From the book “Certainty Uncovered”, the translation of “Kashf al-Yaqin”
Author: Allamah Jamal al-Din ibn Yusuf Hilli
Imam Ali (A.S.) and the Jews (The Story of the Companions of the Cave)
Abu-Ishaq Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim Tha’labi in his book, al-Ara’is writes: When ‘Umar ibn Khattab took the seat of caliphate, a group of the Jewish scholars came to him, saying: Today, you are the leader of Muslims after Muhammad as well as one of his companions. We have come here to ask you questions. Should you respond our questions, we will understand that Islam is a truthful religion and Muhammad is God’s prophet and messenger. Otherwise, Islam is not truthful and Muhammad is not God’s messenger! ‘Umar said: Ask me any question you wish!
The Jewish scholars (rabbis) said: Inform us of locks of heavens and keys to them, of a grave with its companions in motion, of a being which warned its people but was neither jinn nor human, of five creatures walking on the earth while they were not in any womb, of what francolin say in crying, horse in its neighing, a toad when it croaks, and a lark when singing. ‘Umar failed to answer to these questions. Hence, lowering his head, shamefully said: ‘Umar is not ashamed of saying I do not know what he does not know and ask it from others!
Being pleased with Umar’s failure to answer their questions, the Jews said: This is a proof that Muhammad is not a prophet and Islam is not a true religion.
At this time Salman who was present and had everything under watch excitedly rose up and said to the Jews: Stop a little while. Then, he went to ‘Ali’s house, saying: O ‘Ali! Come and save Islam! ‘Ali said: Why are you so worried? Salman told him the whole story. Having the striped cloak of the Holy Prophet on his shoulder, ‘Ali hurriedly went to the mosque. Seeing that ‘Ali was coming, ‘Umar hastily welcomed and kissed him, saying: O Abul Hasan! It is only you who can solve the problems. I seek refuge in you in this relation. You are an asset for Islam and the only one on whom we set our hope when an emergency arises!
Anyway, ‘Ali expressed his readiness for answering the questions, saying: Ask me about anything you wish, for the Messenger of Allah opened a thousand gates of knowledge to me and opened a thousand other gates from each gate. I assure you that you will receive your answers.
But there is one condition which you have to observe. The Jews said: What is that condition? ‘Ali said: If I answer your questions as mentioned in the Torah, will you convert to Islam and believe in the Messenger of Allah? They said: Yes, we accept this condition. Then they asked: What are locks of heavens? ‘Ali said: Locks of heavens are to associate something with God. If a person is atheist, no deeds of him or her will go up to heaven.
– What are the keys to those locks?
– The keys to those locks are to bear witness that God is one and Muhammad is His servant and messenger.
– At this time, they looked at one another, saying: This young man said the truth and his answers correspond with truth.
– What is that grave which is in motion with its companion?
– That grave was the fish which swallowed Jonah the son of Mattie which moved in the seven seas.
– What is the creature which warned its people while it was neither a jinn nor a human being?
– It is the ant of Sulayman ibn Dawud, which said to the ants: Take refuge in your nests, lest Sulayman and his companions walk on you inattentively!
– Who are those five creatures walking on the earth but they were not generated in a womb?
– Those five creatures were: Adam, Eve, the she-camel of Salih, the ram of Ibrahim, and Moses’ Rod.
– What does francolin say when singing?
– It says: The Beneficent God is firm in power.
– What does the rooster say when crowing?
– It says: O the unmindful, remember God!
– What does the horse say when neighing?
– When believers are fighting the unbelievers in the battlefield, they invoke God: Make Your believing servants victorious over unbelievers and assist them.
– What does an ass say when braying?
– It curses customs officers and yells at Satan’s eye.
– What does a toad say while croaking?
– It says: Glory be to my creator who is being glorified in the depth of seas and among the stormy waves.
– What does a lark say while singing?
– It prays: O Lord! Curse the enemies of Muhammad and his household.
After these questions and answers, two of the three Jewish scholars testified to oneness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad and thus became Muslims but the third of them rose up and said: O ‘Ali! What you said and appealed to my friends appealed to me too but there is one more question the answer to which I would like to receive from you. ‘Ali said: Ask me any question you wish! He said: Tell me the story of a group of people who in the distant past, slept for 309 years and then were raised to life by God! ‘Ali said: They were the companions of the cave about whom God Almighty revealed verses to our prophet with their description. I will tell you the whole story from the Holy Qur’an if you are interested in it. The Jewish man said: O ‘Ali! I have heard about the Qur’an. Tell me about them if you know their names, the names of their fathers, the name of the city, the king, the dog, and their cave! Wrapping the Holy Prophet’s cloak round himself, ‘Ali said: O Jewish brother! My beloved, the Messenger of Allah told me the story as such: In Rome, there was a city by the name of Ephesus or Tartus (before Islam, it was Ephesus and after the advent of Islam it was Tartus) ruled by a benefactor man. After a long time, the ruler passed away and the situation in that city became chaotic. The news of chaos reached a Persian king who was oppressor and unbeliever. With his military expedition to that city, he seized the city in a short time, and made that city his capital where he built a glorious palace. The Jewish scholar who was all ears, listening to what ‘Ali said, interrupted him, saying: O ‘Ali! Should you know anything about that palace, describe it more elaborately? ‘Ali said: O Jewish brother! The palace had been built of flat marble stones, one farasang long and one farasang wide with four thousand gold columns from which a thousand gold condyles with chain silvers hanging.
The palace was illuminated with the best and most aromatic lamp oil. On the eastern side of the palace, there were two hundred windows and the same number on the western side. The sun lit the palace from morning till evening. A throne of gold measuring eighty meters long and forty meters wide, adorned with different precious Jewels, had been built. On the right side of the throne, there were eighty chairs on which senior officers who had ten thousand army men under their command were sitting at his beck and call.
On the left side of the throne too, there were eighty chairs on which scholars and judges were sitting, waiting for his command.
Then the king sat on the throne and put the royal crown on his head. The Jewish scholar once again interrupted ‘Ali and said: If you know anything about that crown, elaborate on it! ‘Ali said: The royal crown was made of melted gold having nine bases on which there was a pearl which radiated in night like a lamp.
Fifty slaves who were the sons of senior officers with red silk coat and beautiful green breeches, a crown on head, bracelet on hand, ankle-ring on feet, with each having a club of gold in hand were standing over the king’s head ready to carry out his orders. Out of six sons of scholars who were younger, three stood on the right side and the other three on the left side.
They were special cancellers without whose consultation the king did not decide on anything. The Jewish scholar said: O ‘Ali, what were the names of those six persons? ‘Ali said: My beloved, the Messenger of Allah said: The names of those standing on the right side were Amlikhius, Maximinyanius, and Motyanius, and those standing on the left side were Danius, Yanius, and Mertus.
When he sat on the throne and people gathered in the palace, three slaves entered from entrance. In the hand of the first slave, there was a gold chalice full of musk. In the hand of the second slave, there was a silver chalice full of rosewater and in the hand of the third slave, there was a bird which with a call started flying dipped its wings in the rosewater chalice. At another call, the bird started flying again, dipped its wings in the musk chalice, and with the last call, the bird started flying and sat on the royal crown, sprinkling rosewater and musk on the head and face of king.
Decius ruled over that territory for 30 years with peace of mind. During this time, no sorrow or pain afflicted him. This made him feel so arrogant that he claimed to be God. Hence, he called all the chiefs of tribes and associates, telling them about his claim.
Whoever accepted his claim, he would be honored and given royal garments and whoever disobeyed him, would be murdered. Given that situation, people accepted his claim and started worshipping him instead of God either out of greed for royal garment or out of fear for death. This situation continued until a festival day when Decius was sitting on the throne with his royal crown on his head that one of the officers entered the palace and reported that the Persian army was quickly advancing towards them with the intention of war!
Hearing this, Decius was so upset that he almost fainted. The crown fell off his head and he rolled on the ground from the throne. At this time, one of the three youths sitting on the right side of him, called Temlikha who was wiser than the others became pensive, saying to himself: If Decius is really God, as he claims, why he eats, drinks, and defecates like human beings whereas these acts are not Godly?
Those six youths gathered in one another’s house, ate, drank, and enjoyed themselves. When the event happened to Decius, they happened to be in Temlikha’s house. The other five youth were eating and drinking but Temlikha abstained from eating or drinking. When he was asked the reason, he said: O brothers! A new idea has found its way into my heart which stops me from eating and drinking.
They asked: What is that idea? He said: I have long been thinking as who is holding the sky which is spread like a canopy over our heads or what pillars are under it? Who is it that has made the sun and moon move and has decorated the sky with stars? I think the same about the earth. Who is linking the seas and the sky-touching mountains to stop from falling off? I ask myself who brought me to this world from my mother’s womb, gave me daily food, and nourished me.
After pondering, I have come to the conclusion that this world has a maker other than the tyrant and oppressive Decius! Hearing this, all the other youths bowed to him, kissed him, and said: Whatever has passed in your heart has passed in our hearts too. Now tell us what should be done! Temlikha said: O brothers! We have no option other than seeking refuge to the Lord of the heavens and the earth and fleeing this territory!
The other five youths said: Your decision is right. After this, Temlikha sold some of the dates of his palm-groove for three Dirhams, wrapped it in his cloak, saying to his companions: Ride on your horses so as to set out for a desert! The youths mounted their horses and went as far as three miles from their city. Temlikha said: We were in danger of being chased by the tyrant up to here but from now on we are safe. We should dismount our horses and let them go. We should go on our path in this desert till God will guide us on the right path.
The youths walked for seven Farsakhs but since they were not used to walking, their feet were bleeding. On their way, they met a shepherd from whom they asked for milk or water! Seeing their handsome faces, the shepherd said: What you want is with me. But you do not look like common people. You must be princes who have fled your country. Tell me your story. The youths said: O shepherd! We have a religion which does not prescribe telling lies! Will you keep our secret if we tell you the truth? The shepherd said: Yes, indeed. The youths told him the whole story.
Hearing their story, the shepherd while bowing to them, kissed them and said: What has gone into your heart, has gone into my heart too. I ask you now to give me a chance to return this flock of sheep to their owners and then to accompany you! The youths agreed. The shepherd returned the flock of sheep to their owners and joined the six youths with his dog.
Here the Jew once again interrupted Imam ‘Ali and asked about the color and name of the dog. Imam ‘Ali said: O Jewish brother, my beloved, the Messenger of Allah, informed me that the dog was black and white though black was prevailing and its name was Qatmir.
Seeing the dog was following them, one of the youths said: This dog with its barking may betray us. We would better drive it away to be safe from any possible danger. Nevertheless, however much they tried to drive it away, the dog did not take distance from them. Seeing that they insisted to expel it, the dog sat on its claws saying in human speech: Why are you driving me away while I bear witness that God is one and has no partner. Let me be with you and keep watch on you, hoping that I will get close to my Lord!
Hearing this,the youths stopped driving it away and continued their way. The shepherd led the youths to the top of mountain till they reached a cave.
The Jewish scholar asked another question: O ‘Ali! What are the names of that mountain and the cave? Imam ‘Ali said: The name of mountain is “Yankloosh” and the name of the cave is “Wasid.”
Imam ‘Ali continued the story as such: There were fruitful trees and springs with wholesome water near the cave. They ate from the fruits of trees, drank from the wholesome water of springs, went to the cave at night and slept. The dog too slept at the entrance of the cave, keeping watch on them. At that time, God Almighty gave the angel of death a mission to grasp their souls. When this was done, God appointed two guardian angels for each to turn them from one side to the other and ordered sun to shine on the cave every morning and afternoon. The sun too carried out its mission accordingly.
When Decius returned to his palace from the venue of festival, he saw no sign of those six youths. Hence, he asked after them. A man who knew about the escape of the youths, said: Your majesty, they have fled your territory and have a God other than you! Hearing this, Decius who was furious, pursued them with a thousand army men and tracked them down to the top of mountain where the cave was. When they reached the entrance to the cave, having the impression that they had gone to sleep, Decius arrogantly said: They have been afflicted with a punishment worse than the one I wished to carry out about them. He immediately ordered the entrance to the cave to be blocked with stone and plaster, saying to his companions: If this heaven and earth has a God, let him save them from this situation!
The believing youths slept in that cave for 309 years without any soul. Then God Almighty at a dawn of a day, when the sun started shining, blew spirit into their bodies. They immediately rose up and saying to one another: Last night, we defaulted out prayer to God. Let us go to the spring of water! Going to the spring, they amazingly found that the spring had disappeared and the trees had dried up! They said with amazement: Has something happened during the night as a result of which the springs and green trees have dried up!?
At this time, God made them feel hungry. So one of them said: Which one of you will go to city to buy some bread? Be careful the bread is not mixed with the fat of pig!
In this relation, God states: “Now send one of you with this silver (coin) of yours to the city, then let him see which of them has purest food” (18:19).
Temlikha said to them: You stay here, for no one but I can buy the bread. He then said to the shepherd: Give me your clothes and I will give you my clothes. He put on the shepherd’s clothes and headed for the city. On his way, he saw scenes and ways he had never seen before. Reaching the gate of the city, he caught sight of a green banner with the inscription: “There is no god but Allah, Jesus is Allah’s messenger” installed over the gate!
Looking with amazement at the banner, and rubbing his eyes, Temlikha said to himself: Am I dreaming? He paused there for a long time and then entered the city. He passed by a group of people who were reading Gospel (Injil) and saw people he did not know. At any rate, he decided to go to the market to buy bread. He asked the baker: What is the name of this city? He said: Ephesus. Temlikha asked: What is the name of the king? He said: Abd al-Rahman. Temlikha said: If what you say is the truth, then I am facing a strange situation! Temlikha gave the money to him, saying: Give me bread for the value of this money. As Temlikha’s Dirhams were bigger and heavier than the current ones, the baker was surprised!
The Jew interrupted Imam ‘Ali for the fourth time, saying: O ‘Ali, what was the weight of those Dirhams? Imam ‘Ali said: My beloved, the Messenger of Allah informed me of it. The weight of each Dirham was equal to the weight of ten and one third of Dirhams.
The baker said: I believe you have found a treasure! Should you not give some of it to me I will surrender you to the king. Temlikha said: I have found no treasure. The Dirhams you see with me is the money for the dates I sold three days back and fled the city of the tyrant Decius! Being furious and surprised, the baker said: You have found a treasure, do not give anything from it to me, making fun of me, and mentions the name of a tyrant man who claimed to be God and died more than three hundred and odd years ago!
Then, the baker caught his hand to take him to the king. A large group of people gathered round them too.
At this time, the king who was a wise and farsighted man arrived and asked about the event. People said: This man has found a treasure! The king asked Temlikha: If you have found any treasure, it will be yours. We follow the religion of Jesus. He has instructed us to receive only one fifth of it! So do not fear, for we will not harm you. Temlikha said: Your majesty! I assure you that I have not found a treasure. I am a native of this city. The king asked: Are you really a native of this city? Temlikha said: Yes.
The king said: Name some of the people you know. Temlikha named a thousand persons whom neither the king nor the people knew! The king said: We do not know these people, for they do not live in our time. Then the king asked: Do you have a house in this city? Temlikha said: Yes, send someone with me to show him my house. The king appointed an agent to go with people to Temlikha’s house. They went from one street to another and from one alley to another till they reached the highest building.
Temlikha said: This is my house and knocked the door. An old man whose eyebrows had fallen on his eyes due to senility appeared at the threshold. Being horrified, he said: What do you want from me? The king’s agent said: This young man claims this house belongs to him! The old man said angrily: What is your name? The young man said: Temlikha the son of Festin. The old man said: Say it again! He repeated his name and that of his father.
All of a sudden, the old man hugged and kissed him, saying: By the Lord of Ka’bah, this young man is my grandfather. He is one of the six men who fled the tyrant Decius and took refuge with the Lord of the heaven and the earth. The proof is that prophet Jesus (a.s) has told us about them saying: One day they will be raised to life. They told the story to the king who rode on the horse heading for them. Reaching Temlikha, the king dismounted from the horse and put Temlikha on his shoulder. People kept on kissing his hands and feet, asking him: O Temlikha! Where are your friends? Temlikha said: They are safe and sound in the cave.
In those days, the city of Ephesus was jointly run by a Muslim and a Christian. They mounted their horses and accompanied Temlikha up to the cave. Addressing them, Temlikha said: You wait here. I fear that if my friends hear the sound of horses’ hooves, feeling that Decius is chasing them, they will faint. Stay here for a short while so that I will inform them. People stopped outside the cave. Temlikha went to his friends who were pleased to see him, hugged him and said: Thanks God, you are safe from the evil of Decius. Temlikha said: Forget Decius and tell me how long you were in this cave.
They said: One day or less than a day. Temlikha said: It is not so. We have been sleeping in this cave for 309 years! Now I should tell you that Decius is dead and the people of Ephesus believe in God after the passage of three centuries and they are now waiting to see you outside the cave! His friends said: Temlikha, are you going to put us to test by people? Temlikha said: What do you desire? They said: Raise your hands for prayer. They raised their hands for the same purpose, saying: O Lord! Through what you cast in our hearts and showed us, make us die and do not disclose our secret to anyone.
God gave the death angel the mission to grasp their souls and then God hid the entrance to cave in a way that the two Muslim and Christian men went round the cave for seven days but found no trace of the cave. They were ascertained that this event depended on the grace of God so that these youths will be a lesson for us and others. At that time, the Muslim governor said: These youths died in my religion, hence, a mosque must be built on the site of the cave, and the Christian man said: They died in my religion and a covenant must be built there! The dispute between the two ended in fighting and finally the Muslim man became victorious. Therefore, they built a mosque there. In this relation, the Holy Qur’an says: “Those who prevailed in their affair said: We will certainly raise a Masjid over them” (18:21).
When the story came to here, Imam ‘Ali said: O Jewish man! This was the story of the companions of cave. Is this story conforming to your Torah? The Jewish man said: Yes, it conforms to the letter, but Abul Hasan, do not call me a Jew from now, for I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger and you are the most knowledgeable man of this Ummah.( Fada’il al-Khamsah, vol. 2, pp. 290)