In this age of globalization, technology and the vast spread of information, we as Muslims need a model to better capture dimensions of Muslim reality more effectively. We need guidance. As it was well stated from the first surah, al-Fatihah the Opening. “You alone do we worship, and You alone do we ask for help. Guide us on the straight path, the path of those who have received your grace; not the path of those who have brought down wrath, nor of those who wander astray” (1:5-7). Surah al-Fatihah teaches us the attitude of a seeker-after-truth and to recognize the fact that the Lord of the Universe is the source of all knowledge. God continues revealing his love and mercy upon us by teaching us where to find the guidance. The Qur’ān is Huda (guidance), as stated in the second surah 2:2-5, “This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who are cautious and mindful of Allah.”
Therefore, after reading the Qur’an in its entirety several times, I asked the question: How do we increase in guidance? I found it in surah al-Kahf, the Cave, one of the earliest revelations in Mecca. This does not mean surah al-Kahf is the only place in the Qur’ān where we find guidance; rather, the Qur’ān as a whole is described as Huda, guidance. However, I will focus on this section only — the story of the sleepers of the cave. My intention is not to give tafseer word-for-word of the surah, but to explain how the sleepers in the cave were seeking and receiving guidance. Allah almighty describes them in the Qur’ān: “They were a few young men who believed in their Lords, and We increased them in their guidance. We strengthened their hearts, when they rose up, and they declared, “Our Lord is the One Who is the Lord of the heavens and the earth. We will not invoke any other deity than Him. It will be the most improper thing if we do so.” (18:13-14)
First: the Islamic view of knowledge starts with the concept of tawḥīd. Getting to know Allah is the first step in the process of finding the true guidance. The central theme in surah al Kahf, to which all its accounts and ideas relate, is to cleanse faith of all alien concepts. This is determined both at the introduction and conclusion. The sūrah begins and ends with declaring God’s oneness, rejecting any concept that associates partners with God, accepting revelation as true, and making a clear and absolute distinction between God and other beings.
Second: seeking knowledge and asking for evidence. The Qur’an teaches us that any argument we propose must be supported by profound and comprehensive evidence. Believing in Allah must be based on profound knowledge and evidence. Allah said: “Nay – who is it that creates [all life] in the first instance, and then brings it forth anew? And who is it that provides you with sustenance out of heaven and earth? Could there be any divine power besides God? Say: “[If you think so,] produce your evidence – if you truly believe in your claim!” (27:64)
The sleepers in the cave, called their Creator by saying: “Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth. Never shall we call upon any deity other than Him. If we did, we should indeed have uttered an enormity!” (18:14). The sleepers announced to the world that their belief in Allah is not a blind belief. It is based on profound evidence. That is why they were surprised about how their people accepted to believe in something without proof. “These people of ours have taken for worship deities other than Him, without being able to show any convincing proof of their belief” (18:15).
They beautifully continued their dialogue among themselves about their Lord describing their view of tawhid. “When ye turn away from them and the things they worship other than Allah betake yourselves to the Cave: your Lord will shower his mercy on you and dispose of your affair towards comfort and ease” (18:16). Those young believers in the story of the Cave who sincerely asked for Allah’s guidance and put their complete trust in Him. As a result, He guided them, protected them and made them as a model for humanity beyond their time.
The epistemological aspect of tawḥīd is manifested through God’s attribute of absolute knowledge and His teaching humanity all that which it did not know. In this case, revelation is taken as a creative source of belief, thought, worldview and conceptualization. It encourages critical thinking and also gives the necessary order to establish human concepts, clarifies the relationships between God, humanity and the universe. It regulates these in such a way as to develop an integrated tawḥīdī-based society. Here, we have to be honest with ourselves and examine our heart and mind, in terms of tawhid.
The establishment of clear and accurate thought and reasoning is made manifest in the rejection of the claims of all those who associate partners with God, because they assert what they do not know. They have no evidence to prove what they claim. Sūrah al Kahf also directs human beings to make their judgment only on what they know for certain. What they do not know, they should leave to God to determine. Thus at the beginning of the sūrah we have the verse stating: “It warns those who assert, ‘God has taken to Himself a son.’ No knowledge whatever have they of Him, and neither had their forefathers” (Verses 4-5).
We have to stress the significance of reviving the subsequent use of ijtihād as an intellectual, spiritual and creative exercise to understand revelation, creation, the universe and human life1. Therefore, seeking and then gaining guidance from the Qur’an requires the reader to contemplate, and means an active reading of the ayat/verses of the Book of Allah. “Do they not then earnestly seek to understand the Qur’an, or are their hearts locked up by them?” (47:24). The Qur’an describes the people who read and contemplate as active readers (alkhashe’een) those who humble themselves. “Has not the Time arrived for the Believers that their hearts in all humility should engage in the remembrance of Allah and of the Truth which has been revealed (to them), and that they should not become like those to whom was given Revelation aforetime, but long ages passed over them and their hearts grew hard? For many among them are rebellious transgressors.” (57:16)
These opening verses of the ninety-sixth surah — with reference to the human’s humble biological origin as well as to his consciousness and intellect — began, early in the seventh century of the Christian era. These first revealed verses articulated the Qur’anic world view on the relationship between (Allah, humanity and the universe). It inviteseach individual to read critically the three dimensions.
In order to reach the truth, the Qur’an calls for the “combine of two readings,” namely, reading the “Book of God,” who has taught [man] the use of the pen, in which the world of the unseen is unfolded and religious issues are clarified, and the “Book of Creation” (the natural universe), which are signs of God and the laws of nature He designed. These two “books” are two sources of knowledge that could provide an analytic explanation of the meaning of life and the universe. The Qur’an explains clearly God’s purpose behind the creation of the world and humanity as well as outlining an essential criterion by which human behavior is judged and should be guided.
This process of thinking states that ‘aql (human reason) and the five senses are responsible for exploration, examination, inductive reasoning and decision making. The Muslim mind should once again undertake ijtihād, in its broader sense, and offer humanity the knowledge and science that engages the transcendence of knowledge. The Qur’ān asserts that no knowledge can be considered worthy of acceptance if there is no corroborating evidence from waḥy (revelation) and wujūd (the physical universe). Revelation provides humanity with some knowledge about ‘ālam al-ghayb (the unseen world), which is beyond the reach of human perception, and ‘ālam al-shahādah (the perceptible world). Therefore, humanity is expected to use ‘aql, heart and the five senses to understand the main sources of knowledge2.
1. Zainab Alwani, Maqāṣid Qur᾽āniyya: A Methodology on Evaluating Modern Challenges and Fiqh al-Aqalliyyāt, The Muslim World, Volume 104, Issue 4, October 2014, Pages: 465–487.