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Period of Revelation

This is the first of those Surahs which were revealed in the third stage (from the fifth to the tenth year) of Prophethood at Makkah. The persecutions of Muslims were severe but migration to Habsha had not yet taken place.

Major Issues, Divine Laws, and Guidance
  1. Story of the Companions of the Cave who were wakened up from their sleep after hundreds of years.
  2. Whenever you promise to do something in the future, always say "Insha Allah (If Allah so wills)."
  3. Similitude of this worldly life and its relationship with the life after death.
  4. Story of the Prophet Musa as a student of the Prophet Khizr.
  5. Story of King Zul-Qarnain.
  6. The favors of Allah are countless and cannot be recorded even if all the oceans were to be used as an inkwell and other such oceans are brought to replenish this ink.
  7. Muhammad (pbuh) is but a human being like you.

This Surah was basically sent down in answer to the following three questions which the mushrikin of Makkah, in consultation with the Jews, had put to the Prophet in order to test him:

  1. Who were "the Companions of the Cave?"
  2. What is the real story of Khizr?
  3. Who was Zul-Qarnain?

These three questions and the stories involved concerned the history of the Jews, and were unknown in Arabia. These questions were intended to test whether the Prophet was really Divinely guided or would try to avoid the questions. Allah not only provided a complete answer to their questions but also explained the three stories to the disadvantage of the opponents of Islam.

The questioners were told that the Companions of the Cave believed in the same doctrine of Tawhid (Oneness of God) which was being put forward in the Qur'an and that their condition was similar to the condition of the persecuted Muslims of Makkah. On the other hand, the persecutors of the Companions of the Cave had behaved in the same way towards them as the disbelieving Qureysh were behaving towards the Muslims. Besides this, the Muslims have been taught that even if a believer is persecuted by a cruel society, he should not bow down before falsehood, rather he should migrate from that place if needed. The disbelievers of Makkah were told that the story of the 'Companions of the Cave was a clear proof about the life hereafter. Allah has the power to resurrect after a long sleep of death as He did in case of the Companions of the Cave.

The story of the Companions of the Cave is also used to warn the chiefs of Makkah who were persecuting the newly formed Muslim community. At the same time, the Prophet is being instructed that he should in no case make a compromise with the persecutors nor should he consider them to be more important than his poor followers. This story is also meant to comfort and encourage the oppressed Muslims and relate to them how righteous people in the past saved their Faith. On the other hand, the chiefs of Qureysh are admonished that they should not be puffed up with this transitory life that they are enjoying; rather they should seek the excellence of hereafter which will be permanent and eternal.