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  • Writer's pictureTaher Lokhandwala

The Story of Al-Kehf

Updated: Feb 21, 2021

On the auspicious event of the Shahadat of the 32nd Dai, Al-Dai-Al-Ajal Syedna Qutub Khan Qutbuddin Shaeed (RA) we were blessed to hear the waaz mubarak of Al-Dai-Al-Ajal Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin (TUS). Mufaddal Moula chose the topic of this waaz mubarak to be “Al-Kehf”- translated literally as “The Cave”- describing the importance of caves as safe havens in times of peril and illustrating the identical role of our Mawaali Kiraam for mumineen in times of distress.

The Kehf, or Cave, plays an important role in the Fatemi tradition as a symbol of safety in times of distress, a place to take refuge. Nestled between or inside large mountains, it is a site of peace for those fleeing persecution through anonymity, strength, and company. It is often linked with the word saharo, or something upon which one can rely on or rest on, in a time of trouble. This link is the base of the Surat Al-Kehf in the Quran, the Fatemi allegories for Kehf, and various poetic traditions in which the symbol finds a place. There are numerous accounts of our Mawaali Kiraam taking refuge in caves.

Ibrahim AS was famously born in seclusion in a cave, to hide from the tyrannical king at the time who had ordered the killing of any boys born in the year. From this saharo, Ibrahim AS learned of the stars, the moon, the sun and the Creator of all the heavens, towards which he faced himself in devotion. Similarly, the descendent of Ibrahim AS , Rasullulah was first inspired in غار حراء، or the Cave of Hira, his saharo for meditation and solitude. In his 40th year, as the signs of nubuwat became increasingly apparent, he would travel there more frequently, until the night when the first verses of the Quran were revealed to him by Jibraeel AS .

After the satr (seclusion) of the 21st Imam, Yemen became the center for Dawat under stewardship of the appointed Duat Mutlaqeen. The third Dai, Syedna Hatim Mohiyuddin RA famously took refuge in Kehf-ul-Naeem, located near Hutaib Mubarak. From this cave, he oversaw the affairs of Dawat and gave asbaaq to his hudood kiraam and to mumineen. It was also there that Syedna Hatim RA wrote many of his texts. In his waaz, Mufaddal Moula depicted Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA’s ascent of Hutaib Mubarak, by mule-- upon approaching the summit and seeing Kehf-ul-Naeem, Burhanuddin Moula was moved to tears, performing ziyarat from afaar by doing ishaaro with his mubarak hand.

Perhaps the most renowned story of the cave comes from Al-Quran, in Sūrat Al-Kehf, known as the Narration of the Companions of the Cave, from which the Surah garners its name. The narration is centered around the story of how a set of young devouts began practicing the faith of the nabi of their time, when the city they lived in and the king of that region was staunchly against it. Allah TA has proclaimed in the Quran:

إِذْ أَوَى ٱلْفِتْيَةُ إِلَى ٱلْكَهْفِ فَقَالُوا۟ رَبَّنَآ ءَاتِنَا مِن لَّدُنكَ رَحْمَةًۭ وَهَيِّئْ لَنَا مِنْ أَمْرِنَا رَشَدًۭا
Remember when the youth took refuge in the cave, and proclaimed: Oh Lord! Bless us from your hands with mercy! And guide us rightly through this ordeal!

Allah TA recounts that when the youths were sent, their ears were covered and their senses subdued, sending them into a deep slumber from which they would not wake for many years.

فَضَرَبْنَا عَلَىٰٓ ءَاذَانِهِمْ فِى ٱلْكَهْفِ سِنِينَ عَدَدًۭا
So we subdued their ears in the Cave for a great many years

When they spoke of their unwavering belief in the oneness of Allah TA and abandoned their previous faith, Allah TA affirmed and enlightened their hearts. They said amongst themselves, our Ilah will provide provision for us and send us mercy while we are in this cave.

وَتَحْسَبُهُمْ أَيْقَاظًۭا وَهُمْ رُقُودٌۭ ۚ وَنُقَلِّبُهُمْ ذَاتَ ٱلْيَمِينِ وَذَاتَ ٱلشِّمَالِ ۖ وَكَلْبُهُم بَـٰسِطٌۭ ذِرَاعَيْهِ بِٱلْوَصِيدِ ۚ
And you would think them awake, while they were sleeping. We turned them on their right sides and on their left sides, while their dog stretched its forelegs at the entrance

The word “رقود” in the Arabic language connotes a sleep of the night, when one is most peaceful, with very little movement; a sense of trust in Allah TA that their is safety, and all affairs are handled. The kalb, or dog, of the Companions is said to have stood guard in front of the Cave to deter those who might disturb them. It remained outside of the cave however, and is a special symbol in this narration.

وَلَبِثُوا۟ فِى كَهْفِهِمْ ثَلَـٰثَ مِا۟ئَةٍۢ سِنِينَ وَٱزْدَادُوا۟ تِسْعًۭا

The Ashaab al-Kehf slept for 300 years, exceeded by nine.

The exact count of years remains a mystery, as the interpretation of this verse can be take in many different ways, which speaks to the symbolic nature of this Surat, as more than just a historical account.

Once they were awoken, it was said to them, “How long have you been here?”, to which they replied only a short while, perhaps a day or more. In response, it was said “Allah knows best how long you have been here". One among them was then sent into the town with a silver coin to see what food could be brought, with strict instructions to not reveal his true identity.

إِنَّهُمْ إِن يَظْهَرُوا۟ عَلَيْكُمْ يَرْجُمُوكُمْ أَوْ يُعِيدُوكُمْ فِى مِلَّتِهِمْ وَلَن تُفْلِحُوٓا۟ إِذًا أَبَدًۭا
Indeed if they discover your identity, they will stone you, or force you back into their faith, and you will never succeed.

The narration within the Quran ends here [the Judeo-Christian tradition continues separately], on the idea that the cave was a place of seclusion, solitude, and rest in a time when the world was against these youths. It conveys a message of having the strongest belief in the will of Allah TA and his ability to protect you, for indeed He will find a saharo for you in even the darkest of places.

In the Fatemi tradition, every Moula is a saharo, a metaphorical kehf, from which believers take refuge in their times of trouble. He is the center of serenity in a world of commotion, the site of peace in times of internal strife and external pressure. We have all experienced the otherworldly nature of Hazrat Immamiyah in Ashara Mubaraka, or any safar we may be blessed to go on- where we escape the world around us when we feel connected with our heritage, our faith, our saharo.

Before the passing of one Moula from this world to the next, he appoints his mansoos as the next kehf, the next saharo for the believers to take comfort from. The simultaneous transfer of both authority and spiritual connection to the ummah is of utmost importance in the foundation of the Dawoodi Bohra creed. When Rasulullah SAW illuminated the next kehf in Moulana Ali SA, he endowed in him the sense of security and safety for hundreds of thousands to find refuge in. Before Moulana Ali’s SA persecution and eventual martyrdom in the Qibla of Masjid al-Aazam, he made Imam Hassan SA his kehf, who passed it onto his brother Imam Husain SA.

The paradoxical nature of a situation where the refuge himself is persecuted serves to illuminate a greater meaning. Through his sacrifice, the kehf ensures the safety of those who take saharo with him -- just as a real cave shields its inhabitants from the elements and those who seek to harm them. Worldly conditions seek in every way to err believers from the road to salvation; and our kehf shields us from these elements, and from those with malicious intent; and when it is time, ensures the path to the next kehf is illuminated.

In Karbala, Imam Hussain AS made Imam Ali Zain al-Abedeen SA the kehf for the women and children who witnessed the terrors of Yazid LA , and for all mumineen in a time of persecution of the Ahle Bayt. For this reason, Yazid LA was never able to kill Imam Ali Zain al-Abedeen SA, and the sultanat of Rasulullah carried on through him. It is said that throughout the march from Karbala to Shaam, or Syria, the severed raas mubarak of Imam Husain SA recited Surah Al-Kehf. Throughout this march Raas al-Hussain emblazoned the fact that the saharo of Islam was alive and well, and no matter what length the enemies of Islam go to, this legacy will never be erased. The remembrance of Imam Husain’s SA martyrdom itself is the ultimate saharo, for all who seek salvation

This sense of protection and security our kehf provides is most relevant today, in these times of sickness and difficulty. Our Moula TUS throughout this pandemic, has provided for mumineen in their most pressing times, by directly supporting them, keeping Faiz al-Mawaid running as soon as it was safe to do so, relaying Majalis and Mawaaiz to our homes directly, and keeping us connected when we are at the farthest from each other. Just as Syedna Hatim RA taught asbaaq from Kehf al-Naeem, Mufaddal Moula TUS has provided Asbaaq through online services to all mumineen in their own homes, and laid the foundations for mumineen in foreign and disconnected places, to be part of the collective from here on out.

May Allah TA guide us as he guided the Ashaab al-Kehf, to find refuge and safety at the door of our kehf, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS , and keep him in health until the Day of Qiyamat. Ameen!

Authored By: Taher Lokhandwala with Idris Nagarwala and Mariyam Kapadia

All translations provided are inspired by Saheeh International. The views contained herein do not necessarily represent the views of Mahad Alumni, Mahad-al-Zahra, or any other affiliate organization. They are solely the perspectives of the authors named, who have shared them on this platform.

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