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Al-Khidr (peace be upon him)

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It is narrated in a hadith from the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) that he said: Moses (peace be upon him) once stood as an orator among the people of Israel and was asked who the most knowledgeable of people was. He replied, ‘I am.’

Allah reproached him for not attributing knowledge to Him and said: ‘There is a servant of Mine at the junction of the two seas who is more knowledgeable than you.’

Moses asked, ‘O Lord, how can I find him?’

He was told, ‘Take a fish with you…’ and the narrative continues, guiding Prophet Moses to reach the knowledgeable man.

The essence of this story is a warning to Moses (peace be upon him) not to consider himself – despite his knowledge and understanding – as the best among people.

The story of Moses and Al-Khidr has other wonderful dimensions. In the narrative, we encounter an amazing scene where a prophet of firm resolve, with all his awareness and status of his time, experiences limitations in his knowledge and understanding in certain aspects. For this reason, he goes to a teacher (the scholar of his time) to study and learn from him. The lessons he receives are more astonishing than the next. Furthermore, this story contains very important observations.

Moses in search of Al-Khidr

Moses (peace be upon him) was in search of something significant, having firmly resolved and determined to find his objective without any negligence.

The thing Moses (peace be upon him) was commanded to search for had a significant impact on his future. Finding it would open a new chapter in his life.

Indeed, he (peace be upon him) was in search of a scholar who could remove veils from before his eyes and show him new truths, opening the doors of knowledge for him. Soon we learn that Moses (peace be upon him) had a sign to find this great scholar’s location and was moving towards that sign. The Holy Quran mentions in this context: ‘And [mention] when Moses said to his servant, “I will not cease [traveling] until I reach the junction of the two seas or continue for a long period.”‘ (Quran 18:60)

The meaning of ‘his servant’ here is Joshua son of Nun, the brave, wise, faithful man from the Children of Israel. ‘The junction of the two seas’ refers to the place where the two seas meet. There is discussion about the names of these two seas, but generally, three possibilities are considered, the most likely of which is:

The junction of the two seas refers to the point where the Gulf of Aqaba meets the Gulf of Suez (since the Red Sea splits in the north into two branches – one towards the northeast forming the Gulf of Aqaba, and the other towards the northwest named the Gulf of Suez, both of which are connected to the Red Sea in the south).

This is the closest in terms of its proximity to the location of Moses (peace be upon him). What supports this opinion is generally inferred from the Quran that Moses (peace be upon him) did not travel a long distance, although he was prepared to travel to any place to reach his destination.

Years in Search of Al-Khidr

The word ‘huqub’ in Moses’ (peace be upon him) speech means a long period, which some have interpreted as eighty years. Moses’ (peace be upon him) intention with this word was to express that he would not cease his effort and attempt to find what he lost, even if it meant he had to travel for several years. ‘Then when they reached the junction of the two seas, they forgot their fish, and it took its way into the sea, slipping away.’ (Quran 18:61) This refers to the fish they had with them. Interestingly, ‘it took its way into the sea, slipping away.’ There is much discussion about the type of fish they had for food – whether it was grilled, salted, or fresh, miraculously coming to life and jumping into the water to swim away.

In some exegesis books, there is mention of a spring that bestows life, and that the fish came back to life when it touched some of its water.

Another possibility is that the fish was still alive, meaning it hadn’t completely died, as some fish species can survive for a period after being taken out of the water and can fully revive if returned to water within that period.

Continuing the story, we read that after Moses and his companion had crossed the junction of the two seas and felt hungry, Moses (peace be upon him) remembered that he had brought some food with him. Then he said to his companion, ‘When we passed the rock, I forgot the fish, and none but Satan made me forget to mention it; and it took its way into the sea in a strange way.’ (Quran 18:63).

Since this incident was a sign for Moses (peace be upon him) to find the ‘scholar’ he was searching for, he said, ‘This is what we were seeking.’ So, they went back retracing their footsteps’ (Quran 18:64).

Meeting the Great Teacher

When Moses (peace be upon him) and his companion returned to the original place, near the rock and the junction of the two seas, they suddenly ‘found a servant from among Our servants, whom We had given mercy from Us and whom We had taught knowledge from Our presence’. At that time, Moses politely asked the knowledgeable man, ‘May I follow you so that you teach me something of the guidance you have been taught?’ (Quran 18:66).

In response, the knowledgeable man, to Moses’ (peace be upon him) surprise, said, ‘Indeed, with me, you will never be able to have patience. And how can you have patience for what you do not encompass in knowledge?’ (Quran 18:67-68).

As we will see later, this knowledgeable man was aware of aspects of knowledge concerning the secrets and inner meanings of events, while Moses (peace be upon him) was not commanded to know these inner meanings and thus knew little about them. Often in such cases, the apparent nature of events differs from their inner nature. The outward may seem ugly or meaningless, while the inner meaning is beneficial, sacred, and purposeful.

In such situations, a person who only looks at the apparent loses patience and composure, leading to objections and even quarrels.

But the knowledgeable teacher, well-versed in secrets, continued his work calmly, paying no heed to Moses’ objections and outcries. He was waiting for the right opportunity to reveal the truth. The student persisted but regretted it when the secrets were finally revealed and understood.

Moses (peace be upon him) may have been disturbed upon hearing this and feared missing out on the great scholar’s teachings, so he promised to be patient with all events and said, ‘You will find me, if Allah wills, patient, and I will not disobey you in any matter.’ (Quran 18:69)

Again, Moses (peace be upon him) showed the height of his manners in this statement, relying on his Creator by saying, ‘If Allah wills, you will find me patient,’ instead of just declaring himself patient.

Since patience with strange and apparently bad events whose secrets one does not know is not easy, the knowledgeable man asked Moses (peace be upon him) to promise again and warned him, ‘If you follow me, then do not ask me about anything until I mention it to you.’ (Quran 18:70). Moses made the promise again and set off with a knowledgeable teacher.

The Divine Teacher and Repetitive Actions!!

Yes, Moses and his companion embarked on a boat: ‘So they set out until when they had embarked on the boat…’ When they got on the boat, the learned man made a hole in it (punctured it).

Since Moses (peace be upon him) was a great divine prophet, he felt it was his duty to protect the lives and property of people, to enjoin good and forbid evil. On the other hand, his human conscience pressed him and wouldn’t let him stay silent in front of the learned man’s actions, which seemed outwardly bad and ugly. Therefore, he forgot the promise he had made to Al-Khidr (the scholar) and objected, saying, ‘Have you made a hole in it to drown its people? You have indeed done a grave thing.’ Truly, the apparent act of the learned man was astonishing and extremely bad. Is there an act more dangerous than puncturing a boat carrying several passengers?

In some narratives, it’s mentioned that the boat’s crew quickly noticed the danger and temporarily repaired the hole, but the boat then became defective and unsafe.

Meanwhile, the learned man looked at Moses (peace be upon him) with a special gaze and addressed him: ‘Did I not say that you will not be able to have patience with me?’

Moses, who regretted his haste because of the importance of the incident, remembered the promise he had made to this learned teacher. So, he turned to him, saying: ‘Do not blame me for what I forgot and do not be hard upon me for my affair [with you].’ Meaning, ‘I made a mistake and forgot the promise, so do not hold me accountable for this mistake.’

Did You Kill an Innocent Soul??

Their sea voyage ended, and they disembarked from the boat: ‘Then they proceeded until, when they met a boy, he [the learned man] killed him.’ And this was done without any preliminaries!!

Here, Moses (peace be upon him) erupted again, unable to stay silent over the killing of an innocent child without any reason. Anger appeared on his face, his eyes filled with sadness and dissatisfaction, and he forgot his promise once more, protesting. His objection this time was more severe than the first because the incident was more horrific. He said, ‘Have you killed an innocent soul without [the soul having killed another]? Indeed, you have done a deplorable thing.’

Again, the learned man repeated his previous statement with a special calmness, saying to Moses, ‘Did I not tell you that you will not be able to have patience with me?’

Moses remembered his promise and became aware of it, feeling embarrassed, having broken the promise twice – even if due to forgetfulness – and gradually began to feel the truth of the teacher’s statement that Moses could not endure his actions. Hence, he could not bear his company as he had told him when Moses had offered him companionship. So, he promptly apologized, saying: ‘If I ask you about anything after this, then do not keep me in your company; you have reached from me an excuse.’ Moses’ (peace be upon him) formulation of the excuse reflects his fairness and foresightedness. It shows that he (peace be upon him) was willing to accept the truth, even if it was bitter. In other words: The sentence clarifies, after three testing phases, that the missions of these two men were different.

If you wished, you could have taken a pay for it

After this conversation and the new promise, ‘So they set out until when they came to the inhabitants of a town, they asked its people for food, but they refused to offer them hospitality.’ Certainly, Moses and his companion were not the type to entirely depend on others, but it seems that their provisions and money had run out during their journey, so they wished for the people of that town to host them (and it’s possible that the learned man deliberately proposed this to give Moses another profound lesson).

The commentators, quoting Ibn Abbas, mentioned that this town was Antioch.

Others mentioned that the town was Ayla, known today as the port of Eilat, located on the Red Sea near the Gulf of Aqaba. A third group believes it was the city of Nazareth in northern Palestine, the birthplace of Jesus Christ. The scholar Al-Tabarsi has reported a hadith from Imam Al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) supporting this possibility.

Returning to what we said about the meaning of ‘the junction of the two seas’, if it refers to the meeting point of the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez, then Nazareth or the port of Ayla is closer to this location than Antioch.

The important thing in the matter is that we conclude from what happened to Moses (peace be upon him) and his companion from the people of this town that they were mean and low-spirited, hence we read in a narration from the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) describing the people of this town as ‘vile’.

Then the Quran adds, ‘So they found in it a wall about to collapse, so he [the learned man] set it up.’ Moses (peace be upon him) was feeling tired and hungry, and more importantly, he felt that his dignity and that of his teacher were insulted by the people of this town who refused to host them. On the other hand, he saw how Al-Khidr proceeded to repair the wall despite the town’s people’s ugly behavior towards them as if to reward the town’s people for their bad actions. Moses thought that his companion should have demanded a wage for this work so that they could prepare some food for themselves.

Thus, Moses (peace be upon him) forgot his promise again and began to object, but his objection this time was mild, saying, ‘If you wished, you could have taken a wage for it.’

Indeed, Moses believed that sacrificing for bad people was an act contrary to the spirit of justice. In other words, a good deed is good and commendable provided it is in its right place.

Rewarding a bad deed with a good one is indeed characteristic of divine people, but it should not be a reason to encourage wrongdoers to do more bad deeds.

The Toughest Phase in Moses’s Life

Here, the learned man spoke his last words to Moses, saying that through different incidents, you cannot have patience with me, so the scholar made his final decision, ‘This is the parting between me and you. I will inform you of the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience.’

Moses (peace be upon him) did not object to the decision – of course – because he had proposed it during the previous incident, and thus it was proven to Moses that he could not continue with this learned man. But despite all this, the news of the separation was hard on Moses’s heart (peace be upon him) as it meant parting from a teacher whose heart was filled with secrets, whose companionship was full of blessings, whose speech was a lesson, whose conduct was inspired, with the light of God shining from his forehead, and his heart a repository of divine knowledge.

Parting from a man with these attributes is extremely difficult, but Moses (peace be upon him) had to comply with this bitter reality.

It is reported that when Moses (peace be upon him) was asked about the toughest problem he faced in his life, he said: I faced many problems and difficulties (referring to what he faced from Pharaoh and the difficulties he suffered from the Children of Israel), but none of them was as hard and painful to my heart as the decision of Al-Khidr to part from him.

The Inner Secrets of These Incidents

After the separation between Moses and Al-Khidr (peace be upon them both) became inevitable, the divine teacher needed to clarify the secrets of his actions, which Moses could not have patience with. Indeed, Moses’s benefit from his companionship lies in knowing the secrets of these three amazing incidents, which can be keys to many issues and answers to many questions.

First, he mentioned the story of the boat and said, ‘As for the ship, it belonged to poor people working in the sea, so I intended to cause a defect in it as there was behind them a king who seized every [good] ship by force.’

Thus, there was a noble purpose behind puncturing the boat, which at the time seemed like a bad and shameful act, to save them from the grip of a tyrant king, who would leave the defective boat and turn away from it. Therefore, the essence of the first incident was to protect the interests of a group of poor people.

Then the scholar moved on to explain the secret of the second incident, the killing of the boy, saying, ‘As for the boy, his parents were believers, so we feared that he would overburden them with transgression and disbelief.’

The learned man killed this boy, considering what would happen to the believing parents if the son stayed alive. He added, ‘So we intended that their Lord should replace him with one better in purity and nearer to mercy.’

Finally, the learned man revealed the third secret, which led him to build the wall, saying, ‘As for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and there was beneath it a treasure for them, and their father had been righteous. So your Lord intended that they reach their maturity and extract their treasure, as a mercy from your Lord.’

I was commanded to build this wall because of the kindness and goodness of the parents of these orphans, so it would not collapse and expose the treasure, putting it at risk.

At the end of the conversation, to remove any possible doubt or skepticism in Moses’s mind (peace be upon him) and to ensure his certainty that these actions were according to a special divine plan and directive, the scholar said, ‘And I did it not of my own accord.’ This is the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience.


Who is Al-Khidr?

The Quran speaks of the scholar without naming him Al-Khidr and describes Moses’s teacher (peace be upon him) as, ‘A servant from among Our servants, whom We had given mercy from Us and whom We had taught knowledge from Our presence.’ The verse clarifies the special status of servitude, knowledge, and awareness. Therefore, we often describe him as a learned man.

Islamic narrations in various sources identified this man as Al-Khidr. From some narrations, we learn that his real name was Balya bin Malkan, and Al-Khidr was a nickname for him, as wherever he stepped, the ground would turn green under his feet.

Some have speculated that this learned man was Elias, hence the idea that Elias and Al-Khidr are names for the same person emerged. However, the more common and famous among commentators and narrators is the former.

Naturally, we say that the name of the learned man, whatever it may be, is not important either for the content of the story or its purpose. The important thing is to know that he was a divine scholar, covered with special divine mercy, tasked with the inner and cosmic order of the world, knowing some secrets, and was the teacher of Moses son of Imran, although Moses (peace be upon him) was superior to him in some aspects.

There are also different opinions and narrations about whether Al-Khidr was a prophet or not.

In the first volume of Al-Kafi, numerous narrations indicate that this man was not a prophet but a scholar like Dhul-Qarnayn and Asif bin Barkhiya.

Other narrations suggest that he was a prophet, and the apparent meaning of some of the above verses indicates this, as they quote his saying, ‘And I did not do it of my own accord,’ and elsewhere, ‘So your Lord intended that they replace them with one better than him.’

Narrations suggest that Al-Khidr lived a long life and is still alive roaming the earth.

The Fabricated Legends

The basis of the story of Moses and Al-Khidr (peace be upon them) is what is mentioned in the Quran, but unfortunately, there are many legends told about the story and its symbolism (Moses and Al-Khidr), to the extent that some additions give the story a mythical character. We must understand that the fate of many stories has not been different from this story’s fate, as no story has been immune to fabrication, distortion, and attribution.

Our standard for the realism of the story is to put the Quran as a criterion before us, and even for the hadiths, we accept them if they are in accordance with the Quran. If there is a hadith that does not match, we will undoubtedly reject it, and fortunately, no reliable hadith has been narrated in this regard.

The Knowledge of Moses and Al-Khidr Compared to God’s Knowledge

It is narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: When Moses met Al-Khidr, a bird came and dipped its beak into the water.

Al-Khidr asked Moses, ‘Do you know what this bird is saying?’

Moses asked, ‘What is it saying?’

He said: ‘The bird says that your knowledge and Moses’s knowledge compared to God’s knowledge is like what my beak has taken from the water.’

What About the Treasure?

Among the questions raised about this story is about the nature of the treasure and what it was? Why did Moses’s companion insist on hiding it? And why did the faithful man, meaning the father of the orphans, collect this treasure and hide it?

Some believe that the treasure symbolizes something spiritual, before having a material concept.

According to numerous narrations transmitted from both Sunni and Shia sources, this treasure was nothing but a tablet inscribed with a set of wisdoms.

As for the nature of these wisdoms, there is much to say:

In the book Al-Kafi, quoting the Imam, he said in response to a question about the nature of the treasure: ‘Indeed, it was neither gold nor silver, but it was four words: There is no god but Allah, whoever is certain of death does not laugh, whoever is certain of the account does not rejoice in his heart, and whoever is certain of fate fears none but Allah.’

In other narrations, it is mentioned that the tablet was made of gold.


Qasas al-Quran (Stories of the Quran) by Ayatollah Sheikh Naser Makarem Shirazi

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