The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, The Companions of the Cave

H. Talat Halman, Hugh Talat Halman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionarypeer-review


The famous sixth century Christian story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus appears in the Qur’an in 18:9-27, Sura al-Kahf, the chapter of the Cave. The Qur’an only suggests the number of the young men might be seven. The Qur’an emphasizes that the main point of the story is to prove the truth of the Last Hour of Judgment. (18:21). Since the Sura of the Cave is broadcast every Friday morning from mosques before Friday prayer, the story is well-known. The Qur’an’s name for the Seven Sleepers is Ashab al-Kahf, the People of the Cave. The Jewish Rabbis of Medina suggested the Quraish challenge the Prophet to transmit this story. The Prophet Muhammad's community understood the story as a sign that God would protect them from the persecution of the Quraish. The Seven Sleepers, in the face of religious persecution, retreated to a cave outside Ephesus which thereafter since the 6th century C.E. pilgrims have visited. At-Tabari narrates that witnesses to the event inscribed the “Inscription.” One purpose of the story is to establish whether it is Christians or Muslims who correctly calculate how long the youth stayed in the cave. The Qur’an presents the number of the years the youth were in seclusion as “three hundred years and add nine.” (18:25) But this is qualified by adding that God knows best how long they stayed. the context of the story is that Christians in Ephesus, the capitol of Asia Minor, were persecuted by Emperor Decius (r. 249 -251 C.E.), who was worried about unrest since his predecessor, Philip, had been assassinated. Decius demanded that people sacrifice before the Emperor’s statue or else face torture and death. One of the brothers said they had slept and God awakened them as living proof and a sign of God's power to resurrect the dead. (cf. Qur’an 18.21) Emperor Theodosius (r. 408-450) came to Ephesus to meet them. Ever since the sixth century C.E. people have made pilgrimage to the caves NE of Ephesus.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, The Companions of the Cave
PublisherABC-CLIO: Islam: A worldwide Encyclopedia
StateAccepted/In press - 1800


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