In The Name of Allaah, The Most Merciful, The Bestower of Mercy.
The Amazing Conjecture of Ahlul Kitaab
Allaah [The Most High] said:
سَيَقُولُونَ ثَلَاثَةٌ رَّابِعُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ وَيَقُولُونَ خَمْسَةٌ سَادِسُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ رَجْمًا بِالْغَيْبِ ۖ وَيَقُولُونَ سَبْعَةٌ وَثَامِنُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ ۚ قُل رَّبِّي أَعْلَمُ بِعِدَّتِهِم مَّا يَعْلَمُهُمْ إِلَّا قَلِيلٌ ۗ فَلَا تُمَارِ فِيهِمْ إِلَّا مِرَاءً ظَاهِرًا وَلَا تَسْتَفْتِ فِيهِم مِّنْهُمْ أَحَدًا
[Some] say they were three, the dog being the fourth among them; (others) say they were five, the dog being the sixth, guessing at the unseen; (yet others) say they were seven, the dog being the eighth. Say (O Muhammad): “My Lord knows best their number; none knows them but a few.” So debate not (about their number, etc.) except with the clear proof (which We have revealed to you). And consult not any of them (people of the Scripture) about (the affair of) the people of the Cave.
Allaah informed [us] of the differing between the people of the scripture regarding the number of the people of the cave- a differing that [occurred] out of guessing at the unseen, forging statements and speaking about that which they have no knowledge. Some of them said that the people of the cave were three in number and their dog was the fourth, and others said that the people of the cave were five in number and their dog was the sixth. Allaah said that these two statements are tantamount to guessing at the unseen, so this indicates that they are false. And amongst them were those who said that the people of the cave were seven in number and their dog was the eighth. This statement-and Allaah knows best- is what is correct because Allaah declared the first two statements false but did not declare this third one to be false, so this indicates that it is correct.
This differing is one that neither carries any benefit nor are the people benefited by knowing the number of the people of the cave. It contains neither a benefit related to religion nor the worldly affairs and that is why Allaah stated: [قُل رَّبِّي أَعْلَمُ بِعِدَّتِهِم مَّا يَعْلَمُهُمْ إِلَّا قَلِيلٌ ۗ – Say (O Muhammad):My Lord knows best their number; none knows them but a few]; and they are those who know what is correct and known for being upon what is correct.
[ فَلَا تُمَارِ فِيهِمْ إِلَّا مِرَاءً ظَاهِرً -So debate not (about their number, etc.) except with the clear proof (which We have revealed to you)] based upon knowledge, certainty and about that which contains benefit. As for debating based on ignorance and guessing at the unseen or about that which has no benefit- either the debater being obstinate or the affair being debated having no benefit- neither any religious nor [praiseworthy] worldly benefit, such as the number of the people of the cave and what is similar to it- then too much debate about it and continuous research regarding it is a waste of time, and it makes the hearts have a strong love for that which has no benefit. [وَلَا تَسْتَفْتِ فِيهِم مِّنْهُمْ أَحَدً – And consult not any of them (people of the Scripture, Jews and Christians) about (the affair of) the people of the Cave] because their speech regarding it is based on guessing at the unseen and conjecture can be of no avail against the truth.
This [Ayah (i.e. 18:22)] proves that it is not permissible for a person to issue a verdict when he is not worthy of it- either due to his inability to issue a verdict in that affair or due to fact that he does not care what he says about the affair because he does not possess that fear of Allaah that will stop him from speaking about affairs that are unclear to him, which may harm him in the afterlife. So when it is the case that he has been forbidden from giving verdicts in the likes of this affair, then prohibiting him from giving verdicts [in general] is of a greater prohibition. Also this ayah proves that a person maybe prohibited from giving a verdict in some affair but not in other affairs, so he gives a verdict in that which he is worthy of giving a verdict and not in other affairs because Allaah has not prohibited him from giving a verdict completely; rather they were prohibited from giving a verdict regarding the affair of the people of the cave and what is similar to it. (1)
Beware of conjecture or too many unnecessary opinions in an affair and thus the correct or stronger position become hidden or obscured to the listener! “When reporting a difference of opinion on a matter, one should accommodate the statements (or arguments or views) in that context- clarify what is sound and what is false, mention the beneficial points in that difference of opinion and its fruitful outcomes so that the disagreement and differing is not prolonged in that which has no benefit and thus one is preoccupied with other than what is more important. As for the one who transmits difference of opinion, but does not accommodate the statements of the scholars, he has fallen short because it maybe that what is correct is found in that which he left out, or he transmits difference of opinion but neither establish its proofs nor clarifies the correct statements, then he has also fallen short. If he deliberately portrays something wrong as something correct, then he had lied deliberately, and he is mistake if it was based on ignorance. Also, the one who transmits difference of opinion in that which there is no benefit or merely transmits the wording of a number of statements (views) and then summarises them in one or two statements in meaning, then indeed he has wasted a long time and prolonged engagement in that which is not correct”. (2)
Likewise, in our era, we are presented with numerous views to the extent that the readers and listeners are afflicted with information overload, lead many people to gradually miss the root cause of the problem and thus and thus they become more confused than being well-informed about the subject matter. Access to the appropriate information is very good because it aids a person to make a good judgment if he has sound principles and competency to make a judgement, but it can be very harmful when too much is presented alongside the absence of sound principles by way of which the affair is dealt with from its very root cause; rather this also opens a door for the deceitful ones to manipulate the naive and gullible. Imaam Ibnul Qayyim [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said, “If you ponder upon the statements of the people of falsehood, you will indeed find them clothed with expressions and presented in a good light with sophisticated terms, which are quickly accepted by those deprived of sound discernment-to the extent that the wicked sinners would give (good) names to the greatest types of wicked deeds”. (3)
Imaam Abdur-Rahmaan Bin Naasir As-Sadi [may Allaah have mercy upon him] said: And what is well known is that Allaah neither loves ignorance nor doubts, neither confusion nor misguidance; rather He loves the religion, knowledge and certainty. Indeed, Allaah [The Most High] rebuked confusion, saying:
قُلْ أَنَدْعُو مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ مَا لَا يَنفَعُنَا وَلَا يَضُرُّنَا وَنُرَدُّ عَلَىٰ أَعْقَابِنَا بَعْدَ إِذْ هَدَانَا اللَّهُ كَالَّذِي اسْتَهْوَتْهُ الشَّيَاطِينُ فِي الْأَرْضِ حَيْرَانَ لَهُ أَصْحَابٌ يَدْعُونَهُ إِلَى الْهُدَى ائْتِنَا ۗ قُلْ إِنَّ هُدَى اللَّهِ هُوَ الْهُدَىٰ ۖ
Say (O Muhammad): “Shall we invoke others besides Allah (false deities), that can do us neither good nor harm, and shall we turn on our heels after Allah has guided us (to true Monotheism)? – like one whom the Shayaateen (devils) have made to go astray, confused (wandering) through the earth, his companions calling him to guidance (saying): ‘Come to us.’ “Say: “Verily, Allah’s Guidance is the only guidance.’’ [Soorah Al An’aam: Ayah: 71]
Indeed, we have been commanded to ask Him (The Most High) to guide us to the straight path and this necessitates knowledge of the truth and acting upon it, and the Qur’aan is the cure, guidance and light. The Muslims are agreed [upon the fact] that doubt and confusion are unpraiseworthy, and it is expected – absolutely- that a person who does not possess knowledge of something is obligated to keep quiet and seek knowledge via its (sound) sources. Those atheists – the most doubtful of doubters, who command the people to eradicate the truth from the hearts in order to direct the hearts to other than it – are opponents of the Book, the Sunnah and the consensus of those considered to be people of sound reasoning. They (atheists) are followers of their misguided leaders. (4)
Imaam Ismaa’eel Bin Abdur-Rahmaan [known as As-Sadee (rahimahullaah)] said: The people of shirk said to the Muslims: ‘’follow our path and abandon the religion of Muhammad (sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam)’’, so Allaah revealed the ayah: ‘’Say (O Muhammad): Shall we invoke others besides Allah (false deities), that can do us neither good nor harm, and shall we turn on our heels;’’ Meaning: (shall we turn into) disbelief ‘’after Allah has guided us (to true Monotheism)?’’, and so that we become like you? – those whom the devils have made to go astray in the earth.
And so that we become like you by disbelieving after believing, similar to a man who set out on a road with some people, but he got lost. So, the devils made him confused and he wandered in the earth, whilst his companions are on the (right) road. His companions started calling him saying: ‘’Come to us, we are on the (right) road”, but he refuses to go to them. This is similar to the one who follows the (people of shirk) after being acquainted with the (message of) Muhammad (sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam). And Muhammad (sallal-laahu-alayhi-wasallam) is the one calling to the (right) road and the road is Islaam. (5)
[Ref 1: Source: An Ecerpt from Tayseer Al-Kareem Ar-Rahmaan Fee Tafseer Kalaam al-Mannaan’. slightly paraphrased]
[Ref 2: Manhajul Bah’thil Ilmi Wa Kitaabah Fee Uloom Ash-Sharee’ah. 21- 22]
[Ref 3: An Excerpt from As-Sawaa-iq al-Mursalah of Imaam Ibnul Qayyim: 2/438). Slightly paraphrased]
[Ref 4: An Excerpt from Al-adillatul Qawaatiq Wal-baraaheen Fee Ibtaali Usoolil Mulhideen. Page 15. slightly paraphrased]
[Ref 5: An Excerpt from Al-Misbaah Al-Muneer Fee Tahdheeb Tafseer Ibn Katheer. Page 428]