Are the Companions of the Cave in Tarsus?
The second place presented as the place where the Companions of the Cave have lived, is Tarsus. Indeed, there is a cave that is very similar to the one described in the Qur’an, which is located on a mountain known either as Encilus or Bencilus, to the north-west of Tarsus.
The idea that Tarsus is the correct location is the view of many Islamic scholars. One of the most important Qur’anic interpreters, at-Tabari specified the name of the mountain where the cave stood as “Bencilus” in his book named Tarikh al-Umam, and added that this mountain was in Tarsus.
Again, another famous commentator on the Qur’an, Muhammed Emin stated that the name of the mountain was “Pencilus” and that it was in Tarsus. The name that is pronounced as “Pencilus” may sometimes be pronounced as “Encilus”. According to him, the difference between the words is caused by different pronunciations of the letter “B” or by the loss of a letter from the original word which is called “historical word abrasion”.
Fakhruddin ar-Razi, another well known Qur’anic scholar, explains in his work that “even though this place is called Ephesus, the basic intention is to say Tarsus here, because Ephesus is just another name of Tarsus”.3
In addition, in the commentaries of Qadi al-Baidawi and an-Nasafi, in the commentaries of al-Jalalayn and in at-Tibyan, in the commentaries of Elmali and O.Nasuhi Bilmen, and many other scholars, this place is specified as “Tarsus”. Besides, all of these commentators explain the sentence of the 17th verse, “the sun, when it rose declined to the right from their cave, and when it set, turned away from them to the left”, by saying that the mouth of the cave in the mountain looked towards the north.4
The cave in Tarsus that is thought to belong to the Companions of the Cave.
The residence of the Companions of the Cave was a subject of interest also at the time of the Ottoman Empire and some research was made on the subject. There is some correspondence and an exchange of information on the subject in the Ottoman Archives of the Prime Ministry. For instance, in a letter sent to the Treasury Superior of the Ottoman State by the local administration of Tarsus, there is a formal request and an attached message notifying of their demand to give salary to those people who dealt with the cleaning and maintenance of the cave of Ashab-i Kahf (Companions of the Cave). The reply to this letter stated that in order for these salaries to be paid to the workers from the state treasury, it was necessary to find out whether this was indeed the place where the Companions of the Cave had resided. The research made for this purpose has been very useful in determining the real location of the Cave.
In a report prepared after an investigation made by the National Council, it was stated: “To the north of Tarsus, a province of Adana, there is a cave on a mountain two hours away from Tarsus, and the mouth of this cave looks to the north as stated in the Qur’an.” 5
The debates which developed as to who the Companions of the Cave were, where and when they lived, always led the authorities to make research into the subject and many comments were made on the subject. Yet, none of these comments may be considered certain, and, therefore, questions such as: at which period these young believers lived, and where the cave mentioned in the verses was, remain without substantial answers.
NOTES 1. At-Tabari, Tarikh-al Umam.
2. Muhammed Emin.
3. Fakhruddin ar-Razi.
4. From the commentaries of Qadi al-Baidawi, an-Nasafi, al-Jalalayn and at-Tibyan, also Elmalili, Nasuhi Bilmen.
5. Ahmet Akgündüz, Tarsus ve Tarihi ve Ashab-i Kehf. (Ahmet Akgündüz, Tarsus and History and the Companions of the Cave.)