18:17 Thou wouldst have seen the sun, when it rose, turning aside from their cave to the right.
When the lights of the beginningless secrets show their faces to someone’s inwardness, how can the light of the sun of form have the gall to throw its rays upon him or exercise its ruling authority over him? The sun of form is for brightening creation, and the lights of the secret cores are for recognizing the Real. The former is the light of form and the latter is the light of the secret core. The former is the world-brightening sun and the latter the heart-brightening light. The former keeps the world bright so that the creatures may gaze upon it, and the latter keeps the hearts of the friends bright so that the Real may gaze upon them. The lights of the secret cores of those chevaliers in the cave gave out the glittering rays of the lights of the secrets, and the shining sun rolled up its skirt, for it was turning aside from their cave to the right [18:17]. When someone’s breast is made the place of the lights of the unseen secrets, his attribute is what the Exalted Lord said concerning these chevaliers:
18:18 Thou wouldst have thought them awake, but they were sleeping. And We turned them now to the right, now to the left. And their dog was stretching its paws at the doorstep. Hadst thou looked down upon them, surely thou wouldst have turned away from them fleeing, and thou wouldst have been filled with terror from them.
When you look at their outwardness, you see them busy in the playing field of deeds. When you look at their secret cores, you see them detached in the garden of the gentleness of the Possessor of Majesty. Outwardly active, inwardly they gaze on the gentleness of the Beginningless. With Thee alone we worship [1:5] they have bound the belt of struggle, and with And Thee alone we ask for help [1:5] they have placed the crown of contemplation on their heads. On the inside, they wear the undershirt of surrender, and on the outside, they have covered themselves with the caftan of deeds. Their activity conforms to the command, and their vision conforms to the decree.
A pir was asked, “Faith without deeds is incomplete, but the Companions of the Cave had no deeds, for when they began to travel, they immediately slept.” The pir answered, “Which deed is greater than what the Exalted Lord said about them—when they stood up [18:14]?”
In the tongue of the folk of allusion, the meaning is that they stood back from themselves. The outcome of the servants from their deeds comes down to their standing back from themselves. When they stand back from themselves, they reach the Real. The intermediary disappears and He exercises His determination over them, doing their work Himself, as He said concerning the chevaliers, “And We turned them now to the right, now to the left.” In other words, “We turned them between the states of annihilation and subsistence, unveiling and veiling, disclosure and curtaining.”
And their dog was stretching its paws at the doorstep. When they set out on the road, that little dog began to follow them: “You are exalted guests, and exalted guests put up with hangers-on.” The little dog lifted a few steps in conformity, and until the resurrection, the faithful will be reading its story in the Qur’an and displaying it: “And their dog was stretching its paws at the doorstep.” What then do you say about someone who spends his whole life in the company of God’s friends and, in conformity with them, takes no step backward? Do you say that at the resurrection, God will separate him from them? No, of course not! He called Balaam, who knew the greatest name and saw from the Throne to the bottom of the earth, a “dog” and drove him from His threshold. And He showed the same generosity to the dog of the Companions of the Cave that He showed to His friends, keeping it in His road. Thus He shows the world’s folk that proximity is because of His caressing, not because of service. Distance is because of His degrading, not because of disobedience.
Hadst thou looked down upon them, surely thou wouldst have turned away from them fleeing. “Looking down” is said for someone who looks from above and has a higher station. He is saying, “O Muḥammad, if you had looked at them, you would have fled from them and your heart would have been upset.” Here there is room for obscurity. What do you say? Was the state of the Companions of the Cave such that the Seal of the Prophets, the title-page of whose glory and majesty was “I was aided by their terror,” should fear them? No, never. These words are addressed to Muṣṭafā, but others are meant. There are many similar instances, such as, “O Prophet, be wary of God!” [33:1], “If thou most associate [others with God], thy deeds shall surely fail” [39:65], and so on.
You can also say that what is desired by these words is not instilling fear into Muṣṭafā, but declaring the greatness of their state. It is common usage to say, “So-and-so underwent such a trial that, had you seen it, you would have fainted.” By saying this, one wants to declare the greatness of that work, not the verification of the words. An example of this is that Muṣṭafā said: “Do not consider me more excellent than my brother Jonah.” He also said, “Anyone who says that I am better than he has uttered a lie.” But there is no disagreement in the community that Muṣṭafā was more excellent than Jonah. Nonetheless, the prophetic wisdom in these words is that the Real mentioned certain things in the story of Jonah in the Glorious Scripture such that there is fear that the servants would have a bad opinion of him. For example, He says, “And Dhu’l-Nūn, when he went forth wrathful” [21:87]. The Messenger said, “When my community hears this verse, they must not have a bad opinion of him and look upon him with the eyes of contempt.” That bad opinion would harm their religion. Even though Muṣṭafā was more excellent than he and all the prophets, he said, “Do not consider me more excellent.” His desire was not to declare truth but rather to declare the greatness of Jonah so that everyone would look upon him with the eyes of reverence and not the eyes of contempt.
In the same way, when the Real wanted to declare His friends great so that people would look upon them with the eyes of reverence, He addressed His prophet with the words, “Hadst thou looked down upon them, surely thou wouldst have turned away from them fleeing.” Thus the people will look upon them with the eyes of reverence and not harm their own religion. The ulama of the Tariqah and the lords of recognition have said that the work of Sufism is founded on the traveling and conduct of the Companions of the Cave and that the acts of courtesy and the ornament of the Tariqah are very similar to their states and conduct. These include the realization of intention, disengagement of desire, aspiration, retirement from people, dropping attachments, self-purification in the invitation, penitence, disowning self, freedom from the world, happiness with the Real, release from taking control of oneself, and approving of oneself, lifting the hands of need to God’s kindness, at times burning and melting from the onslaught of awe, and at times happy and joyful in the breeze of closeness.
It has also been said the Lord of the Worlds did with the Companions of the Cave what a lovingly kind mother does with her child: First, she makes him a cradle, then she puts him to sleep, then she rocks him, then she chases away flies, then she gives him milk so that he will be at ease. God did the same for them. First He took care of their work and made the cave-like a cradle for them: He will furnish you with kindliness in your affair [18:16]. Then He put them to sleep: He sealed their ears in the cave [18:11]. Then He rocked them: And We turned them now to the right, now to the left [18:18]. Then He kept the torment of the sun away from them: Thou wouldst have seen the sun, when it rose, turning aside from their cave to the right [18:17]. Then He sent them the drink of mercy so that they would be at ease: Your Lord will unfold for you of His mercy [18:16].