Khidr, Al-

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Al-Khidr ("the green" man) is the guide and mentor of Moses described in Sura Kahf (Q. 18.60–82) as "Our exceptional servant to whom We gave compassion from Ourselves and inner knowledge from Our presence." Exegetes interpret this as "God-given knowledge" (˓ilm laduni), which complements Moses's knowledge of shari˓a. The Qur'an narrates that Moses vowed to his servant (identified in hadith as Joshua) to reach the place where the two seas meet. When Moses learns their fish has plunged into the water, he resolves to return and finds al-Khidr, God's exceptional servant filled with God's Compassion and Inner Knowledge. Moses asks to follow al-Khidr. Al-Khidr cautions that since Moses will neither be able to be patient with him nor understand, he must agree not to ask any questions until al-Khidr gives him permission. Moses protests when al-Khidr scuttles the boat in which they ride. Al-Khidr renews his warning about patience. When al-Khidr kills a child, Moses protests, and receives a similar reprimand. In a village where they are denied hospitality, al-Khidr rebuilds a wall. When Moses protests, al-Khidr announces their parting and explains the true meaning (ta'wil) of the events: The ferrymen were poor people whom al-Khidr wanted to prevent from having their boat seized by an approaching king; the child would have corrupted the faith of his believing parents and will be replaced; and the wall concealed an inheritance belonging to two orphan sons of a righteous man, a "treasure which is a mercy from your Lord," signifying the deep meaning, learned through patience, that behind apparent injustice lies mercy.

In al-Bukhari's collection of hadith, the prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying: "He was named al-Khidr because after he sat upon barren land, it became green with vegetation." Bukhari presents the story of Moses and Khidr as a model for seeking knowledge with diligence and humility. The association of al-Khidr with Alexander the Great (356–323 b.c.e.) stems from the fact that the Khidr narrative in the Qur'an precedes that of Dhu l-Qarnayn (the man "of two horns"), who is often identified with Alexander, and from the motif in the narrative of the water of life reviving a cooked fish; al-Khidr, like Elijah, Jesus, and Idris, is considered immortal. Al-Khidr is a protector of travelers, a rescuer, and a saint. In the Levant, sacred places often have multiple dedications to Khidr, Elijah, and St. George. In India, Khwaja Khidr is depicted as resembling Vishnu's Matsya (fish) Avatar.

In Sufism, al-Khidr represents the saint and the spiritual master. For Sufi Qur˒an commentators, al-Khidr represents spiritual guidance (suhba) as distinguished from instruction (ta lim). In hagiographies, Khidr gives to humankind initiation, guidance, and liturgies. The famous Sufi Ibn al-˓Arabi reported receiving al-Khidr's mantle of initiation (khirqa) twice, and the poet and mystic al-Rumi's relationship to Shams-e Tabrizi was described by Rumi's son, Sultan Veled, as being like that of Moses and Khidr.

See alsoProphets .


Wheeler, Brandon. "Moses or Alexander? Early Islamic Exegesis of Qur˒an 18.60–96." Journal of Near Eastern Studies 57, no. 3: 191–215.

Hugh Talat Halman