Monday, 24 August 2009

Al-Khidr: The Guide

Of all the stories told in the Qur’an, this has to be the one that fascinates me the most. Al-Khidr is a mysterious figure in Islam; some say he is a saint and others say he is a prophet. Khidr (pronounced Khee-dir) is best known for his appearance in the 18th chapter of the Qur’an, in Surah Al-Kahf (The Cave) [Qur’an 18:65]. Although not mentioned by name in the ayah (verse), Khidr is assumed to be the figure that Musa (AS) [The Prophet Moses] accompanies and whose seemingly violent and destructive actions disturb Moses into breaking his oath of silence.

The story begins one day after a fiery sermon, when someone in the audience asked Moses if there was another man on earth more learned than him. He replied no, believing that Allah SWT (God Almighty) had given him the greatest knowledge through the power of miracles and the honour of The Torah. It was then revealed to Moses that he would meet someone wiser, possessing more knowledge then he.

Moses then met Khidr, referred to in the Qur'an as "one from among Our servants whom We had granted mercy from Us and whom We had taught knowledge from Ourselves,"[Qur’an, 18:65] at a place where two oceans met and greeted him with Salam (Peace be upon you) to which Khidr replied that there was no Salam there. Moses then introduced himself as the Prophet of the clan of Israeel and asked for permission to accompany him so that he could learn that which he did not know. Khidr, aware of Moses’ divine knowledge of the Torah, warned him sternly that their knowledge and wisdom differed significantly. He warned Moses of his impatience and set a condition that if Moses was to accompany him, that he had to remain silent and ask no questions; whereupon Khidr would undertake to explain his seemingly irrational behavior and actions at a later time.

Moses agreed and they set off together. They boarded a boat and Khidr removed a few planks from the side of the vessel, making a hole and damaging it. Having forgotten his oath, Moses said, "Have you made a hole in it to drown its inmates? Certainly you have done a grievous thing." Khidr then reminded Moses of his warning, "Did I not say that you will not be able to have patience with me?" and asked Moses not to be rebuked again.

On their journey, they encountered children playing in a town. Khidr called one of the boys aside, and then murdered him. Moses again interjected in astonishment and dismay, and again Khidr reminded Moses of his warning. Moses apolgised and promised that he would not violate his oath again, adding that if he did he would offer no further excuses and Khidr could then part from him.

They then proceed to a town where they were denied hospitality and were forced to continue on their journey. On passing a wall about to collapse, Khidr set out to restore and reinforce the decrepit wall. Again Moses was amazed and violated his oath asking why Khidr did not at least exact "some recompense for it!" since the townsmen were so unwelcoming, did not deserve his help and they would have at least had some money to buy food.
Khidr then replied that it was time for them to part company. The Qur’an described these events in these words:

He said, This is the parting between thee and me. I will announce unto thee the interpretation of that thou couldst not bear with patience. As for the ship, it belonged to poor people working on the river, and I wished to mar it, for there was a king behind them who is taking every ship by force. And as for the lad, his parents were believers and we feared lest he should oppress them by rebellion and disbelief. And We intended that their Lord should change him for them for one better in purity and nearer to mercy. And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city and there was beneath it a treasure belonging to them, and their father had been righteous, and thy Lord intended that they should come to their full strength and should bring forth their treasure as a mercy from their Lord; and I did it not upon my own command. Such is the interpretation of that wherewith thou couldst not bear. [Al-Kahf: 78-82]

Not much is known about Khidr other than his encounter with Moses, after which he hastily walked away into the unknown. However, in Islamic lore, Khidr is associated with the Water of Life. Since he drank the water of immortality he is described as the one who has found the source of life, 'the Eternal Youth.' He is depicted as the mysterious and enigmatic guide, an immortal saint in popular Islamic lore and the hidden initiator of those who walk the mystical path.

There are many disputes amongst contemporary Muslims as to Khidr’s supposed immortality. To Sufis, Khidr is highly revered and venerated. Even though there is a difference of opinion about him still being alive amongst most Sunni Scholars; amongst the Sunni Sufis there is almost a consensus that Khidr is still alive, with many respected figures and sheikhs, and prominent leaders claiming having had personal encounters with him.

Among the strongest transmitted proofs about the life of Khidr are two reports, one narrated by Imam Ahmad in al-Zuhd whereby Muhammad SAW is said to have stated that Ilyas (Elijah) and Khidr meet every year and spend the month of Ramadan in Jerusalem and the other narrated by Ya'qub ibn Sufyan from the 'Umar ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz, whereby a man he was seen walking with was actually Al-Khidr. Ibn Hajar declared the chain of the first fair and that of the second sound in Fath al-Bari (1959 ed. 6:435). He goes on to cite another sound report narrated by ibn 'Asakir from Abu Zur'a al-Razi, whereby the latter had met Khidr twice, once in his young age, the other in his old age, but al-Khidr himself had not changed.

Islamic tradition¹ sometimes describes al-Khidr as Mu'allim al-anbiya (Tutor of the Prophets), for the spiritual guidance he has shown every prophet who has appeared throughout history. It is said that the one Prophet whom Khidr did not teach is Muhammad; significantly, it is Muhammad who taught Khidr. This is an unsurprising reversal of the master-disciple relationship exemplified by Khidr and Moses. Having the young, unlettered Muhammad teach the wise, ancient Khidr underscores the superiority of Muhammad's prophet hood and the fact that he too is a repository of divine knowledge (ilm ladunni):

When Allah made His covenant with the Prophets, (He said): Behold that which I have given you of the Scripture and knowledge. And afterward there will come unto you a messenger, confirming that which you possess. Ye shall believe in him and ye shall help him. He said, Do ye agree, and will ye take up My burden (which I lay upon you) in this matter? They answered we agree. He said, Then bear ye witness, I will be a witness with you. [Aal e Imran: R9] 

This verse has been subject to interpretation, with some believing its reference to Khidr, and others claiming its reference to Jibrael AS (Gabriel, the archangel). However, Sunni Scholars including Imams’ Bukhari and Muslim refute the claim that Khidr is still alive.

The Greeks call Al-Khidr, Hormux (Hermes) the adept and Initiator into the Temple Mysteries of the Great Pyramid. Isaiah 19/2 of the Old Testament refers to this Pyramid Temple as the "altar to the Lord in the middle of Egypt". Hermes, known to the Arabs as Idris, was called Enoch by the Hebrews.

The Spanish Arab historian Said of Toledo (d. 1069) said:
“Sages affirm that all antediluvian sciences originate with the first Hermes who lived in Said in Upper Egypt.”

There are other stories too, one that indicates that Khidr was a servant of Dhul-Qarnain (Alexander the Great) and that both crossed the “Land of Darkness” to find the “Water of Life” where Alexander gets lost looking for the spring but Khidr finds it and gains eternal life.

And only Allah SWT really knows.

¹ Islamic tradition and culture does not necessarily denote Islam's religious standing


  1. very nice post. makes me realise how little i know

  2. JazakAllah for the detail. It is one of the most intriguing stories; along with the story of Dhul-Qarnain (spelling probably wrong) - also in Surah Kahf. (He built the wall/barrier to keep the tribes of Gog and Magog from invading lands).

    As for Al-Khidr being alive - it's interesting. But I don't really go into Sufism, because - although there may be good in it - there's also a big risk of going astray, as many have, apparently. So, I don't really consider that as being true - or rather, I don't really care about that. It's kind of like the Shia belief that the 12th Imam (?) is alive; and also their belief that we don't have the whole Quran...something like that. (Don't remember exactly - I did an essay on it years ago).

    Anyway, good post - and I look forward to more like it, because of the detail you put in. A good topic would be some of the signs of the Day of Judgement. One of the fascinating bits is the release of Gog and Magog. I was listening to Anwar Al-Awlaki's audio series on the Hereafter, and he goes into detail about that. It's terrifying to think of what's going to happen - yet so many of us just have no idea.

  3. Mash - Theres more to come :)

    Dreamlife - When it comes to certain things, I won't say I don't believe it nor will I say that I do.

    I've had an Imam that I know tell me he had an encounter with Khidr and an aunt who believes that Khidr helped her out when she was nearly crushed to death in a near-stampede during Hajj a few years ago. And both of them are Sunni :)

    I choose to leave that knowledge with Allah SWT because it means nothing to me whether he is alive or not. I choose to remain indifferent until such a time the truth is revealed to me or I get evidence.

    You're lucky because Dhul Qarnain is next on my list :)

  4. PS. I must point out that it was reported that Khidr attended the funeral of the Prophet SAW and was identified by Omar AS when he went to greet him to offer his condolences.
    I forgot to add that bit in the story.

  5. Really good post. I love Islamic history. Thanks for the history lesson Ma'am ;)

  6. Solid post :), my favourite lesson from the story of the prophet Khidr is that even though Moses is a great prophet, even he must strive against casting judgement and has to realise that maybe he doesn't see the bigger picture - something we all need to work at I guess.

  7. Khidr (A.S) for me exemplifies the 'supernatural aspect'of my yakeen (faith) and while might caution against this viewpoint, I view it like the Meraaj or the splitting of the moon - miracles that defy or cannot be explained in conventional human logic

    there is debate over whether he was a Prophet or an Awliya - Mufti Makki discusses this in his tafsir.

    Abdul Qader Jailaani (R.A) mentions in two of his books (Fath Al Rabbani and Futuh Al Ghaib that he has met Khidr (A.S)

    So Yeah

    Lots more that I want to get into but I have other commitments at the moment. I'l be back :)

    Oh yeah - divine knowledge vs Judeo code of ethics - means justifying the ends - rather utilitarianistic way of approaching something - which does nto necessarily apply to outr shariah which is more deontological in nature.

  8. Excellent post! I remember this story now... It also reminds me that I know little...and that I should read more or else I forget :S

  9. Waseem - I love history :) So its my pleasure.

    n - I know exactly what you mean...its difficult for us to believe that the Prophets (AS) were men who had to control their impulses etc. too. I guess they're always depicted as super-human in some way and thats what makes them so special...they they were just humans yet strived (and in some cases attained) perfection...we're so weak compared to that.

    MJ - This month, I'm here to narrate, not debate :)

    GS - Its important to remind ourselves, it gives one a sense of perspective :)

  10. Excellent post, I am loving this slant that you taking in Ramadaan, Islamic history is really vital :)

  11. im not debating :)

    i think khidr is awesome chica

  12. fatima - thanks for your comments and kind words :)

    MJ - :D