The youth had retreated to the cave in order that they may remain upon tawheed. Allah (SWT) then commands the Prophet (SAW) to imagine the following:
“And [had you been present], you would see the sun when it rose, inclining away from their cave on the right, and when it set, passing away from them on the left, while they were [laying] within an open space thereof. That was from the signs of Allah. He whom Allah guides is the [rightly] guided, but he whom He leaves astray – never will you find for him a protecting guide.” (18:17)
SubhanAllah, He (SWT) bent the rays of the sun so that they would not fall upon the people of the cave and wake them. Thus does Allah protect His Servants.
“And you would think them awake, while they were asleep. And We turned them to the right and to the left, while their dog stretched his forelegs at the entrance. If you had looked at them, you would have turned from them in flight and been filled by them with terror.” (18:18)
Here we are made to imagine a ferocious dog at the entrance of the cave, protecting the youth. We only see the paws of the dog at the entrance, with the rest of its body hidden in the shadow of the opening of the cave. The sight was so terrifying that had anybody come across the cave, they would have run away filled with terror.
“And similarly, We awakened them that they might question one another. Said a speaker from among them, “How long have you remained [here]?” They said, “We have remained a day or part of a day.” They said, “Your Lord is most knowing of how long you remained. So send one of you with this silver coin of yours to the city and let him look to which is the best of food and bring you provision from it and let him be cautious. And let no one be aware of you. Indeed, if they come to know of you, they will stone you or return you to their religion. And never would you succeed, then – ever.”” (18:19-20)
The youth, on waking, begin to argue about how long they had remained in the cave, until one said that Allah knows best, and that we need to eat! So they choose the best man for the task to bring the best of food, i.e. pure halal food, and to bring rizq, provision, that which will be consumed and not wasted. They chose someone who would not get them caught, but ultimately Allah (SWT) caused them to be found:
“And similarly, We caused them to be found that they [who found them] would know that the promise of Allah is truth and that of the Hour there is no doubt. [That was] when they disputed among themselves about their affair and [then] said, “Construct over them a structure. Their Lord is most knowing about them.” Said those who prevailed in the matter, “We will surely take [for ourselves] over them a masjid.”” (18:21)
Allah (SWT) caused the youth to be found out by the people who were (as narrated in Christian tradition debating whether the soul goes to heaven or the body and the soul) doubting the truth of Allah and His promise. The youth showed them that Allah (SWT) can indeed bring the bodies back to life after death/extended sleep, i.e. resurrection, and the people of the cave were proof of this. And Allah (SWT) then tells us how He will protect the honour of those He loves by protecting them even after they die.
“They will say there were three, the fourth of them being their dog; and they will say there were five, the sixth of them being their dog – guessing at the unseen; and they will say there were seven, and the eighth of them was their dog. Say, [O Muhammad], “My Lord is most knowing of their number. None knows them except a few. So do not argue about them except with an obvious argument and do not inquire about them among [the speculators] from anyone.”” (18:22)
Very few people know the number of people in the cave, but Allah (SWT) does not tell Muhammad (SAW) to say “My Lord is most knowing of their number. None knows it except a few.” Rather He (SWT) commands the Prophet to say “My Lord is most knowing of their number. None knows them except a few.” None knows THEM except a few… It is not important to know details such as their number, rather the lessons are to be learnt from knowing them and their trials and how they succeeded.
“And they remained in their cave for three hundred years and exceeded by nine.” (18:25)
Allah (SWT) does not tell you what you do not need to know. The Qur’an is perfect and has all the guidance and lessons we need in it. We often ask irrelevant questions and the implication here is that this offends Allah (SWT) as He has given us such a miracle, yet we ignore these lessons and focus on irrelevant and pointless details. Surah al-Kahf continues with other stories, such as those of the two gardens, and of Musa (AS) and Khidr, and of Dhul Qarnayn. This again is a test to see if we will ask irrelevant questions, as some details are left out in these accounts too, such as the name of Khidr.
A final point to note through this story is that we must not overlook the youth; they constitute the majority of the Ummah, and it is the Sunnah of Allah (SWT) to change the world through them…
May Allah bless and reward Ustaadh Nouman Ali Khan and his family and his teachers, aameen!