Lessons from the Story of Moses and Al-Khadir

The story of Al-Khidhr (sometimes spelled Al-Khadir) and Prophet Moses is a well-known one among the Muslims.  It is mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah with the latter providing a little more detail to the incident.  The scholars have derived numerous lessons from the whole event which are detailed below from the work of Dr. Bilal Phillips entitled Tafseer Soorah Al-Kahf.  The main lesson from the story is to trust the qadar (divine decree) of Allah and know that there is no absolute evil and that everything happens for a reason.

Qur’an

The story as mentioned in the Qur’an 18:60-82:

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.” But when they reached the junction between them, they forgot their fish, and it took its course into the sea, slipping away. So when they had passed beyond it, [Moses] said to his boy, “Bring us our morning meal. We have certainly suffered in this, our journey, [much] fatigue.” He said, “Did you see when we retired to the rock? Indeed, I forgot [there] the fish. And none made me forget it except Satan – that I should mention it. And it took its course into the sea amazingly”. [Moses] said, “That is what we were seeking.” So they returned, following their footprints.

And they found a servant from among Our servants to whom we had given mercy from us and had taught him from Us a [certain] knowledge. Moses said to him, “May I follow you on [the condition] that you teach me from what you have been taught of sound judgment?” He 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?” [Moses] said, “You will find me, if Allah wills, patient, and I will not disobey you in [any] order.” He said, “Then if you follow me, do not ask me about anything until I make to you about it mention.”

So they set out, until when they had embarked on the ship, al-Khidhr tore it open. [Moses] said, “Have you torn it open to drown its people? You have certainly done a grave thing.” [Al-Khidhr] said, “Did I not say that with me you would never be able to have patience?” [Moses] said, “Do not blame me for what I forgot and do not cover me in my matter with difficulty.”

So they set out, until when they met a boy, al-Khidhr killed him. [Moses] said, “Have you killed a pure soul for other than [having killed] a soul? You have certainly done a deplorable thing.” [Al-Khidhr] said, “Did I not tell you that with me you would never be able to have patience?” [Moses] said, “If I should ask you about anything after this, then do not keep me as a companion. You have obtained from me an excuse.”

So they set out, until when they came to the people of a town, they asked its people for food, but they refused to offer them hospitality. And they found therein a wall about to collapse, so al-Khidhr restored it. [Moses] said, “If you wished, you could have taken for it a payment.” [Al-Khidhr] said, “This is parting between me and you. I will inform you of the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience.

As for the ship, it belonged to poor people working at sea. So I intended to cause defect in it as there was after them a king who seized every [good] ship by force. 

And as for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared that he would overburden them by transgression and disbelief.  So we intended that their Lord should substitute for them one better than him in purity and nearer to mercy.

And 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 maturity and extract their treasure, as a mercy from your Lord. And I did it not [all those things] of my own accord. That is the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience.”

Sunnah

The story in the Sunnah is mentioned in different ways and slightly different wordings.  The story as mentioned in the version of Al-Bukhari Book 65, Hadith 4773 is as follows:

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, ‘Once Moses, Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), preached to the people till their eyes shed tears and their hearts became tender, whereupon he finished his sermon. Then a man came to Moses and asked, ‘O Allah’s Messenger (pbuh)! Is there anyone on the earth who is more learned than you?’ Moses replied, ‘No.’ So Allah admonished him (Moses), for he did not ascribe all knowledge to Allah. It was said, (on behalf of Allah), ‘Yes, (there is a slave of ours who knows more than you ).’ Moses said, ‘O my Lord! Where is he?’ Allah said, ‘At the junction of the two seas.’ Moses said, ‘O my Lord! Tell me of a sign whereby I will recognize the place.’ ” `Amr said to me, Allah said, “That place will be where the fish will leave you.” Ya`la said to me, “Allah said (to Moses), ‘Take a dead fish (and your goal will be) the place where it will become alive.'”

So Moses took a fish and put it in a basket and said to his boy-servant “I don’t want to trouble you, except that you should inform me as soon as this fish leaves you.” He said (to Moses).” You have not demanded too much.” And that is as mentioned by Allah: ‘And (remember) when Moses said to his attendant …. ‘(18.60) Yusha` bin Noon. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “While the attendant [Yusha’] was in the shade of the rock at a wet place, the fish slipped out (alive) while Moses was sleeping. His attendant said (to himself), “I will not wake him, but when he woke up, he forgot to tell him. The fish slipped out and entered the sea. Allah stopped the flow of the sea where the fish was, so that its trace looked as if it was made on a rock. `Amr forming a hole with his two thumbs an index fingers, said to me, “Like this, as in its trace was made on a rock.”

Moses said “We have suffered much fatigue on this journey of ours.” Then they returned back and found Al-Khadir. `Uthman bin Abi Sulaiman said to me, (they found him) on a green carpet in the middle of the sea. Al-Khadir was covered with his garment with one end under his feet and the other end under his head. When Moses greeted [him], he uncovered his face and said astonishingly, ‘Is there such a greeting in my land? Who are you?’ Moses said, ‘I am Moses.’ Al- Khadir said, ‘Are you the Moses of Bani Israel?’ Moses said, ‘Yes.’ Al-Khadir said, “What do you want?’ Moses said, ‘ I came to you so that you may teach me of the truth which you were taught.’ Al- Khadir said, ‘Is it not sufficient for you that the Torah is in your hands and the Divine Inspiration comes to you, O Moses? Verily, I have [some] knowledge that you ought not learn, and you have [some] knowledge which I ought not learn.’ At that time a bird took with its beak (some water) from the sea: Al-Khadir then said, ‘By Allah, my knowledge and your knowledge besides Allah’s Knowledge is like what this bird has taken with its beak from the sea.’ Until, when they went on board the boat (18.71).

They found a small boat which used to carry the people from this sea-side to the other sea-side. The crew recognized Al-Khadir and said, ‘The pious slave of Allah.’ The boat men said, ‘We will not get him on board with fare.’ Al-Khadir scuttled the boat and then plugged the hole with a piece of wood. Moses said, ‘Have you scuttled it in order to drown these people surely, you have done a dreadful thing. (18.71) Al-Khadir said, didn’t I say that you can have no patience with me?’ (18.72) The first inquiry of Moses was done because of forgetfulness, the second caused him to be bound with a stipulation, and the third was done intentionally. Moses said, ‘Call me not to account for what I forgot and be not hard upon me for my affair (with you).’ (18.73)

(Then) they found a boy and Al-Khadir killed him. Ya`la- said: Sa`id said ‘They found boys playing and Al-Khadir got hold of a handsome disbelieving boy, laid him down and then slew him with a knife. Moses said, ‘Have you killed an innocent soul who has killed nobody?’ (18.74) Then they proceeded and found a wall which was on the point of falling down, and Al-Khadir set it up straight. Sa`id moved his hand thus and said ‘Al-Khadir raised his hand and the wall became straight. Ya`la said, ‘I think Sa`id said, ‘Al-Khadir touched the wall with his hand and it became straight (Moses said to Al-Khadir), ‘If you had wished, you could have taken wages for it.’ Sa`id said, ‘Wages that we might had eaten.’ And there was a king in furor (ahead) of them” (18.79) And there was in front of them. Ibn `Abbas recited: ‘In front of them (was) a king.’ It is said on the authority of somebody other than Sa`id that the king was Hudad bin Budad. They say that the boy was called Haisur. ‘A king who seized every ship by force. (18.79) So I wished that if that boat passed by him, he would leave it because of its defect and when they have passed they would repair it and get benefit from it. Some people said that they closed that hole with a bottle, and some said with tar. ‘His parents were believers, and he (the boy) was a non-believer and we (Khadir) feared lest he would oppress them by obstinate rebellion and disbelief.’ (18.80) i.e. that their love for him would urge them to follow him in his religion, ‘so we (Khadir) desired that their Lord should change him for them for one better in righteousness and near to mercy’ (18:81). This was in reply to Moses’ saying: Have you killed an innocent soul.’? (18.74). ‘Near to mercy” means they will be more merciful to him than they were to the former whom Khadir had killed.

Lessons Derived

The following is taken from Dr. Bilal Phillips’s book entitled Tafseer Soorah Al-Kahf pgs. 203-206:

  1. Difficulty in acquiring knowledge. The story contains encouragement to expect the possibility of difficulty in seeking knowledge because what brings happiness could possibly involve difficulty and because Moses was not prevented by his leadership status from reaching the highest levels of seeking knowledge, traveling on land and sea for its sake, meeting the scholars, bearing difficulties and depending on humble following
  2. Discussion and arguments regarding knowledge. The reason for the narrations of Moses and Khadir’s story indicate the permissibility for discussion of knowledge without arrogance and pride and dependence on those who are knowledgeable when there is disagreement. Ibn ‘Abbaas and al-Hurr ibn Qays had disagreed about the person to whom Moses had traveled, was it Khadir or someone else. Ubayy ibn Ka‘b narrated this hadeeth to them to show the correctness of Ibn ‘Abbaas’ opinion.
  3. Conveyance of knowledge. The story teaches that it is a requirement for scholars to convey what they have learned, especially if it clarifies issues about which people differ. Ubayy narrated this hadeeth at Ibn ‘Abbaas’ request and Ibn ‘Abbaas narrated it to refute Nawf al-Bikaalee. Also al-Khadir taught Moses at his request.
  4. Prioritizing knowledge based activities. From the narration of the context of the Qur’aanic story, it is clear that Moses gave seeking additional knowledge priority over simply continuing to teach what he knew to his people.
  5. Mentioning one’s intention. Moses’ statement that he would not stop his journey until he reached the junction of the two seas indicates the permissibility of expressing one’s intention regarding seeking knowledge to others where there is benefit in it and if it is better than concealing it. For example, in mentioning it, one is able to prepare properly and the nobility of the act is highlighted.
  6. Al-Khadir’s knowledge of the unseen. The story clearly demonstrates that al-Khadir knew of the unseen only what Allah had taught him. Consequently, he did not know who Moses was until he asked him, nor did he know the purpose of Moses’ visit until he informed him.
  7. Two types of knowledge. The Qur’aanic story indicates that the knowledge Allah teaches His servants is of two types: 1) Knowledge that is acquired through human effort. 2) Knowledge that Allah teaches from Himself. Allah describes al-Khadir as, “One whom I taught knowledge from Myself.”
  8. Beneficial knowledge. Knowledge that leads to good was particularly sought by Moses as he said, “May I accompany you so that you can teach me some of what guidance you have been taught?” So knowledge which guides to the good path and warns of the evil path is beneficial knowledge and all besides it is either harmful or it has no benefit.
  9. Allah’s attribute al-Muhyee (the life-giver). Allah’s ability to give life to the dead is demonstrated in the dead salted fish coming alive and swimming away miraculously in the sea.
  10. Keeping servants. The story indicates the permissibility of serving those who are knowledgeable and of hiring or adopting a servant when residing and when traveling to help fulfill needs and for comfort.
  11. Treatment of servants. In the story gentleness to servants is demonstrated in Moses not blaming Youshaa‘ ibn Noon for forgetting to inform him about the disappearance of the fish as he had requested him.
  12. Eating with servants. It may also be deduced from the story that it is recommended to feed one’s servant from one’s own food and to eat with them. Moses instructed his servant, “Bring us our lunch,” referring to the meal as belonging to them both and that it be brought for them both to eat together.
  13. Obedience to divine law. Al-Khadir’s scuttling of the boat and killing the child was by Allah’s command, thus it is not permissible for anyone who does not receive divine revelation to kill or destroy claiming that there is hidden wisdom behind it. This is similar to Prophet Abraham’s attempt to slaughter his son, Ishmael. Al-Khadir was not a follower of Moses nor Prophet Muhammad (s). If he were the follower of either of them, he would not have been allowed to go beyond divine law revealed to them.
  14. Information from a single reliable narrator. The context of the hadeeth narrations prove the validity of acting on information conveyed by a single reliable person (khabar al-waahid) in issues of ‘aqeedah. Ibn ‘Abbaas accepted Ubayy’s individual narration and the students of Ibn ‘Abbaas accepted his individual narration.
  15. Overseas travel. Moses’ journey in this story contains a recommendation for travel overseas in search of knowledge or additional knowledge. Although the commonly quoted hadeeth “Seek knowledge even unto China,” is fabricated, meaning that it is sinful to attribute it to the Prophet (s), the concept of traveling to the ends of the earth for useful knowledge is sound.
  16. Provisions for journeys. Carrying provisions during journeys is a sharee‘ah requirement. It is not preferable or permissible to set out on journeys and deliberately leave provisions behind based on the claim that one is trusting in Allah.
  17. Humility in the quest for knowledge. Moses was keen on meeting al-Khadir because of his humility, and he sought to learn from him in order to teach his people to learn from his manners and as a reminder to whoever praises himself to be humble.
  18. Humility to one’s teacher. The way in which Moses spoke to his teacher in the story indicates the necessity of humility from those who are senior to whomever they learn from. This is demonstrated by having good manners with one’s teacher and talking to him in the best manner as Moses did with al-Khadir. Moses said, “May I follow you …”
  19. Senior scholars can learn from those below them. The story shows that although Moses was senior to al-Khadir, he eagerly tried to learn from him. Thus, eminent scholars can learn from junior scholars in fields outside their expertise as well as in their own fields.
  20. Attribution of knowledge to Allah. When Moses requested al-Khadir to teach him “something of that knowledge which you were taught,” he recognized that al-Khadir’s knowledge was from Allah.
  21. Patience in seeking knowledge. It is from the etiquette of a student to be patient with his teacher and to obey his instructions as shown by Moses and his teacher al-Khadir in the story. One who does not have patience and persistence will lose much knowledge as indicated by al-Khadir’s explanation of why Moses would not be able to learn from him.
  22. Knowledge is the foundation of patience. Al-Khadir indicated that the main reason why Moses would not be able to be patient was because of his lack of knowledge. He said, “How can you have patience with something you don’t understand?” Consequently, having full knowledge and awareness of what one is patient for is among the main means of achieving patience. Knowledge that whatever Allah destines is for good gives the believers strength to be patient during times of calamity and trial.
  23. Disallowance of questions. The story indicates that it is permissible for a teacher to prohibit questions until after his explanations are complete. The teacher must consider the level of his students and their circumstances in order to determine whether to take questions during a class, after the class or both.
  24. The Wisdom of Allah’s acts. The acts which al-Khadir did are purely from Allah’s destiny. Allah made them take place on al-Khadir’s hands so that the believers could use them as evidence of the subtle benefits in what Allah has destined and that some things he might detest strongly but it is beneficial for his religion as in the case of the boy, or beneficial for his worldly life as in the case of the boat. So He made them examples of His gentleness and kindness so they would know and be completely pleased with the detestible elements of destiny.
  25. Human reason and Allah’s will. The hidden benefits of al-Khadir’s acts also indicate that Allah does whatever He wishes in His dominion and decides for His creation as He wishes with regard to what will benefit or harm. Thus, there is no place for human reason with respect to His acts, and no valid opposition can be raised against His laws, instead it is obligatory for the creation to be pleased and accepting of His choice.
  26. The paradoxes of life. There are paradoxes in life where apparent loss is in fact a gain and what appears to be cruelty is in fact mercy and what appears to be returning good for evil is in fact justice and not generosity.
  27. Hired help. The legality of hiring help is affirmed in Moses’ suggestion to al-Khadir to collect wages for fixing the wall.
  28. The fulfillment of conditions. The story contains evidence that one may act according to conditions set. Al-Khadir ended his journey with Moses after his last promise not to question was broken.
  29. The attribution of evil to Allah. From the statements of al-Khadir regarding his acts, it may be deduced that the proper etiquette regarding Allah and evil is to not attribute it directly to Him.
  30. The attribution of evil to Satan. When Yousha‘ forgot to inform Moses and was questioned, he attributed his forgetting to Satan, though everything which takes place is according to Allah’s decision (Qadar). Evil is attributed to Satan from the perspective of his beautifying it and his plotting it.
  31. The accountability of one who is forgetful. The principle that one who forgets is not held to account for what he forgot can be deduced from Moses’ statement, “[Please] don’t hold me accountable for my forgetfulness.” This is true whether what is forgotten is from Allah’s rights or the rights of his servants.
  32. Repelling a greater evil with a lesser evil. The permissibly of committing the lesser of two evils to repel the greater can be deduced from al-Khadir’s scuttling of the boat to avoid its capture and his killing the boy to protect his parents from being driven into disbelief.
  33. The destruction of a portion of property in order to save the majority. This legal maxim is found in al-Khadir’s damaging a part of the boat to save the whole craft.
  34. Requesting food and lodging. That it is allowable to request food in a foreign country or town if there is no place for the sale of food as indicated in the story of the stingy village and the falling wall.
  35. Is Khadir eternal? The claim that al-Khadir is alive until today is false and without any authentic narrations to support it. If he had remained alive until the Prophet’s time, he would have come to him and followed him because he was sent to the world. Leading scholars like, Ibn al-Qayyim, Ibn Katheer, and Ibn al-Jawzee have pointed out that the traditions indicating al-Khadir’s continual life are all inauthentic.
  36. The refutation of scholars. There is a lesson in the story that one should refrain from refuting leading scholars and instead seek to find out from them their positions regarding in which issues one feels them to be wrong. The story showed that although Moses viewed al-Khadir’s acts as wrong, they were, in fact, correct.
  37. Judging by the apparent. Matters are normally judged by what is apparent regarding rulings concerning things of this life. Consequently, Moses condemned al-Khadir for scuttling the ship and killing the boy due to their apparent evil. However, Moses’ situation was unique and he should have been patient until the apparent evil was explained to him by his teacher.
  38. The wealth of a poor person. The Qur’aan’s reference to the owners of the boat as poor indicates that a person may be considered poor while having wealth that does not fulfill his needs.
  39. Admonition of companions. It may be deduced from the story that one should not abandon his companion without admonishing him and ensuring that he does not have an excuse or justification for his actions.
  40. Allah’s protection of the righteous. The story contains references to aid being given to the righteous and their offspring reiterating a general principle mentioned elsewhere in the Qur’aan as: “If you help/support Allah’s religion, Allah will help/support you.” (Soorah Muhammad, 47: 7)
  41. Service of the righteous. The reason given for fixing the wall was that the father of the boys was righteous indicating that service of the righteous or those connected to them is better than service to others.
  42. Belief in the destiny. It was written on the golden tablets that Allah was amazed by the sadness of those who claim to believe in destiny. This indicates that belief in destiny is not just an intellectual exercise but an internalized acceptance of Allah’s decisions in our lives. True belief in destiny prevents a person from becoming extremely sad, which is one of the reasons why Islaam disallows mourning for the dead for more than three days.
  43. The remembrance of death. The Prophet (s) encouraged the regular remembrance of death and called it the pleasure destroyer.

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