Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(And in like manner We disclosed them (to the people of the city)) the city of Ephesus, the believers among them and the disbelievers, and their king of the time was a believer called Yustafad, the king Decius had died long before that (that they might know) both the believers and disbelievers (that the promise of Allah) resurrection after death (is true) takes place, (and that, as for the Hour, there is no doubt concerning it. When (the people of the city) disputed of their case among themselves) when their words differed among themselves, (they said) i.e. the disbelievers said: (Build over them a building) a church because they are followers of our religion; (their Lord knoweth best concerning them. Those who won their point said) those whose argument did not prevail, i.e. the believers: (We verily shall build a place of worship over them) because they are followers of our religion; their difference being about this point.
And so, just as We aroused them, it was that We disclosed them, [to] their people and the believers, that they, that is, their people, might know that God’s promise, of resurrection, is true: by virtue of the fact that One Who has the power to make them sleep for [such] a long period of time, or sustain them in that state without nourishment, also has the power to resurrect the dead; and that, as for the Hour, there is no doubt, no uncertainty, concerning it. Behold (idh adverbially qualifies a‘tharnā, ‘We disclosed’) they were disputing, that is, the believers and the disbelievers, among themselves their affair, the affair of the youths, with regard to building something around them [as a monument]; so they, the disbelievers, said, ‘Build over them, that is, around them, a building, to cover them up; their Lord knows them best.’ Those who prevailed regarding their affair, the affair of the youths, namely, the believers, ‘We will verily set up over them, around them, a place of worship’, for prayers to be performed therein. And this indeed took place at the entrance of the cave.
And so it was that We disclosed them: that is, in the very same way as that arousing and putting to sleep did We disclose their state to the prepared who are receptive to the guidance therein and to gnosis of their realities; that they might know, by means of their companionship and their guidance, that God's promise, of resurrection and recompense, is true; and that, as for the Hour, there is no doubt concerning it. Behold they were disputing among themselves their affair: that is, when the prepared seekers were disputing among themselves the matter of one's appointed final return, some of them were saying that resurrection specifically concerns disengaged spirits and not bodies. Some were saying that it concerns both spirits and bodies together; but when they observed them and came to know them, they realised that it [the final return] will be in both body and spirit and that the corporeal [resurrection of the] final return is true, so they said, 'Build over them a building, that is, when they [the sleepers] passed into death, they [the observers] said that, in the same manner that lodges (khānqāh), tombs (mashhad) and pilgrimage sites (mazār) are constructed over the perfected ones, those who enjoy [spiritual] propinquity to prophets and saints, such as Abraham, Muḥammad, ʿAlī and all of the other prophets and saints, may God bless them all and grant them peace. Their Lord knows them best': these are the words of their followers from among their communities and those who follow their example. In other words, those [sleepers of the cave] are too eminent and too illustrious for anyone to know them other than those who die in God and who achieve spiritual realisation through Him, for He is most knowledgeable about them, as He has said, exalted be He: “My friends reside beneath my domes, and none knows them except Me”. Those who prevailed regarding their affair, from among their companions and those who followed their affair seeking blessedness through them and through their site, 'We will verily set up over them, a place of worship', in which prayers can be performed.
(that they might know that the promise of Allah is true, and that there can be no doubt about the Hour.) Several scholars of the Salaf mentioned that the people of that time were skeptical about the Resurrection. `Ikrimah said: "There was a group of them who said that the souls would be resurrected but not the bodies, so Allah resurrected the people of the Cave as a sign and proof of resurrection.'' They mentioned that when they wanted to send one of their members out to the city to buy them something to eat, he disguised himself and set out walking by a different route, until he reached the city, which they said was called Daqsus. He thought that it was not long since he left it, but in fact century after century, generation after generation, nation after nation had passed, and the country and its people had changed. He saw no local landmarks that he recognized, and he did not recognize any of the people, elite or commoners. He began to feel confused and said to himself, "Maybe I am crazy or deluded, maybe I am dreaming.'' Then he said, "By Allah, I am nothing of the sort, what I know I saw last night was different from this.'' Then he said, "I had better get out of here.'' Then he went to one of the men selling food, gave him the money he had and asked him to sell him some food. When the man saw the money he did not recognize it or its imprint, so he passed it to his neighbor and they all began to pass it around, saying, "Maybe this man found some treasure.'' They asked him who he was and where he got this money. Had he found a treasure Who was he He said, "I am from this land, I was living here yesterday and Decianus was the ruler.'' They accused him of being crazy and took him to the governor who questioned him about his circumstances, and he told him. He was confused about his situation. When he told them about it, they -- the king and the people of the city -- went with him to the cave, where he told them, "Let me go in first and let my companions know.'' It was said that the people did not know how he entered it, and that the people did not know about their story. It was also said that they did enter the cave and see them, and the king greeted them and embraced them. Apparently he was a Muslim, and his name was Tedosis. They rejoiced at meeting him and spoke with him, then they bid farewell to him and went back to sleep, then Allah caused them to die. And Allah knows best. A
وَكَذلِكَ أَعْثَرْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ
(And thus We made their case known,) meaning, `just as We caused them to sleep then woke them up physically intact, We made their story known to the people of that time.'
(that they might know that the promise of Allah is true, and that there can be no doubt about the Hour. (Remember) when they (the people) disputed among themselves about their case, ) meaning, about Resurrection. Some believed in it and some denied it, so Allah made their discovery of the people of the cave evidence either in their favor or against them.
(those who won their point said: "We verily, shall build a place of worship over them.'') Those who said this were the people of power and influence, but were they good people or not There is some debate on this point, because the Prophet said:
(Allah has cursed the Jews and the Christians who took the graves of their Prophets and righteous people as places of worship) Warning against what they did. We have reported about the Commander of the faithful `Umar bin Al-Khattab that when he found the grave of Danyal (Daniel) in Iraq during his period of rule, he gave orders that news of this grave should be withheld from the people, and that the inscription containing mention of battles etc., that they found there should be buried.
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
They were roused from their sleep in the same miraculous way that was employed in sending them to sleep and keeping them hidden from the outer world.
The secret of their sleep was revealed when one of them went to Ephesus to buy food for them and offered a coin of the period of Emperor Decius. As it was a changed world, he naturally attracted attention for he was wearing a costume of 300-year old fashion and spoke a language different from that in vogue. This was because during those two centuries the language, culture, dress etc., had undergone a marked change. So the shopkeeper looked askance at him and, according to a Syriac tradition, suspected that he had dug up some ancient treasure. Accordingly, he gathered some people of his neighborhood and they took him before the ruler. On questioning, it was discovered that he was one of those followers of Christ, who had fled the city 300 years ago to save their Faith. As most of the population had embraced Christianity, the news immediately spread throughout the city and a big crowd of the people along with the Christian Roman Ruler, arrived at the Cave. It was then that the Sleepers of the Cave came to know that they had slept for about three hundred years. So after making salutations to their Christian brothers they lay down and their souls left their bodies.
According to the Syriac tradition, at the time of this occurrence, hot discussions were going on in Ephesus about Resurrection and the Hereafter. Though the people had embraced Christianity under the influence of the Roman Empire, yet traces of shirk and idolatry of the Romans and the effects of the Greek philosophy were still very powerful. So in spite of the Christian creed of the Hereafter, many people denied this, or at least were skeptical about this. To add to this the Sadducee sect of the Jews, who formed a great part of the population of the city, openly denied the Hereafter and professed to base this on the Torah. The Christian scholars, however, could not put forward any strong arguments to refute them: so much so that the reports of the polemical discussion given in Matthew, Mark and Luke, attributed to Prophet Christ, are admittedly very weak even according to the Christian scholars. (Please refer to Matthew 22: 23-33, Mark 12: 18-27, Luke 20: 27-40). That is why the disbelievers in the Hereafter were having the upper hand and even the believers were being involved in doubts about it. It was at that time that the Sleepers of the Cave were raised up and furnished an absolute proof of the life-after-death and turned the scales in favor of the believers in this dispute.
It appears from the context that this was the saying of the righteous people from among the Christians. They were of the opinion that a wall should be raised at the entrance of the Cave in order to let the Sleepers remain in the same condition in which they were, for they argued that their Lord alone knew best about their rank and position and the reward they deserved.
The people "who prevailed in their matter" were the Roman rulers and the priests of the Christian Church, who did not let the righteous Christians have their way. This was because by the middle of the fifth century, the common people, especially the orthodox among the Christians, had become fully involved in shirk and the worship of saints and tombs. They used to visit the tombs of the saints to worship them and kept the statues of Jesus, Mary and the apostles in their churches: so much so that a few years before the rising up of the Sleepers of the Cave, in 431 A.D., a great council of the representatives of the Christian World had been held in Ephesus itself, in which it was resolved that the creed of the divinity of Christ and of Mary as the mother of God, should be included in the articles of the Christian Church. If we keep in view the year 431, it becomes clear that by "those who prevailed in their matter" are meant the leaders of the Church and the officers of the government, who had the reins of the religious and political powers in their hands. In fact these were the people who were the upholders of shirk and who decided that a mausoleum should be built over the Cave of the Sleepers to make it a place of worship.
It is an irony that some people among the Muslims have misconstrued this verse of the Qur'an so as to make it lawful for themselves to build mausoleums, monuments and mosques over the tombs of the righteous persons and saints. The Qur'an has, in fact, pointed out the deviation of the workers of iniquity who prevailed upon others and built a place of worship over the Cave of the Sleepers, who were indeed a Sign of Resurrection and of the life-after-death. But they abused this good opportunity and produced another means of practicing shirk.
One fails to understand how anyone can deduce from this verse an argument for the legality of building mosques over the tombs of the righteous people, when the Holy Prophet has categorically prohibited this:
(1) "Allah has cursed those women who visit tombs and those people who build mosques over them and burn lights over them" (Ahmad, Tirmizi, Abu Dawud, Nasa'i, Ibn Majah).
(2) "Beware that the people, who have passed before you, made the tombs of their Prophets the places of their worship. I forbid you to do that." (Muslim)
(3) "Allah has cursed the Jews and the Christians, for they made the tombs of their Prophets the places of their worship." (Ahmad, Bukhari, Muslim, Nasa'i).
(4) "The behavior of those people was strange: if a righteous person from among them, died they would build a mosque over his grave and draw his pictures. They will be treated as worst criminals on the Day on Resurrection." (Ahmad, Bukhari, Muslim, Nasa'i).
Thus, it is clear from the above Sayings of the Holy Prophet that building of the places of worship over the tombs is utterly unlawful; the Qur'an has merely stated as a historical fact the sinful act of the Christian priests and the Roman rulers and has not sanctioned such a thing. Therefore no God-fearing person can turn this into an argument for building mosques over the tombs.
Incidentally, it will be worth while to cite a statement of Rev. T. Arundell who published his Discoveries in Asia Minor in 1834. He says that he had seen the remains of the Mausoleums of Mary and the Seven Sleepers on a hillock near the remains of the ancient city of Ephesus.
…Those who prevailed regarding their affair said…He said:Its outward meaning is a reference to authority [and the power of those who held sway] (wilāya), and its inner meaning refers to the spiritual self (nafs al-rūḥ), the understanding of the intellect(fahm al-ʿaql) and discernment of the heart (fiṭnat al-qalb) [which hold sway] through the remembrance of God, Mighty and Majestic is He.His words, Exalted is He: