Verses from Surah Al-Kahf (65-78)

[65] They found a slave from among Our slaves89 on whom we had bestowed mercy from Us, and had taught him knowledge proceeding from Us.90

Commentary

89. That was Al-Khadir, (or, as some would say Khidr) meaning , “the Green One,” (implying, [according to popular legend] that his wisdom was ever-fresh: Asad). He was lying asleep, under a cloak covering himself from head to foot. He was given some knowledge of the hidden, unknown, and the unseen (Tabari, Zamakhshari).

According to a hadith in Bukhari narrated by Abu Hurayrah, Khadir was so named because once he sat down on a dry grassy belt and it became green by his touch (Ibn Kathir, Shawkani).

90. Alusi speaks on the new term introduced here in the Qur’an: “`ilm al-ladunni.” He points out that in truth there is no mystery about it. Al-Khadir was given a special knowledge through “wahyu ilham” (“revelation through inspiration,” or “revelation through the blow”) which can be experienced both by Prophets as well as non-prophets. In this kind of revelation, an angel does not appear to the eyes. He does not speak out words, remains concealed, but inspires the recipient with whatever Allah wishes to send across of knowledge. Our Prophet also occasionally experienced this kind of revelation. For example, he said, “The Ruh al-Quds (Jibril) blew into my heart that no soul will die without having obtained its share of provision. Therefore, fear Allah and employ fair means to obtain (it).” This too is “`ilm al-ladunni.” It is also known by the term “`ilm al-batin” (the hidden or esoteric knowledge) by which term it is merely meant to contrast it with “`ilm-azzahir” – the apparent or exoteric knowledge – which is so called because it is obtained by open means (such as study of books). In sharp contrast, “`ilm al-batin” requires practice of what one knows, which opens doors to gates of knowledge hitherto closed. Sheikh ‘Abdul Wahhab Sha`rani has written in his “Al-Durar al-Manthurah” the following: The special knowledge that the Sufis possess, is obtained by no other means than by putting into practice what one learns of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Since Sufis do this diligently and spiritedly, they are able to obtain an in-depth knowledge, of which they speak out, saying things that another cannot say. For, the closer one gets to Allah, the more difficult the transmission of knowledge that one has of this nature, and all the more difficult for those to understand who do not have similar footing in the field.”

Also see Surah Al-Ma’idah, note187 for related discussions.

[66] Musa asked him, ‘May I follow you on condition that you teach me of what higher knowledge you have been taught?’91

Commentary

91. If it is admitted that Khadir was a Waliyy, then, does it imply that a Waliyy can be more knowledgeable than a Nabiyy, as some Sufis claim? The answer is, says Alusi, such an implication is incorrect. For Khadir might have had greater knowledge than Musa in a certain department, but Musa’s knowledge exceeded Khadir’s in every other department. Also, Alusi warns, do not read too much in Musa’s exemplary humble attitude towards Kkadir. (That is how students must behave towards their masters: Razi).

[67] He answered, ‘Assuredly, you will never be able to have patience with me.

[68] How can you show patience over what you do not encompass in knowledge?’

[69] He said, ‘You will find me, Allah willing, patient; and I shall not disobey you in any command.’

[70] Said he, ‘If you follow me, then do not ask me about anything until I myself speak to you about it.’

[71] So the two set out until when they climbed into a boat, he made a hole in it. He said, ‘Did you make a hole in it so as to drown its people? Surely, you have come up with something very strange.’

[72] He replied, ‘Did I not say that you can never have patience with me?’

[73] He answered, ‘Do not take me to task for what I forgot and do not make my affair difficult.’

[74] So the two set out until when they met a boy he slew him. He said, ‘Have you murdered an innocent soul without (retaliation) for another? Surely, you have come up with a deplorable act.’92

Commentary

92. The word Musa used at this point is “nukra” which is stronger in disapproval than the word he used earlier, “imra” (Alusi and others). Further, points out Shafi`, Musa’s objection was entirely in order because it is not allowed for someone who knows the Shari`ah laws to remain silent when he sees them violated.

Another point of note: With this as precedence, some ignorant Sufis claim that just as a Khadir’s act of murder of an innocent soul was lawful unto him, the Awliya’ reach a stage in spiritual development when the Shari`ah is no more binding on them. They need not, e.g., do the five daily prayers. Their Tariqah requirements supersede the Shari`ah requirements. Not only they are wrong in this but also in asserting that Shari`ah and Tariqah are two different realities. They are not. Even if there is some difference, Tariqah always remains subjected to Shari`ah whose laws are entirely inviolable (Alusi, Ma`arif).

[75] He replied, ‘Did I not tell you that you can never have patience with me?’93

Commentary

93. Notice that Khadir used the same sentence as he did earlier, but this time he added “laka” (you) to impress on Musa a slightly stronger exasperation (Zamakhshari).

[76] He answered, ‘If I ever ask you about anything after this, keep me not in your company anymore. You have indeed obtained an excuse from me.’

[77] So the two set out until when they came to the inhabitants of a town, they asked the town’s people for food. But they refused that they should host the two.94 The two found a wall there about to collapse. He set it up aright.95 He suggested, ‘Had you wished, you could have taken some wages for it.’ 

[78] He answered, ‘This is the parting between me and you. Now I will tell you the truth of that you could not bear patiently.

Commentary

94. According to moral notions prevalent at a time when there were no eating shops, the town’s people were obliged to host these strangers. Far from that, they refused to provide food even when asked. Hence Musa’s indignation: you could have at least taken wages from these uncouth men, even if we did not need the money! (Au.)

95. According to a report in Bukhari, Khadir merely touched the wall and it became upright. (If this is correct then) in this is the proof of the possibility of miracles at the hands of the Awliya’ (Thanwi).

Yusuf Ali remarks: “As they were refused hospitality, they should, as self-respecting men, have shaken the dust of the town off their feet, or shown their indignation in some way. Instead of that, Khidhr actually goes and does a benevolent act. He rebuilds for them a falling wall.”

Musa (asws) and Khadir:

hadith (in Bukhari: Ibn Kathir) gives us the whole story of Musa and Khadir. Ubayy bin Ka`b and others narrate (in several ahadith combined herewith): “Once Musa stood up to deliver a sermon among the Israelites. His speech brought tears into their eyes. Someone asked, ‘Who is the most learned of men?’ He replied, ‘I.’ Allah admonished Musa for failing to attribute (absolute) knowledge to Him. So He revealed to him, ‘I have a slave at the junction of the two seas who is more knowledgeable than you.’ He asked, ‘How am I to find him?’ He was told, ‘Take a fish with you, and put it in a (large) basket. Wherever you lose the fish, that is the place you will find him.’ So Musa took a fish, put it in a (large) basket and set out along with his attendant lad, Yusha` b. Nun (perhaps Joshua of the Bible), until when they reached the rock, they lay their heads on it and slept. Meanwhile, the fished wriggled out of the basket and betook its way into the river, burrowing (its way through). Allah held the water around the fish’s passage as if it was a tunnel. [Or perhaps the river water had freezed into ice due to cold weather: Zamakhshari]. (According to another report, also in Bukhari, there was a spring at the rock, called “The Spring of Life.” Its water touched nothing but gave it life. A few drops fell on the fish and it became alive). When they woke up, Musa’s companion forgot to tell him about the fish’ disappearance. They moved on journeying through the day and the following night, until when it was the next day, Musa said to his attendant, “‘Bring out our lunch. We have indeed encountered hardship from this our journey.’ “In fact, Musa did not feel fatigued until he had passed over the place which he was told to look out for. His attendant told him, ‘Did you see?! When we took shelter at the rock, I forgot about the fish, and none but Shaytan made me forget that I should mention it. It took its way into the sea in an amazing manner.’ [Note that Allah used the word sarab (a burrow) for the trace the fish left, but for Musa and his companion ‘ajab (an amazing thing)].’ Moreover, this part implies that Musa’s lad was awake when the fish jumped out.

Musa said, ‘That is the place we were seeking after.’ So they returned tracing their footsteps.

They traveled back until they reached the rock. They encountered a man there, lying on the rock, covered with a cloak. Musa greeted him. Khadir asked in reply, ‘Is there such a greeting in our land?’ Musa said, ‘I am Musa.’ He inquired, ‘Musa of the Israelites?’ Musa answered in the affirmative and added, ‘I have come to you so that you may teach me what you have been taught of the higher knowledge.’ Khadir replied, “Assuredly, you will never be able to have patience with me. O Musa! I have some knowledge from Allah which He has taught me and which you do not have, while you have some knowledge which Allah has taught you but which I do not have.’ Musa said, ‘You will find me, Allah willing, patient; and I shall not disobey you in anything.’ Khadir said, ‘If you follow me, then do not ask me about anything until I myself speak to you about it.’ So both of them set out walking along the seashore. A boat passed by and they requested the boat crew to take them on board. The crew knew Khadir and let them climb in without charge. Khadir wasted no time but began to work on one of the planks from the bow side and tore it out. (Alusi adds from the scholars: ‘Eyes don’t see Khadir’). Musa objected, ‘Look! These people gave us a free ride but you broke their boat to drown its people? Surely, you have come up with something very strangeHe replied, ‘Did I not say that you can never have patience with me?’ He answered, ‘Do not take me to task for what I forgot and do not make my affair difficult.’

So, Musa’s first (interruption) was because of forgetfulness, second conditional, and third intentional. (Another opinion is that the first was from forgetfulness, second intentional and third for parting ways: Alusi). Then a sparrow came and perched on the edge of the boat. It dipped its beak once or twice in the sea. Khadir said: `Musa! My knowledge and your knowledge have not decreased Allah’s knowledge except as much as this sparrow has decreased the water of the sea with its beak.’ (Some reports say that the bird incident took place while the two were still at the river where they had met first).

In any case, they left the boat. And as they were walking by the shore, Khadir spotted a boy playing with a few other kids. (Ghulam of the text is used for a teenager also). He took hold of the boy’s head and severed it off (its neck). [According to other reports, lay him down and slit his throat]. Musa protested, ‘Have you murdered an innocent soul without (retaliation) for another? Surely, you have come up with a deplorable act.’ He replied, ‘Haven’t I told you that you will never have patience with me?’ Musa said (to himself), ‘This was a stronger (reproach) than the earlier one, and added, ‘If I ever ask you about anything after this, keep me not in your company anymore. You have indeed obtained an excuse from me.’ Then they set forth until when they came to the inhabitants of a town, they asked them for food. But they refused that they should host the two. The two found there a wall about to collapse. That is, it was leaning on one side. Khadir set it up aright. Musa spoke up, ‘a people we went to, but they did not feed us nor hosted us. Had you wished, you could have taken some wages for it. He answered, ‘This is the parting between me and you. Now I will tell you the truth of that you could not bear patiently.

“The Prophet then added, ‘We wish Musa had shown patience so that we had learnt more from the two” (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir and others).

Khadir

With his usual thoroughness Alusi deals with the question of Khadir over a number of pages. Was he a Messenger, a Prophet, or a Waliyy? Quite a few scholars have believed that he was a Prophet but not a Messenger. As for whether he is still alive, some are of opinion that he is not, although he seems to have been alive at the time of the Companions. Imam Bukhari was asked about him and Ilyas, whether they were alive. He replied, “How can they be alive when the Prophet said a little before his own death, ‘Of those present now, none will remain alive after a century?’” Muslim’s version is, “There is not a breathing soul that will have a hundred years pass over it while it is alive.” Ibn Taymiyyah and a few others were also of the same opinion. Another contention of these scholars is that the affair is of such important nature that if he was to remain alive until the end of the world, surely, the Qur’an and Sunnah would not have failed to mention it. With reference to a few ahadith about Khadir’s life, Ibn Qayyim has stated that none of them is trustworthy.

Nonetheless, majority of scholars believe that he is alive and is between us, although normally invisible. This is also the opinion of the Sufiya who say that he will remain alive until the end of all life on earth. Among those who said that the majority of scholars believer he is alive, one is Nawawi. Ibn Salah (the famous author of Principles of Hadith Criticism) also stated that according to most scholars he is alive. Those who believe in his life reply to the hadith of the “hundred years” that it speaks of those on the land while Khadir could have been on water; though Alusi does not accept this argument as very strong. As for Ibn Taymiyyah’s argument that if he was alive he would have gone to the Prophet to embrace Islam, (since he said that even if Musa was alive he would have followed his Shari`ah), it has been replied that if we do not know that he did not go, we cannot conclude that in fact he did not go. In conclusion Alusi quotes a passage from Sheikh al-Akbar, (Muhiyyuddin Ibn al-`Arabiyy) from his “Futuhat al-Makkiyyah.” The Sufi and philosophical technicalities of the passage defy its successful rendition into English. Its sum and substance is that there are several realms of knowledge, Spirit, and existence. In the world of human existence (which itself has several layers of realm), the Messengers occupy the highest position. They are the Aqtab (sing. Qutb, poles), the Imams, and the Pegs of this religion, and in turn by whose virtue the world of the humans remains in existence. One of these Messengers has to always remain on earth, (in one realm or the other) throughout, until the end of the world. He is body and soul. At the moment it is our Prophet. Apart from him, three other great spiritual figures: Ilyas, ‘Isa and Khadir, have been kept alive, although in a different world within our own. (In fact, the entire world in existence is so small that, within it, the beginning and eternity are merely a point away from each other). These four command different functions and hold different statuses. Our Prophet holds the highest status ever, in any existence, any realm. By these four and through them Allah keeps alive and in existence the four pillars of the religion of Islam: RisalahNubuwwahWilayah and Iman (faith). In making these statements, Ibn al-`Arabiyy speaks from a knowledge special to him, which, as he claims, even most Sufis are denied. Not only that, he would not ever speak of it, if he did not have the signal from on High. Therefore, Ibn al-`Arabiyy says, the reader may thank Allah for having allowed him to look into a secret otherwise closely held, “accept it, and do not reject it, for if you did that, you will lose the benefit.” (He does not say what the nature of benefit is that we stand to lose! Or at least Alusi does not quote or explain).

Nevertheless, although Alusi himself believes in the life of Khadir, as also he gives credence to what he quotes of the Sheikh al-Akbar, he allows room for the skeptics by saying that the reader is free to accept or reject the above statements, since, after all, he will be questioned for his own honest judgment and not about what others had to state of their personal experiences. Hasn’t `Ali said, “Look at what is said, and not at who said”? But, a fair manner is not to deny altogether since one will be then denying something that neither he experiences, nor would allow others the ability to experience.

The above said, Alusi also warns that most claims of people, especially the pseudo Sufis, to the effect that they have seen or met Khadir, are incredulous. They claim, “Khadir told me this..,” “Khadir came to me..,” “Khadir admonished me in words..” and so on. They forget that Khadir was quick to part ways with Musa. Will he part Kaleemullah’s company, and prefer the company of these ignorant misguided guys whose company no one covets but the Devil?!

Khadir and Orientalists

Mawdudi has a few words for this honest tribe: “The Orientalists, true to their ilk, have attempted to explore the possible sources of this Qur’anic story as well. After strenuous efforts, they identify three possible sources from which the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) may have composed the story and ascribed it to God’s revelation. These sources are Gilgamesh epic, the Alexandrian romance in Syriac, and the Talmudic report..

“It is obvious that Orientalists share a common attitude: that one may be open to all assumptions except that the Qur’an is a revelation from God. That being definitely excluded, these scholars embark on this grand mission to dissect whatever was presented in the Qur’an (which, in their view, was definitely the work of Muhammad [peace be on him] rather than God) and to show how each fragment had some external source. They pursue this line of inquiry so brazenly and go to such absurd lengths that one feels instinctively repelled. Ironically, they term their bigoted pursuit scholarly research. If such biased inquiry can be called knowledge or research, one might as well do without it.

“The true nature of their bigoted research would become fully evident if they were asked to answer the following four questions:

“Firstly, granted that there are similarities in the contents of the Qur’an and the contents of several ancient texts, one might, nevertheless, ask: Is there any positive evidence to suggest that this similarity of content is the result of the Qur’anic account having been taken from other sources?

“Secondly, the sources mentioned as the material for the Qur’anic stories are quite numerous. Were all such sources to be added up, they would be so numerous to make a full-fledged catalogue of a fairly good library. Did any such library exist in Makka at the time of the Prophet (peace be on him)? And even if there had been an abundance of sources from which he might have drawn his material, is there any evidence to indicate that there existed a large team of translators available to the Prophet (peace be on him) whereby this wealth of information might have been brought to his knowledge? Now, since that is quite certainly not the case, the allegations of borrowing simply rest on the two or three trade journeys which the Prophet (peace be on him) took to lands outside Arabia; journeys which were made a few years before his designation as a Prophet. In this respect, it is pertinent to ask: Did the Prophet memorize whole libraries during those journeys? Additionally, how does one explain that before being designated a Prophet, Muhammad (peace be on him) never displayed any such knowledge?

“Thirdly, the Makkan unbelievers as well as the Jews and Christians were always on the look-out to identify possible sources of the Prophet’s statements. Yet the Prophet’s contemporaries were unable to point to any definite source for the Prophet’s alleged plagiarism. The Qur’an frequently challenges them by emphatically stating that the Qur’an is from God alone, that its only source is revelation from God. The Qur’an repeatedly asks its detractors to come forth with whatever proof they have to show that the Qur’an is the product of the human mind. This challenge struck at the very root of their contention, and yet they failed to point to any plausible human source for the Qur’an. Not only were they totally unable to point, in a persuasive manner, to any specific source from which the Qur’an might have been derived, they could not produce as much as a shred of evidence that would create any reasonable doubt about the matter. It is ironic that while the Prophet’s contemporaries failed to point to any plausible source of the Qur’an, some pseudo-scholars of our times, animated by inveterate hostility to Islam, have the temerity to claim – a thousand and several hundred years after the Prophet’s time – the so-called sources from which the contents of the Qur’an were derived!

“The last point to consider is the following. It is not possible for anybody to deny that there exists at least the logical possibility that the Qur’an might be the revealed word of God. It is logically possible that the information the Qur’an provides about past events might indeed be true whereas those reports commonly available to us about the past might be the distorted versions of oral reports of events over centuries, and hence unreliable. It should be noted that this possibility was arbitrarily ruled out without any valid reason whatsoever.”

Mawdudi’s comments end here. It might also be pointed out that if we assume that the Prophet had taken the story from the sources alluded to, then the question that arises is, why did the Jews or Makkan pagans had to ask him about Dhu al-Qarnayn and others? They would have better known the stories than the Prophet. But the problem with the Orientalists is that their research ends at the point truth begins to dawn (Au.).

(To be continued)