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The story of Moses (a.s) and Al-Khidr in the Quran – Part 3
Al-Khidr’s strange actions and Moses’ (a.s) impatience with these actions and not remaining silent
In continuation of the previous verses, the Quran says: “So they set out, until when they had embarked on the ship, Al-Khidr scuttled it. [Moses] said, "Have you scuttled it to drown its people? You have certainly done a grave thing. Said, "Did I not say that with me you would never be able to have patience?"[Moses] said, "Do not blame me for what I forgot and do not cover me in my matter with difficulty. “So they set out, until when they met a boy, Al-Khidr killed him. [Moses] said, "Have you killed a pure soul for other than having killed a soul? You have certainly done a deplorable thing." Again Al-Khidr said, "Did I not tell you that with me you would never be able to have patience?"[Moses] said, "If I should ask you about anything after this, then do not keep me as a companion. You have obtained from me an excuse. “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-Khidr restored it. [Moses] said, "If you wished, you could have taken for it a payment." Al-Khidr said, "This is parting between me and you. I will inform you of the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience.” (Surah Al-Kahf-verses 71-78)
Scuttling the ship
Moses along with this scholar (Al-Khidr) proceeded until they embarked on the ship. The Quran says: “So they set out, until when they had embarked on the ship.” From this moment on, we observe that in all cases the Quran uses an Arabic pronoun (a kind of pronoun for referring to two people) which refers to Moses and the scholar. It indicates that the mission of Joshua who was accompanying him was finished there and he returned or since he did not play an important role in this story, he was ignored, though he was accompanying him in all events. However, it has to be said that the first option seems to be more likely. Allameh Tabatabaei says that regarding the two previous statements the sentence “So they set out” is subsidiary and it means that Moses and Al-Khidr proceeded. This sentence indicates that from this moment on, the young man who was accompanying Moses and Ali-Khidr left them. Anyhow, when they embarked on the ship, the scholar scuttled the ship! As Raghib says: The Arabic equivalent which has been used for the term “scuttled” is “tore it open” and it means to tear something open thoughtlessly and it has to be said that this scholar had apparently performed such as action.
Moses’ objection against scuttling the ship
Since from one hand, Moses was a great prophet of Allah and had to protect the people’s life and property and Command the good and forbid the evil, and from the other hand his conscience did not allow him to remain silent against such a grave action, he forgot his promise to Al-Khidr and started to object to him and said: “Have you scuttled it to drown its people? You have certainly done a grave thing.” There was no doubt that the scholar was not intended to drown the people in the ship, however, since the result of this action was nothing but drowning the people, Moses said such a statement. It is exactly like when you tell a person who over-indulges in eating: Are you going to kill yourself?! Definitely, he does not have such an intention but his action may have such a result. The Arabic equivalent for the word “thing” is used for referring to a surprising or a grave action and indeed, Khidr’s action was apparently such an action. What action could be more dangerous than scuttling a ship while there are many people on board?! According to some Hadiths the people who were on the ship very soon recognized the danger and hence, they temporarily filled the gap with an instrument but it was no longer a safe ship.
Al-Khidr’s response to Moses’s objection
Moses who regretted that due to the significance of the incident he had naturally acted hastily, remembered his promise and decided to apologize Al-Khidr. Accordingly he said to his master: “Do not blame me for what I forgot and do not cover me in my matter with difficulty”. It means that I made a mistake and it was over, but you do me a favor and forgive me magnanimously. The Arabic equivalent for the term “do not cover me” means to cover something with rage and dominance. Additionally, sometimes it means a duty. The meaning of the above mentioned sentence is that: “Do not cover me in my matter with difficulty and do not stop forgiving me for what I did.” Allameh Tabatabaei says that the root of the Arabic equivalent of the term “cover” means to dominate by force and this sentence means that: “Do not blame me for forgetting and neglecting to fulfill my promise and do not cover me in my matter with difficulty.” However, forgetting the promise might have been interpreted as an intentional action, so the first exegesis is more obvious and anyhow this sentence refers to Moses’ apology.
Al-Khidr’s act of killing a child
When their voyage was finished, they got of the ship and proceeded. On the way, they met a child but the scholar immediately killed him. In this regard the Quran says: “So they set out, until when they met a boy, Al-Khidr killed him.” In this sentence the Arabic equivalent for the term “he killed him” indicates that the main point of this statement is Moses’ objection and not the story of killing the child. The same issue is apparent in the next verses in which the Quran says: “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-Khidr restored it. [Moses] said, "If you wished, you could have taken for it a payment."” Accordingly, it is unlike the previous verse in which the Quran says: “So they set out, until when they had embarked on the ship, Al-Khidr scuttled it. [Moses] said” because the sentence “[Moses] said, "Have you scuttled it to drown its people? You have certainly done a grave thing” is a separate statement. Therefore, the purpose of this story is relating a story in which Moses has three times objected to Al-Khidr and one after another. As a result it has to be said that the purpose of this story has not been relating three stories that in all of which Moses has made an objection to Al-Khidr but this story mentions some events along with Moses’s objection to Al-Khidr again and again and even for three times. So, the purpose and the main point of this verse is indicating that Moses has three times made an objection to Al-Khidr and not relating Al-Khidr’s actions and Moses’s objection to him. Additionally, it is not three separate stories.
Moses’ reaction and objection against killing the child
Here again Moses became angry. The reason lied in the fact that, observing the terrible scene of killing an innocent child without any reason or authorization was not something to be tolerated. He became furious, as if a dust of sorrow and dissatisfaction had covered his eyes. He became so furious that again he haf forgot his promise and had made an objection to Al-Khidr. An objection which was more severe that first one because this incident was more terrible than the first one. Accordingly Moses said: “Have you killed a pure soul for other than having killed a soul? You have certainly done a deplorable thing.”
The Arabic equivalent for the term “boy” refers to a very young person whether he is mature or immature. There are controversies among the commentators regarding the fact that whether the boy who was killed by the scholar had been mature or immature. Some commentators believe that the term “pure soul” indicates that he had not been a mature boy. Allameh Tabatabaei believes that the term “pure” in the sentence “pure soul” means that he was an innocent boy, because the one who was killed by Al-Khidr was a child and according to the Arabic equivalent for the term “boy” which referred to a very young person, he had not reached maturity, thus Moses’s question had been a rhetorical question. Some commentators also believe that the term “for other than having killed a soul” indicates that he had been a mature boy because Qisas (Equal Retaliation) is only permitted for those who are mature but overall, by only considering the verse, it cannot certainly be judged in this regard. Allameh Tabatabaei says that the sentence “other than having killed a soul” means having not killed someone to be sentenced to Equal Retaliation, because an immature child has killed no one. Perhaps the sentence “other than having killed a soul” means that the first soul also refers to a mature child and that the boy who was killed by Al-Khidr was a mature person. It has to be said that the Arabic equivalent for the term “boy” refers both to a mature and an immature person and therefore, it possibly means “Have you killed a pure soul without any equal retaliation?”
The effect of using the Arabic equivalent for the term “deplorable” which means “prohibited and evil” on Al-Khidr was more severe that the term “grave” which was used in the story of scuttling the ship and it has to be mentioned that its reason was very clear. Because, his first action made a dangerous condition for a group of people but very soon they recognized the danger and solved the problem. However, in the second action he had presumably committed a crime. Allameh Tabatabaei says that the sentence “You have certainly done a deplorable thing” means that you have done a prohibited and evil action which is unacceptable by the human essence and society. If he believed that scuttling the ship was a dangerous action which would cause serious hardship and if he also believed that killing an innocent youth was a prohibited and evil action, it was due to the fact that people regarded killing a person more dangerous and evil than scuttling the ship. Although, scuttling the ship will drown many people but at the same time it is not a direct act of killing people but killing that child was a direct act of killing and hence, he called it as a deplorable (prohibited and evil) action.
Al-Khidr’s response to Moses’ objection
Again that honorable scholar with his special composure repeated his previous sentence and said: “Did I not tell you that with me you would never be able to have patience?” The only difference of this statement with his previous statement is that he added the term “tell you” in order to emphasize more on his statement and it meant that I had already told you so. The term “tell you” is an indication of a kind of objection to Moses for not fulfilling his promise. It also refers to the fact that apparently at the beginning he had not heard his statement which he said: “Did I not say that with me you would never be able to have patience?” and even if he had heard it, he might have supposed that he had been joking or he had not stated it to him. That’s why he says: I had already told you: “Did I not say that with me you would never be able to have patience?” it means that I told this sentence to no one but you.
Moses’ apology from Al-Khidr and making a request from him for another opportunity
Moses (a.s) remembered his promise but at the same time he was ashamed that he had two times broken his promise, though it was due to forgetting his promise. He gradually felt that his master’s statement might be true when he said that at the beginning my actions might be unbearable to you. So, again he apologized him and said: “Again forgive me for what I forgot and overlook it but if I should ask you about actions after this (and if I should object to you), then do not keep me as a companion, because you have obtained from me an excuse.” In this regard the Quran says: “[Moses] said, "If I should ask you about anything after this, then do not keep me as a companion. You have obtained from me an excuse."” Allameh Tabatabaei states that this verse means that “form this moment on if I should ask you again anything or any question after this, then do not keep me as a companion.” It means that you can leave me and no longer keep me as a companion. The verse “You have obtained from me an excuse” means that I would no longer have any excuse. This sentence indicates that Moses was very far-sighted and hence it shows that he always surrendered to the reality, although it was painful. In other word, after three times which he failed to remain silent, he found out that their mission with each other had come to an end or literally they didn't get on well together!
Reaching the village and the story of repairing the wall
After this conversation and promising again, Moses and his mater (Al-Khidr) walked on until they reached a town and asked the inhabitants for food but they refused to offer these two travelers hospitality. In this regard the Quran say: “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”. Undoubtedly, Moses and Al-Khidr was not such people who wanted to put the people of that town into trouble. But it becomes clear that during their travel, they had lost or run out of their meals and travel expenses and that’s why they were inclined to be accepted as the guests of the people of that town. (It was so likely that Al-Khidr had intentionally recommended it to Moses in order to teach him a new lesson). It is also necessary to note that in the language of the Quran the Arabic equivalent for the term "town" has a general meaning and it includes any town or village but here it refers to the town because the term “Al-Madina” (meaning city) has been used in a few verse later. The adjective of the sentence “they asked its people” is “town”. So, the reason why it is said that “until they came to the people of a town that they asked them for food” and not said “until they came to a town which they asked its people for food”, is that unlike the term “came to the people of a town that they asked them for food”, the term “came to a town that they asked them for food” is not suitable. Since in this sentence, the term town is important, it is appropriate to use the term “town” instead of “people of the town”. It has to be said that unlike asking the town for food which is specific to the town, the term “its people” has been used as a metonymy and instead of using the pronoun. The reason why he did not say “until when they came to a town, they asked its people for food” was that even though he had said so, the term “town” would have been used in its real meaning but since the main purpose of statement had been related to the sentence “[Moses] said, "If you wished, you could have taken for it a payment”, it would have been meaningless to ask the town for payment. As a result he said “until when they came to the people of a town”. This very sentence indicates that he restored and repaired the wall in front of the people of the town so, it had not necessary to say “If you wished, you could have taken your payment from them” or “If you wished, you could have taken your payment from the people of the town”. That’s why the terms “from them” and “from the people of the town” have been omitted. In this verse the term “asked its people for food” means that they hoped to be offered hospitality and that’s why he said: “they refused”.
Anyhow, there are controversies among the commentators regarding the fact that which city it was and where it was located.
There is a narration from Ibn Abbas that based on which it is said that this city refers to “Antioch”.
Some commentators have stated that it refers to “Elia” which is currently known as Eliat port and it is located at the northern tip of the Red Sea, on the Gulf of Eilat (Gulf of Aqaba). Some others believe that it refers to the city of “Nazareth” which is located in north of Palestine and had been the birth place of Jesus Christ (a.s). Late "Tabarsi" here cites a Hadith from Imam Sadiq which is considered as a proof for the last possibility and according to what was mentioned regarding the meaning of in Majma' al-Bahrain which referred to the junction of Gulf of Aqaba and Gulf of Suez it becomes clear that in comparison to Antioch, the city of Nazareth and the Gulf of Eilat is closer to this region. Based on what happened to Moses and his master Al-Khidr, we recognize that the inhabitants of that city had been parsimonious people. In this regard, there is a Hadith from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in which he says: Those people were ungenerous and mean. Then the Quran adds “they found therein a wall about to collapse, so Al-Khidr restored it “and prevent its collapse. In this sentence the Arabic equivalent for the term “collapse” and “about to” indicates that the wall was about to collapse. Additionally the Arabic equivalent for the term “restored it” means that Al-Khidr repaired the wall but it was not still mentioned how he repaired it or did he repair it miraculously or just normally had he destructed it and reconstructed using pillar so as to prevent its collapse? The point is that the statement of Moses who said: “If you wished, you could have taken for it a payment” might show that he did not repair it miraculously but he reconstructed it normally because the wage is paid to the person who works.
Moses’ objection to Al-Khidr for repairing the wall
At that time Moses was naturally very exhausted and hungry and above all he felt that he and his master were disrespected when the people of the city refused to offer them hospitality but form the other hand he observed that against this disrespect, Al-Khidr repaired the wall which was about to collapse, as if he had intended to do it in reprisal for their wrong action, however Moses believed that Al-Khidr was better to receive his wage for repairing the wall so at to be able to buy a food. Therefore, again he forgot his promise and began to object to him but this time it was less severe than before. Accordingly, he said: “If you wished, you could have taken for it a payment.” In this verse, the pronoun refers to the pronoun of the sentence “so Al-Khidr restored it” because in Arabic language the equivalent for the term “restored it” is infinitive and it is referable to both masculine and feminine pronoun. In addition, the concept of the sentence indicates that Moses and Al-Khidr were hungry and when Moses said: “If you wished, you could have taken for it a payment” he meant that they could buy some food with the payment so as to satisfy their hunger. In fact, Moses thought that it was not fair to make such a sacrifice for such ungenerous and mean people. In other words, doing people favor is good but it is not correct. Although, it is true that doing favor against the evil is what men of God do but it is not appropriate when it encourages an evildoer to perform evil deeds.
The parting between Moses and Al-Khidr (a.s)
There, the scholar said his last word to Moses, because according to all the events which had happened, Al-Khidr made sure that Moses could not tolerate his actions therefore he said: “This is parting between me and you. I will inform you of the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience.” In this verse the term “this is” refers to the statement of Moses and it means that your words caused the parting between me and you. Some commentators also believe that it refers to the time and it means that now it is time for the parting between me and you. It may also refer to the parting itself and it means that now it is the parting between me and you. It has to be mentioned that Al-Khidr said “This is parting between me and you” and not said “our parting” because he intended to put more emphasis on their parting. The reason why Al-Khidr uttered this statement after Moses’ third question and not earlier than that was that, Moses (a.s) had apologized for his previous questions and he had done so for the first and second times when he asked him a question and therefore, he asked him for another opportunity. Additionally, Moses apologized Al-Khidr for his second question and told him “if I should ask you about anything for the third time, then do not keep me as a companion.” Although, Moses made no objection to this statement because it was exactly what he had recommended to Al-Khidr in the previous event when he asked the second question. It means that Moses had realized that they would not get on well together! However, the news of this parting made him heartsick, parting with a master who was aware of the divine secrets and accompanying him was a blessing, his statements were like lessons and his behavior was inspiring and his heart was a treasure of divine knowledge. The famous commentator, Abu l-Futuh al-Razi mentions a narration from Moses. Accordingly, Moses had been asked to mention the most unbearable hardships of his life from among his hardships. Moses replied: “I have experienced many hardships (he refers to his hardships he had in the time of Pharaoh and his torturous difficulties during the reign of Israelites) but none of them was like the statement of Al-Khidr regarding our parting.
To be continued
1 - Majma' al-Bayan, vol. 6, p. 479, p. 487
2 - Tafsir Al-Mizan, vol. 13, pp. 469-484
3 - Tafsir Nemooneh, vol. 12, pp. 480-505
4 - Manhaj-ul-Sadeqin, vol. 5, p. 365
5 - Noor ul Saqlain, Vol. 3, p. 286 and 287
6 - Tarikh al-Anbia, Rasoul Mahallati
7 - Manshur javed, vol. 12, pp. 213-237
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