How should we understand the expression that Ashab al-Kahf (People of the Cave) stayed in their cave three hundred years and added nine more years?
Author: Questions on Islam
Chapter al-Kahf, Verses 22 – 26:
22. (Some) say they were three, the dog being the fourth among them; (others) say they were five, the dog being the sixth― doubtfully guessing at the unknown; (yet others) say they were seven, the dog being the eighth. Say thou: "My Lord knoweth best their number; it is but few that know their (real case)." Enter not, therefore, into controversies concerning them, except on a matter that is clear, nor consult any of them about (the affair of) the Sleepers!
23-24. "Nor say of anything, "I shall be sure to do so and so tomorrow"― Without adding, "So please Allah!" And call thy Lord to mind when thou forgettest, and say "I hope that my Lord will guide me ever closer (even) than this to the right road."
25. "So they stayed in their Cave three hundred years, and (some) add nine (more).
26. Say: "Allah knows best how long they stayed: with Him is (the knowledge of) the secrets of the heavens and the earth: how clearly He sees, how finely He hears (everything)! They have no protector other than Him; nor does He share His Command with any person whatsoever.
Explanation of the Relevant Verses:
Interpreters (Tafsir scholars) regarded those verses as complementary to one another and stated two different views regarding their interpretation:
First View: Verse 25 is the sentence of those who uttered different things about the number of the People of the Cave. People had different views about their numbers; similarly, they uttered different numbers about the period they stayed in the cave. Some people said, "They stayed three hundred years in the cave"; others added nine more years and said, “They stayed three hundred and nine years." The fact that Ibn Mas'ud read the verse by adding the phrase "wa qalu (and they said)" at the beginning supports this view. Accordingly, Allah did not inform people about the number of the People of the Cave and the number of the years they stayed there. As a matter of fact, it is stated in verse 26 that this knowledge is with Allah. Besides, the People of the Book said the following to each other: “Allah (alone) knows best how long you have stayed here." (Verse 19)
Secon View: Verse 25 is the word of Allah. Thus, they stayed three hundred and nine years in the cave. According to an interpretation, the People of the Book stated that the People of the Cave slept for three hundred and nine years in the cave. Accordingly, the phrase "and (some) add nine (more)" can indicate the fact that the number three hundred and nine expresses the number in the lunar calendar used by Arabs and the number three hundred uttered by the People of the Book expresses the number in the solar calendar. Thus, verse 26 stated the period they stayed in the cave and eliminated the disagreement among people regarding the issue, emphasizing that Allah knows the issue best. Allah, who knows all of the secret things in the skies and the world, knows how much they slept in the cave. He sees and hears endlessly. He is the only owner of what is in the skies and the world. He does not accept anyone as a partner in His sovereignty. (For the explanation, see Diyanet Tefsiri, Kur’an Yolu:III/471-472.)
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