Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Companions of the Cave

“Or dost thou reflect that the Companions of the Cave and of the Inscription were wonders among Our Sign?” Quran 18:9

“Consider thy breast as a cave, the place for the spiritual retreat of the friend; If though art really the “Companion of the cave,” then enter the cave, enter the cave!” Mevlana Rumi

Notes to consider: The cave of Mount Hira was a place that the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to meditate and reflect upon life even before his time of prophethood.
When the blessed Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), first received revelation in the cave of Mount Hira, out of fear he fled to his wife Khadija (RA) and asked her to cover him. This was his retreat, this was his friend. Little did he (peace be upon him) know that the cave that he fled from would be a great friend and an even greater retreat that would aid what would become the fastest growing religion of all time.

We may look at Surah Al-Kahf (The Cave), tells us the story of the “companions of the cave”, of a number of male youths who took refuge in a cave from the tyrant emperor of Jordan who threatened to kill believers of that time. The cave for some is a place of uncertainty, dark and threatening, uncomfortable and dangerous, as it can be the home of snakes and other reptiles. The youths feeling no different, make dua to Allah and hold their trust firm in Allah, “Behold, the youths betook themselves to the Cave: they said, "Our Lord! Bestow on us Mercy from Thyself, and dispose of our affair for us in the right way!" 18:10

Refering back, what Rumi portrays in his poetry that if you truly are the “companion of the cave” then to embrace it as you would the breast of a friend, i.e. the true believer would trust in Allah and find solace. In another way of looking at it, we can see that Rumi is perhaps portraying the cave as a choice, you have a choice to choose the luxury of the world, or if you truly believe in Allah and are content with him, then enter the cave, enter the cave!

We see in this surah, that the companions of the cave, because of their belief in Allah and their duas, Allah then protected them in every way, and reflecting on this in itself is a clear sign for us, as the cave in which they retreated to was situated in such a way that they were away from the sun during the day, thus shaded from the heat, and during the cooler sun set they were still able to benefit from the warmth of the sun:

“Thou wouldst have seen the sun, when it rose, declining to the right from their Cave, and when it set, turning away from them to the left, while they lay in the open space in the midst of the Cave. Such are among the Signs of Allah: He whom Allah, guides is rightly guided; but he whom Allah leaves to stray, for him wilt thou find no protector to lead him to the Right Way. 18:17

“Then We draw (a veil) over their ears, for a number of years, in the Cave, (so that they heard not)” 18:11. The youths were said to have slept for over 300 years, thus the mercy of Allah, of not only protecting them from the tyrant but ensuring their comfort throughout, and after they awake the story continues which can be read. Here we shall delve a little deeper into the Cave itself…

In Islam, the Cave has been a symbol for the heart and thus access to Allah. “The Divine is not within the human but every human has the ability to reach him through the spirit.” The Dome of the Rock is probably one of the most well known pieces of architectures for many religions, not forgetting its spiritual and religious values that draw people to it. In itself, it can symbolise many things for many people, from gain to loss, from hope to fear. It is believed that beneath the Dome of the Rock, lays a cave. For those who are not familiar with the story of miraj of the Prophet (peace be upon him), it is believed that Buraq, the horse that carried the Prophet (peace be upon him) on his night journey, stood upon “the Rock” and before Buraq left to fly to heaven, the rock pleaded Buraq to take it with him, thus the movement of the rock to heaven, left an empty space which we know today as the cave that lies beneath the Dome of the Rock.

For every mosque there is a focal prayer point of which is called the mihrab. The Mihrab is con-cave (yes like a cave), it is known for its decorative calligraphy concentrated in this area especially. Common shapes can be found within these structures, e.g. the main archway is usually made up of a straight rectangular shape on the bottom joined to a circular shape on top as shown:

The bottom rectangular part represents the terrestrial world whilst the circular part represents the heavenly world as the circle is infinite, as is the hereafter.

Like the cave the mihrab also symbolises the inward heart. Above the Mihrab sits the Dome. The Dome has two amazing symbolisms from two view points, looking up from the inside is a symbol for the gateway to the heavens as it is ascending into the sky. As the dome sits directly above the Mihrab this means that it is essentially the heart that leads us to heaven, which makes sense, as this should be the destination for every pure heart kept with good intention. The second symbol looking from the outside, the Dome shape is a symbol for Allah’s Rahma being sent down to us to our heart, again making much sense, as any love we feel from the heart for another person/animal/plant, is essentially from the origins of Allahs Mercy, and those who show compassion to others, Allah showers his mercy upon them also.

We may remember the story of the Idols that were destroyed in the Kaba, which may also have deeper meaning to the destruction of the ego within the hearts of the arrogant people of that time. As we know, the heart leads to the spirit, and thus to the divine. So, praying towards the mihrab, which is towards qibla and thus the Kaba, becomes a symbol of praying inwardly to the heart towards the spiritual realm. It is not just a matter of praying horizontally, the mihrab so to speak, curves it back to us, (as you would expect from a con-cave structure), from one heart to another, it offers another dimension, a gateway to access our lord, if only we try to.

It is quite hard not to notice the beauty of many mosques, however reflecting a little on the meanings behind the beauty gives them a profound depth that has the ability to touch your heart, feed your spirit and hopefully increase your worship and bring you that much closer to your lord. So let us strive to be "companions of the cave."

1 comment:

  1. very interesting points there zak, there is so much significance of the cave and as muslims we look beyond the stories that are recounted to us as there is hikmah behind everything.