Do you realise that the companions of the cave and the numbers
connected with them are among Our wondrous signs?
18:9
Research by: A. Muhammad
Introduction

According to the Quranic narration, the
"companions of the cave" were a group of young believing men who took refuge in a cave to escape the persecution of the pagans who had "taken up gods" besides God. With regards to the duration of their stay in the cave, the Quranic account gives a period of 300 solar years (309 lunar years).

The story is also found in Christian tradition and known as "The Seven Sleepers" and is believed to have happened around 250 AD. The story speaks of seven young Christian men who retreated to a cave to escape the persecution of the Roman Emperor Decius who had ordered the killing of all who do not bow down to the Roman pagan traditions. The duration of their stay according to Christian narration is 372 years.

When it comes to the location of the cave, there has been more than one suggestion. The more widely accepted of those are the following locations:
1- The cave in Ephesus, Turkey
2- The cave near Amman in Jordan

Certain details in the Quranic narration make it more likely for the cave in Ephesus to be the correct location. That cave looks like the ruins of a church. The cave was once lined with bricks that created the impression of a building. The inscriptions dedicated to the Seven Sleepers were found on the walls.
In the side walls of the church, there are niches with arched vaults, and in the depths of the cave there is an apse.
Such properties are in line with the Quranic words which state that a building and a masjid (which in those days would have been a church) were built over the cave where they were found and where they were subsequently buried:

Thus We decreed that they would be found so that they would know that God's promise is truthful and that there is no doubt about the Hour. When they disputed among themselves regarding their affair, they said, "Build a mausoleum over them." Their Lord knows best about them. Those who had the upper hand said, "We will build a masjid over them." 18:21



The common belief among Muslims and Christians alike is that the youth of the cave slept for the duration of those long years. However, the Quranic narration provides numerous indications that deserve us to research this matter more closely.

The purpose of this research is to verify the state of the
"companions of the cave" while they remained in their cave for three whole centuries.

The Quranic Narration

[18:9] Do you realise that the companions of the cave and the numbers connected with them are among Our wondrous signs?
[18:10] When the young men took refuge in the cave, they said, "Our Lord, grant us a mercy from Yourself and provide for us correctness in our affairs."
[18:11] So We sealed their ears in the cave for a number of years.
[18:12] Then We resurrected them to see which of the two parties could count the duration of their stay.
[18:13] We narrate to you their news truthfully. They were young men who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.
[18:14] We reassured their hearts when they got up and said, "Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth. We will not call upon another god besides Him, otherwise, we would have uttered an outrageous falsehood.
[18:15] These people of ours have taken up gods besides Him. Why then do they not produce clear authority for them?" So who is more transgressing than one who fabricates lies about God?
[18:16] When you have withdrawn from them and what they worship besides God, take refuge in the cave. Your Lord would then extend for you His mercy and provide for you ease for you in your affairs.
[18:17] You could see the sun, when it rises, it passes by their cave from the right, and when it sets it retreats away from them from the left, while they are in the hollow thereof. That is from among God's signs. Whomever God guides is the truly guided one, and whomever He misguides, you will not find for him a guiding ally.
[18:18] You would think them awake as they laid down. We turned them to the right side and the left side, while their dog stretched out his forepaws at the entrance. Had you looked at them, you would have fled from them and you would have been filled with fear of them.
[18:19] As such did We resurrect them so they would ask one another. A speaker among them said, "How long have you remained?" They said, "We remained one day or part of a day," they said, "Your Lord knows best how long you remained, so send one of you with this silver coin of yours to the city. Let him search for the purest food, then fetch for you a provision of it. Let him act amicably and let no one take notice of you.
[18:20] If they find out about you, they will stone you or return you to their creed, then you would never succeed."
[18:21] Thus We decreed that they would be found so that they would know that God's promise is truthful and that there is no doubt about the Hour. When they disputed among themselves regarding their affair, they said, "Build a mausoleum over them." Their Lord knows best about them. Those who had the upper hand said, "We will build a masjid over them."
[18:22] They will say, "They were three; the fourth being their dog," and they will say, "Five; the sixth being their dog," while merely taking a stab at the unknown, and they will say, "Seven and the eighth being their dog." Say, "My Lord knows best their number." None knows them but a few, so do not argue about them except with an obvious argument, and do not seek information about them from anyone.
..........................................
[18:25] They remained in their cave three hundred years and increased by nine.
[18:26] Say, "God knows best how long they remained." To Him belongs the unseen of the heavens and the earth. It is due to Him that you see and hear. They have none besides Him as an ally and He allows none to share in His Judgment.

FIRST
: The companions of the cave could not have been asleep

The Quranic narration presents a number of indications that point to the fact that the
"companions of the cave" could not have been asleep while they remained in their cave.

1-
The Arabic word used in 18:18 "ruqood" literally means lying down:
You would think them 'ayqazhan' (awake) as they were 'ruqood' (they laid down).
An important observation here is that the word "ruqood" comes after the word 'awake'. The opposite of awake is 'asleep' and not lying down.
And so, the normal word to use after 'awake' would have been 'asleep'.
The word 'na'imoon' (asleep) has already been used in other Quranic verses, such as:

Did the people of the towns feel secure against Our might coming to them in the night while they are na'imoon (asleep)?
7:97

The question therefore is: If the young men were sleeping, why did God not use the word 'na'imoon' (asleep) since it is the opposite of 'awake'?
Indeed, a person asleep would be lying down, but so would a dead person; he would be lying down on the ground.

2-
In the same verse (18:18) God says, "We turned them to the right side and the left side".

Turning while we sleep is a protective mechanism to prevent problems developing from prolonged pressure — such as reduced blood flow to certain parts of the body.
When patients are paralysed for a long time, for example in intensive care, they need to be physically turned regularly to prevent such problems.
This protective movement happens automatically whether we are asleep, lying awake in bed, or even sitting down. If we sit in one position, we can tolerate it for a certain length of time, but then we have to change position.

The significant observation from the Quranic words above is that the companions of the cave would have turned by themselves had they been asleep, but the words tell us that God turned them.

3-
In 18:18 we also read, "Had you looked at them, you would have fled from them and you would have been filled with fear of them."

The reason the sight of them would have filled anyone with fear can only be because their bodies looked horrifying. When people sleep, their hearts still beats and blood runs through the veins, and all other bodily functions continue to operate in the normal way. The body of a person asleep remains intact and thus would not fill the onlooker with fear so as to make him flee in horror.

4-
In the same verse (18:18), we read, "their dog stretched out his forepaws".
The origin of this expression is that when animals die, quite literally their bodies go stiff, and the legs stretch out.
In Spanish for example, there is an idiom that says: "Estirar la pata". The literal meaning is "Stretch the paw", and it is said when someone is dead.
The medical term for the stiffening of the joints following death is called rigor mortis (Latin phrase). Rigor means 'stiffness', and mortis means 'of death'.

The following picture shows rigor mortis in dead cattle which causes stiffness of the body and the stretching of the legs.


5-
In 18:19 we read the words "We resurrected them". These words also appear in 18:12.
Resurrection is always used in the Quran to speak about those who have died then are brought back to life. The word resurrection is never used when a person wakes up from sleep.
Examples for the Quranic use of the word resurrection:

Then We resurrected you after your death so that you may give thanks.
2:56

As for the dead, God resurrects them, then to Him they will be returned.
6:36

6- The description of being asleep has been used in various Quranic verses, such as:
So a visitation from your Lord passed by it while they were asleep. 68:19

However, it is quite significant that throughout the narration of the
"companions of the cave" they were never called asleep, nor the 'sleepers of the cave'.

7-
In 18:9, God says that the believing youth were "among Our wondrous signs".
Prolonged sleep in itself is not miraculous, for even today, a person can be put into an induced coma for prolonged periods. In fact, with medication, a person can be kept in a coma all the time up until the time at which his pre-determined life comes to an end.
However, to die then be resurrected (during the worldly life) is indeed a miraculous sign from God. The confirmation of the incident being among God's signs/miracles is repeated in 18:14

8-
In verses 18:25 and 18:26, the word "remained" (in their cave) is used. The deliberate use of this word, as opposed to the word "slept" is also of significance. Note how the same word "remained" is used in 2:259 in connection to a person who died and then was resurrected:

God put him to death for a hundred years, then resurrected him. He said, "How long have you remained?" He said, "I have remained a day or part of a day." He said, "No! You have remained a hundred years.
2:259

SECOND
: The companions of the cave could not have been dead

Equally, the Quranic narration presents a number of indications that point to the fact that the
"companions of the cave" could not have been dead while they remained in their cave.

1-
When we sleep and a light is turned on, we do not necessarily wake up. But when a sound is made, it can easily wake us up. That is because our ears cannot shut, but the eyes shut by means of the eye-lids. In 18:11, we read the following words:
So We sealed their ears in the cave for a number of years.
The question here is: Why would there be a need to seal their ears if they were dead? Sound cannot bring a dead person to life.

2- We concluded in point (2) above that if the "companions of the cave" were asleep, they would have turned by themselves. From that, we concluded that the words "We turned them" in 18:18 indicate that they were not asleep.
However, the same words, "We turned them to the right side and the left side" also tell us that they were not dead. If they were dead, why would they need to be turned in the first place?

3- When people die, their bodies decay and all that is left are bones. Bones in themselves do not cause onlookers to run away in horror. Thus, the words "Had you looked at them, you would have fled from them and you would have been filled with fear of them." which indicate that they were not asleep (point 3 above) also tell us that they were not dead (bones) either.

4- We also saw how the words, "You would think them awake as they laid down" (point 1 above) indicate that they could not have been asleep. Once again, the same words indicate that they were not dead. Dead people do not look like they are awake.

5- We also note that nowhere in the narration of the "companions of the cave" does God call them dead, or have been put to death. This observation is quite significant considering that when God put others to death, it was made known, such as:

Or the one who passed by a village that was deserted and in ruins and said, "How can God bring this to life after it had d
ied?" So God put him to death for a hundred years. 2:259

CONCLUSION

When we study the evidence above, we would initially be confused with regards to the correct state of the "companions of the cave" as they "remained" in the cave for "309 years".

On the one hand, we have seen strong evidence that the youth could not have been asleep, nor was the word 'asleep' used in the narration.
On the other hand, we have also seen evidence that they could not have been dead, nor were the words 'dead' or 'put to death' used in the narration.

What is of particular interest in the Quranic narration is that a number of pieces of evidence that indicate that the
"companions of the cave" were not asleep are also the same ones that indicate that these believers were not dead while they "remained" in the cave.

None of the evidence above should be ignored. Therefore, we must arrive at a conclusion that does not disregard any of the evidence. The only plausible conclusion, strange as it may sound, is that the
"companions of the cave" were neither asleep nor dead, but in a horrifying state of existence that is known to God alone. In the narration, God is indeed telling us that they were neither asleep nor dead:

1- The words
"You would think them awake as they laid down" could have been omitted from the narration without distracting from the miraculous event, but their addition confirms that they were not in a state of sleep (point 3 above).

2- Equally, God did not need to say,
"We sealed their ears in the cave", yet these words alert us to the fact that they could not have been dead either. Dead people will not wake up if their ears are not sealed.
It can therefore be concluded that the miraculous signs in the story of the "companions of the cave" is in fact two-fold:

First Miracle: The miracle of them remaining in their cave for 309 years.

Second Miracle: The miracle of them being in a state of existence that was neither a state of sleep nor of death.

In harmony with the two-fold miraculous event, it is interesting to note that God's miraculous signs are mentioned twice in the narration:

1- In verse 9 we read the words:
The companions of the cave and the numbers connected with them are among Our wondrous signs.

2- And in verse 17 we read the words:
That is from among God's signs.