THE Jews and the Christians always thought of the ways and means to discredit the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). They knew that the Prophet was unlettered and he wouldn’t be able to answer their queries about the past history. So they enticed the pagans of Makkah to ask the Prophet (peace be upon him) about the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus later known in Arabic as ‘Ashab-Al-Kahf.
The pagans of Makkah raised this question with intention to test him with the assumption that if he was really sent by Allah, he would reply to their query. So Allah revealed to him the story of the People of the Cave: “Do you think that the people of the Cave and the Inscription (the news or the names of the people of the Cave) were a wonder among our signs.” (Qur’an, 18:9)
These Sleepers were youngmen and belonged to a noble family of Ephesus. They had embraced Christianity in the reign of Roman Emperor Decius (250 C.E). The emperor at that time was notorious for relentless persecution of the Christians. Gibbon in his book ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ writes, “These youths concealed themselves in a spacious cavern in the side of an adjacent mountain; where they were doomed to perish by the tyrant, who gave orders that the entrance should be firmly secured with a pile of huge stones. They immediately fell into a deep slumber which was miraculously prolonged, without injuring the powers of life.”
Ephesus, a famous city now known as Ayasoluk and about 36 miles from Smyrna on the railroad to Aidin, was a Greek city in Asia Minor and about six miles from the sea, nearly opposite the island of Samos.
The “Inscription” mentioned in the verse was much later confirmed in Hastings’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, it says, “Two Christians Theodore and Rufinus wrote the story of the young martyrs on metal plates, which they placed under the stones closing the cave. (Vol. 11 p.428). The plate was of lead and in it were engraved the names of the people of the Cave. They were Constantine, Dionysius, John, Maximiam, Malchus, Martinian and Serapion. Nothing was heard of them for 230 years.
The Qur’an mentions: “Therefore, We covered up their (sense of) hearing (causing them to go in deep sleep) in the Cave for a number of years.” (Qur’an, 18:11) “And they stayed in their Cave three hundred years adding nine.” (Qur’an, 18:25) The beauty in this description is that three hundred solar years are equal to 309 lunar years. It is an exact count nobody could know in those Days of Ignorance except Allah, the Ommiscient.
But the verse further describes: “Allah knows best how long they stayed.” (Qur’an, 18:26). The verse does not confirm their number as seven but says: “(Some) say they were three, the dog being the fourth among them; and (others) say they were five, the dog being the sixth, – guessing at the unseen; (yet others) say they were seven, and the dog being the eighth. Say (O Muhammad, peace be upon him): “My Lord knows best their number; none knows them but a few.” (Qur’an, 18:22)
The Qur’an denied the belief of the present-day Christianity that holds Jesus God the son, even they claim godhood for Jesus, But ‘Ashab Al-Kahf had believed in God the Unique: “And We made their hearts firm and strong, (with the light of Faith in Allah and bestowed upon them patience to bear the separation of their kith and kin and dwellings.) when they stood up and said: “Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, never shall we call upon any ilah (god) other then Him; if we did, we should indeed have uttered an enormity in disbelief.” (Qur’an, 18:14)
All this proves that those youths were monotheists and true followers of the Prophet Jesus and not Christ-worshippers like those following Catholic creed.
After the lapse of time the Christian religion came to reign supreme. When there young dweller of the Cave were discovered by some workmen who removed the stones to supply materials for some rustic edifice; the light of the sun darted into the cavern, and the seven sleepers were permitted to awake. (Gibbons) They still thought of the world in which they had previously lived.
They had no idea of the duration of the time. But when one of them went to the town to purchase the provisions, he found that the Christian religion had replaced the Roman religion, which was a curious medley of animism, fetishism and the worship of heavenly bodies. His dress and the coins of antiquity attracted the curiosity of the authorities, and many visited the Cave and verified the tale by questioning the man’s companions.
The Qur’an related their story that confirms that the true religion of Christianity was in practice in those times, which now had been distorted by the evangelists and the scholars