سم الله الرحمن الرحيم
نحمده ونصلى على رسوله الكريم
Concerning the reality of the As-haab al-Kahf or youthful companions of the cave as mentioned in the 18th Surah of the Holy Qur’an, Allah Most High says:
وَكَلْبُهُمْ بَاسِطٌ ذِرَاعَيْهِ بِالْوَصِيدِ
Their dog stretching out his two forearms on the threshold
The reader should be aware that the classical Muslim exegetes have differed over the “dog” as mentioned in this Verse. Although the majority have interpreted “dog” as a literal dog, some exegetes understood “dog” as referring to a human being whom Allah has referred to as “dog” in a figurative sense. Imam Ibn Jarir al-Tabari (Rahimahullah) has mentioned this fact in his Tafsir:
اختلَف أهلُ التأويلِ فى الذى عنَى اللهُ بقولِه: (وَكَلْبُهُم) فقال بعضهم: هو كلبٌ من كلابِهم كان معهم. وقد ذكَرْنا كثيرًا ممَّن قال ذلك فيما مضَى: وقال بعضُهم: كان إنسانًا مِن الناسِ
Translation: “The people of exegesis differed concerned the saying of Allah: ‘Their dog’. Some said: ‘He was a dog from among their dogs who was with them.’ And this has been mentioned from most (exegetes). And some said: ‘He was a human being from among the people.’”
Reference: Tafsir Ibn Jarir; v. 15, p. 191
The contemporary Islamic preacher and founder of Bayyinah Institute, Mr. Nouman Ali Khan, claimed that the exegetes who interpreted the “dog” mentioned in this Verse as referring to a human being were plainly wrong and ridiculed their interpretation by asserting that the Verse refers to the “paws” of the dog, while a human being obviously doesn’t possess paws.
We see, however, that Nouman Ali Khan is either ignorant of the Arabic language or failed to read the Verse. Perhaps Nouman Ali Khan and others were misinformed due to incorrect English translations of this Verse, such as those by Pickthall, Asad, Shakir and many others. For example, Pickthall’s translation: “their dog stretching out his paws on the threshold”. However, as we shall see, the word ذراع literally means “arm”, or with respect to an animal, its dual form ذراعين means “two front legs”, and with respect to a human being it means “two arms” (Arabic-English Dictionary of Qur’anic Usage; pp. 326-327)
Interestingly, a contemporary Salafi preacher, Abu Mussab Wajdi Akkari, has pointed out this grave error of Nouman Ali Khan:
Another great Islamic exegete and mystic, Imam Sahl al-Tustari, rahimahullah, (d. 283 H) said:
وسئل عن قوله: (الرَّقِيمِ) فقال: الرقيم هو رئيسهم, وهو المسمى بالكلب, وليس بكلب لهم. قال الله تعالى: (وَكَلْبُهُم بَاسِطٌ ذِرَاعَيْهِ بِالْوَصِيدِ) أى: باسط ذراعيه بالأمر والنهى.
Translation: “He was asked about His Word: [18:9]…the inscription (al-raqim)…He said: Al-Raqim is their leader who is called ‘the dog’ but they do not actually have a dog. God, Exalted is He, said Their dog [lay] stretching his two forelegs on the threshold [18:18]. That is, stretching his two forelegs in command and prohibition.”
Reference: Tafsir al-Tustari; p. 188