Lecture 12 in Tafseer series on Surah Kahf in Month of Ramadaan delivered by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider at Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town on 15 April 2022
The next batch of verses in this Surah focus on a conversation that occurred between two great servants of Allah – Prophet Musa (a.s) and Prophet Khithr (a.s). This exchange between these two personalities appears to be a very strange to the extent that Prophet Musa (a.s) is shocked and this indicates how shocking we will find it too and find the details thereof difficult to absorb which will solicit many questions.
It should be noted that there are answers to all the questions that may arise from this story but it requires sabr (patience) as Prophet Khithr repeatedly advised Prophet Musa (a.s) to be patient for the answer!
The common fibre between the three major stories in this Surah, whether it’s the story of the Companions of the Cave or this story of Prophet Musa (a.s) and Prophet Khithr (a.s) or the upcoming story of Thul Qarnayn – all three stories have some extraordinary phenomenon in them. Each story has an apparent face and a hidden face.
BACKGROUND TO STORY OF PROPHET MUSA (A.S) SEEKING TO LEARN FROM PROPHET KHITHR (A.S)
Surah Kahf Verse 60 states:
وإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَي لِفَتَاهُ لآ أَبْرَحُ حَتَّي أَبْلُغَ مَجْمَعَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ أَوْ أَمْضِيَ حُقُباً
“And (remember) when Moses said to his young companion: ‘I will not cease until I reach the Junction of the two Seas, though I go on for years.
“Fatah” (فتى) literally means young man but in the previous story of the Companions of the Cave we learnt that it also means people with a youthful spirit.
“Huqub” (حقب) means a long time and some have interpreted it to mean 80 years for example.
So Prophet Musa (a.s) was extremely determined to undertake a long journey in search of finding the place where the two seas meet.
Some commentators think that the Musa referred to in this story is someone other than Prophet Musa (a.s). However that is not plausible as the name Musa is referred to 136 times in the Quran and it always is known to specifically refer to Prophet Musa (a.s), the Ulul Atham Prophet who was the son of Imraan.
The Quran does not give the identity of who the young companion was but the hadith narrations indicate that it was Yusha ibn Nun who was a great believer and from among the great personalities of the Bani Israeel.
Regarding which two seas are referred to, a Capetonian might think it’s the famous Cape Agulhus where the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean meet, but that’s not plausible as it was very far from where Prophet Musa (a.s) lived.
While much discussion exists about which merging of two seas is referred to as the Middle East has a number of possibilities, the most likely possibility, based upon research is the merging of the Gulf of Aqaba (also known as Gulf of Eilat) and the Gulf of Suez at the Red Sea.
This story is widely recorded in Sunni and Shia books including Bukhari. Ubay ibn Ka’b is one of the narrators from Prophet Muhammad (sawa).
It is narrated that one day Prophet Musa (a.s) was giving a sermon when someone in the audience asked him who was the most knowledgeable person on the earth.
In response Prophet Musa (a.s) said he was most knowledgeable whereas he should have said that Almighty Allah knows best. Consequently Jibreel (a.s) immediately brought him revelation to indicate this.
Prophet Musa (a.s) then humbly sought Divine guidance regarding who was the most knowledgeable person on the earth and was informed that it was Khithr (a.s). In response Prophet Musa (a.s) then sought to learn from him and enquired the address of where to find Khithr (a.s).
He was then informed that he should travel to the point where the two seas meet.
But this occurs in various places and in any case the place where two seas meet itself is also vast, so how would he know that he came to the exact correct address? He was then informed that the fish he was carrying in his basket would disappear in a strange manner and that would be the exact place to find Khithr (a.s).
Thus Prophet Musa (a.s) set out to travel to find Prophet Khithr (a.s) and took Yusha ibn Nun along with him.
WHY SATAN CAUSED THEM TO MISS THE SIGN
Surah Kahf Verse 61 states:
فَلَمَّا بَلَغَا مَجْمَعَ بَيْنِهِمَا نَسِيَا حُوتَهُمَا فَاتَّخَذَ سَبِيلَهُ فِي الْبَحْرِ سَرَباً
“Then when they reached the Junction, they forgot their fish, and it took its way into the sea, going away.”
When they reached the correct location, the extraordinary promised sign of the fish dissapearing actually occurred, but they missed it!
That is because the young companion is the one who actually saw the fish disappear and immediately came to inform Prophet Musa (a.s). However he found him sleeping and did not want to disturb him and resolved to inform him later. However he forgot to do so.
Surah Kahf Verse 62 states:
فَلَمَّا جَاوَزَا قَالَ لِفَتَاهُ ءَاتِنَا غَدَآءَنَا لَقَدْ لَقِينَا مِن سَفَرِنَا هَذَا نَصَباً
“Then when they had passed (the seaside), Moses said unto his young companion: ‘Bring us our morning meal. Indeed we have met from this our journey weariness’.”
When they had passed the point where the miracle of the fish becoming alive occurred, the actual event becomes known as they were hungry and Prophet Musa (a.s) requested that his young companion to bring their lunch to eat. It is at this point that the young companion remembers that he forgot to inform Prophet Musa (a.s) about the miracle of the fish coming to life.
Surah Kahf Verse 63 states:
قَالَ أَرَأَيْتَ إِذْ أَوَيْنَآ إِلَي الصَّخْرَةِ فإِنّـِي نَسِيتُ الْحُوتَ وَمَآ أَنْسَانِيهُ إِلاَّ الشَّيْطَانُ أَن أَذْكُرَهُ وَاتَّخَذَ سَبِيلَهُ فِي الْبَحْرِ عَجَباً
“He said: ‘Did you see, when we took refuge on the rock? Then verily I forgot (to tell you the jump of) the fish and nothing made me forget to mention of it but the Satan; and it took its way into the sea in a marvelous manner!’”
According to Imam Baqir (a.s) it was a salted fish that the young companion took to wash in the sea at which point the fish disappeared into the sea.
Why did satan cause them to miss the miraculous sign? It was to delay Prophet Musa (a.s)’s opportunity to meet and acquire knowledge from Prophet Khithr (a.s)!
Surah Kahf Verse 64 states:
قَالَ ذَلِكَ مَا كُنَّا نَبْغِ فَارْتَدَّا عَلَي ءَاثَارِهِمَا قَصَصاً
“He (Moses) said: ‘That was what we were seeking for!’ So they returned, retracing their footsteps.”
So when Prophet Musa (a.s) was informed that the fish disappeared, he immediately knew that they had found the correct address where Prophet Khithr (a.s) was located. So they back tracked to the same rock where the fish mysteriously disappeared.
IMPORTANCE OF SEEKING KNOWLEDGE
We learn various lessons from the abovementioned verses some of which are:
– Seeking knowledge is important – even for a Prophet – even if it involves travelling – even if it involves searching for many years
– The student is meant to go to the teacher – it should not be expected for the teacher to come to the student. The thirsty one should go to the water, it should not be expected that the water comes to the thirsty one!
– Prophet Musa (a.s) is among the elite Ulul Atham Prophets and his name is mentioned 136 times in Quran. Eventhough this is the case, his knowledge is still limited and even he has room for further development in terms of knowledge acquisition.
INTRODUCING KHITHR (A.S) AS A SERVANT OF ALMIGHTY ALLAH
Surah Kahf Verse 65 states:
فَوَجَدَا عَبْداً مِنْ عِبَادِنَآ ءَاتَيْنَاهُ رَحْمَةً مِنْ عِندِنَا وَعَلَّمْنَاهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلْماً
“Then they found one of Our servants unto whom We had given mercy from Us, and We had taught him knowledge from Our presence.”
The teacher of Prophet Musa (a.s) is not introduced by name in this Surah- we know his name from the Ahadith literature. However he is introduced in the most fascinating manner using Sublime Attributes.
Firstly he is said to be a “servant” from among Almighty Allah’s servants. An Ulul Atham Prophet was instructed to learn from him due to this great status of being a servant of Almighty Allah. This gives us a clear message that the status of Ubudiyyat or servitude is the highest status that one can achieve. To reach a level of real servitude is very important.
Many years ago there was a conference on Nahjul Balagha, which is a book compiled by Syed Razi which contains the sermons, letters and short sayings of Imam Ali (a.s). Imam Khomeini was requested to give an introductory message wherein he said that there is no better Attribute by which to describe Imam Ali (a.s) than the title “Abd-ullah” or “Servant of Allah”.
Secondly Prophet Khithr (a.s) is described as receiving Mercy “from Us” (من عندنا) – the usage of this term “from Us” indicates the special nature of the Mercy being from very close proximity to Almighty Allah. Some interpreters consider this Mercy to be Prophethood. However on a more deep level, this Mercy refers to his readiness and capacity to receive the Divine Realities or Truth.
Thirdly he has been taught knowledge “from Ourselves” (من لدنا) which is a very special direct knowledge from Almighty Allah without any intermediary. This is different to the acquisition of conceptual knowledge through the means of our senses and rational faculties.
Imam Saadiq (a.s) was asked how it is that the Quran seems to portray Prophet Khithr (a.s) as being higher than Prophet Musa (a.s) who was an Ulul Atham Prophet. The Imam replied that Prophet Musa (a.s) was more knowledgeable in matters of Shariah whereas Prophet Khithr (a.s) was more knowledgeable in other spheres of knowledge (probably referring to mystical knowledge and secrets of the universe).
PROPHET MUSA (A.S)’S SUBLIME ETIQUETTE IN PRESENCE OF HIS TEACHER
Surah Kahf Verse 66 states:
قَالَ لَهُ مُوسَي هَلْ أَتَّبِعُكَ عَلَي أَن تُعَلّـِمَنِ مِمَّا عُلّـِمْتَ رُشْداً
“Moses said to him (Khidr): ‘Shall I follow you so that you teach me right conduct of what you have been taught?’”
The manner in which Prophet Musa (a.s) engages with his teacher and the Sublime Etiquette that he observes are deep lessons for seekers of knowledge.
As we said earlier, even infallible Prophets still progress, but are different to us in that their progress only starts at the point that our progress ends.
Often people think that Imam Husayn (a.s) was the same before and after Karbala. This is not true. While is was undoubtedly great before Karbala in that he was an infallible Imam and had many other known excellences, however after Karbala his status increased further. That’s how we say in one of the sentences of his Ziyarah:
اَلسَّلاَمُ عَلَيْكَ يَا ثَارَ ٱللَّهِ
“Peace be upon you oh Blood of Allah” whereby his blood is considered to be the “Blood” of Allah.
Prophet Musa (a.s) asks in a most polite manner whether he can follow his teacher – he does not demand to be taught! He asks to walk behind his teacher. Humility before one’s teacher is the key to knowledge. If one is rude to his teacher, he will never learn.
THE TEACHER KNOWS THE CAPACITY OF THEIR STUDENTS
Surah Kahf Verse 67 states:
قَالَ إِنَّكَ لَن تَسْتَطِيعَ مَعِيَ صَبْراً
“He said: ‘Verily you will not be able to bear with me patiently’.”
A teacher knows the capacity of his student! Prophet Khithr (a.s) knew that Prophet Musa (a.s) will not be able to handle the actions of Prophet Khithr (a.s) and thus his first response to Prophet Musa (a.s)’s request to learn was questioning his level of patience and setting some boundaries before teaching him. This response was also based upon Prophet Khithr (a.s)’s ability to see the future.
There’s a very important lesson to learn here and that is that patient perseverance (sabr) is a basic condition of seeking knowledge. You will never be able to understand everything from day one.
There are many things that you will have to accept from your teacher in the early stages of learning and only once you reach and evolve to a certain level of discernment will it be appropriate to ask questions. If you just question everything at the start you will get nowhere as there are certain secrets which the teacher knows that you are not yet familiar with.
One should also not be judgmental based upon the external view of matters but be patient to discover the hidden picture which will bring you to a different conclusion!
Surah Kahf Verse 68 states:
وَكَيْفَ تَصْبِرُ عَلَي مَا لَمْ تُحِطْ بِهِ خُبْراً
“And how can you be patient about what you have not got any comprehensive knowledge?”
Due to Prophet Musa (a.s) not knowing the hidden meaning of Prophet Khithr (a.s)’s action, he is being foretold that he will find it unbearable.
Surah Kahf Verse 69 states:
قَالَ سَتَجِدُنِي إِن شَآءَ اللَّهُ صَابِراً وَلآ أَعْصِي لَكَ أَمْراً
“He (Moses) said: ‘Allah willing, you shall find me patient, and I shall not disobey you in any matter’,”
Prophet Musa (a.s) continues to respond with absolute humility by saying he will be patient in future but conditioning it on the will of Allah and promising never to disobey his teacher.
Surah Kahf Verse 70 states:
قَالَ فإِنِ اتَّبَعْتَنِي فَلاَ تَسْأَلْنِي عَن شَيْءٍ حَتَّي اُحْدِثَ لَكَ مِنْهُ ذِكْراً
“He (Khidr) said: ‘If you follow me. Then do not question me of any thing until I myself speak to you about it’.”
Prophet Khithr (a.s) placed the abovementioned closing condition before agreeing that Prophet Musa (a.s) follows him.
In the next lecture we get into the details of the journey of Prophet Musa (a.s) with Prophet Khithr (a.s).
Part 13 in this series continues tomorrow In-sha’Allah.
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