Making Sense Of World Events Through The 4 Stories Of Surah Al-Kahf

Surah Al-Kahf is encouraged to be read every Friday. There are numerous benefits to it. More importantly, what are some of the key lessons for us to learn from this amazing chapter of the Quran? Read this article to find out!
by Ustaz Ahmad Helmi 2024-01-18 • 30 min read
Ustaz Ahmad Helmi bin Mohamad Hasbi graduated with Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Islamic Theology - Quranic Exegesis from Al-Azhar University in 2011 and obtained his Masters of Science (MSc) in Strategic Studies at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), NTU in 2020. Currently a Research Analyst at The International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, RSIS. He is also a counsellor and a member of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG).
2024-01-18 • 30 min read

Learning From Surah Al-Kahf – 4 Stories with Beautiful Lessons

Surah Al-Kahf, Surah Kahfi, Quran, Recitation, end of times

We live in a vibrant, dynamic city, yet we are not immune to the challenges that grip the world. From the anxieties of a globalised world to the ever-shifting sands of personal struggles, we yearn for a guiding light, a whisper of wisdom that transcends the noise and chaos. Surah Al-Kahf, a luminous chapter in the Quran, offers a timeless lens through which we should examine our world and ourselves.

As we settle into a new year's routine, a clean slate appears in front of us, suggesting limitless possibilities but also whispering concerns. Being optimistic about the new year is normal, but we must remember to reflect on the world around us. Calamities continue to strike while the world around us is still scarred by yesteryear’s calamities, some of which grabbed headlines, and others hurt our hearts.

Surah Al-Kahf, Surah Kahfi, global events, news, gaza, palestine, israel, genocide

While the news is filled with both uplifting and heartbreaking global events, our daily lives unfold in an array of joys and sorrows. How do we make sense of it all, find purpose, and deal with the unknowns in this ever-changing landscape?

The significance of Surah Al-Kahf

The Mufassirin (scholars of Tafsir) unanimously agreed that Surah Al-Kahf, the 18th chapter of the Quran, was revealed when the Prophet s.a.w. was in Makkah, before the hijrah to Madinah. Its verses offer a unique blend of storytelling and divine commentary aimed at nurturing and strengthening belief – a major theme for Quranic chapters revealed in Makkah.

Central to the chapter are powerful accounts like the story of Ashab Al-Kahf, the sleepers of the cave, who exemplify unwavering faith amidst adversity. Each verse serves as a brushstroke, illustrating divine providence and guiding readers through doubt's darkness towards conviction's light. 

Yet, it also mentions the end of times, a reminder of the eternal life where worldly pursuits fade, and a different reckoning awaits. These verses serve as a compass for believers, especially in difficult periods, urging and guiding them towards faith.

Surah Al-Kahf, Surah Kahfi, Quran, Recitation, end of times

The chapter, which consists of 110 verses, presents itself as a multifaceted gem, offering both glad tidings and gentle warnings for the reflective mind. Its verses, woven with stories of unwavering faith and resilience, provide valuable lessons for navigating the complexities of life.

Benefits of Practising and Reciting Surah Al-Kahf

Furthermore, there are numerous benefits for the believer in practising and reciting Surah Al-Kahf. Its significance resonates in today’s world filled with grey. In a hadith, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. encouraged its recitation on Fridays, promising enlightenment that guides us to the path of goodness and righteousness until the following Friday:

 مَنْ قَرَأَ سُورَةَ الْكَهْفِ فِي يَوْمِ الْجُمُعَةِ أَضَاءَ لَهُ مِنَ النُّورِ مَا بَيْنَ الْجُمُعَتَيْنِ

“Whoever recites Surat al-Kahf on Friday will have a light between this Friday and the next.”

(Mustadrak Al-Hakim)

In another narration, he advocated for its regular reading, saying that it brings about inner peace and calmness. Al-Bara’ ibn ‘Azib reported: A man was reciting Surah Al-Kahf, and in his barn was an animal which became unsettled. As he looked, there was a mist or a cloud overshadowing him. He mentioned that to the Prophet s.a.w. and he said, 

 اقْرَأْ فُلَانُ فَإِنَّهَا السَّكِينَةُ تَنَزَّلَتْ عِنْدَ الْقُرْآنِ أَوْ تَنَزَّلَتْ لِلْقُرْآنِ

“Continue reciting, for it was calm which descended with the Quran, or for the Quran.” 

(Muttafaqun ‘Alayh)

This hadith also reminds us that reciting the Quran brings about calmness and tranquillity, especially when the verses relate best to our current circumstances and situations. 

It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude. It is gratitude that brings us happiness.

Surah Al-Kahf opens with: "Alhamdulillah" and is one of the only four chapters in the Quran, to begin with this dedication of praise. It sets the stage for a journey not just through stories but also through gratitude. 

ٱلْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ ٱلَّذِىٓ أَنزَلَ عَلَىٰ عَبْدِهِ ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ وَلَمْ يَجْعَل لَّهُۥ عِوَجَا

“All praise is for Allah Who has revealed the Book to His servant, allowing no crookedness in it.”

(Surah Al-Kahfi, 18:1)

A grateful heart lies in recognising the countless blessings Allah has bestowed upon us, the pinnacle of which is the very Quran itself – a guiding light and source of solace for us all. Undoubtedly, in life's trials, gratitude can dim, lest we fail to remember His blessings. Surah Al-Kahf reminds us to hold fast to our principles, even when things seem bleak.

Surah Al-Kahf, Surah Kahfi, Quran, Recitation, end of times, Muslim

Besides, this chapter was revealed to the prophet s.a.w. after a prolonged silence of revelation, leaving him longing for answers to the challenges hurled by those who opposed him in Makkah. When revelation finally came, it was the word of praise, “Alhamdulillah” - an assertion of acknowledging Allah The Almighty. Essentially, it is a calling to His believing servants not to lose sight of Him. This simple act of gratitude, especially in the face of hardship, is one of Surah Al-Kahf's profound lessons. 

It reminds us that thankfulness is not merely a reaction to joy but an unwavering cornerstone of faith – a beacon that shines even in darkness. In acknowledging Allah's blessings, we find the strength to rise, persevere, and guide others towards the path of truth.

Indeed, even the chosen Prophet s.a.w. faced trials and challenges. 

إِنَّا جَعَلْنَا مَا عَلَى ٱلْأَرْضِ زِينَةً لَّهَا لِنَبْلُوَهُمْ أَيُّهُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا

"We have made the world's adornments a test for us to see who acts best." 

(Surah Al-Kahf, 18:7)

The verse reminds believers not to focus too much on and be distressed over the world’s adornments as they are part of the trials to test our faith. 

In Surah Al-Kahf, we can reflect upon 4 stories which show how adornments - faith, worldly wealth, wisdom, and fame - could be tested:

The Story of the Sleepers of the Cave: A Test of Faith

Surah Al-Kahf's account of the ‘Sleepers of the Cave’ begins with a humbling reminder that our knowledge is limited. 

أَمْ حَسِبْتَ أَنَّ أَصْحَـٰبَ ٱلْكَهْفِ وَٱلرَّقِيمِ كَانُوا۟ مِنْ ءَايَـٰتِنَا عَجَبًا

“Have you thought that the people of the cave and the plaque were (the only) wonders of Our signs?”

(Surah Al-Kahf, 18:9)

As verse 9 asserts, even this extraordinary story of being asleep for 309 years pales in comparison to Allah's vast wonders. Yet, it still offers profound lessons for those who seek guidance.

Surah Al-Kahf, Surah Kahfi, Quran, Recitation, end of times, people of the cave, sleepers of the caveCave of the Seven Sleepers, Amman, Jordan.
This historical site is among many others, which claim to be the cave where the extraordinary sleepers took refuge. The Quran did not mention the specific site or the timeline where the event took place. The main objective was the lessons and guidance it imparts to readers rather than identifying these sites.

This is a story of courageous young men who took a momentous leap of faith. Faced with persecution for their beliefs, they sought refuge in a cave, entrusting their lives to Allah s.w.t. Verse 10 portrays them persistently seeking Allah's mercy and guidance, while verse 13 emphasises how Allah s.w.t strengthened their resolve.

إِذْ أَوَى ٱلْفِتْيَةُ إِلَى ٱلْكَهْفِ فَقَالُوا۟ رَبَّنَآ ءَاتِنَا مِن لَّدُنكَ رَحْمَةً وَهَيِّئْ لَنَا مِنْ أَمْرِنَا رَشَدًا. فَضَرَبْنَا عَلَىٰٓ ءَاذَانِهِمْ فِى ٱلْكَهْفِ سِنِينَ عَدَدًا. ثُمَّ بَعَثْنَـٰهُمْ لِنَعْلَمَ أَىُّ ٱلْحِزْبَيْنِ أَحْصَىٰ لِمَا لَبِثُوٓا۟ أَمَدًا. نَّحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ نَبَأَهُم بِٱلْحَقِّ ۚ إِنَّهُمْ فِتْيَةٌ ءَامَنُوا۟ بِرَبِّهِمْ وَزِدْنَـٰهُمْ هُدًى.

“(Remember) when those youths took refuge in the cave, and said, ‘Our Lord! Grant us mercy from Yourself and guide us rightly through our ordeal’. So We caused them to fall into a dead sleep in the cave for many years, and then We raised them so We may show which of the two groups would make a better estimation of the length of their stay. We relate to you (O Prophet) their story in truth. They were youths who truly believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.”

(Surah Al-Kahf, 18:10-13)

Iman (faith) is not static; it rises and falls. One must actively strive to strengthen one's faith; seeking guidance is key to nurturing it. Thereafter, Allah s.w.t. shall bestow His guidance upon those who sincerely seek it in His immeasurable mercy.

The story of the Sleepers of the Cave also tells us that tests of faith come in many forms. While we may not face overt persecution like the Ashab Al-Kahf, the comfort of life can lull us into complacency. We may take our blessings for granted, causing our hearts to weaken. Or perhaps we witness injustice and oppression but lack empathy and remain unmoved by the cries of the suffering.

Some of us may grapple with the opposite challenge. We might find ourselves burdened by the suffering of others. Witnessing injustice can leave us with deep wounds in our hearts and make us feel helpless. If not accompanied by action, our sympathy can become a passive response.

Surah Al-Kahf, Surah Kahfi, Quran, Recitation, end of times, Gaza, Palestine

The remedy for hopelessness is a firm belief in Allah's omnipotence or power, as outlined in Surah Al-Kahf. This does not mean disregarding the suffering we see; it means trusting that even in the midst of darkness, He holds the power to heal and bring justice, be it in this world or the next. 

Our faith must be paired with proactive empathy, driving us to seek ways to alleviate suffering, offer support, and advocate for change. By channelling our sympathy to action, we can become catalysts of Allah's mercy in this world. In doing so, our faith will reverberate not only within us but also in the lives of those around us.

Read: Navigating The Crisis In Gaza: A Guide by the Asatizah Youth Network

The Ashab Al-Kahf’s story should speak to the heart of any believer. We must remain vigilant, nurturing our faith through seeking knowledge, practising acts of worship, and cultivating empathy. Just as Allah s.w.t. guided the Ashab Al-Kahf, He will also guide us if we actively seek His light. It also reminds us that even in the face of difficulty, unwavering faith can be our anchor, and Allah's grace can guide us through life's perilous paths.

The Parable of the Two Gardens: A Test of Wealth

As previously stated, Surah Al-Kahf is intricately embroidered with threads of challenges. One trial that stands out is the test of wealth. This is where the parable of the two gardens unfolds, telling us a cautionary tale about the treacherous allure of material possessions.

Surah Al-Kahf, Surah Kahfi, Quran, Recitation, end of times, garden

On one stage stands a figure draped in overflowing abundance, his eyes blinded by pride and possessions. Verses 35-36 paint an expressive scene: 

وَدَخَلَ جَنَّتَهُۥ وَهُوَ ظَالِمٌ لِّنَفْسِهِۦ قَالَ مَآ أَظُنُّ أَن تَبِيدَ هَـٰذِهِۦٓ أَبَدًا. وَمَآ أَظُنُّ ٱلسَّاعَةَ قَآئِمَةً وَلَئِن رُّدِدتُّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّى لَأَجِدَنَّ خَيْرًا مِّنْهَا مُنقَلَبًا.

“And he entered his garden while being unjust to himself, saying, 'I do not think this will ever perish. Nor do I think the Hour will (ever) come. And if, in fact, I am returned to my Lord, I will definitely get a far better outcome than (all) this.” 

(Surah Al-Kahf, 18:35-36) 

His arrogance takes root, choking out gratitude and transforming his prosperity into a breeding ground for spiritual disease. We witness this arrogance in his dismissal of a sound counsel by another figure in the story, illustrating how wealth can lead one to reject wisdom and embrace self-delusion.

Surah Al-Kahf, Surah Kahfi, Quran, Recitation, end of times, garden

In stark contrast, the other figure emerges, adorned not in possessions but in the humility of contentment. His modest means are viewed as a testament to Allah's grace rather than a deficiency. Verse 39 echoes his heartfelt reminder to his friend: 

وَلَوْلَآ إِذْ دَخَلْتَ جَنَّتَكَ قُلْتَ مَا شَآءَ ٱللَّهُ لَا قُوَّةَ إِلَّا بِٱللَّهِ ۚ إِن تَرَنِ أَنَا۠ أَقَلَّ مِنكَ مَالًا وَوَلَدًا

”If only you had said, upon entering your property, ‘This is what Allah has willed! There is no power except with Allah!’ Even though you see me inferior to you in wealth and offspring,” 

(Surah Al-Kahf, 18:39)

Unlike his arrogant counterpart, he understands that true wealth lies not in the abundance of possessions but in a heart overflowing with gratitude and a spirit grounded in humble servitude.

This parable should resonate deeply with Muslims. It is a powerful reminder that Allah s.w.t. determines our sustenance and weaves our existence with both plenty and scarcity. While striving for betterment and earning our livelihoods with integrity is encouraged, the parable cautions against equating our worth with material possessions. True happiness lies in contentment rather than extravagance.

Surah Al-Kahf, Surah Kahfi, Quran, Recitation, end of times, gratitude

This does not mean shunning worldly pursuits altogether, but it is about cultivating a balanced perspective. We remember that all earthly possessions are temporary, just as the humble gardener recognised the fleeting nature of his modest means. True value lies in how we utilise them, not for our own glory but rather to please Allah s.w.t. When we recognise that true wealth lies not in our possessions but in our connection with Allah, we find a peace and stability that transcends the fluctuations of life in this world.

Regardless of our circumstances, the parable is a potent lesson for us to build satisfaction in our hearts. The rich man's garden, once a symbol of his pride, eventually withered away, leaving behind a stark lesson in the impermanence of material wealth. 

In contrast, the humble friend's focus on gratitude and service to Allah laid the foundation for a lasting legacy, enriching not only his own life but also the lives of those around him. Thus, Allah mentions in verse 44: 

هُنَالِكَ ٱلْوَلَـٰيَةُ لِلَّهِ ٱلْحَقِّ ۚ هُوَ خَيْرٌ ثَوَابًا وَخَيْرٌ عُقْبًا

“...the (only) protection comes from Allah, the True One. He the Best to reward, and the Best to give success.”

(Surah Al-Kahf, 18:44)

The One Who Has Been Given ‘Wisdom’: A Test of Knowledge

Conversely, the quest for knowledge holds considerably greater value than material possessions. Regardless of one's status or height, it has to be a constant journey. In this regard, Surah Al-Kahf offers us a meaningful episode to contemplate.

Surah Al-Kahf, Surah Kahfi, Quran, Recitation, end of times

It introduces us to Musa a.s. the Kaleemulllah - one who has direct communication with Allah, a revered prophet endowed with heavenly wisdom yet eager for more. He learned of a certain ’servant of Allah’ blessed with exceptional understanding, which prompted a quest that crossed distant boundaries and took him into the depths of seeking knowledge with humility and patience.

وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِفَتَىٰهُ لَآ أَبْرَحُ حَتَّىٰٓ أَبْلُغَ مَجْمَعَ ٱلْبَحْرَيْنِ أَوْ أَمْضِىَ حُقُبًا

“And (remember) when Moses said to his young assistant, ‘I will never give up until I reach the junction of the two seas, even if I travel for ages.’”

(Surah Al-Kahf, 18:60)

While some Tafsir scholars identify this mysterious figure as Khidr[1], the Quran deliberately leaves his identity veiled. This is not a tale about names but about the universal principle of seeking knowledge regardless of one's rank or position. Even a prophet like Musa a.s. embarked on this journey, demonstrating that the pursuit of knowledge is a lifetime endeavour with no endpoint.

The lesson is further emphasised by the ’servant of Allah’ character gifted with unique knowledge imparted by Allah s.w.t. This underscores the notion that wisdom can be found in unexpected places.[2] We must be open to learning from diverse sources rather than being constrained by ego or preconceived notions.

فَوَجَدَا عَبْدًا مِّنْ عِبَادِنَآ ءَاتَيْنَـٰهُ رَحْمَةً مِّنْ عِندِنَا وَعَلَّمْنَـٰهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلْمًا. قَالَ لَهُۥ مُوسَىٰ هَلْ أَتَّبِعُكَ عَلَىٰٓ أَن تُعَلِّمَنِ مِمَّا عُلِّمْتَ رُشْدًا. قَالَ إِنَّكَ لَن تَسْتَطِيعَ مَعِىَ صَبْرًا. قَالَ سَتَجِدُنِىٓ إِن شَآءَ ٱللَّهُ صَابِرًا وَلَآ أَعْصِى لَكَ أَمْرًا 

“There they found a servant of Ours, to whom We had granted mercy from Us and enlightened with knowledge of Our Own. Moses said to him, ‘May I follow you, provided that you teach me some of the right guidance you have been taught?’. He said, ‘You certainly cannot be patient (enough) with me. And how can you be patient with what is beyond your (realm of) knowledge?’ Moses assured (him), ‘You will find me patient, Allah willing, and I will not disobey any of your orders.’”

(Surah Al-Kahf, 18: 65-69)

As knowledge blossoms within us, it should not inflate our egos but rather soften them. Egocentricity, after all, is a symptom of spiritual disease, blinding us to the vast ocean of knowledge beyond our grasp. 

The episode with Musa a.s. and ‘the servant of Allah’ reminds us that true learning requires sacrifice of our own inflated perceptions. We must abandon our hubris and embrace the discomfort of challenging our assumptions. The path to knowledge is rarely smooth and often necessitates patience and humility.

The lesson resonates deeply in our modern environment, where information overload and constant comparison can fuel intellectual pride. Surah Al-Kahf advises us to seek knowledge for its own purpose rather than to gratify our egos or compete with others.

Surah Al-Kahf, Surah Kahfi, Quran, Recitation, end of times, knowledge, Musa, Prophet Musa, Khidr

We must choose reliable teachers, be patient with the learning process, and embrace humility. True wisdom lies in understanding and applying them with compassion and grace in a manner that pleases Allah s.w.t. Truly, He is the fountainhead of all knowledge, and he bestows it upon whom He chooses.

The Story of Dzulqarnain – A Test of Authority and Power

Surah Al-Kahf unveils not just tales of faith and perseverance but also of power and responsibility. The enigmatic figure of Dzulqarnain, a righteous king of great prowess, emerges as a powerful case study of leadership and the judicious use of authority.

Verse 83 explicitly states that Dzulqarnain's story is recounted as a ’zikr’: a lesson or reminder. This deliberate placement following the narrative of Moses seeking knowledge (in the previous segment) is not coincidental. Scholars note it signifies that the pursuit of understanding and wisdom surpasses even the possession of immense power, stature and fame.

وَيَسْـَٔلُونَكَ عَن ذِى ٱلْقَرْنَيْنِ ۖ قُلْ سَأَتْلُوا۟ عَلَيْكُم مِّنْهُ ذِكْرًا

“They ask you (O Prophet) about Dzulqarnain. Say, ‘I will relate to you something of his narrative.’”

(Surah Al-Kahf, 18:83)

Surah Al-Kahf, Surah Kahfi, Quran, Recitation, end of times, dzulqarnain, zulqarnain

Dzulqarnain, blessed with both kingly authority and divine wisdom, stands as a model for wielding power with virtue. Verse 95 beautifully captures his humble acknowledgement that his wealth, authority and power were established by his Lord – Allah s.w.t. He sees his power not as a personal trophy but as a divine trust to be used for the betterment of his people.

قَالَ مَا مَكَّنِّى فِيهِ رَبِّى خَيْرٌ فَأَعِينُونِى بِقُوَّةٍ أَجْعَلْ بَيْنَكُمْ وَبَيْنَهُمْ رَدْمًا

“He responded, ‘What my Lord has provided for me is far better. But assist me with resources, and I will build a barrier between you and them.’”

(Surah Al-Kahf, 18:95)

This emphasis on accountability continues in verse 98, where Dzulqarnain attributes his successes to Allah's mercy. He recognises that true achievement comes not from mere strength or strategy but from divine guidance and compassion. This is a powerful reminder to all individuals in positions of control that humility before the Creator is the foundation of successful leadership.

قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَحْمَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّى ۖ فَإِذَا جَآءَ وَعْدُ رَبِّى جَعَلَهُۥ دَكَّآءَ ۖ وَكَانَ وَعْدُ رَبِّى حَقًّا

“He declared, ‘This is a mercy from my Lord. But when the promise of my Lord comes to pass, He will level it to the ground. And my Lord’s promise is ever true.’”

(Surah Al-Kahf, 18:98)

Dzulqarnain's story is not just for kings and presidents; it resonates across all walks of life; be it leading a community, managing a team, or simply holding sway over personal choices. It prompts us to ask ourselves: how do we wield our power? Do we serve the greater good or succumb to egotism and self-interest? 

As parents, for example, they can learn from Dzulqarnain's judicious use of authority, guiding their children with wisdom and compassion. True leadership is found in nurturing instead of dictating.

Surah Al-Kahf, Surah Kahfi, Quran, Recitation, end of times, parenthood

Additionally, Dzulqarnain's humble attribution of his successes to Allah's mercy serves as a powerful reminder that true leaders govern with a sense of accountability, recognising that their power is a gift, not a possessed right. Thus, collectively, we must actively shape our communities and ethically question with wisdom. We should strive to cultivate leaders and future leaders who advocate for justice and compassion and humbly recognise their place within the grand design.

Concluding remarks

The divine threads of faith, resilience, and wisdom shine eternally in Surah Al-Kahf. The Sleepers of the Cave inspire courage in the face of persecution, while the parable of the two gardens reminds us of the temporary nature of worldly possessions and that true wealth is found in gratitude. Prophet Musa’s pursuit of knowledge conveys a timeless call to learn and grow. Lastly, Dzulqarnain's journey paints a powerful picture of leadership characterised by humility and accountability.

These stories are not simple remnants of the past; they relate to present challenges, offering direction for navigating life's winding roads. Surah Al-Kahf becomes a wellspring of timeless wisdom for those who delve into its depths, enriching the soul and illuminating the path towards a life woven with faith and virtue. 

Surah Al-Kahf, Surah Kahfi, Quran, Recitation, end of times

May the spirit of contemplation ignited by this Surah extend beyond its verses, urging us to explore the vast ocean of knowledge within the Quran, forever enriching our understanding and paving our journey towards inner peace and divine guidance.



[1] Some scholars identify Khidr as a prophet (beyond the 25 prophets we are obligated to believe in), while others hold the view that he is a close servant of Allah (waliy). This story, however, is not about unravelling the identity of this person but the lessons it imparts, as suggested by the Quran, leaving it ambiguous.

[2] As emphasised by Prophet Muhammad s.a.w: “The word of wisdom is the lost property of the believer. Wherever he finds it, he is most worthy of it.” (Sunan At-Tirmizi)


- M. Quraish Shihab, Tafsir Al-Mishbah: Pesan, Kesan dan Keserasian Al-Qur'an Volume 7, " Surah al-Kahf ", Lentera Hati, 2010.

- Prof Dr. Haji Abdulmalik Abdulkarim Amrullah (HAMKA), Tafsir Al-Azhar Juzu' 15,16,17,18, Panji Masyarakat, 1984

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