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The Men of the Cave: Tafsir, Tragedy, and Tawfiq al-Hakim (Bruce Fudge)

The Men of the Cave: Tafsir, Tragedy, and Tawfiq al-Hakim (Bruce Fudge)

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Published by msharif10
First paragraph: In 1933 the Egyptian writer Tawfìq al-Hakìm (1898-1987) published a play entitled Ahl al-Kahf (The People of the Cave), which was based on the legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, or the Men of the Cave (ashab al-kahf ) as they are known in the Qur'an [Q 18: 9-26]. In this play Tawfìq al-Hakìm was attempting “to insert the element of tragedy into an Arab-Islamic topic”...His stated intention was “not merely to take a story from the Noble Book and set it in dramatic form but rather to look at our Islamic mythology (asà†ìrinà l-islàmiyya) with the eyes of Greek tragedy and to bring about a fusion of the two mentalities and literatures.”2 These are interesting goals, but they raise the question of what exactly this “topic” consists, and what is meant by “Arab-Islamic” as opposed to “Greek tragedy”?
First paragraph: In 1933 the Egyptian writer Tawfìq al-Hakìm (1898-1987) published a play entitled Ahl al-Kahf (The People of the Cave), which was based on the legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, or the Men of the Cave (ashab al-kahf ) as they are known in the Qur'an [Q 18: 9-26]. In this play Tawfìq al-Hakìm was attempting “to insert the element of tragedy into an Arab-Islamic topic”...His stated intention was “not merely to take a story from the Noble Book and set it in dramatic form but rather to look at our Islamic mythology (asà†ìrinà l-islàmiyya) with the eyes of Greek tragedy and to bring about a fusion of the two mentalities and literatures.”2 These are interesting goals, but they raise the question of what exactly this “topic” consists, and what is meant by “Arab-Islamic” as opposed to “Greek tragedy”?

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Published by: msharif10 on Mar 25, 2013
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06/17/2013

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1
In the introduction to his adaptation of 
Oedipus Rex:al-M 
à
lik 
Ù 
ì 
b
, (Beirut: D
à
r al-kit
à
b al-lubn
à
n
ì 
, 1973), pp. 38-9.
2
Ibid.
, p. 38. From an orthodox perspective, the use of 
as 
à†ì 
(sing.
us 
†ù
ra 
 ) to includea story from the Qur
n is highly problematic, as the word is used in the scripture itself (Q 6:25; 8:31, etc.) to indicate ancient fables or legends that contrast with the truthsof scriptural revelation.
THE MEN OF THE CAVE:
TAFS 
Ì 
, TRAGEDY AND TAWF
Ì
Q AL-
Ó
AK
Ì
M

BRUCE FUDGE
Southwestern University
Introduction
In 1933 the Egyptian writer Tawf 
ì 
q al-
Ó
ak
ì 
m (1898-1987) publisheda play entitled
 Ahl al-Kahf 
(The People of the Cave), which was basedon the legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, or the Men of theCave (
ß˙à
b al-kahf 
 ) as they are known in the Qur
n [Q 18: 9-26].Inthis play Tawf 
ì 
q al-
Ó
ak
ì 
m was attempting “to insert the element of tragedy into an Arab-Islamic topic” (
id 
¢à
un
ß 
ur al-tar 
à[ì 
diyy
à
 f 
ì 
maw 
∂ 
ù
arab
ì 
isl 
à
m
ì 
 ).
1
His stated intention was “not merely to take a story fromthe Noble Book and set it in dramatic form but rather to look at ourIslamic mythology (
as 
à†ì 
rin
à
l-isl 
à
miyya 
 ) with the eyes of Greek tragedyand to bring about a fusion of the two mentalities and literatures.”
2
Theseare interesting goals, but they raise the question of what exactly this“topic” consists, and what is meant by “Arab-Islamic” as opposed to“Greek tragedy”?The present article is an attempt to insert the element of qur
nicstudies into the topic of Tawf 
ì 
q al-
Ó
ak
ì 
m, or more broadly, to bring about a brief “fusion of the two literatures” of scriptural interpretationand modern literature. I will focus on the modern appropriation of anarrative from Islamic salvation history, and speci
cally on the forminwhich such narratives are preserved. That is, can we identify the “raw
©Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2007
 Arabica 
, tome LIV,1Also available online – www.brill.nl
 
materials” of such literary appropriations? In the case of 
 Ahl al-Kahf 
thequestion can help us to sketch the interpretive life of a qur
nic narrativeand to understand the shift from a narrative’s traditional context tothat of another, very di
ff 
erent genre. I will discuss the nature of thetale, followed by examples from the Arabic exegetical tradition thatshow how scholars with di
ff 
ering exegetical priorities derive meaning or signi
cance from the scriptural version of the story. I will show thatthere is little attention to the unity of the tale, and that the exegeticalpoints of departure for interpretation are the individual components orsemantic units found in individual verses.Moving to the play by Tawf 
ì 
q al-
Ó
ak
ì 
m, I will demonstrate how itis precisely these components, rather than any other literary aspects,which al-
Ó
ak
ì 
m adopts in his play. I will also discuss his use of thisqur
nic material for tragedy, and its signi
cance for the play. It willnotsu
ce to regard
 Ahl al-Kahf 
in terms of the Qur
n. It must be approachedas a literary work and analyzed on its own terms if one is to discernthe echoes of scriptures and the responses of the modern author. More-over, if we can learn about the modern appropriation of a scripturalstory, then we can also learn something about the nature of the scrip-tural story in its earlier incarnations.The question of the meaning or signi
cance of the Men of the Cavestory is the central issue here, and even if we do not
nd a theme inthe usual sense, we can discern di
ff 
erent aspects of its signi
cance. Iwillargue that the matter of the “meaning” of the story
as a whole 
remainslargely unstated, and that despite Tawf 
ì 
q al-
Ó
ak
ì 
m’s radical innovationin his play, his usage of qur
nic elements remains consistent with theuse of scriptural passages throughout the mainstream of the exegeticaltradition.I.
Christians and Muslims: The Seven Sleepers and the Men of the Cave 
The Qur
n’s rendition of the
 A
ß˙à
b al-kahf 
, from which the eighteenthchapter or
ù
ra 
takes its name (
ù
rat al-kahf 
 ), is an allomorph of theearly Christian legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. This legendexists in Latin, Greek, Syriac, Armenian, Christian Arabic, Coptic andEthiopian versions, and is generally held to be derived from Syriac ori-gins whose earliest mss. appear to go back to the end of the
fth cen-tury AD. The tale is set in Ephesus during the persecution of Christiansby the idolatrous emperor Decius. A group of youths residing in thepalaceare accused of being Christians, and rather than submit to worshipping 68

 

 
the idols, they
ee and take refuge in a cave, where they presently fallinto a deep slumber. Three centuries later, during the time of a the-ological dispute over the resurrection of the dead, God awakens the youths, who are unaware that more than a night has passed. One of them descends into the town, and is astonished that it seems to beopenlyChristian. In trying to buy food with his outdated coinage, he is accusedof hiding a treasure. Threatened and then taken to the authorities, heinvites the bishop and governor to come to the cave where they seethe youths alive, and read inscriptions that con
rm their story. One of them explains that God had put them to sleep, then awakened thembefore the Day of Judgment in order to demonstrate the truth of theresurrection. Then the youths fall asleep forever and a basilica is builton the spot.
3
The Qur
n is less explicit about the events, but the main elementsof the narrative are recognizable:
Or dost thou think the men of the cave and al-Raq 
ì 
m (a 
ß˙à
b al-kahf wa l-raq 
ì 
m) were amongour signs a wonder? [9] When the youths took refuge in the Cave, saying, ‘Our Lord, give us mercy from Thee, and  furnish us with guidance in our a 
  ff  
air.’ [10] Then We smote their ears many years in the Cave.[11]  Afterwards We raised them up again, that We might know which of the two parties would better calculate the while they had tarried. [12] We will relate to thee their tidings truly. They were youths who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance. [13]  And We strengthened their hearts, when they stood up and said, ‘Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth; we will not call upon any God, apart from Him, or then we had spoken outrage. [14] These our people have taken to them other gods, apart from Him. Ah, if only they would bring some clear authority regarding them! But who does greater evil than he who forges against God a lie? [15] So, when you have gone apart from them and that they serve, excepting God, take refuge inthe Cave, and your Lord will unfold to you of His mercy, and will furnish you with a gentle issue of your a 
  ff  
air.’ [16]  And though mightest have seen the sun, when it rose, inclining from their Cave towards the right, and when it set, passing by them on the left, while they were in a broad 
  fi 
ssure of the Cave. That was one of God’s signs; whomsoever God guides, he is rightly guided, and whom-soever He leads astray, thou wilt not 
  fi 
nd for him a protector to direct. [17] Thou wouldst have thought them awake, as they lay sleeping, while We turned them now tothe right, now to the left, and their dog stretching its paws on the threshold. Hadst thou observed them, surely thou wouldst have turned thy back on them in
  fl 
ight, and been
  fi 
lled with terror of them. [18] 

 

 

 

 

69
3
For a useful summary, see I. Guidi, “Seven Sleepers,”
The Encyclopaedia of Religionand Ethics 
, ed. James Hastings (New York: Scribner, 1908-27), s.v.; also M. Huber,
 Die Wanderlegende von den Siebenschlaefern
(Leipzig: O. Harrassowitz 1910).

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