Why does Allah not reveal the number of people who stayed in the cave?

The Details of the Question

- Allah does not reveal the number of people who stayed in the cave in the chapter of al-Kahf. Allah only states the number of years the young people stayed in the cave. WHY?
- Allah does not reveal the number of people in the cave. He says that the information regarding the issue is with their Lord and that others are in doubt. Why does Allah not tell the number of those in the cave? It makes me think.

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The translation of the verse in question is as follows:

سَيَقُولُونَ ثَلٰثَةٌ رَابِعُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْۚ وَيَقُولُونَ خَمْسَةٌ سَادِسُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ رَجْماً بِالْغَيْبِۚ وَيَقُولُونَ سَبْعَةٌ وَثَامِنُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْؕ قُلْ رَبّٖٓي اَعْلَمُ بِعِدَّتِهِمْ مَا يَعْلَمُهُمْ اِلَّا قَلٖيلٌࣞ فَلَا تُمَارِ فٖيهِمْ اِلَّا مِرَٓاءً ظَاهِراًࣕ وَلَا تَسْتَفْتِ فٖيهِمْ مِنْهُمْ اَحَداًࣖ ﴿٢٢﴾

(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.” (al-Kahf, 18/22)

After it is stated in the verse about the number of the People of the Cave “they were three, the dog being the fourth among them; (others) say they were five, the dog being the sixth”, the phrase “rajman bil-ghayb” is used, pointing out that those who make those claims talk by guessing on the subjects they do not know, without having certain knowledge.

Then, the view that “they were seven, the dog being the eighth” is mentioned and this view is not criticized; only the following statement is used after it: “Say thou: ‘My Lord knoweth best their number.’”

As a matter of fact, considering this situation, Hasan Basri Çantay, translates the verse as follows:

“They will say, (The number is) «three, the dog being the fourth», «five, the dog being the sixth». (Both of them) guess at the unknown. They will say, (The number is) «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.”

This issue is taken into consideration in the translation of Elmalılı and others. We translated it accordingly. Besides, the words of the verse necessitate it.

Therefore, the commentators, especially the Companions like Ibn Abbas, considered it a sign that their number was seven.

Abdullah b. Abbas said that he was one of those who knew it and that they were seven young people. (Ibn Kathir, the interpretation of the verse in question)

The following question can be asked: Why is it not clearly said, “Their number is seven”?

We think there is a very subtle point here:

After mentioning the discussion about their numbers and by not stating exactly what their number is, it is as if God Almighty states the following:

“Such discussions are useless. It does not matter if their number is three, five or seven! What matters is to take a lesson from this story and to see the evidences that Allah will definitely resurrect the dead.”

As a matter of fact, it is a general principle in the Quran; and similar things are in question in many stories. A story is often told without the name of the place, hero, etc. being mentioned. For example, the following is stated in the chapter of al-Baqara: “Or (take) the similitude of one who passed by a hamlet…” (al-Baqara, 2/259) 

It is a very important piece of evidence that the Quran is not a human word, but a divine word, that is, the word of Allah. For, in such cases, for example, as in the discussion about the number of the People of the Cave, the discussion about the length, width and shape of the Prophet Noah’s ark, and the discussion about the types of the birds the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) slaughtered, people attach a lot of importance to names, numbers and names of places. As a matter of fact, the fact that there are many names of people and places in today’s Torah is an important piece of evidence that it was distorted.

However, the aim of divine books is not just to give historical information to people. It is to ensure that they take lessons from stories.

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