Verses from Surah al-Kahf (79-82)

[79] As for the boat, it belonged to a poor humble people96 who worked at sea. I wished to damage it. Behind them97 was a king seizing away every boat by brute force.98


96. Imam Shafe`i has used this verse to arrive at the conclusion that a faqir is worse off than a miskin, since although the people of this instance owned a boat, Allah referred to them as masakin (Razi).

97. The word “amam” has the connotation both of behind as well as in front (Ibn Jarir).

98. That is, the king was confiscating every well-maintained boat but ignored this one because it was broken.

[80] As for the boy, his parents were believers. We feared that he would overburden them with rebellion and disbelief.99


99. An alternative rendering can be, “impose upon them rebellion and disbelief.”

Ahmed has a report that Najdah Hirawi (a Haruri [Khariji sect: Au.]: Alusi) wrote ibn ‘Abbas a letter asking him if he could kill some boys (captured after a battle). He wrote back, “If you are a Khadir, capable of differentiating between a believer and an unbeliever, then you might.” According to another version in Ibn abi Shaybah, the reply also said, “.. but you are not. Indeed, the Prophet has forbidden their killing, therefore, free them.”  And, according to a report in Muslim, Abu Da’ud and Tirmidhi, the Prophet said, “The boy that Khadir killed was created, the day he was created, an unbeliever. Had he reached his age of puberty, he would have only confronted his parents with rebellion and unbelief” (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir, Shawkani and others, under verse 74).

[81] So we desired that their Lord give them in exchange (someone) better than he in purity and closer in tenderness.100


100. While Sa`id b. Jubayr and a few of the Followers thought Allah replaced the boy with a girl by next delivery, Qatadah and Ibn Jurayj believed it was a boy again (Ibn Jarir).

[82] As for the wall, well, it belonged to two orphan boys of the town. Beneath it was a treasure belonging to them.101 Their father was a righteous man.102 Your Lord willed that they should come of age and extract their treasure: a mercy from your Lord. And I did not do it on my own. This is the truth of that which you could not bear in patience.’103


101. Although some have reported that the treasure that Khadir spoke of was nothing more than a piece of writing containing a two-line advice, there are reports from ‘Ikrimah that it was some gold and silver” (Ibn Jarir). There is in fact, a report from the Prophet (saws) himself to this effect. It is in Bukhari’s Tarikh as well as in Tirmidhi, (who evaluated it as Hasan), Bazzar, Ibn al-Mundhir, Ibn abi Hatim, Tabarani and Hakim who said it is Sahih (Shawkani).

In addition, there are several ahadith, (although none in the Sihah works, with a few not agreeing with the others: Au.), to the effect that the treasure was in the form of a golden plate over which some words of admonition were inscribed (Ibn Kathir).

Nevertheless, Ibn Kathir expresses his doubts about the authenticity of these reports. Shawkani ignores them  altogether (Au.).

102. Ibn ‘Abbas has pointed out that Allah (swt) spoke of the righteousness of the father, but said nothing about the sons (Ibn Jarir); implying that piety-effects travel downward and not upward (Au.).

103. Sufi Thanwi comments: The meaning the verse lends us is that knowledge of the ‘hidden causes’ and Divine wisdom behind the apparent events, revealed to some by means of  kashf (mystic insight) are not of the kind that can be termed as the “core knowledge,” the “essence” or the “ultimate truth.” Had it been so, Musa (asws), although superior to Khadir, would not have been denied it in the first place.

Pseudo Sufis exploit Khadir’s episode to lay claim to knowledge of the hidden, and, to escape from the obligations of the Shari`ah in the light of such knowledge. Sufi commentator Alusi takes up the issue for discussion. First he points out that the knowledge that Khadir drew on, obtained either through Wahiyy or Ilham (whatever the case), which allowed him, for example, to kill and innocent soul, was valid for him alone, not for others. In fact, not even for Musa, who was required to follow the Shari`ah laws (which would not allow for the killing of the boy: hence his protest). Therefore, whoever claimed knowledge by Ilham (Divine inspiration sans words) but which goes against the Shari`ah, spoke a lie. So that, if somebody claimed to receive knowledge by Ilham – rightly or wrongly – of a similar nature as Khadir, then killing of a boy, for example, will not be allowable to him. One of those who rejected the claim that knowledge by Ilham can nullify or supersede a Shari`ah law, was the Sufi Sha`rani. He said many people have gone astray and misled others over the issue, since no such thing is possible. Sheikh al-Akbar Mohiuddin ibn al-Arabiyy wrote in one of his works: “When we talk about Ilham as an angelic inspiration, we do not mean to say that it is brought to us by an angel. Not at all. In fact, inspiration and revelation, with the angels as the medium, is specifically the right of Prophets and Messengers. With the termination of Messengership, the possibility of inspiration through revelation has also terminated. Neither can anyone claim, nor has ever claimed, that knowledge comes to him directly from Allah. If anyone ever felt that, then the explanation is that it is a kind of Satanic fraud upon him. If at all there is some ‘opening of the heart, for a ‘special kind of knowledge’, it can never be of the kind of do’s or don’t do’s, the lawful and the unlawful. But rather, either of a hidden wisdom, or maybe a hint about what kind of event can be expected next.”

Imam Rabbani, Mujaddid Alf-Thani, continues Alusi, has also clearly stated in his “Letters” that Ilham cannot cancel out a Shari`ah law. It is possible, he stated, that when someone is high in a “state” or “trance,” he may hear, or utter things of that sort. But, back to sobriety, he can never utter any such thing. The state of sobriety melts off all those wild thoughts. He also wrote that Shari`ah is the name of three elements: knowledge, deeds, and sincerity. Whoever fell short in any of these, fell short on Shari`ah. But if he observed them wholly, he earns Allah’s approval, which is better than anything in the heavens or earth, including what is claimed as the haqiqah behind the Shari`ah. Indeed, the tariqah and haqiqah that the Sufis speak of are in the service of Shari`ah by strengthening the third of its elements as stated above, viz., Ikhlas (sincerity). In short, the best and the easiest way of gaining closeness to Allah is to follow the Shari`ah as revealed to the Prophet. The Qur’an said (12: 108), “Say, ‘This is my way, I invite you on a knowledge – I and my followers.’” And (3: 31), “Say, ‘If you love Allah, follow me, Allah will love you.’” And (10: 32), “What is left after untruth but error?” The Imam also wrote elsewhere, “You should know that in the final analysis, the knowledge of the Sufis is the knowledge of the scholars, not something else in sum and substance. Yes, as they travel on the path, they experience some kind of esoteric knowledge, (not comprehended by others). But in no way does it contradict the Shari`ah. The difference in the kinds of knowledge that the ascetics gain, and that which the traditional scholars posses, is that the latter’s is of the deductive type, supported by evidences, worked out with the help of reason and logic. In contrast, that in which the Sufis specialize is obtained through kashf (vision of the realities). He also wrote, “You must know that Shari`ah and Haqiqah are in their reality one and the same things. If there is any difference between the two, it is in that of details, manner of deduction, and that one has the backing of vision while the other relies entirely on derivation, or at worse, one could be theoretical, while the other a practical experience. Further, if the knowledge through vision contradicts the knowledge through deduction, even by a grain, then, it is the sign of its rejection from on High.

On the subject, we might note that Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani has said that the Awliya’ depend not on anything but the Qur’an and Sunnah. Junayd in fact has said that all the paths are closed, save that of the Sunan of the Prophet. Indeed, he said that he who did not memorize the Qur’an and does not write the Hadith, may not be followed at all. Sirri al-Saqti has said that whoever claimed hidden, secret knowledge, that clashes with the Shari`ah is in error. Abu al-`Abbas al-Daynuri said, “If you see someone in a state which the Shari`ah does not approve, you may criticize him.” Imam Ghazali wrote: “Whoever claimed that he is on a very special footing with his Lord, so that He has abrogated, say Prayers, or has allowed him to drink wine, or things of that sort, deserves to be killed. In fact, slaying him is better than slaying a hundred unbelievers, for the evil in him is greater.”

Nor, Alusi continues, kashf, or miracles, and things of this nature that some of the Sufiya are able to perform, are signs of true greatness. It is said that once Hasan al-Busri was waiting for a boat when Habib al-`Ajami happened to pass by. When he learnt that Hasan was waiting for a boat to take him to the other shore, he asked, “Don’t you have faith?” Hasan replied, “Don’t you have knowledge?” Habib in any case walked over the water to the other shore. Yet, Hasan was far superior to Habib by virtue of knowledge and wisdom. He had mastered both the knowledge of the truth (`ilm al-yaqin), as well as the truth of truths (`ayn al-yaqin). In contrast, Habib was merely spiritually drunk. So, when he placed his foot on water in trust and good faith, physical laws were held in abeyance for him. (But that did not raise his esteem in the sight of Allah). This in fact is the secret behind why few thaumatergies are reported of the Companions. They were people of great knowledge and high degree of faith. Imam Rabbani has aptly said that “the high point of Uways al-Qarni’s faith was the low point of Wahshi’s faith.” (Wahshi was Hamza’s killer, but counted a Companion). How will you then compare those whose quality of faith is not of the level of Uways with those (of the Companions) whose quality of faith was not that of Wahshi?

Away from the above discussion, the scholars have also pointed out that the following can be learnt from Musa-Khadir episode:

  • The desirability to travel for knowledge.
  • It is a virtue to seek it.
  • The desirability to show respect to a teacher.
  • Not to object or criticize the masters.
  • Attempt to reconcile the inexplicable of their acts.
  • Carrying one’s provision with him in a journey is not against trust in Allah.
  • Scholar needs to show patience to the student.
  • Forgetfulness is from Shaytan.
  • Lawfulness of wages for one’s works.
  • miskin can own property.
  • It is allowable to conceal treasure.

Quote from Alusi ends here, and Thanwi adds to the list his own that knowledge requires deeds and actions. Knowledge is not “the word” alone.

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