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Islamic Voice Logo
MONTHLY    *    Vol 12-10 No:142    *   OCTOBER 1998/ JAMADI-UL-AKHIR 1419H
email: editor@islamicvoice.com

QUR'AN AND SCIENCE


Companions of the Cave-II


Companions of the Cave-I

Continued from September.98 issue

Companions of the Cave-II

By M.I. Liyaqath Ali

Why Turned Over?

Another scientific idea well worth examining is contained in the same verse 18 ".... We caused them to turn over to the right and to the left..". At first sight it appears to be the usual behaviour of ordinary sleepers and makes us wonder why God must record such an insignificant detail in His scripture. But in this there is the basis and model for a modern scientific practice in the field of medicine!

Hibernating animals and men in yogi or spiritual trance do not turn about. The Cave companions, by extension, are not expected to have turned about on their own, since their autonomous nervous system controlled by spinal cord was inactivated. It was the Omniscient God who caused them to turn as the verse points out. What is the need for this turning about?

Bedridden patients develop bedsores in a matter of a few weeks because their bodies are pressed against even the softest of beds. So it is arranged that hospital staff turn them over from time to time. Modern hospital beds are equipped with a lateral ridge that keeps gently passing along the bed in order to relieve bed fatigue and break constancy of body pressure. Had God not caused frequent turning over, the sleepers' flesh would not only have developed bedsores but become full of holes, just as rubber tyres do if vehicles are left stationary for months.

300 or 309 Years?

The next scientific point is the measurement of the duration of sleep inside the cave. Verse 25 is usually translated and commented upon to imply that some people said that it was 300 years whereas some others added nine more years (so that it was 309) and God prefers to keep it undisclosed. However, the Arabic original does not admit people's opinions but simply quotes Allah Himself directly as saying: "And they tarried in their cave three hundred years and nine (more)."

This verse does not make sense to the hasty human mind. So translators and commentators interpolate words, phrases or even entire clauses in brackets; or add footnotes and other extensive explanations, making it out as if the people were confused over the duration. It must be admitted that some of these scholars attribute either one of the two figures to people's opinion and leave the other translated faithful to the original. But this also implies presence of confusion.

The point here is that the verse 25 does not at all indicate any attempt of estimation by people and its possible deviations. On the other hand it simply informs us of the measurement by Allah. And there is certainly no deviation or confusion in Him, even though there is more than one figure! How can that be?

We have to read the verses many times over and carefully examine their structure, sequence and context in order to get their meaning right. Verse 19 tells us that after waking up the companions said among themselves that they might have been asleep for a day or even less, cautiously adding that God knew best. Subsequently in verse 25 God offers His verdict that it was 300 years. He goes on to command (Prophet (Pbuh) and us as well) to add 9 and make it 309. He hastens to point out in the very next verse 26 that indeed He knows best about the period in question. Then he continues the v.26 to give reasons why his verdict must be trusted; He is after all the most perfect to know, see, hear and govern everything!

300 and 309 - Both Correct!

Well now, the intriguing question is: Why God gives two figures? More, we are perplexed that He simultaneously assures that both are correct! Was one of them by any means wrong? That is an absolute impossibility. Has not God assured at the outset of Qur'an in the very ninth verse from the beginning (Chap 2: v.2), "This is a scripture whereof there is no doubt..? It is evidently not rounding off since 300 is already a neat figure whereas 309 is not so. 300 might be a rough and round estimate while 309 an exact, actual measurement. But in such a case He would have explained that clearly. Therefore, there must be some other explanation to His categorical statement of two figures.

The best and simplest answer is provided by Yusuf Ali. He says : 300 years is measurement by the solar calendar and 309 by the lunar. The lunar calendar was followed from Prophet Adam's time and was still in use by Arabs and Jews at Prophet's (Pbuh) time. It is still followed by the entire Muslim world. It is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar. God gives the count by both systems. They are both correct and there is absolutely no confusion in the measurement given by God.

For the benefit of the readers we give below portions of verses 19,25 and 26 concerning the period of stay pieced together cogently.

"...We awakened them that they might question one another. A speaker from among them said: How long have ye tarried? They said: we have tarried a day or some part of a day, (others said); Your Lord best knoweth what ye have tarried.. " (v.19) " And (we tell you)* they tarried in their cave three hundred years and (We command you Muslims:)* add nine". (v.25). "Say (O. Muhammad): Allah is best aware how long they tarried ..." (v.26). [* these two parentheses added by author]

Now, is it not enough for Allah to give time measurement in the Islamic system alone? Yes, that would certainly do for the Muslims. But the estimates making rounds during Prophet's (Pbuh) time were associated with Roman and Christian scholars calendar. The Jewish rabbis who sponsored Arab pagans to test Prophet (Pbuh) with the Cave incident, are therefore expected to know of only solar estimates.

Why still Lunar System?

Solar calendar had been in use at least since the time of Julius Caesar. It was refined during the time of Pope Gregory. But Egyptians had defined the solar year with ultimate precision a millennium or two before even Mosaic period, Moses himself being dated some three millennia before Jesus and Caesar. They knew the exact day of the year on which Nile flooded. They constructed Abu Simbel temple at Aswan in such a way that the rays of sun fell on a particular spot deep inside it through a narrow slit in the front only on summer solstice year after year!

Likewise Arabs of Prophet's (Pbuh) time certainly knew that their lunar year was shorter than the solar cycle. In fact Muslims proposed to him to introduce a short thirteenth month to make up the shortfall. But Allah rejected the proposal for reasons best known to Him. It will be a mistake if someone thinks that Muslims are sticking to an imperfect system because of ignorance.

What was the need for Allah's verdict on the duration of sleep? As pointed out earlier, there were many widely differing oral traditions then in circulation, since no one was clear about the reigning emperors at the beginning and end of the episode. Metaphrastes put it down in Syrian writing as 372 years, which Gibbon adopted. There were no such estimates, oral or written, as 300 or 309 years. But these were the accurate measurement of the actual period recorded by God himself.

Sleepers' Position God's Portent

The incident of the cave has one more sign or portent, a non-scientific matter. Verse 17 reads: "And thou mightiest have seen the sun when it rose to the right, and when it set go past them on the left, and they were in the cleft thereof ...". Firstly, God had provided them sunlight (and ventilation) essential for their health. Secondly, since a cave has no left or right sides but only directions, the sides mentioned refer to the sleepers. It means they slept with their heads towards south. Continuing the verse God says, "...That was of the portents of Allah ..". Has He not already pointed out in verse 9, "Or deemest thou that the people of the Cave and the inscription a wonder among our portents? So here in verse 17 he names the sleepers position in particular as His portent. Otherwise, we are at a loss to imagine anything special about the sun routinely rising, traversing and setting.

What is special about the sleepers' position is the south direction towards which the sleepers kept their heads. At Amman it is the direction of the Ka'abah, the first ever Mosque built on earth jointly by Prophet Ibraheem and Ismaeel (Alai), patriarchs of Christian, Jewish and Arab people! The holiest site of Christians (and Jews) Jerusalem lies in the south west of Amman. The sleepers did not lie with heads towards Jerusalem or any other direction. Is it not significant that these early 'Christians' lay this way, while the whole of Christianity and Jewry then were unaware of the Mosque their patriarch Abraham built? What could explain the sleepers' position which God calls His portent? We get the answer in the immediate continuation of the verse 17. After declaring the portent He says, "He whom Allah guideth, he indeed is led aright, .." So it is quite reasonable to deduce that it is the sleepers position that is pointed out as God's portent, since in it we can see His hand (guidance).

It may be argued that the guidance mentioned here refers to what God provided the companions all along, right from their belief in unity, through escape, to safe lodging. It is completely true and acceptable. But has he not already declared this much earlier in verse 13: ".. They were young men who believed in their Lord and We increased them in guidance."?

So let us read the verse 17 continuously in order to understand what God has to say regarding the sleepers' position inside the cave: " And thou might have seen the sun when it rose move away from their cave to the right, and when it set go past them on the left, and they were in the cleft thereof. That was (one) of the portents of Allah. He whom Allah guideth, he indeed is led aright..."

Allah A'lam. Allah knows best on the matters regarding science and qibla this article attempts to explain.

(The author is the Director, Dr Ambedkar Institute of Productivity National Productivity Council)

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