Khidr

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Maqam Khidr (a) in al-Sahla Mosque.

Khiḍr (Arabic: الخِضر) is a Walī (Friend of God), regarded by some as a prophet whose name is not explicitly mentioned in the Holy Qur'an. According to some hadiths, he is a person with divinity-given knowledge (al-'ilm al-ladunni). The Holy Qur'an, 18:60-82, tells the story of the prophet Moses's (a) meeting and accompanying a man; this man is said to be Khidr. In this story, Khidr scuttled a ship owned by some poor people, killed an innocent boy, and reconstructed a ruined wall without receiving any wage. Moses objected to his actions, and at the end, Khidr gave an explanation of why he did so.

Khidr is said to be from the progeny of the prophet, Isaac (a). According to hadiths, Khidr is alive, just as Jesus (a) is alive. There are numerous hadiths in Shiite hadith collections concerning Khidr's character, the story of his encounter with Moses (a), and his meetings with the Prophet Muhammad (s) and the Shiite Imams (a). Khidr is also mentioned in the Sufi literature and Persian poems as a guide to mystical journeys who has the position of Wilaya.

Name and Lineage

There is a lot of disagreement over Khidr's name and lineage in sources of Islamic history. Ibn Habib (d. 245/859)—one of the earliest Muslim historians—mentioned Khidr and took him to be from the progeny of Isaac (a). He mentioned his name as Khidrun b. 'Amyayil.

Ibn Qutayba (d. after 355/965) cited Wahb b. Munabbih (who was known as giving false reports and stories) as saying that Khidr's name was Balya, the son of Malkan who was a prominent king. And he took Khidr's lineage to go back to the prophet Noah (a).

Muqaddasi (d. after 355/965) identified Khidr, on the basis of different sources, with prophets such as Jeremiah or Elisha. According to him, many people take Khidr to be Dhu l-Qarnayn's cousin and minister.

One strange view about Khidr's lineage is that his father or mother were Iranians or Romans, or that his father was the Pharaoh who lived in the period of Moses (a), and some people took him to be an immediate son of Adam (a).

Khidr's name is also pronounced as Khaḍir (Arabic: الخَضِر). The word, “khidr”, in Arabic means greenness. His epithet as Khidr is said to be because places where he sits or says prayers on will become green.

In the Holy Qur'an

Khidr's name is not mentioned in the Holy Qur'an, but in 18:60-82 there is a mysterious story of the prophet, Moses (a), meeting a righteous person, who is described as “one of Our servants, on whom We had bestowed Mercy from Ourselves and whom We had taught knowledge from Our Own Presence” (the Holy Qur'an, 18:65). Almost all Muslim scholars took this righteous servant of God to be Khidr (a).

Here is a summary of the story of Moses (a) and Khidr (a) as narrated by the Holy Qur'an:

Moses traveled to Majma' al-Bahrayn (the junction of two seas) together with a young man (according to Islamic sources, Moses's nephew and successor, Joshua, the son of Nun). When Moses asked his companion to bring the fish they had taken with them to eat, Joshua told him that the fish had come back to life and entered the sea, and he forgot to let Moses know about this. Moses took this to be a sign of the person he was looking for. So they returned to the place where the fish had come back to life. They met a person who was endowed with divine mercy and knowledge. This person was Khidr (a). Moses (a) asked Khidr (a) to permit him to accompany him, but Khidr (a) told him: “you will not be able to have patience with me!” Moses (a) insisted on the company and so they moved on together provided that Moses (a) ask no questions about whatever actions he saw until the truth was revealed. They boarded a ship and Khidr (a) started to scuttle the ship. Moses (a) objected to him, and Khidr (a) reproached him for breaking his promise not to ask any questions. They moved on and saw a teenage boy on the way, and Khidr (a) abruptly killed the boy. Moses (a) objected to Khidr (a) again, and Khidr (a) reproached him for the second time. They then entered a village whose residents refused to give them food, but Khidr (a) started to reconstruct a wall in that village that was on the point of falling down. Again Moses (a) objected to him, and this time Khidr (a) told him that this was a parting between them. However, he explained the reasons behind his odd actions to Moses (a): he had scuttled the ship because it was owned by some poor people, and if it were scuttled, the king would withdraw from usurping the ship. He killed the teenage boy because he would lead his faithful parents to infidelity. And beneath that wall was a treasure belonging to two teenage orphans from a beneficent father, and the reconstruction of the wall would help them find it after their maturity.

Viewpoint of Sunnis

According to Sunni collections of hadiths, this Quranic story captured the attentions of early Muslims and led to many questions and controversies among the Sahaba and Tabi'un.

According to a hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas had an argument with another person about the identity of Moses's master. So they went to Ubayy b. Ka'b to settle their dispute. He cited a remark by the Prophet Muhammad (s): “Moses was among a group of Israelite people. Someone went to him and asked him if he knew anyone more knowledgeable and wiser than himself. “No!” replied Moses. Then God revealed to him that there was someone wiser than him: His servant, Khidr. Moses asked God how to meet him. God specified a fish as a sign and told him that if he lost the fish, he had to go back all the way to meet Khidr. This hadith from the Holy Prophet (s) mentioned the name of Khidr, and states that the reason why Moses departed to Majma' al-Bahrayn (the junction of two seas) was to meet Khidr.

According to another hadith, in response to Sa'id b. Jubayr's question, Ibn 'Abbas said that Moses (a) in this story is the well-known Israelite prophet, Moses the son of Imran. He accused Nuf al-Bakkali of lying because he took this Moses to be someone else, and on some accounts, he called him an enemy of God.

Muqatil b. Sulayman

Many various elements of the story of Moses (a) and Khidr (a) in Islamic sources, especially Quranic exegeses, have their origin in Muqatil b. Sulayman's views. In his exegesis, he tried to specify the exact locations of their travels and their motivations. He took Khidr (a) to be the prophet Elisha, since his knowledge is as vast as the six skies and earths. According to Muqatil, he lived where the two rivers, Rass and Kurr, met on the other side of the Azerbaijan areas and pour into the sea. On his account, Moses (a) met Khidr (a) clothes in an island while wearing woolen, and Khidr (a) immediately knew him with his God-given knowledge. Muqatil interpreted the word, “mercy”, in the Holy Qur'an, 18:56 as prophethood, and took Khidr (a) to be a prophet like Moses (a). For Muqatil, the superiority of Khidr's knowledge to Moses's is a matter of differences made by God between His prophets, not that Khidr had a position superior to prophethood.

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi

Among the later exegetes of the Holy Qur'an, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 606/1209) investigated the story from different aspects in more detail. He emphasized that Moses (a) in these verses refers to Moses, the son of Imran, the well-known Israelite prophet to whom Torah is attributed, since according to an argument by Abu Bakr al-Qaffal al-Marwzi (d. 417/1026), if someone else (such as Moses b. Misha b. Joseph b. Jacob) was intended, there had to be distinguishing evidence and attributes, since the name, Moses, without any qualifications, refers to the well-known Moses (a). Fakhr al-Din al-Razi also concerned himself with other issues, including the master-commander relationship between Moses and Khidr, the theological problems of potency (istita'a) and the infallibility of prophets, and a jurisprudential issue about whether it is permissible, recommended or obligatory to give food.

Viewpoint of Shia

There are hadiths in Shiite hadith collections with regard to the meeting between Moses (a) and Khidr (a).

According to a hadith from Imam al-Sadiq (a), the al-Sahla Mosque in Kufa is the location of the rock near which Khidr (a) appeared to Moses (a). Given this hadith, “majma' al-bahrayn” (the junction of the two seas) refers to the junction of Tigris and Euphrates. There is also a hadith according to which Khidr (a) lived very long, at least until the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s).

Ibn Babwayh cited a hadith in his 'Uyun akhbar al-Rida (a) in which Imam al-Rida (a) quoted his father and ancestors quoting Imam 'Ali (a) as saying that Khidr (a) appeared to the Holy Prophet (s) and 'Ali (a) as a tall, sturdy old man with thick beard when they were crossing an alley in Medina and talked with them.

Al-'Allama al-Majlisi devoted a section of the volume 13 of his Bihar al-anwar to the story of Moses (a) and Khidr (a) and cited 55 hadiths in this regard. Some of these hadiths concern the details of the meeting between Moses (a) and Khidr (a), and some others concern the identification of Khidr (a) and his being or not being a prophet. There are also hadiths according to which Khidr (a) went to Ahl al-Bayt (a), offering his condolences for the demise of the Holy Prophet (s). And there are hadiths according to which he accompanied Dhu l-Qarnayn in the search for the spring of life, and there are hadiths concerning his longevity.

As a Prophet

There is a controversy among exegetes of the Holy Qur'an with respect to the prophethood of Khidr (a).

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi rejected six arguments presented by exegetes of the Holy Qur'an for the prophethood of Khidr.

Al-Shaykh al-Tusi cited Abu 'Ali al-Juba'i and Rummani (d. 384/994) as saying that Khidr (a) was a prophet, and attributed the rejection of this view to Ibn Akhshid (d. 326/937). But he himself made no comments on this issue.

According to al-Tha'labi, Khidr (a) is a prophet with a long life who is hidden from people.

And according to Baghawi, God gave knowledge of the interior to Khidr through inspiration, and most scholars believe that he is not a prophet.

From the Viewpoint of Biographers

Ibn 'Asakir (d. 571/1175) gave a detailed account of Khidr (a). He cited many stories about Khidr (a) many of which look like unacceptable myths and strange fantasies.

'Abd al-Qadir Badran who summarized and polished the book, Tarikh madina Dimashq (the history of the city, Damascus), criticized Ibn 'Asakir for citing such unfounded stories, because he believed that these stories were made up by forgers.

Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani (d. 852/1448) mentioned Khidr (a) in his al-Isaba and gave a detailed account of him. He discussed the question whether Khidr (a) counted as one of the Sahaba on the assumption that he lived until the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s). He said that none of the early biographers considered Khidr to be one of the Sahaba. Ibn Hajar rejected stories about Khidr's life.

Abu l-Faraj b. Jawzi (d. 597/1200) wrote an independent work concerning Khidr (a) under 'Ujalat al-muntazir fi sharh hal al-Khadir. The book is not available today, but Ibn Kathir and Haji Khalifa had seen the book, and Ibn Jawzi provided a summary of it.

From a Sufi Perspective

Khidr (a) has a special place in Sufi writings. His extraordinary actions during his travel with Moses (a) are very significant and influential in the development of the Islamic mystical literature. The mystical story of Moses (a) and Khidr (a) is the origin of stories that were written later with respect to mystical journeys together with a spiritual mentor. According to Abu Hayyan al-Gharnati, the narration of this story in the Holy Qur'an is an emphasis on the importance of travelling in order to gain knowledge from masters, being humble to the master, and the manners of learning from a master.

Different parts of the story contain resources for Sufi readings and literary metaphors. Inspired by the story, Rumi assimilated a Sufi's body to a ship that should be “scuttled” and then repaired by love of Khidr (a master). Ibn 'Arabi discovered a relationship between the three exotic actions done by Khidr (a) during the journey and the events in Moses's own life: scuttling the ship is relevant to Moses being rescued from the Nile river when he was a baby; killing a teenage boy with Moses killing a Copt; and not asking for a wage for reconstructing the wall with Moses drawing water from the well for Shu'ayb's (a) daughters in Midian.

Early Sufis usually believe in Khidr (a) as a specific person who is still alive, and some of them claimed that they have met him or learned from him.

A controversial issue among Sufis is the prophethood of Khidr (a) and his comparison with Moses (a) with respect to knowledge and ranking. They mostly take Khidr's knowledge to be from God, taking prophecy to be exterior knowledge. According to Ibn 'Arabi, people are ranked differently with respect to their proximity to God. People in each rank have perceptions of their own, of which people of other ranks are unaware, as Khidr (a) told Moses (a): God has given me knowledge of things that you are unaware of, and has given you knowledge of things that I am unaware of.

Abu Nasr al-Siraj decisively rejected the view that the story of Moses (a) and Khidr (a) implies the inferiority of Moses (a) and the superiority of Khidr (a). He explicitly said that prophets are superior to saints of God. Among Shiite Sufis, in his Nass al-nusus, Sayyid Haydar Amuli (d. after 794/1391) took Khidr (a) to be a prophet after Luqman and before Elijah.

In an explanation of Khidr's longevity, Ibn Abi Jumhur al-Ihsa'i (alive in 904/1498) took the rivers in the Holy Qur'an to refer to the knowledge of truths leading to a true eternal life, from which Khidr (a) drank. The spring of this water is the spring of wilaya and the source of divine succession. Whoever drinks it will live forever and will have an eternal life in the heaven.

Khidr's Footsteps

There are different locations in Islamic lands which are attributed to Khidr (a). One of the stances (“maqamat”) of the Kufa Mosque is the Stance of Khidr. There is also a stance of Khidr in the southern side of the al-Sahla Mosque. According to a hadith, this stance was the place where Moses (a) and Khidr (a) met. There are many places in Iraq known as stances of Khidr (a), and they may amount to over 150 locations. There is a well-known location in Baghdad near the Bab al-Mu'azzam Bridge besides Tigris known as the stance of Khidr Ilyas. There are also stances in Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Syria attributed to Khidr (a). The ISIS (DAISH) demolished some historical and religious regions in Syria and Iraq, including the stance of Khidr in Idlib and Tal Afar.

In Qom there is a mountain attributed to Khidr (a).

References

  • The material for this article is mainly taken from حضرت خضر in Farsi WikiShia.