then were able to correlate that to something that happened to you in your daily life? Have reflected on it and thought this is what Ibrahim did, this is what Musa did, this is what al Sabr al-Kahf did? Anyone have anything else?”

Audience: “Simplicity.”

Suhaib: “Simplicity! How many rulings-there was a discussion amongst the fuqahaa (legal scholars)-are from verses that come from stories in the Qur’an?”

Also if you read about something bad that someone did in the Qur’an that you do yourself, it is easier to swallow the medicine, right?

It is easier than listening to someone who comes to you and says, “You did this and you did that.” We should think about this sometime when dealing with our kids, when we are waiting for them in the front room to come home. Maybe there is a wiser way to guide our children. How to correct each other-we find this in those stories!

Sometimes you may read something that you have a problem with but since it’s not hitting you right in the face-it’s more like a soft jab-it’s easier to correct yourself and accept your mistakes.

So two things come out of stories. One is the wisdom behind stories. For example, if you listen to rap music like I used to, when something happened I would have this song playing in my head! I used to play basketball with this guy named Mark Baker, he did something to me, and I remembered I heard this song going “Smash him, slap him, throw him, kill him.” I couldn’t kill him so I had to stop at just throwing him.

Those songs become like the Qur’an and shaytan (devil), right? They start to guide the mind and that becomes the base of our constructs. Same with a TV show. Sometimes when you watch a movie, you feel like you are the person you’ve been watching! You have to put yourself in check, you know, check yourself before you wreck yourself, because you might start acting like those people!

So by having a relationship with stories in the Qur’an we build a “bayt” – a house – to refer to. We can act differently, so when we get married and have kids we live following a noble example! Not like Ice-Cube or J-Lo and that kind of stuff, but al-sabur al-kahf!

The goals of this chapter that are reinforced by the stories are three:

1. Struggling toward Allah . Somebody asked me one day, how did you memorize the Qur’an? I said, “I gave up television, man.” “What do you mean you gave up television?” I said “Akhi, I couldn’t keep watching television three hours a day and memorize the Qur’an, this is just not gonna happen.” We have to take steps to Allah , we have to make sacrifices, we have to work! And in the story of the people of the Kahf, we find great sacrifices. Peer pressure, leaving their friends, going against the grain, trusting in Allah and being strong!

As one young Muslim brother told me in Egypt a month ago-he is about 23, going on to med school this year: “Brother Suhaib, you have to realize, amongst young people, man, being Muslim is just not cool!”

“What do you mean being Muslim is not cool? When I was young, becoming a Muslim was cool.”

He said: “No, it’s not cool anymore!”

Society does not reinforce positive Islamic behavior. So, going against the grain, developing your own rhetoric, being strong and clinging to Allah is a very important message to take.

2. Having humility and seeking knowledge. This is from the story of Musa ! He believed in the unseen and had faith in the promise of Allah.

3. Justice and thankfulness. This comes from the last story, the story of Ruh.

So those are the three important points of the surah that are reinforced by these stories.

The context of the chapter itself has three points. Number one, truth is not related to anything but sound faith. It does not matter how much you have or how powerful you are. If you’re powerful, but you don’t have a relationship with Allah , you are weak. And if you’re seen as weak by the people but you have a strong relationship with Allah , this is powerful.

Number two, we should believe in Allah over oneself, trust in Allah no matter how successful we become in life, no matter how awesome we think we are; we have to realize that everything is due to Allah’s unlimited blessings upon us. We have to be humble in front of Allah .

Lastly, humility versus arrogance. That’s why Abu Hassan an-Nadwi, a great scholar from India, in his tafsir of Surat al-Kahf, basically said that it is the bible of iman versus materialism. He said that this theme appears throughout this chapter over and over again. People who are in a position of power go against people who might be weak; people who might be very weak but have a lot of humility and shukr (thankfulness) to Allah and Allah subhaana wa ta’ala blesses them!

Source: SuhaibWebb – Lecture by Suhaib Webb, transcribed by Sabirah Reinke

In Sahih al Bukhari, Saad ibn Abi Waqas mentions a story about a bone. He was using the restroom and urinated onto a camel’s bone. He took that bone, washed it, took it home, and made soup out of it – all because of the difficult situation that they were in.

I want you to try to visualize things. When Umar radi allahu `anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) became Muslim, there were only 41 other men and 11 women who were Muslim.

When the Prophet migrated to Medina, there were about 65 muslims. So being a Muslim in Mecca wasn’t like shopping at Old Navy. It wasn’t popular, man! (I don’t know if Old Navy is even popular any more.)

It wasn’t popular and it was very difficult for them, but Allah (exalted is He) strengthened them with the Qur’an.

There were two important things that happened in Mecca. Number one is their creed, their tawheed (belief in the Oneness of Allah ); their relationship with Allah was made pure and strong. Number two was their behavior, the way Allah trained them. The people that came out of Mecca were really remarkable and excellent examples.

As Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi said, if the companions of the Prophet were his only miracle, the transformation of his companions would be enough to prove that he was a prophet.

The people of the Quraysh sent two people to Medina to ask the Jews of Medina about Muhammad . When the people got there and met them, they described the Prophet and what he was calling to. The Jews said, ask Muhammad about three things; nobody knows about these things – they are only known to Allah . If he can answer you regarding these three issues, he is a prophet.

1. Ask him about the youth, ashab al-kahf (the people of the cave).

2. Ask him about this king who ruled a large portion of the world who was just and honest and so on.

3. Ask him about the ruh (spirit).

They went back to the Quraysh and told them: "These are the questions they told us to ask him. If he can answer these questions then he is a prophet." The Quraysh asked the Prophet and he said, "Come to me tomorrow and I will answer your questions."

The next day they came but the Prophet didn’t have an answer. The following day, they came, the Prophet didn’t have an answer. For around fourteen days, there was no answer, and the Prophet started getting upset and saddened because they started to say that the Prophet was breaking his promises.

Then Allah sent Jibril to reveal Surat al Kahf (Qur’an, 18). That’s why in Surat al Kahf Allah says:

"And never say of anything,
‘Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,’ except [when adding],
‘If Allah wills.’" (Qur’an 18:23-24)

So we learn adab (manners), reliance on Allah , and trust in Allah .

Verse number one has 8 points. Allah says:

"[All] praise is [due] to Allah,
who has sent down upon His Servant the Book
and has not made therein any deviance." (Qur’an 18:1)

This hamd (thankfulness) found in Surat al Kahf is not the same as the hamd in Surat al Fatiha (Qur’an 1). One is called jumlah insha’iya, the other is called jumlah khabariya.

Jumlah khabariya is a declarative sentence, so the sentence in Surat al Kahf is declarative in nature. Allah is informing you of something! The meaning of al hamd in Surat al Kahf is different. Allah is telling you "Look! I’m the one who deserves all praise, for a reason." So it’s different now. He’s informing you, that’s called khabr.

Whereas in Surat al Fatiha, the hamd is insha’iya, or imperative. According to the scholars it means that Allah is ordering you to say alhamdullillah (all priase is to Allah). "If you want to thank me, if you want to praise me, say alhamdulillah." This is the meaning in Surat Al Fatiha.

The first sentence in Al Fatiha is like an order: if you want to praise me, Allah is saying, if you want to magnify me, say alhamdullillah. In Surat al Kahf, this verse is not an order by Allah to say alhamdullillah. It is a declarative sentence, this means he is informing you, that he is the one who has the sole right to be praised, and for a reason!

What do you think that reason is?

All praise is due to Allah or what? Who sent the Qur’an? Can you imagine if you had no Qur’an?

Can you imagine if there was no subhanAllah (glory be to Allah) in your life, can you imagine if there was no salah (prayer)?

I go through that; believe me, we are all the same, brothers!

We are all the same, brothers, there is no difference; we are all in the same boat. Even in Al-Azhar! When I’m studying sometimes, I think, man, I’ve gotta pray but I really enjoy this book of tafsir (translation and interpretation of the Qur’an)! See how Shaytan (Satan) works? It’s the same game just a different means!

So all of us struggle, we struggle and sometimes salah feels heavy. Worship Allah , and we might feel some heaviness. That’s all part of our struggle.

One of the ways to combat that is to imagine life without salah. Imagine life without any connection to Allah . Life without the feeling in your heart that you get when you pray fajr (the pre-dawn prayer) in the masjid, or the feeling that you get when you give sadaqah (charity) or the feeling that you get when you do well in school or at work for the sake of Allah .

Then we can value the worship and the wonderful relationship that Allah has blessed us with.

Ibn al Qayyim said the charity that Allah gave us Muslims, nobody can fathom this charity! Such benevolence from Allah !

Allah said:

"Has there [not] come upon man a period of time
when he was not a thing [even] mentioned?
Indeed, We created man from a sperm-drop mixture
that We may try him; and We made him hearing and seeing." (Qur’an, 76:1-2)

You weren’t even known and Allah brought you out of the wombs of your mothers, created you, formed you and gave you sight and hearing!

Today in my hotel room, there was a strange channel. The only thing they do is show people killing others and catching people who kill others. Really, who would watch this hour after hour from 3 to 5? It was all about the secrets of serial killers! Who would watch that? I don’t want to know how serial killers live their life!

I want to know how Ibn al Qayyim lived his life, how Ibn Tamiyyah lived his life, and I want to know how the Prophet lived his life!

Then from 5 to 8:30, it was about the history of the Bloods and the Crips. So what’s next? We have to be very careful what we are putting into our minds. And Allah gave us this Qur’an and our worship as our Norton Antivirus. We use it to clean us out; this is our dialysis!

So Allah blessed us, and I can tell you, you don’t know how lucky you are to be born Muslim, wallahi (by God)!

You don’t know how thankful you should really feel. Even though you might be young and you’re in high school and you don’t mind being called a Muslim, having to fast for 30 days, and wearing baggy clothes. Clear all that up and think about what it would be like not to have Islam. Then you can really taste how lucky you are!

In Egypt, I lived with people in poverty, but they don’t kill each other. They still invite you for tea and coffee! That faith causes people to transcend the difficulties that they live in and still be decent people. Here, if one economic crisis hits, it has a devastating impact on the people!

Allah says alhamd (praise) be to the one who sent the Qur’an! How much of a blessing it is to have the Qur’an and Islam. Alhamdulliah rabb alameen (all praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds)!

Source: SuhaibWebb – Lecture by Suhaib Webb, transcribed by Sabirah Reinke

Praising Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) is one of the easiest things to do; say “Alhamdullillah! (All praise is due to Allah.)”

When I landed in the States a week ago, after I was given the one-hour royal interception – alhamdullillah, I was in New Jersey-I found out that while I was in England they cancelled all my debit cards. So I needed $120 and nothing worked. I kept calling and calling, trying to find out how I could get my cards back.

Then they said-brothers don’t do this-your wife has sole control of the account and you have to call Malaysia to get the information to turn your cards back on.

I have no credit card, how can I call Malaysia? Well, tough luck kid!

So I’m in north New Jersey-I’m from the hood but New Jersey is the hood squared!

I keep checking my account, did someone steal something from my account? I’m worried someone stole a credit card in Malaysia! What happened?

I started thinking about my account. My concern is my account. Then I started thinking: do I think about my account with Allah ?

Wa’inallahi told Umar (may Allah be pleased with him): We are going back to Allah , but do we thank Him on a daily basis? One day we are going back to Allah! Did you prepare? What have you prepared?

And Shaytan will come to you like he used to come to me when I was 16, 17 … 78, 89, saying, “Take some more time!” You got none, man! When you are 79 you need to get on that train, brother!

So let’s ask ourselves here. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Alhamdulillah tamla’ulmiizaan.” The Prophet said in a sound hadith (record of his words or actions) that saying alhamdullillah is a way to face your scares!

On your way to school, say alhamdullillah; when walking into class, say alhamdullillah. Allah will put noor (light) around you insha’Allah, God willing. You will have barakah (mercy) in your life!

On your way to work, instead of listening to Mike Savage: Alhamdullillah! Listen to the news, find out what’s going on. Listen to the financial analysis, what happened? Ok, but before or after that, alhamdullillah!

Just a few times-it’s not hard! When you deal with the religion, you are overcome with complexes. If you are a sinner, the last place you should come to is the masjid (mosque). So that’s why Muslims are going to Joel Osteen or running to Dr Phil; because they don’t feel that there is anything uplifting in their community. This is a disaster!

I’m telling you right now, I’ve been hard on some of the young brothers and sisters. I have to be honest with you. Forgive me. But I’m going to let you know, I’ve got your back, if you need help, and I’m not going to call your mum or your dad right in the khutbah (sermon). But we need to help you out! Even our older brothers and sisters, we have to create that vibe in the community!

You are not separated from the community because you are a sinner. I’m a sinner, you are a sinner, we are all sinners! Everybody is making mistakes!

But when it comes to our communities we are indicters, we are indicting folks! That woman that told me that she went to Joel Osteen, she said that in our community if I go, I’m going to get indicted. People will be happy in my mistakes. They talk about me! They get mad at me for this and that. I say subhan’Allah, glory be to God. We have to change that vibe. Young people are not going to come around here if they feel all I am going to do is accuse them of bad things.

They are going to make mistakes, they are young, and in high school, everybody looks like Beyonce! No cheapskate, man. It’s not easy being young in high school nowadays, so we should make dua`a’ (supplication) for our young brothers and sisters.

And we should ask Allah to help us to be better parents.

Imam Ibn Ashir says: the revelation of the Qur’an represents the greatest blessing of Allah to His servants since it is the cause for success for them in this life and their felicity in the next.

It was a blessing also to the Prophet because it made him the means by which the Qur’an was conveyed, spreading its message and clarifying it for others. For this, he says, Allah is worthy of all praise!

Number three, we take from this verse the honor of being a slave of Allah . Allah said:

[All] praise is [due] to Allah, who has sent down upon His Servant the Book,
and has not made therein any deviance. (Qur’an 18:1)

He didn’t say to Muhammad , He didn’t say to His Messenger, He didn’t say to His Prophet. He said to His servant. Subhan’Allah. For when Allah wants to make tashreef, honoring the Prophet , you will find that He refers to him as His servant.

In Paradise, Allah will still calls the people who enter His servants. “Ya ibad – oh my servants.”

It is a great honor to try and struggle to be the servant of Allah . Allah says al kitab, the book-and this alif and lam, which is the definite article in the Arabic language means it’s complete: Al Kitab!

This is THE book, man. There is nothing like this book. And then Allah says, what’s roughly translated as: “and He did not make in it any crookedness.”

In the Arabic language there is something going on which really has to move your kufi and that is that Allah says Al Kitab-The Book! And He describes the book by saying Al Kitab meaning in the Arabic language that this is the perfect book, there is nothing like this book! It has no deficiencies, no mistakes:. Why did he say that? He already said Al Kitab, it is the perfect book.

If I said, “That’s The Man!” For example if we are playing basketball, me and the young homies right there and I’m dunkin’ on all of them, and after I dunk on them and Jewie throws to me and Ali opened and I catch it and pow! on Shaykh Mohammed’s son, right? After that if they said: “That’s The Man!” In slang, “That’s The Man” carries the same meaning like perfect or masha Allah (what God wills).

But if they said, “That’s the man, he got mad hops.” That means he can jump really high, in English, he can violate the principles of basic physics. Thats what it means with “he got hops”, ok?

“That’s the man, he got hops” emphasizes how I slammed it on Shaykh Mohammad’s son, giving you the picture!

Also, , “This is the perfect book and there is no crookedness in it" – Allah didn’t make any crookedness in it! This is called the tawqeed, the sentence is used to emphasize that this book has no issues! Got it?

There is something going on. The Qur’an is building on the power of the narrative, as if I said to you, “Suhaib, he’s tall, he’s blonde, he’s handsome, he’s strong!” So I’m building as if Allah is saying, “This is The Book, there is no doubt in it! Guidance for those who fear Allah !"

Do you get the feeling now for the language?

Here it’s also a bit different as it is broken into two: The Book, AND He did not make any crookedness in it. He made a conjunction here to show you that this book is perfect!

You’ve got it? This is the beauty of it, subhaanAllah, the Qur’an.

I knew a shaykh (scholar) who read Surat al Infitar (82) and he fainted! He read a chapter about the Day of Judgment and he fainted! The power and the beauty of this book! We are still teaching Arabic grammar, right? Because that’s going to get you closer to understanding the Qur’an!

Tayyib (okay)! That was the fifth point! The sixth- اًجَوِع – what does it mean? It means crookedness, the absence of being straight.

Source: SuhaibWebb – Lecture by Suhaib Webb, transcribed by Sabirah Reinke


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  1. That’s why Abu Hassan an-Nadwi, a great scholar from India, in his tafsir of Surat al-Kahf, basically said that it is the bible of iman versus materialism.