We must remember that the Qur’an does not just narrate stories in quite a random manner; they rather form an integral structure and serve a specific meaning. For example, while narrating the story of Prophet Musa (AS) in Al Kahf, there is no mention of the Pharaoh or the miracle of the stick because the meaning intended in this case is different from that found in either of those stories. What is then the thread which ties the four stories of Al Kahf together?
The four basic trials and temptations in life are faith, wealth, knowledge and power. Good and bad use of each will have ramifications. All these trials are narrated in the same sequence in four amazing stories of Al Kahf. The connection is mindboggling. The thread that ties the four stories together in Surah Al-Kahf can only be a divine arrangement. Half-way in the Surah, between the first two stories and the two remaining, we are told that the stimulus of temptation is the enemy of Allah Karim, namely, Iblis (Satan). Allah Karim says what can be translated as, “Will you then take him (Iblîs) and his offspring as protectors and helpers rather than Me while they are enemies to you? What an evil is the exchange for the Zâlimûn (polytheists, and wrong-doers) (18:50). Who, in their right mind, would take Allah’s enemy as their master and defender?
We briefly touch upon major trials and temptations in human life discussed in stories of Al Kahf:
The trial of religion: Faith in oneness of Allah is the foundation stone of religion. Every step of the way our faith is tested. Every transaction we make has to fit the criterion of religion. In story of men of cave, it was about people’s evil acts towards young believers in the form of harm, torture or threats which may cause loss of faith, deviation from religion or fear. This was the trial the people of the cave experienced and passed.
The trial of wealth: This was the trial of the man with the two gardens, who was so proud of his wealth that he considered the hereafter not to be true. Allah Karim says what can be translated as, “And I think not the Hour will ever come, and if indeed I am brought back to my Lord, (on the Day of Resurrection), I surely shall find better than this when I return to Him (18:36). Wealth is a serious distractor, hence a serious test. People develop this false sense of wellbeing that if they got the best of this world, they will definitely get the best of the next. It does not happen like that. The man of two gardens was apparently a Muslim, who had been blessed with wealth and sons, but he failed the trial and paid the price.
The trial of knowledge: The case of a man who boasts of the knowledge he possesses to the extent that he feels arrogant and hence forgets about modesty. Such a man may learn things of no benefit to him or to his community. Or else he may misuse the knowledge he was granted in a way that may harm him or the society in which he lives. The trial of knowledge is illustrated in the story of Prophet Musa (AS) and Al-Khidr. Prophet Musa (AS) thought that no one on earth was more knowledgeable than him. However, once he realized that this was untrue, he traveled a long distance to meet the more knowing man and to learn from him in a truly respectful and modest relation of a pupil to his teacher. Allah Karim says what can be translated as, “Musa said to him (Khidr): “May I follow you so that you teach me something of that knowledge (guidance and true path) which you have been taught (by Allah)? (18:66). In order to leave us with a strong message, Allah failed his revered Prophet like Musa AS in this test.
The trial of power: Al Zulqarnain is presented as a just king who attributed his wealth and power to Allah Karim alone. Allah Karim says what can be translated as, “He said: “As for him (a disbeliever in the Oneness of Allah) who does wrong, we shall punish him, and then he will be brought back unto his Lord, Who will punish him with a terrible torment (Hell). “But as for him who believes (in Allah’s Oneness) and works righteousness, he shall have the best reward, (Paradise), and we (Al Zulqarnain) shall speak unto him mild words (as instructions) (18:87-88). It shows any amount of power in this world is not a right but a responsibility which makes it a trial. Al Zulqarnain passed this test.
Protection from temptations
The main idea of the Surah is protection from temptation. In this respect, the Prophet (PBUH) said: “Between the creation of Adam and the Day of Judgment, there exists no greater trial than that of Al-Dajjal.” A question is then to be raised: What is the connection between the trial of Al-Dajjal and the four aforementioned trials and temptations?
Al-Dajjal will appear before the Day of Judgment and present the four temptations. He will try to push people to abandon their faith and will ask them to worship him and not Allah. Allah Karim will give him the ability to perform miracles: Al-Dajjal then may promise to bring to life one’s mother and father if one rejects Allah and believes in him instead. Everybody will be tempted except those blessed by Allah Karim. Al-Dajjal will lure humanity with temptation of wealth: he will simply command the sky to rain down on a particular piece of land and vegetation will flourish. He will be able to transform a barren desert land into a beautiful green garden. He will try you with temptation of knowledge: he will captivate people with what he knew which will tempt some of them to believe in him. Finally, he will exploit the temptation of power: he will subjugate people to his strength and authority in many parts of the earth except Makkah and Al-Madinah. These are serious temptations that all Muslims, in all parts of the land and throughout all of time, must beware of. Reading surat Al-Kahf and understanding the meanings within it, especially the four stories and the divine messages they carry can do this.
The four stories in the Surah are linked together through the string of trials. Each story is followed by comments which point out the lessons to be learned from it and how we can protect ourselves from trials and temptations. This is the magnificence of the Qur’an; it does not tell stories for their own sake but to leave a meaningful message. Hence, thrust of this Surah is seeking protection against all major temptations. Dajjal or no Dajjal, temptations remain a permanent feature of our lives and passing these trials is the essence of life.
May Allah protect us against temptations and carry us through the trials as He pleases.
Blessed Juma and Blessed Ramazan