Musa, Khidr and Knowledge

Sura al Kahf: Musa, Khidr and Knowledge – Shaykh Walead Mosaad

Shaykh Walead explains the story of Musa and Khidr, peace be upon them. He highlights the key lessons from the story and its major theme.

Now we get to the parable of Musa and of Khidr, peace be upon them. Tribulation with one’s knowledge – what one thinks one knows. It’s mentioned that Musa, peace be upon him, that he believes that or he believed that there was no one more knowledgeable than he. And then Allah directed him to “a servant among our servants” where he might learn something that he did not know.

Another narration says that the Prophet Musa, peace be upon him, said that if there is someone who is more knowledgeable than me, then Allah lead me to him. I want to meet him, so that I may learn from him.

The River and the Ocean

Musa, peace be upon him, is of the five considered to be the five greatest prophets and messengers. The other four being Ibrahim, Nuh, Isa, and Muhammad, peace be upon them. So we can’t say that Khidr overall was greater than Musa, who also was sent as a messenger, peace be upon them.

The most that they say about Khidr is that he was a prophet, and even that is a point of contention. Not everybody agrees that he was a prophet. In other words, that he received revelation. So how is it then that Musa, peace be upon him, can learn something from someone who overall is less than he is. That’s the whole point of the story.

Sometimes you can find things in the river you don’t find in the ocean. If Khidr was a river he certainly had things that Musa did not have. The three things that Khidr did and then the justifications of why he did them cannot be understood in terms of outward aspects of Islamic law – or the Shari‘a. They can’t be reconciled.

Outer Form, Inner Truth

That’s why Musa had the objections that he did, peace be upon him. He had to object because from the outward aspect of it there’s no way they could be justified. But then Khidr shows him that inwardly there is a reason.

Allah Most High says:

وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِفَتَاهُ لَا أَبْرَحُ حَتَّىٰ أَبْلُغَ مَجْمَعَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ أَوْ أَمْضِيَ حُقُبًا

And when Moses said to his servant, “I will not give up until I reach the meeting of the two seas, though I go on for many years.” (Sura al Kahf 18:60)

It said that the servant was a great-grandson of Yusuf, peace be upon him. His name is Yusha (Joshua). He was in the court of Al Aziz – the court of Pharaoh in Egypt. He was with Musa, peace be upon him.

When he says: “I will not give up until I reach the meeting of the two seas.” He had received revelation from Allah that this is where you may find him. No one knows exactly where that is. Different opinions have been given.

Some have said that it’s where the two rivers meet between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Another opinion says that it’s actually where the Strait of Gibraltar is, which would be where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Meeting of the Two Seas

It’s not the important aspect of the story but there was an appointed place where they were supposed to meet so they go.

فَلَمَّا بَلَغَا مَجْمَعَ بَيْنِهِمَا نَسِيَا حُوتَهُمَا فَاتَّخَذَ سَبِيلَهُ فِي الْبَحْرِ سَرَبًا

Then, when they reached their meeting point, they forgot their fish, and it took its way into the sea, being free. (Sura al Kahf 18:61)

One of the things that Musa, peace be upon him, received as revelation is that when you reach the point of the two oceans or the two seas, you will lose your fish that you brought as provision to eat. Then you will know that is where to find him because he doesn’t find you, you find him.

This shows you adab al ‘ilm: that the seeker goes and finds the teacher, not that the teacher goes and finds the student. Musa, peace be upon him, is the one who went out forth even though he is the prophet and the greatest messenger living on the face of the earth of the at the time, which would make him the greatest human being living on the face of the earth at the time. Yet he is the one who’s going to seek not the one to be sought.

Prophet, Teacher and Student

So even though some some people may be teachers they’re also always going to be students. It’s not a mutually exclusive thing. Every teacher is a student, although not every student is a teacher.

فَلَمَّا جَاوَزَا قَالَ لِفَتَاهُ آتِنَا غَدَاءَنَا لَقَدْ لَقِينَا مِن سَفَرِنَا هَـٰذَا نَصَبًا

When they had passed over, he said to his page, “Bring us our breakfast; indeed, we have found weariness in our journey.” (Sura al Kahf 18:62)

قَالَ أَرَأَيْتَ إِذْ أَوَيْنَا إِلَى الصَّخْرَةِ فَإِنِّي نَسِيتُ الْحُوتَ وَمَا أَنسَانِيهُ إِلَّا الشَّيْطَانُ أَنْ أَذْكُرَهُ ۚ وَاتَّخَذَ سَبِيلَهُ فِي الْبَحْرِ عَجَبًا

He said, “Did you see? When we took refuge in the rock, then I forgot the fish, and it was Satan himself that made me forget it so that I should not mention it – and it took its way into the sea in a marvelous manner.” (Sura al Kahf 18:63)

قَالَ ذَٰلِكَ مَا كُنَّا نَبْغِ ۚ فَارْتَدَّا عَلَىٰ آثَارِهِمَا قَصَصًا

He [Musa] said, “This is what we were seeking!” And so they retraced their steps. (Sura al Kahf 18:64)

In other words that was the sign that Must, peace be upon him, was waiting for from Allah Most High.

فَوَجَدَا عَبْدًا مِّنْ عِبَادِنَا آتَيْنَاهُ رَحْمَةً مِّنْ عِندِنَا وَعَلَّمْنَاهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلْمًا

Then they found one of Our servants unto whom We had given mercy from Us, and We taught him knowledge from Our Presence. (Sura al Kahf 18:65)

A Servant of Allah

This ‘abd: Khidr, peace be upon him, is described again as a servant of Allah. This could mean he that was a prophet. Again there is a difference of opinion. It seems that he could not have known what he knew except by revelation. That would give credibility to the idea that he was a prophet. In all likelihood he probably was.

Allah says: “unto whom We had given mercy from Us, and We taught him knowledge from Our Presence.” Mercy and knowledge go hand in hand, because if your knowledge doesn’t need lead you to mercy it will lead to poison and destruction.

That which is powerful of itself – and there’s nothing more powerful than knowledge, than to know – if it’s not coupled with or tempered by mercy, it could be destructive rather than productive. That is often what happens. Knowledge can be used for very destructive ways.

A Mercy from Allah

Even knowledge of the religion can be very destructive. People can use it as a hammer to beat people into submission, rather than as an tool of mercy as was originally intended. Now Khidr had both, which means that any of the things that he did, even if we don’t understand them outwardly, were still done by Allah’s mercy.

The type of knowledge that Khidr, peace be upon him, had was not a taught knowledge. He didn’t learn it from anybody. No one taught it to him. This is referred to as al ‘ilm al ladunni, which is directly inspired knowledge from Allah Most High, of which any human being can avail themselves.

You don’t have to be a prophet. Allah can inspire you to do things or can put things in you: knowledge or epiphanies or realizations of things that you didn’t realize before.

It could be reflection on a verse. It could be a particular circumstance or situation in your life. Years later or even at the time you see the wisdom of why it happened the way it happened. Things like these are things Allah can can give you as gifts.

Knowledge and Illumination

Khidr’s ‘ilm was ladunni. So was Musa’s knowledge, peace be upon them. Musa, peace be upon him, was a prophet and a messenger. He received revelation but he was also a messenger with what we call the Shari‘a.

Usually when we talk about Shari‘a in this sense, it means that which regulates outward acts. What we call the dhahir: things that you do outwardly, or the manner by which you do them. for example, the prayer ritual, the manner by which you fast, what days and when, and the manner of determining who is eligible for zakat and who is not, and interactions and commercial transactions. All those things we understand by the term Shari‘a.

And the Shari‘a is always underlined by something else called the haqiqa. That is a bit of Sufi terminology but they use it to describe the practice and implementation of the Shari‘a, which is then called tariqa: walking the way or following the way.

This will lead you to this thing called haqiqa, which is the unveiling and cognition of why things happen the way they do and the reality behind things. And the knowledge of Khidr, peace be upon him, is as if it was concentrated more on the haqiqa than the Shari‘a, because he did things that in at least two cases contravened the Shari‘a.

Fear of the Unknown

You would say, if he didn’t know better: That’s haram! How could you do that? You’ve made a transgression! That is why Musa, peace be upon him, objects. And Khidr, peace be upon him, tells him at the beginning: You’re not going to be patient enough with me. You’re going to object, but we’ll do it anyway and we’ll see how that turns out.

So then Musa, peace be upon him, says to Khidr in the next verse:

قَالَ لَهُ مُوسَىٰ هَلْ أَتَّبِعُكَ عَلَىٰ أَن تُعَلِّمَنِ مِمَّا عُلِّمْتَ رُشْدًا

Moses said to him, “Shall I follow you so that you teach me, of what you have been taught [by Allah] of right judgment.” (Sura al Kahf 18:66)

قَالَ إِنَّكَ لَن تَسْتَطِيعَ مَعِيَ صَبْرًا

Said he [Khidr], “Surely you will not be able to bear with me patiently.” (Sura al Kahf 18:67)

وَكَيْفَ تَصْبِرُ عَلَىٰ مَا لَمْ تُحِطْ بِهِ خُبْرًا

“And [says Khidr] how should you patiently bear what you have no knowledge of?” (Sura al Kahf 18:68)

Ignorance Is a Test

As our Master Ali said: “A person is an enemy of that which did not know.” It is just so much easier if you don’t understand something to say: Oh, it’s wrong or, it’s not right. Rather than admit that one does not know.

That is because it is easier on the ego. It is easier to shift blame to the thing, the object of your scorn that you don’t know, rather than to shift the blame on yourself. We think or say: “All those people are like that. That’s the way they are.”

But do you know them? Have you met them? “No, no. But that’s the way there are.” That is the ego speaking. You haven’t even seen them. You have no interaction, but yet you base it on a preconception.

So Khidr, peace be upon him, is just stating a fact of the human condition. There is a great lesson in this.

This lesson by Shaykh Walead Mosaad is part of the On Demand Course: Giving Life to Sura Al Kahf, in which Shaykh Walead explains the key lessons of Sura al Kahf: the four great stories in it and the four great tests they represent. Namely the tests of faith, wealth, knowledge, and power. Download the entire lesson-set here.

View other SeekersHub On Demand Courses here.