From Surah Al Kahf: journey of a lifetime (Chapter 2: Sakeena)

Selected chapters from the 3rd book in the Quranic Odyssey series, ‘From Surah Al Kahf: journey of a lifetime,’ are being shared via this blog. Immediately below please find an excerpt from Chapter 2: Sakeena. See About for more information on the series, Glossary for any definition of terms appearing in italics below and Cast of Characters for further description of characters. 

Setting: one week later, family home, study, late evening
Characters: Khadija and Hafidha Rabia (via Skype, from Jakarta)

“It’s really not a long surah, it just looks that way,” says Hafidha Rabia, encouraging me.

I’m staring down at my mushaf, trying to wrap my mind around the next challenge. It would almost seem that Hafidha Rabia and I are looking at two totally different suwar. I see 12 pages of Arabic in front of me and shudder. A year, two years. How long realistically before I can remember all of this, and then won’t I start forgetting? I’m glad the children are asleep and don’t see the doubt on my face. I feel borderline hypocritical after all I’ve told them about memorizing long suwar.

“We’re going to break it up, Khadija, into small packets.” There is some static on the line, and her voice fades out for a moment. Finally, I hear her clearly again. “We’ll take it ayah by ayah, as we always do, and then you’ll get into the stories and you won’t want to put it down. I promise.”

I shake my head, still unconvinced, then look around the dimly lit study. There is a small piece of calligraphy, hanging behind me, that my neighbor, Maryam, made as a farewell gift before we left Cape Town, now almost five years ago. She overlaid shades of blue, then gold. Al Hakeem. The All Wise. In all its cliché, art imitates life, and signals yet again that He is always there, listening and encouraging, in His infinite wisdom and mercy. Al Hakeem. Who am I to doubt His presence, the miracle of the Quran and the miracle of hifdh? It’s never just us memorizing. That would be futile. His book speaks through us, if we open ourselves up—again, a lesson I’ve preached to the children so many times, but have somehow forgotten as I advance into Surah Al Kahf.[1]

“It will illuminate you, jumah to jumah,[2]” Hafidha Rabia says, following up with a well-known hadith, unwilling to let go.

“Yes, of course,” I finally say, smiling.

She returns my smile, removing some of the distance–Jakarta to Houston and back. Al Hakeem, then a smile. I take a deep breath.

“Hafidha Rabia,” I say tentatively, “May I ask you something before we begin?”

“Surely,” she says, still smiling.

“Abdurrahman would like us to go on hajj this year, well, actually, we both would like to go,” I rephrase, but it still sounds presumptuous. Hajj is about being Allah Subhanahu wa-ta’ala’s guest, not about our mere desires.[3] “We’ve made the intention,” I finally say.

Masha’Allah, that’s beautiful,” is her response.

“But I just don’t know about leaving the children. My mother has offered to help, and of course they’ll have school, but it’s three weeks. Anything could happen. What if something did happen?” I say, confessing my deepest fears.

“Khadija, hajj is about letting go. You do realize it’s the only real spiritual death we live through,” she counsels. “Everything you’re feeling is normal, but the children will be absolutely fine. Some say that the children whose parents go on hajj are filled with sakeena. Allah Subhanahu wa-ta‘ala puts tranquility in their hearts for the duration of their parents’ journey.”

I hadn’t heard this particular wisdom, but feel almost a sudden calm myself.

“There are many things you can do to help prepare Ibrahim and Amna and special activities for when you’re gone. We can talk about all of that later, but I don’t recommend you speak to the children, not yet. It’s too early. You have months to prepare yourself and them insha’Allah. For now, I would focus on your niyyah and do lots of du’a. Then start to work on the logistics and entrust the children to Allah Subhanahu wa-ta‘ala.  After all, ultimately, like you, they belong to Him.”


“Are you ready to start, Khadija?” she asks.

“I am,” I finally assert, nodding at the screen in front of me.

“Repeat after me three times. We’ll take only the first three ayaat today, one at a time and then we’ll turn back to review. Authu billahi minashaitanir rajeem. Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem….” As she starts in, I follow along in my mushaf, glimpsing the translation on the margin:

  1. All praise and gratitude are for God, Who has sent down on His servant the Book and has put no crookedness in it (so that it is free from contradiction and inconsistency, and anything offensive to truth and righteousness).
  2. (He has made it) unerringly straight, to warn of a stern punishment from Him and give the believers who do good, righteous deeds the glad tidings that for them is an excellent reward (Paradise).
  3. Abiding therein forever.[4]

[1] As described by Ali Unal, Surah Al Kahf, “was revealed in the Makkan period of the Messenger’s mission, at a time when the polytheists had begun to escalate their opposition to the preaching of Islam. Searching for a way to stop this preaching the Makkans occasionally made contact with the People of the Book in order to get from them questions they could put to the Messenger. This surah apparently was revealed in a response to questions about the People of the Cave, the story of Moses and al-Khadr, and Dhul’l-Qarnayn. It also contains the parable of two friends who owned vineyards. The surah takes its name from the ninth verse, where the people of the Cave are mentioned. It consists of 110 verses (2013:599).

[2] “Whoever reads Surah al-Kahf on the day of Jumu’ah, will have a light that will shine from him from one Friday to the next.”(Narrated by al-Haakim, 2/399; al-Bayhaqi, 3/249. Ibn Hajar said in Takhreej al-Adhkaar that this is a hasan hadith, and he said, this is the strongest report that has been narrated concerning reading Surah al Kahf. See: Fayd al-Qadeer, 6/198. It was classed as saheeh by Shaykh al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Jaami’, 6470) (further reference forthcoming).

[3] Abu Hurairah said: “The Messenger of Allah said: ‘The guests of Allah are three: The ghazi, the Hajj (pilgrim) and the Mu’tamir” (Reference: Sunan an-Nasa’I, The Book of Hajj, 2625, English translation: Vol. 3, Book 24, Hadith 2626,

[4] The Qur’an with Annotated Interpretation in Modern English (Unal 2013: 18:1-3).

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