بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
This is the third story in the inspirational and insightful Surah Al-Kahf. The story involves 3 people, namely Prophet Musa [عليه السلام], his young boy-servant Yusha bin Nun, and Al-Khidr [عليه السلام].
This story is inspirational in many ways, but in my opinion, it is primarily so in the way it highlights the importance of striving to seek the special kind of knowledge that is sent down by Allah, as a mercy upon His special slaves.
It also sheds light on other things, such as the limitless wisdom of Allah that is at work behind the decree that He establishes on earth; the difference between the initial human perception of apparent life events, and the deeper realities that form the reasons or causes behind their occurrence; the impatience and haste that is part of human nature, and last but not least, the etiquette of social relationships between people when they travel, live or hang out together in the path of Allah.
The story consists of two main parts: the first part describes Prophet Musa’s quest for knowledge, and his zest for seeking the person and company of Al-Khidr in order to learn from him some of that which Allah had taught him. This part describes his conversation and travels with his young protégé, Yusha Bin Nun.
The second part of the story details the lessons Prophet Musa learned when Al-Khidr allowed him to accompany and travel with him, on the condition of not asking him any questions, along a wondrous journey of discovering the hidden realities behind life’s apparent setbacks, losses, and turns of events.
As usual, I have consulted Tafsir Ibn Kathir as my preferred source for the fact-checking and explanation of these verses of the Quran.
The Value and Pursuit of Knowledge, and Those Who Possess It
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَى لِفَتَاهُ لَا أَبْرَحُ حَتَّى أَبْلُغَ مَجْمَعَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ أَوْ أَمْضِيَ حُقُبًا
“And when Musa said to his servant. I will not give up until I reach the point where the two rivers meet, though I march on for ages!” – [18:60]
When Prophet Musa [عليه السلام] was informed by Allah that there was another person on earth who was more knowledgeable than him, he immediately decided to set off on a journey in the quest of this Divine knowledge and spiritual guidance, taking along with him Yusha Bin Nun, a youth dedicated to his service. The word used to describe Yusha is “فَتًى “, which I have discussed in detail in my last post already.
His resolve to go on searching for Al Khidr near the meeting-point of the two seas (rivers), no matter how long it took to find him, even if meant searching for years and years, clearly give away the immense value and worth he attached to divine knowledge and those who were blessed with it. It also gives away his frank relationship with, and trust upon, his valet, to whom he was expressing these sentiments.
It clearly goes to show what priorities the Prophets of Allah had. For most of us, the motivation to embark upon a journey of toil in which the destination is as yet unbeknownst, would only be born inside if we were promised a hefty chunk of material wealth or social status in return for our hard work and effort.
Besides, have you ever wondered why most of us travel in the first place?
Primarily, for rest, leisure and fun (‘vacations’), so that we can enjoy a “break” from normal life. Sometimes, we travel to Makkah get our wants and needs (those related mostly to our worldly life) fulfilled, and so we travel there do umrah.
At other times, we travel to meet family and relatives, or to attend their funerals, in other cities or countries. We also undertake extensive and often exhausting travel for business meetings and events (workshops, seminars, et al).
There are a very few fortunate ones among us who travel to another place just to meet someone whom Allah has blessed with Divine knowledge, and to spend time in their company, only to practically learn (i.e. gain that knowledge) from them.
فَلَمَّا بَلَغَا مَجْمَعَ بَيْنِهِمَا نَسِيَا حُوتَهُمَا فَاتَّخَذَ سَبِيلَهُ فِي الْبَحْرِ سَرَبًا
“But when they reached the junction between the two [seas], they forgot all about their fish, and it took its way into the sea and disappeared from sight.” – [18:61]
Guided by Allah, Prophet Musa traveled to the place where he was told that he’d find Al-Khidr. Allah had instructed him to take along a fish in a vessel, and specified to him that when this fish would wriggle/fling itself out of his control and swim off into the sea, that would be the place he’d find Al-Khidr.
If any one of us finds this bit about the fish confusing, then that is because most of us are probably urbanites who spend little time in the natural outdoors, let alone with fish or other animals.
This is what Tafsir Ibn Kathir states about this fish:
“Allah had commanded Musa to carry a salted fish with him, and it had been said to him, when you lose the fish, that will be a sign that you have reached the right place. So they set out and traveled until they reached the junction of the two seas, where there was a spring called `Ayn Al-Hayat (the Spring of Life). They went to sleep there, and the fish felt the drops of that water, so it came back to life. It was in a vessel with Yusha, and it jumped out of the vessel towards the sea. Yusha woke up and the fish fell into the water and started to swim through the water, leaving a track or channel behind it. Allah said: فَاتَّخَذَ سَبِيلَهُ فِى الْبَحْرِ سَرَباً “and it took its way through the sea as in a tunnel”, meaning, like going through a tunnel on land. Ibn Jurayj said, “Ibn Abbas said, “It left a trace as if it were a rock.”” – end quote qtafsir.com
Even though this apparent ‘coming back to life’ of a salted fish, and its henceforth making its away into the sea leaving behind tracks in the sand, might sound absolutely too unbelievable, I have actually seen a video about a fish, which makes it very believable.
Click here to watch it: Lungfish
Since the “merging point of the two seas” (مَجْمَعَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ), which Allah had chosen as the meeting place for Prophet Musa and Al-Khidr, might refer to the place where sweet water meets salty water, it is possible that, like the lungfish shown in the video above that ‘comes back to life’ as soon as it gets touched by drops of sweet rainwater, the fish that Prophet Musa was instructed to take with him (which, I might add, was also to be ‘salted’ according to Allah’s command), could have been sensitive to the sweet water that was present at the merging point of the two seas/rivers.
It is also not a coincidence that Prophet Musa and Yusha decided to rest at a place, overcome by sleep, where this fish could get hydrated by the drops of such a water nearby, which might have made it ‘come to life’ and wiggle off into the sea, making its path clear behind it!
Allah only knows best. Everything that I have hypothesized above is just that: mere conjecture. 🙂
But the fact is that, after looking at the above video of the lungfish, the details of this story of Surah Al Kahf about the fish that Prophet Musa was carrying with him, sure become more realistic to imagine, do they not?
فَلَمَّا جَاوَزَا قَالَ لِفَتَاهُ آتِنَا غَدَاءنَا لَقَدْ لَقِينَا مِن سَفَرِنَا هَذَا نَصَبًا
“And after the two had walked some distance, [Musa] said to his servant: “Bring us our mid-day meal; we have indeed suffered hardship on this [day of] our journey!” – [18:62]
Without realizing that they both had completely forgotten about the fish, and before detecting that it had gone missing, Prophet Musa asked his valet to bring him his meal, expressing his exhaustion. They had actually long passed the point where the fish had made its way into the sea, and come a considerable distance forward from it, totally unawares that their fish was missing.
It was at this point, when Prophet Musa showed signs of stopping to rest, that his valet remembered having seen their fish go off into the sea! He promptly confessed his lapse of memory to his master:
قَالَ أَرَأَيْتَ إِذْ أَوَيْنَا إِلَى الصَّخْرَةِ فَإِنِّي نَسِيتُ الْحُوتَ وَمَا أَنسَانِيهُ إِلَّا الشَّيْطَانُ أَنْ أَذْكُرَهُ وَاتَّخَذَ سَبِيلَهُ فِي الْبَحْرِ عَجَبًا
“Said [the servant]: “Would you believe it? When we betook ourselves to that rock for a rest, behold, I forgot about the fish-and none but Shaitan made me thus forget it – and it took its way into the sea! How strange!” – [18:63]
The immediate and frank confession of forgetfulness by Yusha before his master Prophet Musa, again indicates their amicable mutual relationship; one based on forthright honesty and trust. Bonds that are formed on the basis of pure sincerity for the sake of Allah possess such praiseworthy characteristics, as they are free from the fear of people and the fear of ridicule or criticism.
قَالَ ذَلِكَ مَا كُنَّا نَبْغِ فَارْتَدَّا عَلَى آثَارِهِمَا قَصَصًا
“[Musa] exclaimed: “That [was the place] which we were seeking! And the two turned back, retracing their footsteps.” [18:64]
No harsh reprimands, no scolding, no regrets or lamentations about wasted time and effort, despite being very tired, and obviously having gone way off course from the point that was to be their desired destination. All Prophet Musa did when his servant told him about his forgetting about the fish going off into the sea, was to hastily get back retracting their path in order to still find that place in time, hopefully marked by the fish’s body trail, where it slid into the water. What had happened had happened: bickering and cribbing about it would only have wasted more time and energy.
These are all indicators of quintessential Prophetic patience and belief upon (as well as pleasure with) the pre-ordainment and decree of Allah.
We should look at, in contrast, our own behavior with domestic servants, children, peons, waiters, or corporate subordinates, when they forget to serve us our tea, or to fetch us what we ask them to, on time! 🙂
Seeking Permission To Gain Knowledge
فَوَجَدَا عَبْدًا مِّنْ عِبَادِنَا آتَيْنَاهُ رَحْمَةً مِنْ عِندِنَا وَعَلَّمْنَاهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلْمًا
“And found one of Our servants, on whom We had bestowed mercy from Ourselves and unto whom We had imparted knowledge [issuing] from Ourselves.” [18:65]
At last, after much physical hardship that even involved the chagrin of having gone off course from the intended destination, Prophet Musa and Yusha bin Nun successfully retraced their footsteps and found the place where the fish had gone into the sea in a tunnel-like fashion. There, just as Allah had promised, they found Al-Khidr.
Allah describes the fact that He had granted special knowledge to Al-Khidr (عَلَّمْنَاهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلْمًا) as a special mercy from Himself towards him (آتَيْنَاهُ رَحْمَةً مِنْ عِندِنَا). I find this very interesting, the fact that knowledge from Allah is actually a manifestation of His special mercy.
This is because, in the current age at least, we tend to staunchly believe that education and knowledge (of any kind, even practical training) is restricted inside schools, institutes, colleges and universities. Whereas here was Al-Khidr, who had been taught special knowledge directly from Allah, which he was about to impart to Musa (to obtain which, Musa had intended to go on searching for Al-Khidr, even if it took him years and years to find him), and this knowledge did not require a classroom setting to be learned/acquired.
Which made me wonder — could it be that, the special kind of knowledge that embodies the manifestation of Allah’s mercy on a believer, is acquired via experiencing life events, pondering upon their backdrops and causes, and reflecting upon their long-term effects on the lives of the people they touch?
This is the kind of learning/knowledge that Allah bestowed upon Prophet Yusuf [عليه السلام] as well, whom He subjected to trials, making him endure extreme physical hardships, betrayals, and emotional let-downs from close people (those whom he trusted, primarily his brothers).
Allah claims in the Quran, that He made Prophet Yusuf go through these trying events in order to teach him how to ‘get to the depth of matters’, or to ‘interpret life events’:
وَكَذَلِكَ يَجْتَبِيكَ رَبُّكَ وَيُعَلِّمُكَ مِن تَأْوِيلِ الأَحَادِيثِ وَيُتِمُّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكَ
“Thus will your Lord choose you and teach you the interpretation of stories (and events) and perfect His favor to you…” [12:6]
وَكَذَلِكَ مَكَّنِّا لِيُوسُفَ فِي الأَرْضِ وَلِنُعَلِّمَهُ مِن تَأْوِيلِ الأَحَادِيثِ
“Thus did We establish Yusuf in the land, that We might teach him the interpretation of stories (and events)”. [12:21]
Coming back to Prophet Musa and Al-Khidr, we see a wonderful picture of what etiquette a seeker of knowledge should observe when he or she wants to learn from a person of knowledge. The kind of learning Prophet Musa wanted to undertake did not involve classes, with a teacher sitting before his or her students giving talks or lectures on a subject, but rather, it consisted of practical “field work” or on-the-job apprenticeship, as they are known in the modern age, in which learning took place mostly via observation.
Prophet Musa humbled himself and sought permission from Al-Khidr to learn from him:
قَالَ لَهُ مُوسَى هَلْ أَتَّبِعُكَ عَلَى أَن تُعَلِّمَنِ مِمَّا عُلِّمْتَ رُشْدًا
“Musa said to him, “May I follow you on the understanding that you will impart to me something of that consciousness of what is right that has been imparted to you?” – [18:66]
We are talking about a Prophet of Allah here (Musa). The fact that he sought permission to learn from Al-Khidr indicates to us how, even if we occupy positions of unquestionable and exclusive authority over people, we should seek permission when seeking knowledge – of any kind – from someone else, be it that of a practical skill, or literary know-how, even if the person who’ll be imparting that knowledge to us belongs to a lower social, economic or financial stratum.
The reply given by Al-Khidr is very interesting, to say the least. He said:
قَالَ إِنَّكَ لَن تَسْتَطِيعَ مَعِيَ صَبْرًا
[The other] answered: “Behold, you will never be able to have patience with me” –[18:67]
He used the word “لَن”, not “لا” – which carries much more certainty within itself. He continued:
وَكَيْفَ تَصْبِرُ عَلَى مَا لَمْ تُحِطْ بِهِ خُبْرًا
“For how could you be patient about something that you cannot comprehend within the compass of experience?” [18:68]
Based upon his innate wisdom, he probably foresaw Musa’s innate impatience and haste in the quest for knowledge. From narratives in several other places in the Quran, we get to know more about Prophet Musa’s nature. It is possible that Al-Khidr was able to gauge this aspect of his nature just by meeting him and talking to him, because wise sages have eyes that see beyond the superficial, and they can sense the true nature of someone just by being in their presence.
Secondly, Al-Khidr explained that the reason he believed that Prophet Musa “would never” (لَن) be able to be patient enough to learn from him, was because he did not possess enough life experience to keep silent. This is also true, that younger people, or those who have not had vast and rich life experiences, tend to be more naive and superficial when judging the reality of events, tending to take them at face value instead of being able to grasp their deeper, hidden truths.
قَالَ سَتَجِدُنِي إِن شَاء اللَّهُ صَابِرًا وَلَا أَعْصِي لَكَ أَمْرًا
“Replied [Musa]: “You will find me patient, if Allah so wills; and I shall not disobey you in anything!” [18:69]
Prophet Musa insisted that he’d practice patience إِن شَاء اللَّهُ (by the will of Allah). Al-Khidr then permitted him to come along to learn from him, on the condition that Musa not ask him any questions about anything that he saw him doing, until he spoke of it himself.
قَالَ فَإِنِ اتَّبَعْتَنِي فَلَا تَسْأَلْنِي عَن شَيْءٍ حَتَّى أُحْدِثَ لَكَ مِنْهُ ذِكْرًا
“Said [the sage]: “Well, then, if you are to follow me, do not question me about anything [that I may do] until I myself give you an account thereof.” [18:70]
The eager student vehemently agreed.
The Practical “Classes” Commence
فَانطَلَقَا حَتَّى إِذَا رَكِبَا فِي السَّفِينَةِ خَرَقَهَا قَالَ أَخَرَقْتَهَا لِتُغْرِقَ أَهْلَهَا لَقَدْ جِئْتَ شَيْئًا إِمْرًا
“And so the two went on their way, till (they reached the seashore; and) when they disembarked from the boat [that had ferried them across], the sage made a hole in it- [whereupon Musa] exclaimed: “Have you made a hole in it in order to drown the people who may be [traveling] in it? Indeed, you have done a grievous thing!” [18:71]
Prophet Musa ‘protested’ at the way Al-Khidr was, ‘apparently’, returning the good deed done to him by the people on the boat – who let him take a ride on it,- by making a hole in it. As we know, making a hole in a boat makes it completely useless (unless the hole is fixed), because it can cause those riding in it to drown.
Prophet Musa was sincere at heart, which was why he could not adhere to his earlier claim of not asking Al-Khidr any questions about what he saw him doing. He was promptly reprimanded by his teacher/mentor:
قَالَ أَلَمْ أَقُلْ إِنَّكَ لَن تَسْتَطِيعَ مَعِيَ صَبْرًا
He replied: “Did I not tell you that you will never be able to have patience with me?” [18:72]
The sincere student (who, remember, happens to be Allah’s Prophet) immediately realizes and admits his unintentional slip, then seeks forgiveness and pardon from his teacher:
قَالَ لَا تُؤَاخِذْنِي بِمَا نَسِيتُ وَلَا تُرْهِقْنِي مِنْ أَمْرِي عُسْرًا
Said [Moses]: “Take me not to task for my having forgotten [myself], and be not hard on me on account of what I have done!” – [18:73]
Note Prophet Musa’s sincere admission of forgetfulness and his eager request for pardon! SubhanAllah, he was the Prophet of Allah, chosen for conveying the message of guidance to all of mankind at that time, during that era, and yet he humbly seeks his mentor’s pardon for making a human error!
Thankfully, Al-Khidr granted him pardon and took him along for further learning:
فَانطَلَقَا حَتَّى إِذَا لَقِيَا غُلَامًا فَقَتَلَهُ قَالَ أَقَتَلْتَ نَفْسًا زَكِيَّةً بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ لَّقَدْ جِئْتَ شَيْئًا نُّكْرًا
“And so the two went on, till, when they met a young man, [the sage] slew him -[whereupon Musa] exclaimed: “Have you slain an innocent human being without [his having taken] another man’s life? Indeed, you have done a terrible thing!” – [18:74]
As they went along, Al-Khidr came across a young boy (the Arabic word غُلَامً is used for a boy who is in his early teens) whom he killed, according to the command of Allah.
Once again, Prophet Musa was not able to contain himself, and he protested about this apparently undeserved death in shock. He once again got promptly reprimanded, with Al-Khidr reminding him how he had correctly predicted Musa’s lack of patience (صَبْر):
قَالَ أَلَمْ أَقُل لَّكَ إِنَّكَ لَن تَسْتَطِيعَ مَعِي صَبْرًا
He replied: “Did I not tell you that you will never be able to have patience with me?” – [18:75]
Realizing his folly, Prophet Musa pleaded with Al-Khidr to let him continue in his company, and in his zeal to prove his sincere regret at breaking the preset rule, and his resolve to not ask any more questions/voice any protests, he made his mentor an offer:
قَالَ إِن سَأَلْتُكَ عَن شَيْءٍ بَعْدَهَا فَلَا تُصَاحِبْنِي قَدْ بَلَغْتَ مِن لَّدُنِّي عُذْرًا
Said [Musa]: “If, after this, I should ever question you, keep me not in your company: [for by] now you have heard enough excuses from me.” – [18:76]
Prophet Musa put forth his own “retribution” perchance he slipped again and asked Al-Khidr any more questions about what the latter did with/to others: no more of his mentor’s precious company, nor any more learning of practical life lessons with him.
فَانطَلَقَا حَتَّى إِذَا أَتَيَا أَهْلَ قَرْيَةٍ اسْتَطْعَمَا أَهْلَهَا فَأَبَوْا أَن يُضَيِّفُوهُمَا فَوَجَدَا فِيهَا جِدَارًا يُرِيدُ أَنْ يَنقَضَّ فَأَقَامَهُ قَالَ لَوْ شِئْتَ لَاتَّخَذْتَ عَلَيْهِ أَجْرًا
“And so the two went on, till, when they came upon some village people, they asked them for food; but those [people] refused them all hospitality. And they saw in that (village) a wall which was on the point of tumbling down, and [the sage] rebuilt it [whereupon Moses] said: “Had you so wished, surely you could [at least] have obtained some payment for it?” [18:77]
The third and final act that Prophet Musa witnessed Al-Khidr do was, voluntarily rebuild/repair a crumbling wall inside a village whose people had inhospitably (and hence, rather rudely) refused to board the two men. Prophet Musa felt incredulous about how Al-Khidr could apparently work so hard to do such townspeople such a big favor, who had been unkind and unwelcoming towards him? Why toil hard to repair a wall in a town of dwellers who showed no compassion for disheveled travelers? And why not take money for doing such taxing repair work for them?
Oops. He did it again. 🙂
قَالَ هَذَا فِرَاقُ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنِكَ سَأُنَبِّئُكَ بِتَأْوِيلِ مَا لَمْ تَسْتَطِع عَّلَيْهِ صَبْرًا
[The sage] replied: “This is the parting of ways between me and you. [And now] I shall let you know the real meaning of all [those events] that you were unable to bear with patience.” [18:78]
As per their agreement, this third, involuntary lapse of patience meant an end to his lessons with Al-Khidr.
It also proves how right Al-Khidr had been in the very beginning, when he had first met Musa, and had predicted with certainty that the latter would ‘never’ be able to practice patience with his actions, no matter how sincere he was to seek the knowledge that Allah had specially granted to the sage.
The Wisdom and Hidden Truths Behind Apparent Life Events/Decree
Al-Khidr went on to explain why he had done the 3 apparently ‘unfair’ things that he did, after taking on Prophet Musa as his protégé.
أَمَّا السَّفِينَةُ فَكَانَتْ لِمَسَاكِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ فِي الْبَحْرِ فَأَرَدتُّ أَنْ أَعِيبَهَا وَكَانَ وَرَاءهُم مَّلِكٌ يَأْخُذُ كُلَّ سَفِينَةٍ غَصْبًا
“As for that boat, it belonged to some needy people who toiled upon the sea -and I desired to damage it because (I knew that) behind them was a king who wanted to seize every boat by brute force.” [18:79]
Lessons from making a hole in the boat:
– Allah makes us suffer a small loss in life because, through it, He intends to save us from an even bigger one. E.g. your car breaks down and you get late. You lament this, crib and curse, not knowing that Allah averted you from a major car crash that you would have been involved in, had you continued driving along that particular route at that speed.
– Needy people (مَسَاكِينَ) can own assets (such as a boat) and work for a living.
– Harbor a good opinion of Allah when He spoils any material thing that you own. Instead of reacting like an ingrate, trust upon Him and remind yourself that He intended only some hidden good by making you endure that loss.
وَأَمَّا الْغُلَامُ فَكَانَ أَبَوَاهُ مُؤْمِنَيْنِ فَخَشِينَا أَن يُرْهِقَهُمَا طُغْيَانًا وَكُفْرًا
“And as for that young man, his parents were [true] believers – whereas we had every reason to fear that he would bring bitter grief upon them by [his] wickedness and denial of all truth.” [18:80]
فَأَرَدْنَا أَن يُبْدِلَهُمَا رَبُّهُمَا خَيْرًا مِّنْهُ زَكَاةً وَأَقْرَبَ رُحْمًا
“And so we desired that their Sustainer grant them in his stead [a child] of greater purity than him, and closer [to them] in loving tenderness.” [18:81]
Lessons from taking the young boy’s life:
– Not every child is a blessing. A child can also be a means of distress, torment and sorrow for the parent, by being rebellious, disobedient, ungrateful and wicked (طُغْيَانًا وَكُفْرًا) towards them. This is especially true for the children Allah gives to disbelievers. (فَلاَ تُعْجِبْكَ أَمْوَالُهُمْ وَلاَ أَوْلاَدُهُمْ إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللّهُ لِيُعَذِّبَهُم بِهَا فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَتَزْهَقَ أَنفُسُهُمْ وَهُمْ كَافِرُونَ – “Let not their wealth nor their children dazzle you: in reality Allah’s plan is to punish them with these things in this life, and that their souls may perish in their (very) denial of Allah.” -[9:55])
– By making a child die in his or her youth, it is highly probable that via this tragic demise, Allah is actually saving the parents of this child from an even bigger future torment, grief, or sorrow, especially if they are righteous.
– By taking a child’s life, Allah might be intending to give to the parents another child who is purer in character, and more righteous (خَيْرًا مِّنْهُ زَكَاةً); who will be more merciful and kind towards them (أَقْرَبَ رُحْمًا) than the one who died.
وَأَمَّا الْجِدَارُ فَكَانَ لِغُلَامَيْنِ يَتِيمَيْنِ فِي الْمَدِينَةِ وَكَانَ تَحْتَهُ كَنزٌ لَّهُمَا وَكَانَ أَبُوهُمَا صَالِحًا فَأَرَادَ رَبُّكَ أَنْ يَبْلُغَا أَشُدَّهُمَا وَيَسْتَخْرِجَا كَنزَهُمَا رَحْمَةً مِّن رَّبِّكَ وَمَا فَعَلْتُهُ عَنْ أَمْرِي ذَلِكَ تَأْوِيلُ مَا لَمْ تَسْطِع عَّلَيْهِ صَبْرًا
“And as for that wall, it belonged to two orphan boys [living] in the town, and beneath it was [buried] a treasure belonging to them [by right]. Now their father had been a righteous man, and so thy Sustainer willed it that when they come of age they should bring forth their treasure by thy Sustainer’s grace. “And I did not do [any of] this of my own accord: this is the real meaning of all [those events] that you were unable to bear with patience.” [18:82]
Lessons from building the wall over the treasure:
– A father’s righteousness (أَبُوهُمَا صَالِحًا) benefits his offspring even after his death, during their worldly life, in the form of material wealth, provisions and blessings.
– When young people reach an older age, in which there is more mental maturity and physical strength (يَبْلُغَا أَشُدَّهُمَا), they do not waste wealth if they find it in abundance. Rather, at this age, they put it to good use. Also, it is at a later, more mature age when a person needs wealth the most. Hence, it was Allah’s mercy upon the two orphan boys that He had a wall built over the hidden treasure that was their’s to begin with (their rightful inheritance), so that they reach mature age first before they found it buried there. In other words, Allah prevented them from the treasure/wealth, of which they were rightful owners, until a later time in their lives, when they’d make better use of it. And this was due to His special mercy upon them.
– Al-Khidr had done all the three above actions to others in obedience to Allah’s commands, not due to his own free will, and certainly NOT because he himself had any knowledge of the Unseen (وَمَا فَعَلْتُهُ عَنْ أَمْرِي). In our reverence of Prophets and pious saints, some of us mistakenly go off the right path and start to associate them with Allah, ascribing to them attributes that only Allah possesses. سُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ
A Few More Points to Ponder
The story of Prophet Musa and Al-Khidr is one of my personal favorites in the entire Quran. I feel grateful to Allah that He encouraged us to recite Surah Al-Kahf every Friday, and thus facilitated our reflections upon the four stories He has narrated in it.
Here are a few lessons that I have gleaned from this story:
- The company of the people of knowledge is worthy enough to undertake strenuous travel, even for years (حُقُبًا), in order to access it and benefit from it. It is one of the best means of getting closer to the Divine, especially for us – the Muslim ummah – who believe in the finality of Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم i.e. his being the ‘seal’ of the Prophets. This means that no more Prophets will ever walk the earth after him, and hence we can never hope to benefit from their company. (Just as an aside, Al-Khidr was a Prophet of Allah, just like Prophet Musa’s brother Harun also was, but he was just a نَبِى, not a رَسُول. Yes, there is a difference between the two, and no, I am not going to go into more details about that in this post). However, all praise to Allah, we do have scholars and other اَولِيَآء of Allah among us, and it is very important for us lay-Muslims to realize that the company of such people is like a beacon in pitch darkness: just being with them enlightens their companions, the way the ones sitting close around a candle benefit from its light.
Another point to note, is that Allah does not grant the company of the very special righteous and knowledgeable slaves of His, without a lot of effort on the part of those who sincerely seek it. If this was not the case, then Allah would have just directly and clearly informed Musa where he’d find Al-Khidr, instead of instructing him and Yusha to take along a salted fish, and to keep a keen eye on it to note where it plops off into the sea near the merging-point of sweet and salty waters, leaving behind a tunnel-like path.
- In order to learn from someone who has been blessed with knowledge from the Divine Himself (عَلَّمْنَاهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلْمًا), we must be careful not to show impatience and haste, e.g. by asking unnecessary questions, or frequently criticizing the way they do things. One of the most prominent traits of an ignorant and dumb person is that they ask too many questions, and speak too much like fools, passing unnecessary and idiotic comments about others’ actions, and expressing their unasked-for opinions about those who are more knowledgeable than them, even though no one asks them for their opinions. Remember one thing: the more someone talks, especially in the company of others in a social setting (where people are gathered together), the less knowledge they possess (I am not talking about lectures and classes here, in which the people of knowledge are requested to speak, but what I mean is, informal social get-togethers). Like Al-Khidr, people who have been blessed with knowledge from Allah talk less, and act/observe more: they are deep thinkers and ponderers, and they absolutely hate being asked unnecessary questions. They spend less time in explaining themselves, and instead focus more on doing things according to the pleasure of Allah. They have no patience with fools who keep asking them ignorance-based questions.
- There are many times in life, when events and decrees of Allah appear to us to be grossly ‘harsh’ and ‘unfair’, because we, as mere humans with limited intellect and no knowledge of the future, cannot see beyond the obvious and apparent, and hence do not know that the very things we deem to be unwelcome and unpleasant adversities are actually kindnesses and manifestations of Allah’s mercy upon us.
The devils among the humans and jinns also actively do their bit when disasters and calamities strike, by whispering doubts and evil thoughts about Allah into our minds, in order to make us dislike the decree of Allah, think (and speak) bad things about Him, and express our ‘anger’ at Him like wretched ingrates, whenever something apparently “terrible” happens.
We forget that even if Allah makes us endure any kind of loss, sorrow, illness or pain, it is inherently for our own good in the long-term. Instead of believing that He can never, ever punish us with something we do not deserve, and instead of bringing to mind the innumerable ways we continue to anger and disobey Him, we dare to criticize His decrees, and express our rejection of His religion whenever shocking things happen any where in the world, as if Allah is in any need of our faith, beliefs or worship.
Last but not least, another poignant lesson I have also learned from this story is that the Prophets of Allah were so humble that they immediately apologized to their teachers for their unintentional slips/forgetting the rules, whilst seeking knowledge from them. Are we just as humble when dealing with our teachers and mentors?
Note: I know that the length of my blog posts is increasing with time. Even though I am not happy about this, I have decided not to restrict the flow of my thoughts as I put them into words on my blog. 🙂 I apologize to those of my readers who think my articles are too long.