Faith Versus Materialism: The Message of Suratul Kahf (The Companions of the Cave)

In the name of God, The Most Merciful, The Especially Merciful.


I have just finished reading this short but highly relevant work by the great sage, Shaykh Abul Hasan ‘Ali an-Nadwi (May God shower mercy upon his soul). Originally, it was written in Arabic under the title As Sar’a bain al – Iman wal Maddiyah in 1971 (1390 A.H.) Although the work is not a commentary of the Qur’an per se, it provides piercing insight into many of the challenges modern society faces and what it can do to confront and challenge them.

The subject matter of the Surah (chapter) deals with the ‘struggle between materialism and faith’ or the ‘Invisible Power and the world of causation’. The book argues that the spirit of falsehood, deceit and artful trickery pervades modern civilization for the very simple reason that it has turned its back to the overlordship of God, Prophethood, unseen realities and divine revelation. In fact, civilization has propelled itself to depend solely on the senses, perceptible immediate gains and power. The events in the chapter all reinforce the reality that all of this is fleeting and is pregnant with uncertainty, traps and illusions.

The contents of this Surah Surah can be divided into four parts, which unfold its central theme:

  1. The story of the Companions of the Cave.
  2. Parable of the owner of two gardens.
  3. The story of Prophet Moses [AS] and Khider [AS]
  4. The story of Zul Qarnain

The Surah paints a story of an unending struggle between the two ideologies or concepts diametrically opposed to each other. One of these is materialism denoting the primacy and objective existence of thee external material world. The other one asserts the existence of realities that lie beyond the range of human perception, as, for instance, the existence of God, moral-spiritual forces and their interaction, and so forth. The Surah explains the meaning and the purpose of faith in the Ultimate Reality and warns man against leaning exclusively towards the observable environment that eventually led to the denial of God and His authority.

The Surah ends with the same note with which it begins; emphasising in the concluding verses that the Divine knowledge is immensely wider and deeper in comparison to that of man, the Universe is much wider and greater than anyone can ever think of and the words of the Lord the worlds denoting His excellence, His attributes and His perfection can never be fully set out in human language, however developed it might be.

The Surah concludes by drawing our attention again towards the Hereafter and its paramount importance for our worldly life. It calls upon us to always keep this fundamental truth in view and draw inspiration from it in all our actions and demeanour. The Surah thus concludes with the message it expounded in the opening verses.

“And whoever hopeth for the meeting with his Lord, let him do righteous work, and make none sharer of the worship due unto his Lord.” (Al-Kahf: 111)


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