The Sleepers of the Cave is a story of much importance in the Quran, as is the rest of the narrative espoused in Surah Kahf (the Cave). It is to be recited every Friday, so God must have wanted to imprint these particular stories and lessons deeply into our psyche.
The story is a short one. We’re presented with a group of young people, who are praying to God for a special type of God’s mercy, to which God responds by putting them into a deep sleep in the titular cave. The wording used is beautiful, reminiscent of how a mother puts her child to sleep.
The narrative then explains to us how they ended up so. In writing this I paused to wonder why the Quran would jump back in the chronology of the story. I think it might be similar to how a movie or story will start with quite an interesting or peculiar scene to draw the audience in. Any how, God explains that He emboldened the youth – the wording used is that He tied a knot in their heart – to stand up and proclaim before their people, and reprimand them for taking other gods as objects of worship.
An interesting caveat; the youth say ‘our people’ when reprimanding them, so they still feel some sense of camaraderie and hence responsibility over their people. This indicates an important notion that the believer in the midst of disbelief is still from the same populace, and as such bears the burden of conveying however much of right guidance that they can. In today’s day, Muslims in the West are still sparring with the notion of belonging in a land in which they make up the ethnic minority. This story highlights the importance of acknowledging responsibility towards one’s fellow citizens.
So the story continues. The youth escape to the cave, where they are free to worship God. Surrounding commentary on this story tells us that the youth were fleeing persecution against those who would not worship idols. The story then continues from where it began, with the youth sleeping under God’s special protection. Here, we are given more details of how God looked over them whilst they slept; the sun’s rays moved over the right part of their cave as it rose, and over the left as it set. They were squarely positioned in the centre, such that the light did not pass over them.
I find this quite moving. It is the actualisation and the fruits of submitting to God. These young people forgo their homes in order to maintain their worship of One God. Yet in making this perilous decision, they choose not to take any refuge in worldy indulgences (what we might call ‘coping mechanisms’) such as surrendering their beliefs or compromising. Whenever an individual is struck by calamity, sin tempts them with the promise of some relief. These youth however, shun this, and instead leave their homes rather than betray their beliefs. And what they find waiting for them is God’s mercy. God so loved this decision of these young people, that He immortalised their sacrifice in the Quran. So too must we, when tested in hardship, shun the ease of compromise and sin. Surely, God will twist the rays of the Sun in our life too, and deliver us in comfort.