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Companions of the Cave

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A petroglyph of Companions of the Cave in Konjic, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Companions of the Cave or ʾAṣḥāb al-Kahf (Arabic: أَصْحَابُ الكَهْف) were Christian believers who lived during the rule of Decius (201 – 251 CE), an ancient Roman emperor. Except one of them who was a shepherd and had a dog, others were among the noble ones and courtiers who escaped to save themselves from the oppression of Decius and to save their faith, and moved to a cave and went to a deep sleep which lasted about 309 years. There is a sura in the glorious Qur'an named al-Kahf, in verses 8 to 26 of which, the story of these believers is mentioned. Also, there are reports about this story in Christian sources. In Shi'a hadiths, the Companions of the Cave are mentioned among the companions of Imam al-Mahdi (a).

There are different opinions about the place where this story took place and where that cave was. The most famous opinion about its place is Ephesus in Izmir, Turkey. The TV series of The Men of Angelos made in the IRIB deals with this story.

Story

The Companions of the Cave were Christian believers who lived during the rule of Decius (201 – 251 CE), an ancient Roman emperor.[1] Except one of them who was a shepherd and had a dog, others were among the noble ones and courtiers who hid their faith from each other.

Due to the oppression of the government, they went to a cave and when they arrived there, they went to a deep sleep[2] and slept for about 309 years.[3] God made them so that whoever saw them thought that they were awake while they were asleep.[4] After this period, they woke up and thought that they were asleep only for some hours.[5] This doubt, as some sources suggest, was because they had entered the cave at the beginning of the day and went to sleep and woke up toward the end of the day.[6] After they woke up, they suggested that one of them goes to the city and takes some food.[7]

The Qur'an did not mention which of them went to bring food, but based on some reports, Yamlikha or Tamlikha volunteered to go.[8] After he went to the city, he found the city changed and was surprised.[9]

Number and Names of the Companions of the Cave

There are disagreements about the number of the Companions of the Cave. In Christian sources, their number is mentioned 7 and some sources mentioned them 5 and some other sources mentioned them 13.[10] Also, in Christian sources, their names are mentioned: Maximilian, Dionysius, Iamblicus, Martinian, John, Antoninus and Exacustodianus (Constantine).[11] But, al-Tabari mentioned their names as: Maxilmina, Muhsilmina, Yamlikha, Martunus, Castunus, Viborus, Vicarnus, Iatbiounus, and Qalush.[12]

The Glorious Qur'an did not mention the number of the Companions of the Cave and only mentioned people's disagreements on their number[Note 1]. Some sources considered them 4 together with their dog, some considered them 6 and some others considered them 8. Some sources believe that the Qur'an accepted the third view.[13]

In the Qur'an

Main article: Sura al-Kahf

Verses of 8 to 26 of Qur'an 18 (Sura al-Kahf) mention the story of the Companions of the Cave. These verses speak about the guidance of these people by God, their faith and struggle with disbelievers, their refuge seeking in the cave, the miracle of their long lives as a blessing from God, their awakening and the way people treated them, revealing the truth and the debate of disbelievers with the Prophet (s) about this story.[14]

According to the Qur'an, they were asleep in the cave for 309 years.[15]

Ashab al-Kahf wa l-Raqim

In verse 9 of Qur'an 18, al-kahf is mentioned together with al-Raqim, "Do you suppose that the Companions of the Cave and the Inscription were among Our wonderful signs?". There has been this discussion among exegetes if they were one group or two separate groups, so that they provide comments and occasion of revelation for the Companions of the Inscription as well. About the word "al-Raqim", some exegetes consider it the name of a village near the cave.[16]

Hadiths

In hadiths, the Companions of the Cave are introduced as noble youths who went out of the city during a great feast. God enlightened their hearts with the lights of faith and they believed in God. Although they first hid their faiths from each other, they gradually expressed their faiths to each other.[17] Based on some reports, Decius gave the Companions of the Cave a time limit to abandon their faith. They used that time and took refuge in a cave.[18] Some other reports mentioned them trusted people of the king at their time.[19]

The Companions of the Cave; the Companions of Imam al-Mahdi (a)

In Shi'a hadiths, it is mentioned that the Companions of the Cave will return to assist the Promised Mahdi (a).[20] Imam al-Sadiq (a) said, "When Qa'im Al Muhammad (a) comes, some persons will come from behind the Ka'ba, seven of them are the Companions of the Cave."[21] Halabi too said that they are ministers of Mahdi (a).[22] Also, it is quoted from Imam al-Sadiq (a), "when Dabbat al-Ard comes out, God revives the Companions of the Cave together with their dog."[23]

In other Religions

The cave attributed to the Companions of the Cave. Ephesus, Turkey

The story of the Companions of the Cave is among the few stories which is not mentioned in Jewish sources, while it is mentioned in Christian sources. The order of the story in Christian sources has an approximate harmony with the Islamic reports and it is famous as the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.[24]

The Companions of the Cave in the Works of Orientalists

For the first time, the story of the Companions of the Cave was mentioned by the Syrian bishop Jacob of Sarug in a Syriac treatise in the 5th century CE, one century before the emergence of Islam. After him, Edward Gibbon mentioned it in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.[25] Also, the French orientalist, Louis Massignon made some researche about the Companions of the Cave in 1961 and published it in "Les Sept Dormants d'Ephèse (the Companions of the Cave) en Islam et en Chrétienté" in French.[26] Carl Jung too compared the stories of the Companions of the Cave and the Prophet Khidr (a) and studied the issues of revival and new life.

Ruins

According to a hadith from Imam Ali (a), the city where the Companions of the Cave lived was Ephesus.[27] This city was one of the cities of Ionia in Anatolia (Minor Asia) the ruins of which now exist as an archaeological site, 3 km south of Selçuk in Izmir, Turkey.[28] One km away from this city, there is a cave where people of Turkey visit as the cave of the Companions of the Cave. Inside this cave,[29] the remnants of hundreds of graves are found.

Also, between the two villages of al-Raqim (Ar Rajib) and Abu Alanda, 7 km from Amman, the capital of Jordan, there is a cave above which there is a mosque and some archaeologists believe that it is the cave of the Companions of the Cave.[30] About this cave, there is a book titled Iktishaf kahf Ahl al-Kahf. Another cave which has been mentioned as the cave of the Companions of the Cave is near Damascus in Syria. Archaeologists have mentioned the caves in Petra, the cave of Mount Qasioun near Damascus, a cave in Scandinavia and a cave near Nakhichevan in Caucasus among possible locations of the cave of the Companions of the Cave.[31]

'Allama Tabataba'i believed that the cave in Ephesus, Turkey is more probable to be the cave of the Companions of the Cave.[32]

The Men of Angelos TV Series

The Men of Angelos was the name of a TV series directed by Farajullah Salahshur for the IRIB in 1997 based on the story of the Companions of the Cave. In 1998, it was gifted to Pope John Paul II by Sayyid Muhammad Khatami (the former President of Iran) during his travel to Vatican. It was also broadcasted in some Muslim countries such as Egypt.

Notes

  1. Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, vol. 14, p. 411.
  2. Ṭabarī, Tarjuma-yi tafsīr-i Ṭabarī, vol. 15, p. 225.
  3. Qurʾān, 18:25.
  4. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 13, p. 256.
  5. Qurʾān, 18:18-19.
  6. Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 12, p. 373.
  7. Qurʾān, 18:18-19.
  8. Baḥrānī, al-Burhān, vol. 3, p. 624.
  9. Baḥrānī, al-Burhān, vol. 3, p. 624-625.
  10. Ḥakīm, Ahl al-kahf, p. 88.
  11. Ḥakīm, Ahl al-kahf, p. 88.
  12. Ṭabarī, Tarjuma-yi tafsīr-i Ṭabarī, vol. 15, p. 276.
  13. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 13, p. 267-268; Makārim Shīrāzī, Tafsīr-i nimūna, vol. 12, p. 383.
  14. Maʿmūrī, Taḥlīl-i sākhtār-i riwāyat dar Qurʾān, p. 160.
  15. Qurʾān, 18:24.
  16. Qummī, Tafsīr al-Qummī, vol. 2, p. 31.
  17. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 15, p. 256.
  18. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 15, p. 256.
  19. Ṭabrisī, Majmaʿ al-bayān, vol. 15, p. 253.
  20. Daylamī, Irshād al-qulūb, p. 286.
  21. Ṭabasī, Chism andāzī bi ḥukūmat-i Mahdī, p. 101.
  22. Ṣāfī Gulpāyigānī, Muntakhab al-athar, p. 485.
  23. Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, vol. 52, p. 275; vol. 53, p. 85.
  24. Ḥakīm, Ahl al-kahf, p. 88.
  25. Majdūb, Aṣḥāb-i kahf, p. 115.
  26. Majdūb, Aṣḥāb-i kahf, p. 62.
  27. Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, vol. 14, p. 411.
  28. Sāmī, Qāmūs al-aʿlām Turkey, vol. 1, p. 506; vol. 2, p. 1001.
  29. Bīāzār Shīrāzī, Bāstān shināsī, p. 352.
  30. Bīāzār Shīrāzī, Bāstān shināsī, p. 194.
  31. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 13, p. 299.
  32. Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 13, p. 299.
  1. They will say, '[They are] three; their dog is the fourth of them,' and say, '[They are] five, their dog is the sixth of them,' taking a shot at the invisible. They will say, '[They are] seven, their dog is the eighth of them.' Say, 'My Lord knows best their number, and none knows them except a few.' So do not dispute concerning them, except for a seeming dispute, and do not question about them any of them. (Qur'an 18: 22)

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