Shared Prophets

Moses - Strange But True!

Moses and Khidr

The flattering invocation “In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful” headlines 112 of the 114 surahs of the Koran; and in hundreds of revelations Allah will refer to Himself as the Compassionate or the Merciful or both.

Allah is a god who is more into inflicting pain than relieving it, although He promises to spare the believers the scourge of His Fire if they do exactly as they are told. And as to His definition of mercy, it includes the cold-blooded murder of children.

Moses and Khidr is about an expedition to the Red Sea during which Moses will be joined by a person (or angel) named Khidr, a mysterious individual who one Islamic tradition maintains was, at one point in time, the spiritual adviser to Moses. During their time together they will encounter a boy whom Khidr will kill without any hesitation or apparent provocation.

In Islamic tradition, Khidr is alive and well and continues to guide the perplexed and those who invoke his name. Some believe he is an angel who functions as a guide to those who seek God; others believe that he is a perfect Wali, meaning the one whom God has taken as a friend, a Saint.

The story of Moses and Khidr begins with Moses determined to find where the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez meet. Why Moses would want to do this is not mentioned.

18:60 And [remember] when Moses said to his servant (he is believed to be Joshua): “I will not give up until I reach the confluence of the two seas (the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez in the Red Sea), or else walk on for years.”

18:61 Then, when they reached their confluence, they forgot their fish, and thus it slipped into the sea unhindered.

18:62 But when they had passed on, he said to his servant: “Bring us our food; we have been exposed in our travels to a lot of fatigue.”

18:63 He (the servant) said: “Do you see; when we repaired to the rock, I forgot the fish. It was only the Devil who made me forget to mention it; and so it slipped away into the sea in a strange way.”

18:64 He (Moses) said: “This is what we were seeking”; and so they turned back retracing their steps.

18:65 And so, they found one of Our servants whom We had accorded a mercy of our Own and had imparted to him knowledge from Ourselves.

18:66 Moses said to him (Khidr): “Shall I follow you so that you may teach me of the good you have been taught.”

18:67 He (Khidr) said: “You will not be able to bear with me.”

18:68 “And how will you bear with what you have no knowledge of?”

18:69 He (Moses) said: “You will find me, Allah willing, patient and I will not disobey any orders of yours.”

18:70 He said: “If you follow me, do not ask me about anything, until I make mention of it.”

I assumed "retracing their steps" in verse 18:64 to mean Moses and Joshua returned to the coast because in verse 18:71 Moses boards a ship. What happens next requires no explanation.

18:71 So, they set out; but no sooner had they boarded the ship that he made a hole in it. He (Moses) said: “Have you made a hole in it so as to drown its passengers? You have indeed done a grievous thing.”

18:72 He (Khidr) said: “Did I not tell you that you will not be able to bear with me?”

18:73 He (Moses) said: “Do not reproach me for what I have forgotten, and do not overburden me with hardship.”

18:74 Then they departed; but when they met a boy, he (Khidr) killed him. Moses said: “Have you killed an innocent person who has not killed another? You have surely committed a horrible deed.”

18:75 He (Khidr) said: “Did I not tell you that you will not be able to bear with me?”

18:76 He (Moses) said: “If I ask about anything after this, do not keep company with me. You have received an excuse from me.”

18:77 So, they went on, until they reached the inhabitants of a town. Whereupon they asked its inhabitants for food, but they refused to offer them hospitality. Then, they found in it a wall about to fall down, and so he (Khidr) straightened it. He (Moses) said: “Had you wished, you could have been paid for that.”

It is after they reach the town mentioned in verse 18:77 that Khidr explains why he sunk a ship drowning everyone on board and why he killed a seemingly innocent boy.

18:78 He (Khidr) said: “This is where we part company. [Now] I will tell you the interpretation of that which you could not bear patiently with.

The reason Khidr gives for sinking the ship appears, on the surface (no pun intended), to justify taking the lives of the innocent if it means denying your enemy a sought after prize.

18:79 “As for the ship, it belonged to some poor fellows who worked upon the sea. I wanted to damage it, because, on their trail, there was a king, who was seizing every ship by force.

As for the killing of the boy.

18:80 “As for the boy, his parents were believers; so we feared that he might overwhelm them with oppression and unbelief.

18:81 “So we wanted that their Lord might replace him with someone better in purity and closer to mercy.

To paraphrase Khidr; to paraphrase Allah: we killed the boy because his parents were believers and we feared he would convince them to abandon Islam; we killed him so we could give his parents another child who would not abandon the path of Allah and would not condemn his parents to the torments of hell by convincing them to do the same. For Allah, protecting the believers by killing unbelievers with whom they might come into contact and who might inadvertently lead them astray, even their children, is an act of mercy.

The boy murdered by Khidr may not have been actively trying to convert his parents, but his normal familial contact with his mom and dad meant his parents were regularly exposed to other beliefs and other points of view. For an insecure god, this was a dangerous thing and ample justification for murder.

During his time with Moses, Khidr did do what most of us would consider a good deed. Remember the verse about fixing a wall but not asking for any payment. The reason why Khidr did not request any compensation:

18:82 “And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphaned boys in the town; and beneath it was a treasure for both of them. Their father was a righteous man; so your Lord wanted them to come of age and dig up the treasure, as a mercy from the Lord. What I did was not of my own will. This is the interpretation of what you could not bear with patiently.”