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Limits of Knowledge: Lesson from Surah Al-Kahaf

Syed Sharfuddin

Every Friday millions of Muslims recite Surah Al-Kahf, as recommended in Ahadith as an anti dote to the fitna of Dajjal’s coming, as well as for blessing and guidance in this world and for reaping the reward of reading the holy Quran in the hereafter.

There are many messages in the parables mentioned in this Surah. This essay focuses on two parables, which are related to knowledge.

The first is the parable of Ashab Kahf (the youth of the cave). They took refuge in a cave to save themselves from persecution by the oppressive authorities of their time. Allah sent them to sleep for a long time spanning over many centuries. Allah says in the Quran in another Surah that sleep is a form of death because you have no control over your self and you don’t know when and if you will get up again. (Surah Al-Zumar, verse 42). So, when the youth of the cave woke up from their long sleep they had no idea what had happened to their society while they were sleeping. The lesson for us in this parable is that after a person dies, no matter how good a Momin he has been in his life, he cannot listen to others in his grave and does not know anything about what is happening on earth after he went to his long sleep (death) and inside which he was buried.

The second is the parable of Prophet Moses’ meeting a slave of Allah who was blessed by Allah and given a portion of divine knowledge by Allah (Surah Al-Kahf, verse 65). His names is not mentioned in the Quran but in Ahadith he is identified as Khidr (the one who was seated on a green mat when Moses met him). The parable is long and contains many questions raised by Moses. Allah had given Moses the ability to judge between right and wrong and bestowed him with divine knowledge (Surah Al-Qasas, verse 12), but Moses did not understand what Khizr was doing when he accompanied him to learn Allah’s mysteries.

The lesson from this parable is that even a prophet of the calibre of Moses who had the honour to speak to Allah and receive miracles from Allah does not have complete knowledge. In Surah Hud (verse 46) prophet Nuh was told by Allah Subhanuhu wa Taala not to ask about things he had no knowledge about.  In every era, the chosen prophets of Allah were given the task of conveying Allah’s guidance to their nations, but they only knew no more than what Allah revealed to them.

Allah gave prophets David and Solomon true knowledge. (Surah Al-Naml, verse 15). Allah bestowed prophet Lut with sound judgement and knowledge. (Surah Al-Anbia, verse 74). He gave the angels only limited knowledge (Surah Al-Baqarah, verse 32). Even our beloved prophet was advised in Surah Al-Kahf verse 23 to “never say about anything :I shall certainly do it” because it is Allah who Wills and no one other than Allah can do this without Allah’s permission.

The distribution of knowledge belongs solely to Allah and He assigns different roles to people on the basis of what knowledge informs them with. Moses was a great prophet with qualities of judgement and divine knowledge, but he did not have the knowledge that Allah gave Khidr. Likewise, Khidr had the knowledge about what Allah ordered him to do but Khidr was not a prophet, nor did he know anything about the Torah, which Moses was revealed by Allah.

Knowledge belongs to Allah Subhanuhu wa Taala and He gives it to humans according to their ability and purpose for which they are created and placed in different positions.

I hope and pray that may Allah lead us to discover the many other beautiful lessons found in this great Surah.

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