Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(And thou wouldst have deemed them) O Muhammad (waking) not sleeping (though they were asleep, and we caused them to turn over to the right and the left) once each year so that the earth does not eat away their flesh, (and their dog) Qatmir (stretching out his paws on the threshold) at the entrance of the Cave. (If thou hadst observed them closely) in that state (thou hadst assuredly turned away from them in flight, and hadst been filled with awe of them) and you would have been sacred of them.
Thou wouldst have thought them awake, but they were sleeping. And We turned them now to the right, now to the left. And their dog was stretching its paws at the doorstep. Hadst thou looked down upon them, surely thou wouldst have turned away from them fleeing, and thou wouldst have been filled with terror from them.
When you look at their outwardness, you see them busy in the playing field of deeds. When you look at their secret cores, you see them detached in the garden of the gentleness of the Possessor of Majesty. Outwardly active, inwardly they gaze on the gentleness of the Beginningless. With Thee alone we worship [1:5] they have bound the belt of struggle, and with And Thee alone we ask for help [1:5] they have placed the crown of contemplation on their heads. On the inside they wear the undershirt of surrender, and on the outside they have covered themselves with the caftan of deeds. Their activity conforms to the command, and their vision conforms to the decree.
A pir was asked, “Faith without deeds is incomplete, but the Companions of the Cave had no deeds, for when they began to travel, they immediately slept.”
The pir answered, “Which deed is greater than what the Exalted Lord said about them-when they stood up [18:14]?”
In the tongue of the folk of allusion the meaning is that they stood back from themselves. The outcome of the servants from their deeds comes down to their standing back from themselves. When they stand back from themselves, they reach the Real. The intermediary disappears and He exercises His determination over them, doing their work Himself, as He said concerning the chevaliers, “And We turned them now to the right, now to the left.” In other words, “We turned them between the states of annihilation and subsistence, unveiling and veiling, disclosure and curtaining.” The Pir of the Tariqah spoke a few words alluding to the levels of these states and the intima-tions of these realities: “O God, how much will You be hidden, how much apparent? For my heart is bewildered, the spirit distracted. How long this curtaining and self-disclosing? When at last will there be the everlasting self-disclosure? O God, how long will You call and drive away? I have melted in wanting the day in which You stay.
How long will You throw down and pick up? What is this promise so drawn out and late? Glory be to God! At this threshold, I have nothing but need. What a day it will be when You pour a drop of happiness on my heart! How long will You mix water and fire in me? Oh, my good fortune from the Friend is a resurrection!”
And their dog was stretching its paws at the doorstep. When they set out on the road, that little dog began to follow them: “You are exalted guests, and exalted guests put up with hangers-on.” The little dog lifted a few steps in conformity, and until the resurrection the faithful will be reading its story in the Qur'an and displaying it: “And their dog was stretching its paws at the doorstep.” What then do you say about someone who spends his whole life in the company of God's friends and, in conformity with them, takes no step backwards? Do you say that at the resurrection, God will separate him from them? No, of course not!
He called Balaam, who knew the greatest name and saw from the Throne to the bottom of the earth, a “dog” and drove him from His threshold. And He showed the same generosity to the dog of the Companions of the Cave that He showed to His friends, keeping it in His road. Thus He shows the world's folk that proximity is because of His caressing, not because of service. Distance is because of His degrading, not because of disobedience.
Hadst thou looked down upon them, surely thou wouldst have turned away from them fleeing. “Looking down” is said for someone who looks from above and has a higher station. He is saying, “O MuḤammad, if you had looked at them, you would have fled from them and your heart would have been upset.” Here there is room for obscurity. What do you say? Was the state of the Companions of the Cave such that the Seal of the Prophets, the title-page of whose glory and majesty was “I was aided by their terror,” should fear them? No, never. These words are addressed to MuṣṬafā, but others are meant. There are many similar instances, such as, “O Prophet, be wary of God!” [33:1], “If thou associatest [others with God], thy deeds shall surely fail” [39:65], and so on.
You can also say that what is desired by these words is not instilling fear into MuṣṬafā, but declaring the greatness of their state. It is common usage to say, “So-and-so underwent such a trial that, had you seen it, you would have fainted.” By saying this, one wants to declare the greatness of that work, not the verification of the words. An example of this is that MuṣṬafā said: “Do not consider me more excellent than my brother Jonah.” He also said, “Anyone who says that I am better than he has uttered a lie.” But there is no disagreement in the community that MuṣṬafā was more excellent than Jonah. Nonetheless, the prophetic wisdom in these words is that the Real mentioned certain things in the story of Jonah in the Glorious Scripture such that there is fear that the servants would have a bad opinion of him. For example, He says, “And Dhu'l-Nūn, when he went forth wrathful” [21:87]. The Messenger said, “When my community hears this verse, they must not have a bad opinion of him and look upon him with the eyes of contempt.” That bad opinion would harm their religion. Even though MuṣṬafā was more excellent than he and all the prophets, he said, “Do not consider me more excellent.” His desire was not to declare a truth but rather to declare the greatness of Jonah, so that everyone would look upon him with the eyes of reverence and not the eyes of contempt.
In the same way, when the Real wanted to declare His friends great so that people would look upon them with the eyes of reverence, He addressed His prophet with the words, “Hadst thou looked down upon them, surely thou wouldst have turned away from them fleeing.” Thus the people will look upon them with the eyes of reverence and not harm their own religion.
The ulama of the Tariqah and the lords of recognition have said that the work of Sufism is founded on the traveling and conduct of the Companions of the Cave and that the acts of courtesy and the ornament of the Tariqah are very similar to their states and conduct. These include realization of intention, disengagement of desire, aspiration, retirement from people, dropping attachments, self-purification in the invitation, penitence, disowning self, freedom from the world, happiness with the Real, release from taking control of oneself and approving of oneself, lifting the hands of need to God's kindness, at times burning and melting from the onslaught of awe, and at times happy and joyful in the breeze of intimacy.
It has also been said the Lord of the Worlds did with the Companions of the Cave what a lovingly kind mother does with her child: First she makes him a cradle, then she puts him to sleep, then she rocks him, then she chases away flies, then she gives him milk so that he will be at ease. God did the same for them. First He took care of their work and made the cave like a cradle for them: He will furnish you with kindliness in your affair [18:16]. Then He put them to sleep: He sealed their ears in the cave [18:11]. Then He rocked them: And We turned them now to the right, now to the left [18:18]. Then He kept the torment of the sun away from them: Thou wouldst have seen the sun, when it rose, turning aside from their cave to the right [18:17]. Then He sent them the drink of mercy so that they would be at ease: Your Lord will unfold for you of His mercy [18:16].
And you would have supposed them — had you seen them — awake, that is, conscious, because their eyes were open (ayqāz, ‘awake’, is the plural of yaqiz), though they were asleep (ruqūd is the plural of rāqid). And We caused them to turn over to the right and to the left, lest the earth consume their flesh, and their dog [lay] stretching its forelegs, his paws, on the threshold, at the opening of the cave: whenever they turned over it would turn over just like them, both during sleep and consciousness. If you had observed them you would have turned away from them in flight and you would have been filled (read la-mulli’ta or la-muli’ta) with awe because of them (read ru‘ban or ru‘uban, ‘awe’): [it was] through this awe that God protected them from anyone entering upon them.
And you would have supposed them awake, O you who is being addressed, on account of their eyes being open, their senses functioning and their voluntary animal movements, though they were asleep, in reality, in the slumber of obliviousness, with you seeing them [as though] looking at you while they are not in fact perceiving. And We caused them to turn over to the right and to the left, that is to say, at times We turn them towards the aspect of goodness and pursuit of qualities of excellence, and at others, towards the aspect of evil and what nature entails, and their dog, that is, their soul, [lay] stretching its forelegs, that is, with its irascible and appetitive faculties unrolled, on the threshold, that is, in the courtyard of the body. He did not say, 'and their dog [lay] asleep', since it [their soul] did not sleep but stretched forth its twin faculties across the courtyard of the body, adhering to the latter and not parting with it. The right foreleg represents anger, since it is stronger, nobler and more receptive to the exigencies of the heart when it comes to the edification of it. The left one represents passionate desire (shahwa) on account of its weaker nature and its baseness. If you had observed them, that is, [observed] their disengaged realities and their brilliant states and the luminosity and brilliance which He has deposited in them and the might and splendour with which He has garbed them, you would have turned away from them, fleeing for your lack of belief in disengaged souls and their states and for your lack of preparedness to receive their perfections; or [it means] you would have turned away from them in order to flee from them and from their interactions (muʿāmalāt) on account of your inclination to sensory pleasures and matters of nature; and you would have been filled with awe because of them, [in awe] of their states and spiritual acts of self-discipline; or [it means] had you observed them after the arrival at perfection and [had you observed] their innermost secrets and their stations in the unity, you would have kept away from them and would have fled from their states and you would have been filled with awe of them because of the extent to which God has garbed them with His tremendousness and magnificence: and how, I ask you, can the temporally originated (ḥadath) compare with the eternal (qidam) and how can nonexistence (ʿadam) encompass existence (wujūd)!
Some of the scholars mentioned that when Allah caused them to sleep, their eyelids did not close, lest disintegration took hold of them. If their eyes remained open to the air, this would be better for the sake of preservation. Allah says:
وَتَحْسَبُهُمْ أَيْقَاظًا وَهُمْ رُقُودٌ
(And you would have thought them awake, whereas they were asleep.) It was mentioned that when the wolf sleeps, it closes one eye and keeps one eye open, then it switches eyes while asleep.
(And We turned them on their right and on their left sides,) Ibn `Abbas said: "If they did not turn over, the earth would have consumed them.''
وَكَلْبُهُمْ بَـسِطٌ ذِرَاعَيْهِ بِالوَصِيدِ
(and their dog stretching forth his two forelegs at the Wasid) Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, Sa`id bin Jubayr and Qatadah said: "The Wasid means the threshold.'' Ibn `Abbas said: "By the door.'' It was said: "On the ground.'' The correct view is that it means on the threshold, i.e., at the door.
إِنَّهَا عَلَيْهِم مُّؤْصَدَةٌ
(Verily, it shall be closed upon them) 104:8 Their dog lay down at the door, as is the habit of dogs. Ibn Jurayj said, "He was guarding the door for them.'' It was his nature and habit to lie down at their door as if guarding them. He was sitting outside the door, because the angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog, as was reported in As-Sahih, nor do they enter a house in which there is an image, a person in a state of ritual impurity or a disbeliever, as was narrated in the Hasan Hadith. The blessing they enjoyed extended to their dog, so the sleep that overtook them overtook him too. This is the benefit of accompanying good people, and so this dog attained fame and stature. It was said that he was the hunting dog of one of the people which is the more appropriate view, or that he was the dog of the king's cook, who shared their religious views, and brought his dog with him. And Allah knows best. Allah says:
(Had you happened upon them, you would certainly have turned back from them in flight, and would certainly have been filled with awe of them.) meaning that Allah made them appear dreadful, so that no one could look at them without being filled with terror, because of the frightening appearance they had been given. This was so that no one would come near them or touch them until the appointed time when their sleep would come to an end as Allah willed, because of the wisdom, clear proof and great mercy involved in that.
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
It has not been mentioned that in accordance with this mutual resolve, they left the city and went to a secret Cave in the mountains in order to escape from death or forced apostasy.
This is to show that the mouth of the Cave faced the north. That is why the light of the sun could not enter inside the Cave and the one who passed by it could not see who was inside it.
That is, "If some one could have peeped at the Seven Persons from outside and seen them turning from one side to the other at intervals, he would have thought that they were not asleep but were relaxing themselves."
Allah had so arranged their refuge that none dared go inside the Cave and know about them for it was pitch dark in the Cave and the dog was keeping watch at the entrance. If someone ever peeped into the Cave and saw the Sleepers, he took them for some robbers and at once turned on his heels. This was the reason why their refuge remained a secret to the outer world for such a long period.
…If you had observed them you would have turned away from them in flight, and would have been filled with awe…This means: ‘If you had observed them through your self, you would have run away from them in fear, but if you had observed them through God, you would have come to know (waqafta) in them the realities of unicity (ḥaqāʾiq al-waḥdāniyya) from Him.’His words, Exalted is He: