The western influence on representations of the Seven Sleepers in Islamic miniatures

Document Type : research articles


1 Department of Tourism Guidance, Sinai Higher institute for Tourism and Hotels, SIT, Egypt

2 Department of the History of Art, Archaeology and Music, University of Córdoba, Córdoba, Spain


The Quranic story of Aṣḥāb al-kahf, or the ‘Companions of the Cave’, has always been illustrated by Islamic miniaturists depicting the seven sleepers as seven in number. The narration of the story in the Quran refers to Allah's divine power, which miraculously caused seven youths to fall asleep and awaken after 309 years, but without specifying their exact number. The tale contains distinct parallels to the western legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, dating from the 5th century, which recounts the story of Christian youths who were persecuted by the emperor Decius in the 3rd century. While the Quran does not stipulate the number of sleepers, the western legend specifically states that the story is about seven sleepers. In light of this background, an effort is made here to interpret the number seven in “Companions of the Cave” Islamic miniatures as evidence of a western influence on the mindsets of their creators.


Main Subjects