Allah knows best.
That is one of the conclusions we can draw from the story of the People of the Cave (the first story narrated in the surah al-Kahf). For a long time, the People of the Book have debated regarding these people: How many were they? How long did they stay in the Cave?
Here is the gist of the story as it appears in the Quran:
A group of very young men fled from their kingdom, since the king had recently declared a death-sentence for all of them unless they forsook the belief that there is only one God. While fleeing, they asked Allah’s help through this dua (which by the way is an amazing dua to make during our hardships):
رَبَّنَا آتِنَا مِن لَّدُنكَ رَحْمَةً وَهَيِّئْ لَنَا مِنْ أَمْرِنَا رَشَدًا
Rabbanā ātinā min ladunka rahmah, wa hayyi’ lanā min amrin ā rashada.
Our Lord, grant us from Yourself mercy and prepare for us from our affair right guidance. [Quran, 18:10]
These young people humbled themselves to Allah instead of thinking that it depended on their ability to find a good hiding place. Their confidence in themselves, their intelligence or strength, their own estimation of the future— none of these could protect them.
They have no one to protect them other than Him. [Quran, 18:26]
They knew that only Allah could protect them, and that without His help they couldn’t escape death, because they didn’t know the future – what if the place they had chosen wasn’t safe enough? What if the enemy could find them? What if they ran out of food or water? What if there were wild animals? They left it all to Allah.
His is the knowledge of all that is hidden in the heavens and earth – How well He sees! How well He hears! [Quran, 18:26]
This is part of knowledge of the Unseen. So in these types of situations, we say: “Allah knows best.”
How many were they?
My Lord is most knowing of their number. [Quran, 18:22]
How long did they stay in the cave?
Your Lord is most knowing of how long you remained. [Quran, 18:19]
Allah tells us how long they stayed– three hundred and nine lunar years! By the time they came out of the cave, the king, his policemen and about four or five generations after them were dead.
If we keep the whole theme of the story in mind, we can perhaps have a clue what this command about saying in sha Allah is doing in the middle of the story of the People of the Cave:
And never say of anything, ‘Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,’ Except [when adding], ‘If Allah wills.’ And remember your Lord when you forget [it] and say, ‘Perhaps my Lord will guide me to what is nearer than this to right conduct.’ [Quran, 18:23-24]
In effect, what we’re to say is, “If Allah wills, only then I can do this thing tomorrow,” or, in other words, “Allah knows best if I will be able to do it tomorrow.”
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Tabassum Mosleh is a freelance writer and a student of MA in Islamic Studies at IOU. She is also studying at al-Salam Institute, UK and has a degree in Mechanical Engineering. She likes playing with animals, watching natural beauties, reading novels and researching interesting topics on psychology, sociology, history and current affairs. She shares her reflections at the blog sections of Understand Quran Academy, IIPH and Ibana. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org