Lecture 13 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 17 April 2022
After presenting the background to the story of Prophet Musa (a.s) travelling to find Prophet Khithr (a.s) and his humble requests to learn from him and Prophet Khithr (a.s) having set the condition that Prophet Musa (a.s) should observe patience in the learning process and not question Prophet Khithr (a.s) about his actions until Prophet Khithr (a.s) himself reveals the meaning of his actions, we now get into the details of the three extraordinary incidents that are narrated in the following verses of this Surah.
Note that from here onwards the verses use the dual form of the verb to indicate that there were two people, being Prophet Musa (a.s) and Prophet Khithr (a.s). It probably means that the companion of Prophet Musa (a.s) was not part of the journey or if he was part of the journey, he was not the main character and thus no reference is made of his presence.
PROPHET KHITHR (A.S) DAMAGES A BOAT
Surah Kahf Verse 71 states:
فَانطَلَقَا حَتَّي إِذَا رَكِبَا فِي السَّفِينَةِ خَرَقَهَا قَالَ أَخَرَقْتَهَا لِتُغْرِقَ أَهْلَهَا لَقَدْ جِئْتَ شَيْئاً إِمْراً
“So they twain departed; until, when they embarked upon the ship, he made a hole in it. He (Moses) said: ‘Have you made a hole therein to drown its inmates? You have indeed done a grievous thing’.”
Possibly from the point where they met at the junction of the two seas, they boarded a boat. Prophet Khithr (a.s) made a hole in it while it had passengers. This shocked Prophet Musa (a.s) as this action could drown the passengers. He thus could not keep his patience and immediately questioned this action.
Surah Kahf Verse 72 states:
قَالَ أَلَمْ أَقُلْ إِنَّكَ لَن تَسْتَطِيعَ مَعِيَ صَبْراً
“He said: ‘Did I not say that you could never bear with me patiently?’”
However Prophet Khithr (a.s) immediately reminds him that he forewarned Prophet Musa (a.s) that he would not be patient.
Surah Kahf Verse 73 states:
قَالَ لاَ تُؤَاخِذْنِي بِمَا نَسِيتُ وَلاَ تُرْهِقْنِي مِنْ أَمْرِي عُسْراً
“He said: ‘Do not take me to task that I forgot, and be not hard upon me for my affair’.”
Prophet Musa (a.s) now realizes that he should not have responded and apologized.
PROPHET KHITHR (A.S) KILLS AN APPARENTLY INNOCENT BOY
Surah Kahf Verse 74 states:
فَانطَلَقَا حَتَّي إِذَا لَقِيَا غُلاَماً فَقَتَلَهُ قَالَ أَقَتَلْتَ نَفْساً زَكِيَّةً بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ لَّقَدْ جِئْتَ شَيْئاً نُّكْراً
“So they twain departed; until, when they met a lad, he (Khidr) slew him. He (Moses) said: ‘Slew you an innocent person who had slain none? You have indeed done a horrible thing’.”
They probably were now back on land and met a young boy (ghulaam غلام) who is not yet religiously responsible or at the early stages of adolescence. Suddenly for no apparent reason, Prophet Khithr (a.s) killed the innocent looking boy. This was too much for Prophet Musa (a.s) to bear and he thus reacted again.
The boy did not commit any apparent crime for which death would be justified.
Surah Kahf Verse 75 states:
قَالَ أَلَمْ أَقُل لَّكَ إِنَّكَ لَن تَسْتَطِيعَ مَعِيَ صَبْراً
“He (Khidr) said: ‘Did I not say that you could never bear with me patiently?’”
Prophet Khithr (a.s) again reminded Prophet Musa (a.s) about maintaining patience and adds emphasis for repeating himself by adding “laka” (لك) to his response.
Surah Kahf Verse 76 states:
قَالَ إِن سَأَلْتُكَ عَن شَيْءٍ بَعْدَهَا فَلاَ تُصَاحِبْنِي قَدْ بَلَغْتَ مِن لَدُنّـِي عُذْراً
“He (Moses) said: ‘If I question you on anything after this, then keep me company no more; you have received an excuse from me’.”
Now Prophet Musa (a.s) did not make further excuses for not being patient and accepted that it was wrong to react, but still requested one more opportunity to continue learning. He even added a condition that would count against himself that if he reacted again then Prophet Khithr (a.s) can separate from him.
PROPHET KHITHR (A.S) BUILDS A WALL FOR FREE TO UNWELCOMING PEOPLE
Surah Kahf Verse 77 states:
فَانطَلَقَا حتَّي إِذَآ أَتَيَآ أَهْلَ قَرْيَةٍ اسْتَطْعَمَآ أَهْلَهَا فَاَبَوْا أَن يُضَيّـِفُوهُمَا فَوَجَدَا فِيهَا جِدَاراً يُرِيدُ أَن يَنقَضَّ فَاَقَامَهُ قَالَ لَوْ شِئْتَ لَتَّخَذْتَ عَلَيْهِ أَجْراً
“So they twain departed; until, when they reached the people of a town. They asked its people for food, but they refused to make them guests. Then they found in it a wall about to fall, and he (Khidr) set it up. He (Moses) said: ‘If you had wished you could have taken a wage for it!’”
Interpreters consider the town of Antakiyya to be a possible place that the abovementioned Verse refers to or Eilat which is the port where the two gulfs of Eilat and Suez meet.
Surah Kahf Verse 78 states:
قَالَ هَذَا فِرَاقُ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنِكَ سَأُنَبّـِئُكَ بِتَأْوِيلِ مَا لَمْ تَسْتَطِع عَّلَيْهِ صَبْراً
“He (Khidr) said: ‘This is the separation between me and you. Now I will inform you of the interpretation of what you could not bear patiently’.”
This was it! Prophet Musa (a.s) not maintaining patience resulted in their separation from this point. But before they parted, Prophet Khithr (a.s) now informed Prophet Musa (a.s) about the hidden meanings (“Ta’weel” تأويل) of his actions.
HIDDEN MEANING OF DAMAGING THE BOAT
Surah Kahf Verse 79 states:
أَمَّا السَّفِينَةُ فَكَانَتْ لِمَسَاكِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ فِي الْبَحْرِ فَاَرَدتُّ أَنْ أَعِيبَهَا وَكَانَ وَرَآءَهُم مَّلِكٌ يَأْخُذُ كُلَّ سَفِينَةٍ غَصْباً
“As for the ship, it belonged to (some) poor people working on the sea, and I intended to damage it, for there was after them a king who seized every (safe) ship by force.”
Unbeknown to Prophet Musa (a.s), the boat belonged to poor people who risked losing their boat due to the king of the time usurping every valuable looking boat. By Prophet Khithr (a.s) damaging it, he made the boat unattractive so that it would not be usurped and the poor would not lose their livelihoods.
However, notwithstanding the concern that the poor would lose their livelihoods, what right did that give to Prophet Khithr (a.s) to damage property that did not belong to him?
HIDDEN MEANING OF KILLING THE YOUNG BOY
Surah Kahf Verse 80 states:
وَأَمَّا الْغُلاَمُ فَكَانَ أَبَوَاهُ مُؤْمِنَيْنِ فَخَشِينَآ أَن يُرْهِقَهُمَا طُغْيَاناً وَكُفْراً
“And as for the lad, his parents were believers, and we were afraid he would impose on them insolence and disbelief.”
Prophet Khithr (a.s) feared that this young boy, due to his very bad character, would cause his believing parents to become non believers or would hurt his own parents due to his bad character.
Surah Kahf Verse 81 states:
فَاَرَدْنَآ أَن يُبْدِلَهُمَا رَبُّهُمَا خَيْراً مّـِنْهُ زَكَاةً وَأَقْرَبَ رُحْماً
“So we did intend that their Lord should change him for them for one better in purity and nearer in affection.”
A hadith indicates that, instead of that boy, Allah bestowed this couple of believers a daughter from whose progeny seventy prophets came into being.
Again, notwithstanding the concern for the future actions of the boy, the fact is that he did not yet commit the acts so what right did Prophet Khithr (a.s) have to kill him for a crime that was not yet committed.
HIDDEN MEANING OF BUILDING THE WALL FOR FREE
Surah Kahf Verse 82 states:
وَأَمَّا الْجِدَارُ فَكَانَ لِغُلاَمَيْنِ يَتِيمَيْنِ فِي الْمَدِينَةِ وَكَانَ تَحْتَهُ كَنزٌ لَهُمَا وَكَانَ أَبُوهُمَا صَالِحاً فَاَرَادَ رَبُّكَ أَن يَبْلُغَآ أَشُدَّهُمَا وَيَسْتَخْرِجَا كَنزَهُمَا رَحْمَةً مِن رَّبّـِكَ وَمَا فَعَلْتُهُ عَنْ أَمْرِي ذَلِكَ تَأْوِيلُ مَا لَمْ تَسْطِع عَّلَيْهِ صَبْراً
“And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and beneath it there was a treasure belonging to them, and their father was a righteous man, so your Lord willed that they should attain their maturity and take out their treasure as a mercy from your Lord, and I did not do it of my own accord. This is the interpretation of what you could not bear patiently.”
If the wall had been left unattended, then it would collapse and the hidden treasure belonging to the orphans would be exposed and potentially stolen, thus the wall was built for free to protect the wealth of the orphans.
Prophet Khithr (a.s) makes an important concluding point by saying that he did not act out of his own accord but was doing so based upon the command of Almighty Allah.
ADDRESSING A PLETHORA OF OUTSTANDING QUESTIONS – WHO WAS PROPHET KHITHR (A.S)?
Having reached this point in the discussion, there are still outstanding questions to answer, one of which is who was Prophet Khithr (a.s) himself.
Some scholars believe that he was an extraordinary pious spiritual person and that Almighty Allah was extraordinarily kind towards him special knowledge and special status while NOT being a Prophet.
However the view of the majority of the scholars is that he was certainly a Prophet who had a very long life and some further believe that he is still alive and will be the first person who will support Imam Mahdi (a.s) when he returns from occultation.
He was called Khithr because it comes from “kh-tha-ra” (خضر) which means green as he was so spiritually blessed such that whenever he raised his hands in dua in a place, that the entire valley would become green through the blessing of his existence.
HOW DOES AN ULUL ATHAM PROPHET LEARN FROM A PROPHET WITH LOWER STATUS?
This question is among the very difficult questions to untangle. Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli explains that the Quran explains the relationship of Prophets with each other on three levels.
Firstly it mentions that we don’t make distinction between the Messengers. In Surah Baqarah Verse 285 it states:
لانُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِّن رُّسُلِهِ
“We make no difference between any of His Messengers”
This is in the sense that they share in the commonality of being a Messenger of Allah to mankind. This is irrespective of how vast or limited their mission was. In conveying Allah’s Message they are all trustworthy. They are all equal in this sense.
Then on a second level Almighty Allah says that He has favoured some Messengers above others.
In Surah Baqarah Verse 253 it states:
تِلْكَ الرُّسُلُ فَضَّلْنَا بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَى بَعْضٍ مِّنْهُم مَّن كَلَّمَ اللّهُ وَرَفَعَ بَعْضَهُمْ دَرَجَاتٍ
“These are the Messengers We have made some of whom excel the others; of them are some to whom Allah has spoken, and some of them He has raised in degrees”
This Verse clearly says that the Messengers are not equal as some excel others and are raised in degrees. A similar point is made in Surah Israa Verse 55 which states:
وَلَقَدْ فَضَّلْنَا بَعْضَ النَّبِيّـِينَ عَلَي بَعْضٍ وءَاتَيْنَا دَاوُدَ زَبُوراً
“We have made some of the Prophets excel others, and to David We gave ‘Zabūr’.”
So on one level they are all the same and on another level some are higher than others. This is how we have Ulul Atham Prophets too being Prophet Muhammad (sawa), Prophet Musa (a.s), Prophet Eesa (a.s), Prophet Nuh (a.s) & Prophet Ibrahim (a.s).
Then a third level exists in the relationship between Prophets which is referred to as “Tamaa-yuz” (تمايز) or distinction whereby one Prophet excels in one field while another Prophet excels in another field. They are equal in a sense and distinct from each other at the same time.
So based upon numerous Ahadith we learn that the relationship between Prophet Musa (a.s) and Prophet Khithr (a.s) was one of Tamaa-yuz whereby Prophet Musa (a.s) was more learned in Shariah whereas Prophet Khithr (a.s) was more learned in Ilmu-Ta’weel or interpreting the secrets of the universe. Prophet Musa (a.s) did not come to learn Shariah from Prophet Khithr (a.s) but came to learn Ilmu-Ta’weel.
So Prophet Musa (a.s) was still overall higher than Prophet Khithr (a.s) but Prophet Khithr (a.s) had a speciality in that he had Special Servitude, Special Mercy and Direct Knowledge (Ilmun Ladun) as previously discussed.
But as a Prophet and Messenger, knowledgeable on Shariah and a leader, Prophet Musa (a.s) is much higher than Prophet Khithr (a.s).
The overall lesson is that no matter how high one is overall, one should be humble before someone that is better than you in a particular sphere.
WHAT IS THE CORE LESSON IN THIS STORY?
The core lesson is that this world that we live in has secrets in that it has a face that we see and a face that is unseen which is behind it that we don’t always have access to. The Quran repeatedly reminds us that we don’t always understand the hidden meanings of matters. One example was when we discussed the commandments of the Shariah whereby we don’t know the reason why sometimes we are commanded to perform 2 units of prayer and other times 3 units of prayer, etc.
In Surah Nisaa, when Almighty Allah instructs how inheritance should be divided whereby male heirs get double the share of the females, verse 11 concludes by saying:
لاَ تَدْرُونَ أَيُّهُمْ أَقْرَبُ لَكُمْ نَفْعاً
“You do not know which of them is more beneficial for you”.
Again the point is we do not have knowledge of the hidden meaning of these instructions and our responsibility is to surrender to these commands.
Almighty Allah also says in Surah Baqarah Verse 216 the following:
وَعَسَى أَن تَكْرَهُواْ شَيْئًا وَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ وَعَسَى أَن تُحِبُّواْ شَيْئًا وَهُوَ شَرٌّ لَّكُمْ
“Yet it may happen that you dislike a thing while it is good for you; and it may happen that you love a thing while it is evil for you”
There is a world behind this world that we don’t see!
In the next session we will reconcile the views of Prophet Musa (a.s) to that of the actions of Prophet Khithr (a.s) and see the two distinct perspectives that each represents. In so doing we will answer the important outstanding questions that remain, some of which were alluded to in this speech, In-sha’Allah.
Part 14 in this series continues tomorrow In-sha’Allah.
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