Surat al-Kahf: A Guide for the Seeker

It is the Sunna is to read Surat al-Kahf on the night of Friday or the day of Friday, and it lights one’s week until the following Friday. This is a poem on spiritual wayfaring by Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari, the imam of of noble Azhar mosque, the teacher of Qur’anic tafseer, and the spiritual master and guide, may Allah Most Great please him and be pleased with him. It brings out the many beautiful hints and directions for the spiritual wayfarer in the words of the Sura.

Some short explanatory notes have been attached to some verses. Any mistakes in those are due to this translator’s poor understanding.

He, may Allah reward him abundantly, says:

هل تعرف الشرب يا هذا ودولته

أو كنت تدري الذي بالحب قد سكرا

Do you know the drink, oh you, and how it’s passed around?

Or do you know the ones who are intoxicated with love?

 

 

ما كان ذا الخمر مجعولا لمن رقدوا

بل كان ذا الشرب مجعولا لمن سهرا

This wine was not made for those who sleep

This drink was made for those who stay up at night

 

 

فإن شربت شراب العارفين له

أصبحت في الكون سلطانا ومنتصرا

And if you drink the drink of those who know Him

You shall become in this universe a sultan, victorious

 

 

وإن ركنت لدنيا وزينتها

أصبحت عبدا لها كالكلب منزجرا

But if you are satisfied with the dunya and its adornments

You will become its slave, like a dog that’s been admonished

 

The hadith tells us that Allah revealed to the world:

“Serve him who serves Me, and tire him who serves you.”

And Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

“This world is like a carcass and its seekers are its dogs!”

 

وإن نظرت إلى خلق فأنت لهم

وهم حجابك حتى تبصر القمرا

And if you look at the creation then you are theirs

And they will be your veil, until you see the moon.

 

 

وإن ركبت لدى بحر سفينتهم

فلازم الصمت حتى تعرف الخبرا

And if you rode their ship at sea

Then remain silent until you come to know the news

 

“Their” refers to the beloveds of Allah, as will be explained in the next line. The awliya are our ships in the sea of this world, and when we follow them we should not question them on things that we don’t understand, as they know what we do not know, just as the Prophet Musa alayhi assalam was ordered to remain quiet while he accompanied his teacher al-Khadir, who knew things that the Prophet did not know. Because he didn’t have the knowledge that al-Khadir had, he was unable to understand his teacher’s actions, actions that appeared to him to be evil acts, but when his teacher reminded him of his promise not to ask questions, he apologized and did not insist on an answer, but submitted and followed the teacher. In the end, he was told of the whole story behind each of the actions, so that he understood the wisdom behind them. Likewise one must be with his spiritual master.

وإن مشيت مع الأحباب تخدمهم

لا بد من يوم خير تبصر الخضرا

And if you walk with the beloveds in their service

Then you will surely see the green (al-khadir) one goodly day

 

The young Joshua accompanied his own master and teacher, the Prophet Musa as his servant, and because of his service, he was blessed with meeting al-Khadir. Al-Khadir’s name means: The green (one). Those who accompany teachers and serve them and follow them with sincerity will surely see a good day. It is possible that they will actually see al-Khadir- may Allah ta’ala  join us all with him-  but the verse could also be understood in a symbolic way, as explained in the next lines.

يخضرّ زرعك بعد اليبس تبصره

وبالتواضع يأتي الغيث منحدرا

You will see your pasture become green, after its dryness

And by humility the rain will come pouring down upon you

 

The Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu alayhi wa alihi wa sallam explained in the hadith narrated by al-Bukhari that al-Khadir was thus named because if he sat on an arid piece of land it would turn green. The shaykh here is explaining that in a symbolic sense: that the heart of the murids will receive rain (blessings and lights) and will come to life, and knowledge and wisdom will come out of it. “Thou seest the earth barren and lifeless, but when We pour down rain on it, it is stirred (to life), it swells, and it puts forth every kind of beautiful growth.” (22:5)

When one is humble before the shaykh, then he will receive the blessings of the shaykh. So one must be humble and lowly like a valley to collect the rain (blessings) and become green and beautiful, full of life. The clouds of the Quran and Hadith will rain down their meanings upon their receptive hearts, and awaken the heart to a deeper understanding.

The word “munhadir” that the shaykh used to describe the rain coming down also evokes the image of a river coming down a mountain. That is because shaykhs are like great mountains who, because of their great spiritual height, receive much rain. When one places himself like a lowly valley beneath them, great rivers and waterfalls will gush forth to him from that mountain.

So stay with the shaykh and be humble in their presence, and one day you will see your heart come to life, inshaAllah.

واقتل غلاما لنفس السوء يأمرها

سوءا وكن ذاكرا تهدى كمن ذكرا

And kill the youth that commands your bad nafs to do evil

And be in constant remembrance, you will be guided like the people of remembrance

 

 

Al-Khadir killed a young boy who would have grown up to be evil and would have burdened and grieved and tired his parents with transgression and disbelief. Then Allah Most Wise gave them instead a more pious offspring. According to the traditions, this offspring was a pious girl, and she gave birth to a Prophet who guided many people to Allah Most High. Likewise if one’s nafs al-ammarah (the nafs that commands evil) is allowed to grow, it will make one rebel and transgress and maybe lead one to disbelief. And this nafs will tire the person by making them run after the dunya and all that is in it. But when one kills off those actions that feed this bad nafs, then Allah will substitute for him a nafs lawwamah: a nafs that blames one for doing something bad, and from that will eventually come the nafs that is inspired, then the nafs that is at peace, and so on in a progression toward spiritual perfection.

Instead of that which allows ur bad nafs to grow, occupy yourself with the remembrance of Allah Most Beautiful, and you will be guided like the spiritual masters, the people of dhikr.

أقم جدارك في جد وفي عمل

فالكنز من بعد جد تلقه حضرا

Erect your wall with serious work and striving

For after hard work you will find the treasure appear before you

 

 

Al-Khadir found a wall about to fall down in a town, and he repaired it, so that the youth who live there would find the treasure that is buried there when they grow up and are wise enough to spend it properly. Likewise you must work hard in making yourself upright, following the Qur’an and Shari’a with istiqama (remaining steadfast on the straight path), and being regular with your daily dhikr. If you do that, the treasure that you seek will appear before you. In the wording of the verse might be a hint that as imam al-Junayd said, it is not because of one’s actions that one arrives, but without those actions, they would not arrive.

فإن أردت كرامات لتعرفها

فاتبع أخيّ طريق القوم والأثرا

If you want to see karamas

Then follow the way of the People and walk in their footsteps

 

 

Karamas are gifts from Allah with which He honors His servants and they are usually khawariq (things that go against the natural order of things i.e. things of a miraculous nature)

واركب سفينتهم تعرف خوارقهم

تجري السفينة من بعد الذي كسرا

And ride their ship, you will know their khawariq

The ship will ride the sea even after that which was broken

 

 

Al-Khadir and Prophet Musa, alayhim assalam, boarded a ship, and al-Khadir broke some of its planks and threw them in the sea because was a king who urgently needed ships and was taking every good ship he could find that he could use right away. So because of al-Khadir’s actions, the king found the ship they had boarded to be faulty, and left it alone. This was a karama, but the fact that the ship did not sink despite the loss of those planks was also a karama. Such things will be seen by those who “ride the ships” of the spiritual masters.

من غير أجر ترى الأيام خادمة

من أجل شيخك لم تدفع لهم دررا

Without pay you’ll find the days your servants

For the sake of your shaykh it is that you did not pay them in pearls

 

 

As is known, Musa and al-Khadir boarded that ship without having to pay anything, because its crew knew al-Khadir and honored him.

Likewise one will find that Allah Most High will put people and His creations in one’s service solely for the sake of one’s honored and beloved shaykh.

لأنهم يعرفون الشيخ من زمن

وأنت ضيف لشيخ يعرف الأمرا

That is because they have known the shaykh for a while

And you are the guest of a shaykh who knows the princes

 

 

As the poem of shaykh Abu Madyan al-Ghawth says:

ما لذة العيش إلا صحبة الفقرا * هم السلاطين والسادات والأمرا

The pleasure of life is only in the company of the fuqara (sufis)

They are the sultans, the masters, the princes!

 

 

به نجوت فلا أجر ولا غرق

وقد رأيت من الأحوال ما ندرا

Because of him you were saved: no pay and no drowning!

And you have seen states that are rarely seen!

 

 

 والصبر غاية ما تبغيه من أمل

لن يعرف القوم من لم يعرف الصبرا

And patience is your utmost desire, your hope

For he does not know these People who does not know patience

 

 

In order to find them and recognize them you need patience in worship and in following their way, and then Allah will reveal them to you. And in order to remain with them you must also  have patience. Sayyidna Musa was unable to bear seeing these actions that he could not understand, despite al-Khadir’s warning that one cannot have patience over affairs whose truth they do not know. So Musa alayhi assalam said to him after the second time: If I ask you again about anything, keep not my company! And so when he asked a third time, al-Khadir parted with him. So one must learn to have patience when under the guidance of a shaykh.

العلم عندهم الرشد حالهم

فاخضع خضوعا ترى ما كان مستترا

Knowledge is with them, rightly guided they are

So submit completely and you will see what was hidden from your sight!

 

 

سلّم لهم حالهم حتى تكون على

حالٍ ترى حالهم سلّم لمن غبرا

Submit and accept their states, so that you arrive

At a state in which you see theirs. Submit and accept the states of those who came before.

 

 

If you hear a saying attributed to any of the  old masters from previous centuries that you do not understand, accept that it is something you do not understand and do not deny it. InshaAllah one day you will reach a state in which you will understand their words.

والمنكرون لأهل الله قد قفلوا

باب الطريق عليهم ضيّعوا الأثرا

And the deniers of the People of Allah have shut

Upon themselves the door of the path, and lost all trace

 

 

من جاء يبغي طريق الله يعبره

من غير هاد له ما كان منتصرا

He who wants to traverse the path of Allah

Without a guide, will not succeed

 

 

كيف المسير ولم تعرف مسالكها

قد ضل سعيك يا هذا فكن حذرا

How will you walk when you do not know its routes

You have gone astray, oh you, beware!

 

 

فاتبع طريقة أهل الله خالصة

خلف الإمام ترى أتباعه زمرا

So follow the way of the People of Allah, the way most pure

Behind the imam, and you will see his followers in throngs

 

 

Like al-imam al-Junayd said in his famous poem: get behind an imam ahead of whom you had placed yourself. Let the shaykh step in front of you and be your guide, and be among the throngs of people who follow him like troops.

لكل قوم إمام يقتدون به

فاجعل إمامك شيخا للعلوم قرا

Every people have an imam that they follow

So make your imam a shaykh who is learned in the sciences of the religion

 

 

طريقة القوم قرآن وسنة من

أهدى السبيل وأحكاما هناك ترى

The way of the People is the Qur’an and the Sunna of

The Guide of the Path, and their judgments, you will see them there

 

 

You will see the injunctions of the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunna being applied by the People of Allah.

لم يخرجوا عن كتاب الله في عمل

ولا مقال وكلٌّ قلبه عمرا

In no act do they go outside the Book of Allah

Nor in any saying, and all have filled their hearts (with His remembrance)

 

 

والقلب يفرح من رؤيا وجوههم

وكلّ من جائهم لا شكّ قد أجرا

And the heart rejoices from the sight of their faces

And everyone who comes to them will no doubt receive a reward

 

 

حرّاس دولته أرباب سطوته

الكون قد صار من أنفاسهم عطرا

The guardians of His realm, the people of His power

The universe by their breaths has become fragrant

 

 

فهم عبيد وأهل الملك تخدمهم

ألقى عليهم قبولا منه معتبرا

For they are slaves being served by kings

He has given them widespread acceptance by the people

 

 

الله يذكرهم ذكرا يكرّمهم

بين الملائك يا سعد الذي ذكرا

Allah mentions them, in order to honor them

Among the angels: How happy is he who is mentioned!

 

 

The hadith says that those who mention Allah among a people, then Allah Most High will honor them by mentioning them among the Angels. And when Allah loves someone, the angels are told to love them, and then they will be given acceptance on Earth.

والحمد لله نال القلب بغيته

فالعبد عند رسول الله قد حضرا

And praise be to Allah, my heart has attained its desire

For this slave has come to the presence of Rasool Allah!

 

 

وشاهد القبّة الخضراء باديةًً

تبدي نداءً وتسليما لمن عبرا

And has seen the Green Dome appear before him

Calling out with greetings to those who’ve come

 

 

وروضة الحب بالأعطار عابقة

تحيي الفؤاد الذي من ذنبه دثرا

And the Rawda of love smells strongly of perfumes

It enlivens the heart that had been buried from its sins

 

 

طوبى لعبد أتاها باكيا وجلا

أهدى السلام لطه في الدجى سحرا

Good tidings to a slave who came to it, crying, shaking,

Who greeted TaHa with peace, in the depth of the night, and before dawn

 

 

وقال يا خير خلق الله خذ بيدي

عبد أتاك بذنب حيّر الفكرا

And said: Oh best of Allah’s creations, take me by the hand!

A servant has come to you with great sins that perplex the mind!

 

 

أنت الشفيع بيوم الحشر إن وقفت

أهل الشفاعات كلٌّ قدّم العذرا

You are the intercessor on the Day of Rising when,

The people of intercession all stop and give their excuses

 

 

As the famous hadith in Bukhari and Muslim says, the people will rush to the Prophets, asking them to intercede on that frightful day, but all will give their excuses for why they cannot. Only the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, will be up for it, and will intercede and his intercession will be accepted.

عليك صلى إله العرش ما طلعت

شمس السماء ونور الله قد ظهرا

May the Lord of the Throne bless you as long

As the Sun rises, and the light of Allah appears

 

 

ما الجعفري أتى بالمدح مبتهلا

أهدى السلام لطه في الدجى سحرا

And as long as al-Ja’fari comes to praise you, rejoicing,

And gives greetings to TaHa in the depth of the night and before dawn.

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