Quran Chapter 18 [part 1] - The Cave - A Straightforward Book, Sleepers in the Cave, Make a Choice
A Meccan sura which gets its name from the Sleepers of the Cave story (verses 9–26). This sura also deals with two other stories: Moses’ meeting with an unidentified figure (verses 60–82), and the story of Dhu ’l-Qarnayn (verses 83–99). A parable is put forward for the people of Mecca: the parable of the luscious gardens belonging to an arrogant and ungrateful man, which God reduces to dust. The sura opens and closes with references to the Quran itself.
In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy
A Straightforward Book
1 Praise be to God, who sent down the Scripture to His servant and made it unerringly straight, 2 warning of severe punishment from Him, and [giving] glad news to the believers who do good deeds––an excellent reward 3 that they will always enjoy. 4 It warns those people who assert, ‘God has offspring.’ [a] 5 They have no knowledge about this, nor did their forefathers––it is a monstrous assertion that comes out of their mouths: what they say is nothing but lies. 6 But [Prophet] are you going to worry yourself to death over them if they do not believe in this message?
7 We have adorned the earth with attractive things so that We may test people to find out which of them do best, 8 but We shall reduce all this to barren dust. 9 [Prophet], do you find the Companions in the Cave and al-Raqim [b] so wondrous, among all Our other signs? 10 When the young men sought refuge in the cave and said, ‘Our Lord, grant us Your mercy, and find us a good way out of our ordeal,’ 11 We sealed their ears [with sleep] in the cave for years. 12 Then We woke them so that We could make clear which of the two parties [c] was better able to work out how long they had been there.
The Sleepers in the Cave
13 [Prophet], We shall tell you their story as it really was. They were young men who believed in their Lord, and We gave them more and more guidance. 14 We gave strength to their hearts when they stood up and said, ‘Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and earth. We shall never call upon any god other than Him, for that would be an outrageous thing to do. 15 These people of ours have taken gods other than Him. Why do they not produce clear evidence about them? Who could be more unjust than someone who makes up lies about God? 16 Now that you have left such people, and what they worshipped instead of God, take refuge in the cave. God will shower His mercy on you and make you an easy way out of your ordeal.’
17 You could have seen the [light of the] sun as it rose, moving away to the right of their cave, and when it set, moving away to the left of them, while they lay in the wide space inside the cave. (This is one of God’s signs: those people God guides are rightly guided, but you will find no protector to lead to the right path those He leaves to stray.) 18 You would have thought they were awake, though they lay asleep. We turned them over, to the right and the left, with their dog stretching out its forelegs at the entrance. If you had seen them, you would have turned and run away, filled with fear of them.
19 In time We woke them, and they began to question one another. One of them asked, ‘How long have you been here?’ and [some] answered, ‘A day or part of a day,’ but then [others] said, ‘Your Lord knows best how long you have been here. One of you go to the city with your silver coins, find out where the best food is there, and bring some back. But be careful not to let anyone know about you: 20 if they found you out, they would stone you or force you to return to their religion, where you would never come to any good.’ 21 In this way We brought them to people’s attention so that they might know that God’s promise [of resurrection] is true and that there is no doubt about the Last Hour, [though] people argue among themselves.
[Some] said, ‘Construct a building over them: their Lord knows best about them.’ Those who prevailed said, ‘We shall build a place of worship over them.’ 22 [Some] say, ‘The sleepers were three, and their dog made four,’ others say, ‘They were five, and the dog made six’– guessing in the dark– and some say, ‘They were seven, and their dog made eight.’ Say [Prophet], ‘My Lord knows best how many they were.’ Only a few have real knowledge about them, so do not argue, but stick to what is clear, and do not ask any of these people about them; 23 do not say of anything, ‘I will do that tomorrow,’ [d] 24 without adding, ‘God willing,’ and, whenever you forget, remember your Lord and say, ‘May my Lord guide me closer to what is right.’ 25 [Some say], ‘The sleepers stayed in their cave for three hundred years,’ some added nine more. 26 Say [Prophet], ‘God knows best how long they stayed.’ His is the knowledge of all that is hidden in the heavens and earth– How well He sees! How well He hears!– and they have no one to protect them other than Him; He does not allow anyone to share His rule.
Make a Choice
27 [Prophet], follow what has been revealed to you of your Lord’s Scripture: there is no changing His words, nor can you find any refuge except with Him. 28 Content yourself with those who pray to their Lord morning and evening, seeking His approval, and do not let your eyes turn away from them out of desire for the attractions of this worldly life: [e] do not yield to those whose hearts We have made heedless of Our Quran, those who follow their own low desires, those whose ways are unbridled. 29 Say, ‘Now the truth has come from your Lord: let those who wish to believe in it do so, and let those who wish to reject it do so.’ We have prepared a Fire for the wrongdoers that will envelop them from all sides. If they call for relief, they will be relieved with water like molten metal, scalding their faces. What a terrible drink! What a painful resting place! 30 As for those who believe and do good deeds– We do not let the reward of anyone who does a good deed go to waste– 31 they will have Gardens of lasting bliss graced with flowing streams. There they will be adorned with bracelets of gold. There they will wear green garments of fine silk and brocade. There they will be comfortably seated on soft chairs. What a blessed reward! What a pleasant resting place!
A Moral Tale
32 Tell them the parable of two men: for one of them We made two gardens of grape vines, surrounded them with date palms, and put corn fields in between; 33 both gardens yielded fruit and did not fail in any way; We made a stream flow through them, 34 and so he had abundant fruit. One day, while talking to his friend, he said, ‘I have more wealth and a larger following than you.’ 35 He went into his garden and wronged himself by saying, ‘I do not think this will ever perish, 36 or that the Last Hour will ever come– even if I were to be taken back to my Lord, I would certainly find something even better there.’ 37 His companion retorted, ‘Have you no faith in Him who created you from dust, from a small drop of fluid, then shaped you into a man? 38 But, for me, He is God, my Lord, and I will never set up any partner with Him. 39 If only, when you entered your garden, you had said, “This is God’s will. There is no power not [given] by God.” Although you see I have less wealth and offspring than you, 40 my Lord may well give me something better than your garden, and send thunderbolts on your garden from the sky, so that it becomes a heap of barren dust; 41 or its water may sink so deep into the ground that you will never be able to reach it again.’ 42 And so it was: his fruit was completely destroyed, and there he was, wringing his hands over what he had invested in it, as it drooped on its trellises, and saying, ‘I wish I had not set up any partner to my Lord.’ 43 He had no forces to help him other than God– he could not even help himself. 44 In that situation, the only protection is that of God, the True God: He gives the best rewards and the best outcome.
a. Walad in classical Arabic applies to masculine and feminine, singular and plural. As this sura is Meccan, it most probably refers to Meccan claims that the angels are daughters of God.
b. Al-Raqim is variously interpreted as being the name of the mountain in which the cave was situated, the name of their dog, or an inscription bearing their names.
c. See verse 19.
d. When the Prophet was challenged by the Meccans, prompted by the Jews, to explain the story of the Sleepers, he promised to do it ‘tomorrow’, but did not receive revelation about it for some days afterwards.
e. The notables of Mecca tried to persuade the Prophet to attend to them and drive away his humble followers. See 17: 73–4, 80: 1–10.
The Qur'an (Oxford World's Classics)
The Qur'an / a new translation by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, copyright © 2004 Oxford World's Classics (Oxford University Press). Used by permission. All rights reserved.