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Monday, March 31, 2008

Moses, Khidr and free will

Saudi Gazette includes an Koranic story in today's issue:
THE story of Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) with Khidr, mentioned in Surah Al Kahf, the Cave (65:82), is one of the most important didactic stories in the Qur’an.
The story begins when Moses was delivering a sermon and one of his followers suddenly asked him “Who is the most knowledgeable person on earth” and Moses (peace be upon him), immediately answered him: ‘I (am the most learned).’ Allah admonished him for this answer and told him that there was a man who was more knowledgeable than he was and ordered him to search for that man to learn from him, “So they found one of Our servants, on whom We had bestowed Mercy from Ourselves and whom We had taught knowledge from Our own Presence.”
We will notice that Moses’ relationship with Khidr is that of a student and his teacher that should be based on politeness, obedience, respect and patience and this is clear from Moses’ first question, “Moses said to him: “May I follow you, so that you teach me something of the (Higher) Truth which you have been taught (by Allah)?” Khidr reminds him during his stay with him that he has to be patient indicating that he (Moses) would see things that require a lot of patience, “He (Khidr) said: “Verily you will not be able to have patience with me! And how can you have patience about things about which your understanding is not complete?”
Moses declares that he would stick to his promise, “Moses said: “You will find me, if Allah wills, (truly) patient: nor shall I disobey you in aught.”
But what Khidr did was beyond the toleration of Moses; he scuttled the boat of the poor people who helped them, killed a boy for no reason and then built the wall (which was about to fall down) in the village that refused to offer them some food.
Then Khidr explained these mysterious events to Moses “This is the parting between me and you: now will I tell you the interpretation of (those things) over which you were unable to hold patience.
As for the boat, it belonged to certain men in dire want: they plied on the water: I but wished to render it unserviceable, for there was after them a certain king who seized every boat by force.
As for the youth, his parents were people of Faith, and we feared that he would bring them to grief by obstinate rebellion and ingratitude (to Allah and man). So we desired that their Lord would give them in exchange (a son) better in purity (of conduct) and closer in affection. As for the wall, it belonged to two orphan youths, in the town; there was, beneath it, a buried treasure, to which they were entitled: their father had been a righteous man: So your Lord desired that they should attain their age of full strength and get out their treasure - a mercy (and favor) from your Lord.
I did it not of my own accord. Such is the interpretation of (those things) over which you were unable to hold patience.”
The moral lessons that we can elicit from the story include the following:
• A student’s relationship with his teacher has to be based on obedience, respect and above all patience because gaining knowledge requires a lot of patience on the part of the learner.
• There is wisdom behind every event that takes place in this world, but we might not understand this wisdom immediately. Nothing happens haphazardly on earth.
• Knowledge has no limit and you always have to know that if you are very knowledgeable, there is someone who is more knowledgeable than you are.
I quoted the entire article so no one would think I took it out of context.

This story really is in the Koran (chapter 18, verses 62-85) although Khidr is not named.

Is no one in Islam bothered by these verses? Here is the actual translation of the episode of Khidr murdering a boy:
[18.74] So they went on until, when they met a boy, he slew him. (Musa) said: Have you slain an innocent person otherwise than for manslaughter? Certainly you have done an evil thing.
[and Khidr later answers...]
[18.80] And as for the boy, his parents were believers and we feared lest he should make disobedience and ingratitude to come upon them:
[18.81] So we desired that their Lord might give them in his place one better than him in purity and nearer to having compassion.
al-Khidr murdered a boy, not because of any sins he committed, but because he "knew" that the boy was going to be disobedient and his parents would be better off with a replacement child.

One can forgive the 8th century mentality of children being disposable, but the entire concept of free will - which is supposedly integral to Islam - is being thrown out the window here, as the boy is punished for sins he has yet to commit. Khidr knew prophetically that the child was predestined to be "disobedient" (this translation makes it sound more like he was guessing, though) and it was considered a kindness to kill him now. Meaning that this child had no free will.

Is it not strange that Moses is being scolded for his impatience and his being upset at the killing, but the cold-blooded murder of an innocent child is celebrated as a triumph of wisdom?

This story may illuminate more about Islam than the Saudi Gazette intended.