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The story of Moses (a.s) and Al-Khidr in the Quran – Part 4
The explanation of Al-Khidr to Moses regarding the innermost secrets of these events
In continuation of the previous verses, God explains the innermost secrets of these events and says: “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. And as for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared that he would overburden them by transgression and disbelief. So we intended that their Lord should substitute for them one better than him in purity and nearer to mercy. 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."” (Surah Al-Kahf-verses 79-82). When it was determined that Moses and Al-Khidr were going to be separated, it was necessary that the innermost secrets of these events and Al-Khidr’s actions be explained to Moses who could not bear and remain silent with them. In fact, the profit that Moses made out of his accompanying with Al-Khidr was understanding the secrets of these three strange events which could be regarded as a key for many issues and an answer to various questions.
The purpose of scuttling the ship
The Quran has first started from relating the story the ship. Accordingly the Quran says: “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” Accordingly, although scuttling the ship was apparently a grave action, by which an important purpose was sought and it was rescuing the people from the clutches of a tyrant king. Because this king believed that the damaged ships were never appropriate to be taken by force and hence, he overlooked such ships. In general, it has to be said that the purpose of this action had been preserving the collective interests of the needy and it was very necessary. It has to be said that in this verse the Arabic equivalent for the term “after” certainly does not refer to a place and direction but it indicates that without paying attention to the events which were after them, they could be caught in the clutches of such a tyrant king. Since, human beings do not pay attention to the events which are behind them, this term has been used here. Additionally, when the pressure is put on a man by a person or a group of people the term “after” will be used. For example it is said that the creditors are after me and do not leave me alone. In the verse 16 of Surah 'Ibrahim we read that: “Before him is Hell, and he will be given a drink of purulent water.” It is as if the Hell is following them that the term “before” has been used. Allameh Tabatabaei says that in this verse the term “before” means “behind” and “beyond” and it refers to a situation in which an enemy has hidden himself and the man is unaware of it. Although it is not exactly behind him, it can be in front of him. It also refers to a direction in which there is something that man is reluctant to it or something which can cause him to be occupied with something other than himself to himself, although it may not be behind him as it is as if the man returns his face to the opposite side. Accordingly the Almighty God has used all these three meanings in the Quran: “But whoever seeks beyond that, then those are the transgressors” (Surah Al-Mu'minun-verse 7). It also says: “And it is not for any human being that Allah should speak to him except by revelation or from behind a partition” (Surah Ash-Shuraa-verse 51) and somewhere else the Quran says: “While Allah encompasses them from behind.” In brief the meaning of the verse is that the ship belonged to a group of poor people by which they were working in the sea and they could hardly afford their living expenses. At that time there was a king who seized the ships by force. So I wished to make a defective damage in it so as to dissuade that tyrant king from seizing the ship.
Meanwhile, in this verse the term “Masakin” (the poor) has been used. It has to be said that the Arabic equivalent for the term “poor” does not merely refer to the people who owe nothing at all but it also refers to those who are somehow wealthy but their wealth is unresponsive to their needs. It is also probable that the reason why they were called “the poor people” be their financial incapability but it might have referred to their power deficiency. It has to be said that this term also exists in the Arabic language which means Inactivity, weakness and inability to do something and therefore, this concept can also be inferred from this verse. In this regard we can read in Nahj al-Balagha: “Poor the son of Adam…a mosquito can bother him, a little water can choke him and sweating makes him smelly.”
The secret behind killing the boy
Then, the Quran relates the second event which is the story of killing the boy. Accordingly the Quran says: “And as for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared that he would overburden them by transgression and disbelief.” A group of commentators have also stated that it is also probable that this verse not mean “since the boy had been a transgressor or a disbeliever, he would have deviated his parents” but it meant that he would have severely bothered his parents by transgression and disbelief. However, the first interpretation seems to be more accurate. Anyhow, the scholar killed the boy and stated that the reason was to prevent the traumatic event which would happen in future for the parents who were believers if this boy stayed alive. The term “we feared that in the future he would…” is a very good and meaningful term because it indicates that the scholar believed that he was responsible for what would happen in the future for the people and therefore, he did not allow the parents who were believers to become miserable due to the deviation of their child. Meanwhile here, the Arabic equivalent for the term “we feared that in the future he would” means (to be worry about) because this person with such knowledge and ability had not been fearful of such issues. In other words, the purpose is to prevent the traumatic event that due to the principle of mercy human beings normally tend to prevent it. It is also possible that the Arabic equivalent for the term “we feared that in the future he would…” mean (we knew that…), and in this regard there is a narration from Ibn Abbas. Accordingly, he said “We knew that if he stayed alive, in the future such a traumatic even would happen for his parents.” Allameh Tabatabaei says that the Arabic equivalent for the term “we feared” as a metonymy means to prevent something due to mercy and it does not refer to its real meaning which is “to be fearful”. Because in the verse “do not fear anyone but Allah” (Surah Al-'Ahzab-verse 39) the Almighty God states that his great prophets do not fear anyone. In addition, it seems so clear that the sentence “that he would overburden them by transgression and disbelief” mean “he will deceive his parents and persuade them into transgression and disbelief” because parents extremely love their child. So, in the next verse, the sentence “nearer to mercy” somehow proves that the terms “transgression” and “disbelief” are two attributes for the boy and not for his parents. But why a plural pronoun has been used for referring to a single person? The answer to this question is clear. Accordingly, it has to be said that it is not the first time that we face such terms in the Quran. Both in the Quran and other words of Arabic language and non-Arabic languages, the honorable people sometimes use the plural pronoun when they are talking about themselves. The reason is that some people are usually under the control of these honorable people and they are made responsible by them for accomplishing some missions. Hence, God commands the Angels and human beings also command those who are under their control.
And then the Quran added: “So we intended that their Lord should substitute for them one better than him in purity and nearer to mercy.” It has to be said that the reason why he said “we intended that God substitute for them another one who is better than him in purity” is that he should be better than him in purity and faithfulness, because the terms “purity” and “mercy” have been mentioned against the terms “transgression” and “disbelief” in the previous verse. In addition, the Arabic equivalent for the term “purity” has a wide concept which includes righteousness and good deed. Accordingly, this term refers to both religious and financial affairs and perhaps it was an appropriate term against the objection of Moses who said “have you killed a pure soul?” But in response to this question Al-Khidr said: “no he was not pure and we intended that their Lord should substitute for them one better than him in purity!” It has to be said that the following Hadith has been narrated and mentioned in various Islamic resources: “Instead of that child that was killed by Al-Khidr, God granted his parents a daughter from whose generation came seventy Prophets.”
The meaning of the term “nearer to mercy” is that this child will come around more and will love his/her family more than him and therefore, he/she won’t overburden his/her parents by transgression and disbelief. However, according to the term “nearer to mercy” it is not correct to say that it means “more merciful to his/her parents” because it is not usually said “he is nearer to mercy” and hence, the former meaning is more appropriate. This concept proves that in the previous verse the sentence “that he would overburden them by transgression and disbelief” means that the boy will overburden his parents by transgression and disbelief and it indicates that he will cause them to become disbelievers and it does not mean that he will force them to become disbelievers. Anyhow, this verse refers to the fact that it was very important and valuable for God that this boy’s parents be believers and so they deserved to have a faithful and righteous child who would be merciful towards them. However, this child was not faithful and righteous and therefore, God ordered Al-Khidr to kill him so as to substitute for them one better than him in righteousness and mercy.
The secret behind repairing the wall
In the last verse which was mentioned here, the scholar revealed the secret of his third action which was repairing the wall and said: “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.” Due to the righteousness of these two orphans’ parents, I was commissioned by God to reconstruct that wall in order to prevent the collapse of the wall as well as, to prevent the treasure from being found by the people. Allameh Tabatabaei says: “According to the context of this verse it was not unlikely that the town which was mentioned in this verse be a town other than the one in which there was a wall adjacent to the ruins of a house that Al-Khidr saw it and repaired it. Because if it was the same town it would no longer be necessary to be mentioned that there were two orphan boys living in that house. Therefore, it seems that the intention had been to indicate that these two orphans and their parent had not been living in that city. It has to be said that the reason for stating that these two boys were orphans and that there beneath the wall was a treasure which belonged to them and also mentioning that if this wall was collapsed, the treasure would be found and seized by the people and additionally the fact that these two orphans’ father was a righteous man, had all been the preparation of an introduction for stating that: “So your Lord intended that they reach maturity and extract their treasure” and the sentence "as a mercy from your Lord” is the reason of this intention. So, the mercy of the Almighty God is the reason for his intention, because he intended that orphan boys achieve their treasure. Additionally, since the preservation of the wall was dependent upon its repairing, Al-Khidr did repair it. Accordingly, the reason of the mercy of God towards these orphans had been the righteousness of their father who had died and had left two orphans with a treasure. There are great deal of controversies surrounding the acknowledgment of the righteousness of these two orphans’ father and hoarding the treasure beneath the ground, although the Almighty God has reprimanded hoarding money beneath the ground. In this regard the Quran says: “And those who hoard gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah - give them tidings of a painful punishment.” (Surah At-Tawbah-verse 34). However, this verse does not object that why the father had hoarded a treasure for his two orphans beneath the wall, moreover it does not imply that their father has hoarded the treasure there. In addition, even if their father had done such an action, the description of their father as a righteous man would have shown that hoarding this treasure had not been a grave action. Aside from that, the righteous father might have buried the treasure as a reward for his sons. It has to be said that this action is not graver than scuttling the ship. As the two Al-Khidr’s previous actions were permissible based on the interpretation of the divine command of God, burying the treasure had certainly had an interpretation too. This verse implies that sometimes the righteousness of a person positively affects the heirs and leads them to prosperity and salvation. In this regard the verse “And let those [executors and guardians] fear injustice as if they themselves had left weak offspring behind and feared for them” (Surah An-Nisa-verse 9) also implies that righteousness of the parents will affect the destiny of their child.
Finally, for removing all Moses’ doubts and proving him that all these events had been according to a predetermined plan and that they had been parts of his mission, Al-Khidr added: “And I did it not of my own accord” But it was the commandment of God and order of the Lord. The sentence “And I did it not of my own accord” implies that whatever Al-Khidr (a.s) had done, had been the commandment of the Almighty God and that he had not done any of them of his own accord.
Yes, “that is the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience." In this verse, the Arabic equivalent for the term “could” means “be able to”. Additionally, the Arabic equivalent for the term “interpretation” in the language of the Quran includes “a reality that involves everything and its existence is based on it and its return is to it” for example, the interpretation of dreams is the interpreting them, the interpretation of a verdict is its criterion, the interpretation of an action is its real purpose, and the interpretation of an event is the real reason of it. Therefore, the reason why Al-Khidr said “That is the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience” was that he intended to mentions these three events and to state that the real reason and cause of these events had been what he had interpreted and stated for justifying his actions and not what Moses had recognized through paying attention to the appearance of that events. For example in the story of scuttling the ship, Moses thought that Al-Khidr would drown the people, in the story of killing the boy Moses thought that there was no reason behind that, and in the story of repairing the wall Moses thought that Al-Khidr did that without thinking. Some commentators have stated that in his statements, Al-Khidr (a.s) had a great respect for his Lord and he attributed those parts of his actions which had not been faultless to himself, for instance he had said: “So I intended to cause defect in” and when his action had been attributable both to himself and God he had used a plural pronoun and said: “So we intended that their Lord should substitute for them” or he also said: “we feared” and he had attributed what is related to the Lord and the tact of the Almighty God to His Holy Realm and said: “So your Lord intended that they reach maturity”.
Answering to a question about the treasure
One of the questions which has been proposed about this story is that, basically what was the treasure that Moses’ wise friend insisted it had to be hidden? And furthermore, why the orphans’ father who was a believer had hoarded such a treasure?!
Some commentators have stated that in fact the spiritual aspect of this treasure was more important than its material aspect. According to many Shia and Sunni narrations, the treasure was a tablet on which words of wisdom had been inscribed.
There are controversies among the commentators surrounding these words of wisdom. In the book Al-KAfi there is a narration from Imam Sadiq (a.s) who said “This treasure was not gold and silver but it was a tablet on which there had only been inscribed the four following sentences: there is no God but Allah, the person who believes in death do not laugh (for no reason), the person who believes that the Day of Judgment is inevitable (and he thinks of his responsibilities) will not be joyful and the person who certainly believes in the Divine Destiny fears no one but Allah.” But it has to be said that in some narrations it has been mentioned that it was a golden tablet and it seemed that these narrations are not that incompatible. The reason is that, unlike the general meaning of treasure, the purpose of the first narration had not been referring to lots of Dirhams and Dinars. Suppose we interpret the Arabic equivalent for the term “treasure” as a hoard of gold and silver, again it is ok. Because a treasure is only illegal when you hoard a significant amount of valuable properties for a long time while other people in the society are in dire in need of these properties. However, for instance if the owner of the property who has buried it beneath the ground for one or a few days in order to preserve his property (as in the ancient time even for a night, people sometimes buried their properties due to the existent insecurity) passes away in an incident, such a treasure cannot be considered as an illegal treasure.
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 p.287
6 - Tarikh al-Anbia, Rasoul Mahallati
7 - Manshur javed, vol. 12, pp. 213-237
8 - Stories of the Quran and Tarikh al-Anbia (the history of the Prophets) in Al-Mizan, and on balance, collected or compiled by: Hussein fa’al araqi
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