Key lessons from the three puzzling events in the story of Al-Khidr with Musa (peace be upon them) in Surat al-Kahf
The story of Al-Khidr and Musa (peace be upon them) in Surat al-Kahf contains three important events, each with valuable life lessons that we can learn from.
Following a long and arduous journey, Musa (peace be upon him) finally tracked down Al Khidr who was a prophet, who had been granted special insights from Allah. Musa, who was a messenger (a prophet sent with a shariah), was very eager to learn from him as he had been told that he was the most knowledgeable person alive.
[Moses] said, “That is what we were seeking.” So they returned, following their footprints.
فَوَجَدَا عَبۡدٗا مِّنۡ عِبَادِنَآ ءَاتَيۡنَٰهُ رَحۡمَةٗ مِّنۡ عِندِنَا وَعَلَّمۡنَٰهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلۡمٗا
Moses said to him, “May I follow you on [the condition] that you teach me from what you have been taught of sound judgement?”
قَالَ إِنَّكَ لَن تَسۡتَطِيعَ مَعِيَ صَبۡرٗا
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?”
قَالَ سَتَجِدُنِيٓ إِن شَآءَ ٱللَّهُ صَابِرٗا وَلَآ أَعۡصِي لَكَ أَمۡرٗا
[Moses] said, “You will find me, if Allah wills, patient, and I will not disobey you in [any] order.”
قَالَ فَإِنِ ٱتَّبَعۡتَنِي فَلَا تَسۡـَٔلۡنِي عَن شَيۡءٍ حَتَّىٰٓ أُحۡدِثَ لَكَ مِنۡهُ ذِكۡرٗا
He said, “Then if you follow me, do not ask me about anything until I make to you about it mention.” [18:64-70]
Protecting the Ship
Musa and Al-Khidr boarded a new ship. The owners of the ship were very poor and they offered them a ride for free because Al Khidr was well known in the area. Al Khidr made a hole in a ship at sea, which seemed like a strange thing to do. This made Musa upset as he could not understand why Khidr had repaid their kindness by damaging their ship. He could not restrain his annoyance and Al Khidr replied that he knew that Musa would not be able to contain himself and would question his wisdom.
Al Khidr in fact had taken a brave decision. His intention was to protect the poor owners from their unjust ruler. By causing minor damage to the ship, he prevented the oppressive king from seizing the entire vessel, thereby saving the owners’ source of livelihood. Al Khidr could have left the ship in good condition and it would have been taken from them, or he could cause a minor harm to their ship to prevent them losing their livelihood and repel the greater harm.
أَمَّا ٱلسَّفِينَةُ فَكَانَتۡ لِمَسَٰكِينَ يَعۡمَلُونَ فِي ٱلۡبَحۡرِ فَأَرَدتُّ أَنۡ أَعِيبَهَا وَكَانَ وَرَآءَهُم مَّلِكٞ يَأۡخُذُ كُلَّ سَفِينَةٍ غَصۡبٗا
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. [18:79]
This is a lesson that we can learn from him and opt for the lesser of two evils and avert the greater evil. For instance, if someone is dying, they are permitted to consume the impermissible to stay alive – such as a dead animal. Another scenario is during election times, when we have two bad candidates, then we have to choose the less evil candidate.
We also learn from this that we have to take decisions in time, and we have to have the courage to take them. Al Khidr did not hesitate. Thirdly we also see the importance of maintaining secrecy. When you have a critical decision to take, don’t publicise it or broadcast it on social media. This is how you keep control over your matters, otherwise you lose control. We notice in the Hadith Jibreel that when Jibreel entered in the shape of a man, Umar know that he was a stranger, because they kept an eye on everyone and had a secret code with which they communicated so they had security in their mosque. They used a special code and communicated with their looks and that is how they kept the worshippers safe.
Al Khidr was looking at the bigger picture and Musa was judging from the surface. When we see the bigger picture our understanding, direction and choices are different. It requires patience go look deeper. Musa was not a very patient person; he would get angry, so Allah Almighty was teaching him patience through the extraordinary company of Al Khidr.
- Sometimes, preventing a greater harm requires accepting a lesser harm.
- Making timely decisions before it is too late requires courage.
- Emotions should not dictate critical decisions.
- Trusting in God’s plan can save us even in the most challenging situations.
- Some tasks require secrecy to achieve their purpose.
- Responding to kindness with greater kindness and offering superior service in return.
- Judging based on appearances alone can lead to misunderstandings, and missing the true nature of the matter.
The Fate of the Young Boy
In another event, Al-Khidr took the life of a young boy, which may appear shocking. However, his action was to prevent the boy from causing grief and corruption to his believing parents as he grew up.
فَٱنطَلَقَا حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا رَكِبَا فِي ٱلسَّفِينَةِ خَرَقَهَاۖ قَالَ أَخَرَقۡتَهَا لِتُغۡرِقَ أَهۡلَهَا لَقَدۡ جِئۡتَ شَيۡـًٔا إِمۡرٗا
So they set out, until when they had embarked on the ship, al-Khidh tore it open. [Moses] said, “Have you torn it open to drown its people? You have certainly done a grave thing.”
قَالَ أَلَمۡ أَقُلۡ إِنَّكَ لَن تَسۡتَطِيعَ مَعِيَ صَبۡرٗا
[Khidr] said, “Did I not say that with me you would never be able to have patience?”
قَالَ لَا تُؤَاخِذۡنِي بِمَا نَسِيتُ وَلَا تُرۡهِقۡنِي مِنۡ أَمۡرِي عُسۡرٗا
[Moses] said, “Do not blame me for what I forgot and do not cover me in my matter with difficulty.”
فَٱنطَلَقَا حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا لَقِيَا غُلَٰمٗا فَقَتَلَهُۥ قَالَ أَقَتَلۡتَ نَفۡسٗا زَكِيَّةَۢ بِغَيۡرِ نَفۡسٖ لَّقَدۡ جِئۡتَ شَيۡـٔٗا نُّكۡرٗا
So they set out, until when they met a boy, al-Khidh killed him. [Moses] said, “Have you killed a pure soul for other than [having killed] a soul? You have certainly done a deplorable thing.”
۞قَالَ أَلَمۡ أَقُل لَّكَ إِنَّكَ لَن تَسۡتَطِيعَ مَعِيَ صَبۡرٗا
[Khidr] said, “Did I not tell you that with me you would never be able to have patience?” [18:71-75]
وَأَمَّا ٱلۡغُلَٰمُ فَكَانَ أَبَوَاهُ مُؤۡمِنَيۡنِ فَخَشِينَآ أَن يُرۡهِقَهُمَا طُغۡيَٰنٗا وَكُفۡرٗا
And as for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared that he would overburden them by transgression and disbelief.
فَأَرَدۡنَآ أَن يُبۡدِلَهُمَا رَبُّهُمَا خَيۡرٗا مِّنۡهُ زَكَوٰةٗ وَأَقۡرَبَ رُحۡمٗا
So we intended that their Lord should substitute for them one better than him in purity and nearer to mercy. [18:80-81]
- Killing is prohibited, but the One who granted life has the authority to take it back.
- Submitting to Allah’s command, being obedient and trusting His wisdom is essential.
- Have faith in Allah’s commands, knowing they are rooted in wisdom.
- Emotions should not govern our actions, as we have to prioritise Allah’s orders.
- Sacrifice can be a test of true faith.
- Righteous parents may face trials. In this story it was through the loss of a disobedient child.
- Allah honoured the patient parents by replacing their lost child with a righteous one.
- Allah saved the parents from the suffering that would have been caused by the tyranny and disbelief of their child as a mercy.
- The righteousness of the child is more important than the child himself.
- The most important qualities of a righteous child are good character and mercy.
- The righteousness of parents is not a guarantee of the righteousness of their children.
Strengthening the Wall
Al-Khidr repaired a wall in a village that had treated them poorly and not hosted them as they should. The wall belonged to two orphan boys, and beneath it was a hidden treasure, reserved for them as an inheritance from their righteous father. Strengthening the wall was a gesture to honour their father.
فَٱنطَلَقَا حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَآ أَتَيَآ أَهۡلَ قَرۡيَةٍ ٱسۡتَطۡعَمَآ أَهۡلَهَا فَأَبَوۡاْ أَن يُضَيِّفُوهُمَا فَوَجَدَا فِيهَا جِدَارٗا يُرِيدُ أَن يَنقَضَّ فَأَقَامَهُۥۖ قَالَ لَوۡ شِئۡتَ لَتَّخَذۡتَ عَلَيۡهِ أَجۡرٗا
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.” [18:77]
وَأَمَّا ٱلۡجِدَارُ فَكَانَ لِغُلَٰمَيۡنِ يَتِيمَيۡنِ فِي ٱلۡمَدِينَةِ وَكَانَ تَحۡتَهُۥ كَنزٞ لَّهُمَا وَكَانَ أَبُوهُمَا صَٰلِحٗا فَأَرَادَ رَبُّكَ أَن يَبۡلُغَآ أَشُدَّهُمَا وَيَسۡتَخۡرِجَا كَنزَهُمَا رَحۡمَةٗ مِّن رَّبِّكَۚ وَمَا فَعَلۡتُهُۥ عَنۡ أَمۡرِيۚ ذَٰلِكَ تَأۡوِيلُ مَا لَمۡ تَسۡطِع عَّلَيۡهِ صَبۡرٗا
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 of my own accord. That is the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience.” [18:82]
- The righteousness of parents and their service to God can have an impact on their children even after they pass away.
- Those who serve others will be served in return.
- The definition of an orphan is a child who has lost their father and not reached adulthood.
- The righteousness of parents does not guarantee the righteousness of their children.
- Understanding the importance of caring for orphans and showing them compassion.
- Lawful earnings are protected by God for their rightful owners.
- Allah’s mercy is evident in His care and protection for orphans.
- Whoever follows God’s commands will receive His protection in their wealth and offspring.
The story of Al-Khidr and Moses in Surat al-Kahf provides profound insights and wisdom. It teaches us to make decisions wisely, to prioritise Allah’s commands over our emotions, and to trust in His plan even in difficult circumstances. The story also emphasizes the significance of righteousness, compassion, and kindness towards others, particularly those in need, and the lasting impact of our actions on future generations. By reflecting on these lessons, we can strive to lead better, more fulfilling lives guided by faith and goodness.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim 4th August 2023
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