The blessed Khidr (as), is a holy individual possessed of wisdom and knowledge who is probably a prophet according to the views of a great majority of Islamic scholars. He possesses knowledge of “ladun” (ilm al-ladun) i.e. “the knowledge of Divine Providence.” This, which may also be described as the “knowledge of hidden matters,” is a special knowledge imparted to other people chosen by Allah. Those, who have such knowledge are privileged, are inspired by Allah to know of hidden matters. They know the course of events and their future outcomes, to the extent permitted by Allah, and act accordingly.
All scholars from the Peoples of the Book are agreed that the individual described as “a slave of Ours whom We had granted mercy from Us and whom We had also given knowledge direct from Us” in verse 65 of Surat Al-Kahf is the blessed Khidr (as). It is revealed in the Qur’an that the Prophet Musa met with the Khidr (as), set out on a journey with him and wished to benefit from the knowledge imparted to him by our Lord.
In addition to the Khidr’s (as) journey with the Prophet Musa (as), the hadiths also contain much trustworthy information about the Khidr. One of the most frequently debated subjects regarding the Khidr (as) throughout the course of Islamic history is that of whether or not he is still alive. According to the information contained in the hadiths and the interpretations of great Islamic scholars, the blessed Khidr (as) is indeed still living.
Among the great commentators and scholars of the hadiths who state that the Khidr (as) is still alive are:
• The famous hadith scholar Sheikh al Islam Takiyuddin Abu Omar Ibn as-Salah,
• The great hadith conserver Ibn al-Hajar Askalani,
• The great hadith scholar Kamil Al-Hafidh Abu Jafar Tahawi
• The well-known hadith commentator and conserver and religious law scholar Imam Jalaladdin Suyuti,
• Imam Rabbani,
• The great commentator Ibn Kathir,
• İsmail Hakkı Bursevi, author of the Ruhu’l Beyan Commentary and
• The great Islamic scholar Said Nursi Bediuzzaman.
This is how Ibn Kathir states that the Khidr (as) is still alive: “There is an agreement among the majority of scholars that the Khidr (as) is living now. There are many reports and witnesses who have reported accounts and hadiths that this is the case.” (El-Bidaye Ve-n Nihaye, 1/328)
The Story of the Khidr (as) in the Qur’an
The journey undertaken by the Prophet Musa (as) and the blessed Khidr (as) is described in detail in the Holy Qur’an, and it is revealed that the Khidr (as) possessed “Ilm al-ladun” as a blessing from Allah, by means of which he took wise decisions. One verse on the subject reads:
They found a slave of Ours whom We had granted mercy from Us and whom We had also given knowledge direct from Us. (Surat Al-Kahf, 65)
In the preceding verses of Surat Al-Kahf it is revealed the Prophet Musa (as) undertook a journey with a helpmate. This verse tells us that the Prophet Musa (as) and his companion met with the blessed Khidr (as).
The story of Khidr (as) in the Quran
Khidr (as), someone to whom Allah has given mercy. Allah’s attributes of grace and mercy are reflected on him. Allah gave him a superior knowledge and made him one of His distinguished servants.
Musa said to him: "May I follow you, on the condition that you teach me some of the right guidance that you have been taught?" (Surat al-Kahf, 66)
From this verse, we can deduce that Prophet Musa (as) has already received detailed information, through revelation, about whom he was to meet (Allah knows best). There are many evidences that support this. For instance, he makes a real effort to go to the meeting point despite its distance from his current location, because, even if he encounters hardship while making his way there, he is certain that he will derive a great benefit from meeting with this very special person.
Then, as soon as they meet, Prophet Musa (as) recognizes him, as well as his superior character and knowledge, and asks to join him. This shows that he probably already knew that this special person had been taught much superior knowledge (Allah knows best).
It is also probable that Prophet Musa (as) received a revelation that this person was on the righteous path and was a guide for it, and that he should join him and learn from him for those very reasons (Allah knows best).
Furthermore, it is clear that Prophet Musa (as) knew that he would be guided to the righteous path with the superior knowledge he would receive from Khidr (as). That’s why Musa (as) told him he wants to join him the moment that he sees him.
He said: "You will not be able to bear with me." (Surat al-Kahf, 67)
As we understand from the verses, Khidr (as) also has detailed information about Prophet Musa (as) (Allah knows best). Moreover, it is possible to deduce that Khidr (as) knows things about the future because Allah has informed him of them.
Upon hearing Prophet Musa (as) request, Khidr (as) responds straight away that Musa (as) is not patient enough to travel with him. Why would he say such a thing, before anything happened, before even seeing how Prophet Musa (as) would behave? The reason for this is that Khidr (as) knows part of the future as a blessing from Allah (Allah knows best).
Such knowledge indicates that everything happens according to Allah’s will, because only He gives such knowledge to His chosen few, and only as much of it as He wills. Thus, Khidr (as) could only reveal such knowledge of the Unseen by Allah’s will. As revealed in many verses in the Quran, Allah informs the knowledge of the future to His slaves whom He wills.
Everything that will happen to Musa (as) is, as stated earlier, already concluded, and every moment thereof is known in Allah’s presence, for He has written it in destiny. Everything that Prophet Musa (as) goes through is written in his destiny. This is evidence that people will experience only the destiny that Allah has written for them. Believers must submit to Allah and their destiny, and trust Him, as emphasized in one of the verses below:
Say: "I possess no power to harm or help myself, except as Allah wills. Every nation has an appointed time. When their appointed time comes, they cannot delay it a single hour or bring it forward." (Surat Yunus, 49)
"How indeed could you bear with patience something you have not encompassed in your knowledge?" (Surat al-Kahf, 68)
Many troubling, pleasing, and joyful things can happen to people in the course of a day. However, because most people do not think of Allah and the fact that He has already written everything in destiny, they try to explain whatever happens to them as luck and coincidence. And, this prevents them from seeing things in the light of goodness and from drawing beneficial conclusions. For this reason, they become troubled, sad, and unhappy. This is a major difference between the believers and the unbelievers, because the believers are aware that everything is created by Allah’s will and for their ultimate good.
It must be remembered that, Allah’s intellect is unlimited while human’s is limited. Given this reality, people can deal only with the visible side of things and interpret them according to their own understanding. Therefore, they might interpret something that, in reality, is full of goodness and beauty as negative and unfortunate, and vice versa. In such situations, believers need to submit to Allah’s infinite knowledge and wisdom and look at things from the perspective of goodness in order to see the truth, because everything that appears to be negative is, for the believers, a lesson in destiny. Allah says in one verse:
… it may be that you hate something when it is good for you, and it may be that you love something when it is bad for you. Allah knows, and you do not know. (Surat al-Baqara, 216)
Musa said: "You will find me patient, if Allah wills, and I will not disobey you in any matter." (Surat al-Kahf, 69)
As we can see in the verse, Prophet Musa (as) responds immediately in a Muslim way by saying In shaAllah" (if Allah wills). This expression shows the believers’ submission to Allah that they understand how destiny works and are aware that only Allah can grant them success.
As mentioned in the verses 23-24 of Surat al-Kahf, it is Allah’s command not to say ‘I will do this tomorrow’, but to say ‘if Allah wills’.
Through this answer, Musa (as) draws our attention to the importance of saying "In shaAllah before beginning something, reaching a decision, and planning something for tomorrow, because, ultimately, only Allah bestows success and the necessary capabilities to achieve it.
It is essential for Muslims to remember this great truth: Only Allah knows and governs everything that occurs in the universe.
He said: "Then if you follow me, do not question me about anything until I myself make mention of it to you." (Surat al-Kahf, 70)
The narrative of Musa (as) and Khidr (as) re-emphasizes the importance of obeying the Prophets and Messengers. Believers must pay attention by showing strict respect in their allegiance. The importance of obeying the prophets is mentioned as follows in the verses:
Whoever obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allah. If anyone turns away, we did not send you to them as their keeper. (Surat an-Nisa’, 80)
Obey Allah and the Messenger so that hopefully you will gain mercy. (Surah Al ‘Imran, 132)
In connection with this, people must know that they are in fact obeying Allah when they obeying the Messengers and see the wisdom and goodness in the actions of the Messenger to whom they have given their allegiance. They must expect goodness in everything that the Messenger does and submit to him with a sincere heart.
Thus the verses in the narrative of Musa (as) and Khidr (as) say that if the person to whom allegiance is given feels the need to explain the wisdom behind the action, decisions, and words, he will do so. For instance, Khidr (as) says: "… until I myself make mention of it to you" thus indicating that he will explain the underlying wisdom at the appropriate time.
They continued until they boarded a boat, and he made a hole in it. Then Musa said: "Did you make a hole in it so that its owners would be drowned? This is truly a dreadful thing that you have done!" (Surat al-Kahf, 71)
From this verse, it is clear that Musa (as) did not bring his young servant along on this journey. There could be a number of good reasons for this, such as to emphasize the importance of one-to-one education, which is the best form of education. (Allah knows best)
Indeed one-to-one education is the best kind of education. People trying to learn in a crowded environment easily lose their concentration and find it hard to refocus. Even when there are three people, one is easily distracted and finds it hard to concentrate. For this reason, the Qur’an hints at one-to-one education, for such a method make it easy to concentrate and pay attention. Moreover, such direct communication with the instructor enables the student to learn more efficiently. This is why the benefits of private education, recognized around the world, are important.
Another matter is mentioned in the verse: Musa (as) knows Khidr’s (as) value and that he is commanded to do much good. This situation, like all others, takes place in destiny. Khidr (as) had said that Musa (as) would become impatient, and thus one part of the knowledge of the future given to him was fulfilled.
He said: "Did I not say that you would not be able to bear with me?" Musa (as) said: "Do not take me to task because I forgot. Do not demand of me something that is too difficult." (Surat al-Kahf, 72-73)
Notice the certainty in Khidr’s (as) words when he reveals his knowledge of future events: that Musa (as) will not have the necessary patience to travel with him.
Verse 73 of Surat al-Kahf makes it clear that everything happens by Allah’s will. People cannot utter a word or prevent others from speaking by their own will, for only Allah inspires them and gives them speech. Moreover, He can make every being, whether living or nonliving, say whatever He wills them to say. The Qur’an reveals that on the Day of Judgment, Allah will give speech to a person’s ears, eyes, and even the skin, as follows:
When they reach it, their hearing, sight, and skin will testify against them concerning what they did. They will ask their skins: "Why did you testify against us?" and they will reply: "Allah gave us speech, as He has given speech to everything. He created you in the first place, and you will be returned to Him. You did not think to shield yourselves from your hearing, sight, and skin testifying against you, and you thought that Allah would never know much of what you did." (Surah Fussilat, 20-22)
In other verses, our Lord reveals that unless He gives permission, no being can find the power to speak:
Lord of the heavens and Earth and everything between them, the All-Merciful. They will not have the power to speak to Him. On the Day when the Spirit and the angels stand in ranks, no one will speak, except for him who is authorized by the All-Merciful and says what is right. (Surat an-Naba’, 37-38)
Allah creates forgetting as well as remembering, and rules over all of our mental activities, be they past, present, or future. It was written in Musa’s (as) destiny that he would forget and that he would ask a question that he was not supposed to. No one can gain control over his or her brain and prevent forgetfulness or saying the words that have been written in his or her destiny. Allah makes people forget whatever and whenever He wills them to. He can take away all memory or, if He wills, place within one’s memory the knowledge of things not known before. All of these happen by His will.
From Musa’s (as) request "do not demand of me something that is too difficult," we understand that he does not want his education to be terminated.
So they went on until they met a youngster, whom he [Khidr (as) ] killed. Musa (as) said: "Have you killed a boy who has done no wrong, without it being in retaliation for someone else? This is truly an appalling thing that you have done!" (Surat al-Kahf, 74)
Allah is the One Who gives and takes life. Thus, as revealed in the following verse, no one can kill another person unless Allah wills it, for:
You did not kill them; it was Allah Who killed them. And you did not throw, when you threw; it was Allah Who threw, so He might test the believers with this excellent trial from Him. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (Surat al-Anfal, 17)
Khidr (as) is a true servant of Allah and acts only according to His order and will. Everything he does and says conforms to His will. Besides, no one can know whether or not this life is in retaliation for another, or whether or not the child who gets killed is pure, unless Allah wills it.
He said: "Did I not tell you that you would not be able to bear with me?" Musa (as) said: "If I ask you about anything after this, then you should no longer keep me company. I will have given you excuse enough." (Surat al-Kahf, 75-76)
Allah gives and removes, as He wills, the power to His servants to be patient. This laudable aspect of the believers is mentioned in many verses, along with the fact that only Allah gives patience. For instance, Talut’s (as) army asked Allah for patience in war, as follows:
When they came out against Jalut and his troops, they said: "Our Lord, pour down steadfastness upon us, make our feet firm, and help us against this unbelieving people." (Surat al-Baqara, 250)
Verse 76 of Surat al-Kahf reveals that Musa (as) is aware of Khidr’s (as) displeasure. In spite of Khidr’s (as) assertions that Musa (as) would become impatient, Musa (as) insists that he would be patient. However, after two failures to keep his promise, he also wants to resolve the situation and so uses a new strategy of persuasion to convince Khidr (as) not to terminate this process of education and admonition.
With this goal in mind, Musa (as) gives him more assurances and guarantees so that he may prolong and continue this education for as long as possible. It is Musa’s (as) wish to take the most advantage of the special wisdom that blessed Khidr (as) possesses. He finds a solution by offering a persuasive condition.
So they went on until they reached the inhabitants of a town. They asked them for food, but they refused them hospitality. They found there a wall about to fall down, and he [Khidr] built it up. Musa said: "If you had wanted, you could have taken a wage for doing that." (Surat al-Kahf, 77)
Continuing their journey, Musa (as) and Khidr (as) entered a town. However, given that they were not received favorably or offered food and shelter, we understand that their journey had been a difficult one.
In this verse, Allah draws attention to the favorableness of suffering any hardship in the quest for truth and beneficial knowledge (Allah knows best). Musa (as) is prepared to suffer any hardship in order to be with Khidr (as), so that he can benefit from his wisdom and admonitions. This is also an admonition for all people, for Muslims should show the same determination and strength of character in similar situations.
The verse also indicates that Khidr (as) was particularly talented, capable and fast-acting. This can be deduced from the fact that he was able to damage the boat without anyone noticing what he was doing, and also by the quick action he took in building a sturdy wall. Allah indicates his fast decision-taking and acting, and experience by saying "…he built it up." Khidr (as) also displayed great deftness when he made the hole in the boat, since he did so in such a way that the boat was not completely destroyed, but only rendered unusable. He was thus very familiar with the materials needed to construct a boat and a wall.
Musa (as) asks his third and last question to Khidr (as), who already knows, by the wisdom granted to him by Allah, whether or not to seek a wage for his work. Such a practice is not obligatory, because it depends upon the situation and circumstances. As believers do everything for Allah’s good pleasure, their labor can be paid work or freely donated work. If it is paid, the money is used to win His good pleasure yet again.
He said: "This is where you and I part company. I will let you know the explanation of those things about which you were not able to restrain yourself." (Surat al-Kahf, 78)
This last question of Musa (as) indicates that it is time for them to part company, for Allah has willed Musa (as) to state this condition when he earlier said: "If I ask you about anything after this, then you should no longer keep me company". Khidr (as) declares this reason by stating that Musa (as) could not restrain himself due to his not being informed by Allah of the underlying reasons, and that he would now explain.
All of the things that Musa (as) and Khidr (as) experienced on their journey had been written in their destinies and determined by Allah. Nothing could have happened in a different way. The moment of parting, just like the timing and location of their meeting, were all known in Allah’s presence, for He had written them in their destinies in the timeless past.
"As for the boat, it belonged to some poor people who worked on the sea. I wanted to damage it because a king was coming behind them, commandeering every boat." (Surat al-Kahf, 79)
As the verse reveals, now that the time for parting company has come, Khidr (as) explains his actions. In the first event, he made a hole in the boat for several good reasons.
Before revealing the reasons for Khidr’s (as) actions, it is appropriate to reflect upon his compassionate character. Khidr (as) aided the destitute, for he wanted to prevent further hardship for them and their suffering from the oppressors’ actions. This shows his sympathy for the poor and needy, as well as his compassionate and loving character. Allah’s attributes of grace and mercy are focused on him.
Compassion, sympathy for the believers, and love are the most defining characteristics of Allah’s Prophets and Messengers. Khidr (as), a Messenger graced by Allah, is compassionate and loving, just like all Messengers, and has received, by Allah’s will, superior knowledge. For this reason, he wanted to help the needy people by making a hole in the boat so that it would appear useless and not be confiscated by the oppressors.
Khidr's (as) reason, foresight, wisdom, and sensibility is noticeable immediately, for he damaged it in a way that it could be repaired easily and then used again. Thus the people seeking to confiscate it will see the damage and change their mind about taking it. Once this danger has passed, the boat can be repaired easily and put back into service.
Another noticeable matter is the existence of an oppressive regime ruling over a poor people. It could have been a dictatorship. The leaders of this despotic regime could be confiscating the believers’ property without justification, for which reason the believers might have been facing hardship and finding it difficult to escape the situation. (Allah knows best).
Confiscating the people’s property without a just reason was common in despotic feudal and monarchical regimes of the past, and in the fascist and communist regimes of today. These totalitarian regimes took the property of defenseless people and left them destitute and hungry. Thus, this example shows that oppressive regimes have plagued humanity since the beginning of human history.
"As for the boy, his parents were believers and we feared that he would darken their days with excessive insolence and unbelief." (Surat al-Kahf, 80)
The verse reveals that the boy’s parents were believers. In other words, in those days true religion existed. When Khidr (as) took the child’s life, it was Allah’s will, for He had written the child’s time and place of death in his destiny. Allah reminds people of this reality, as follows: "He created you from clay and then decreed a fixed term, and another fixed term is specified with Him…" (Surat al-An`am, 2). As the Qur’an also says, angels take the life of every human being:
If only you could see when the angels take back those who were unbelievers at their death, beating their faces and their backs [saying]: "Taste the punishment of the Burning!" (Surat al-Anfal, 50)
However, the angles are just a means, for in reality only Allah takes lives.
Allah willed for Khidr (as) to take this child’s life, but He could have done it through somebody else. The boy could have been killed in an accident, by a heart attack, or by falling and sustaining a deadly head injury. As Allah makes clear: "… When their specified time arrives, they cannot delay it for a single hour, nor can they bring it forward" (Surat an-Nahl, 61). In this case, Allah determined that the angels would be the invisible agents and that Khidr (as) would be the visible agent of this death, whereby Khidr (as) appeared to be taking the child’s life. In reality, Khidr (as) acts by the revelation he receives from Allah, and certainly does not act against His orders. Also, he cannot act by his own will unless Allah wills so. Allah chose him to be the means for this task.
Khidr (as) kills a child, about whom he has certain knowledge that his destiny is to become an unbeliever. He means to prevent the child from acting cruel towards his family and environment and drowning in a sea of sin, and thus takes preventive action.
We wanted their Lord to give them, in exchange, a purer son than him, one more compassionate. (Surat al-Kahf, 81)
Many people find it hard to see the reason and goodness behind a family member’s death, and death in general. However, as with everything else, there is much wisdom and goodness in this. One of these is stated to be "… giving them in exchange a purer son than him, one more compassionate."
"As for the wall, it belonged to two young orphans in the town, and there was a treasure underneath it that belonged to them. Their father was one of the righteous, and your Lord wanted them to come of age and then to unearth their treasure as a mercy from Him. I did not do it of my own volition. That is the explanation of the things about which you were not able to restrain yourself." (Surat al-Kahf, 82)
… They will ask you about orphans. Say: "Managing their best interests is best." If you mix with them, they are your brothers. Allah knows one who plunders from one who improves. If Allah had wanted, He could have been hard on you. Allah is Almighty, All-Wise. (Surat al-Baqara, 220)
The believers, as pointed out here, take the utmost care to protect the orphans’ rights and ensure their moral education, because of their good character and strict adherence to Allah’s commands and recommendations. Muslims are generous to orphans: "Any wealth you give away should go to your parents and relatives, to orphans and the very poor, and travelers. Whatever good you do, Allah knows it" (Surat al-Baqara, 215). Even if the Muslims are in need, they give priority to these other people: "They give food, despite their love for it, to the poor, orphans, and captives" (Surat al-Insan, 8).
As the morals of Islam recommend, Khidr (as) considers the orphans’ welfare and invests in their future. If he had not restored the wall, it would have collapsed and revealed the treasure belonging to their father. As a result, they would have lost their treasure to the wrongdoers. Khidr (as) repairs the wall so that it will last until the children grow up, thus keeping the treasure concealed so that they might benefit from it in the future, as their father had intended.
As we mentioned earlier, Khidr’s (as) compassion and devotion to orphans and the poor reflects Allah’s attribute of compassion. By repairing the wall, Khidr (as) points out the importance of taking precautions to protect the property of children. Khidr (as) trusts Allah and builds a solid wall that will remain for as long as Allah wills.
Furthermore, the wall’s collapse could have caused great injury or damage to passers-by, the surrounding plant and animal life, or be the apparent cause of someone’s death. In addition, this verse could be indicating the importance of doing a professional job when restoring damaged walls (Allah knows best).
In the verse, Khidr (as) says: "I did not do it by my own volition." In other words, he is aware that Allah does everything within its predetermined destiny, and makes clear thereby, and in the best possible way, that none of his actions are the result of his own decision.
As we have seen, by the leave of Allah the Prophet Musa (as) received very important and wise instruction during his encounter with the blessed Khidr (as) and witnessed that, by the will of our Lord, he was a special individual possessed of knowledge of hidden matters. According to information in the hadiths, various statements by Islamic scholars and Islamic historical sources, the blessed Khidr (as) assists and supports the prophets and devoted servants of Allah at various times.
In the light of the verse “Remember Allah’s blessing to you and the Book and Wisdom He has sent down to you to admonish you” (Surat Al-Baqara, 231), this article has concentrated on various wise aspects of the story of the Prophet Musa (as) and the blessed Khidr (as). All Muslims have a responsibility to seek to understand and live by this wisdom related in the verses at all times, and also to tell others of this. As Allah commands us in the Qur’an:
There is instruction in their stories for people of intelligence. This is not a narration which has been invented but confirmation of all that came before, a clarification of everything, and a guidance and a mercy for people who have iman. (Surah Yusuf, 111)