Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: What do we know about Khidr, peace be upon him? In Surah Kahf, he is described as one to whom mercy was show and knowledge given. He spends time teaching Musa, peace be upon him, but is never named. I’ve heard that this name of his comes from an incident where he sat in a barren place and upon rising, grass/greenery had spring up around the area. I’ve also heard there are disagreements over whether or not he was a prophet. I’ve also heard a smaller number claim him to be an immortal. (With the popularity of vampire movies and TV shows today, this is quite an interesting concept).
Answer: assalamu `alaykum
Khidr (Allah bless him) is an individual mentioned extensively in surah al-Kahf of the Qur’an as a companion of our liege-lord Musa (Allah bless him). He was one “granted mercy… and taught knowledge” (18:65) from Allah Most High and his brief journey with our liege-lord Musa (Allah bless him) is one of the most intriguing and spiritually profound narratives within the Qur’an.
The Companion of Musa (Allah bless him) in Surah al-Kahf
The name of Khidr (Allah bless him) is not explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an. The individual our liege-lord Musa (Allah bless him) met in surah al-Kahf is only identified as “one of our servants” (16:85), which gave rise to a difference of opinion regarding who exactly this person was.
Imam Qurutbi states, “The aforementioned servant is Khidr according to the majority of scholars and according to what is indicated by established prophetic narratives. Some, whose statement is given no consideration, opposed this stating that it was not Khidr who was the companion of Musa but another knowledgable person.” [Tafsir Ahkam al-Qur’an]
The established prophetic narratives mentioned by Imam Qurtubi are found in both Bukhari and Muslim from `Ubay ibn Ka`b from the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace).
Why Was He Named Khidr?
The name “Khidr” means “the green one”. It is narrated from Abu Hurayra (Allah be well pleased with him) that the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “He was named Khidr because he sat on a dry, barren piece of land and it suddenly became green under him.” [Bukhari, Tirmidhi]
Was Khidr (Allah bless him) a Prophet?
The scholars differed on whether Khidr (Allah bless him) was a prophet or a saint.
Ibn Hajar in his Fath al-Bari cites Ibn `Atiyya as stating that most scholars held that he was a prophet. This was also stated by Imam Qurtubi in his Ahkam al-Qur’an, citing Khattabi, Imam Nawawi in his Sharh on Muslim, and Imam `Ayni in his `Umdat al-Qari.
Others, however, held that he was a saint, not a prophet, such as Imam Qushayri.
Those who held that he was a prophet did so due to the following reasons:
a. He possessed knowledge that even our liege-lord Musa (Allah bless him) did not. Imam Qurtubi states that an individual does not learn nor follow except one who is higher than him and it is not possible that a non-prophetic figure be higher or superior to a prophetic one.
b. He performed actions, such as killing a child and sinking a ship, that could have only been commanded by means of revelation (wahy) and not spiritual disclosure and unveiling (ilham/kashf). This is because the former is decisive thereby establishing certainty while the latter is probabilistic and does not establish certainty. It would not have been permissible for Khidr (Allah bless him) to commit these acts unless he had decisive knowledge conveying certainty that permitted their performance, which could have only been through revelation which is specific to prophets.
c. He was described in the Qur’an as one who was given “mercy (rahma) from Us” (18:65), which many of the commentators of the Qur’an identified as being prophethood. This is because the word “mercy” (rahma) is sometimes associated with revelation as in the Qur’anic verse, “You did not expect that the book would be sent down to you, but it is a mercy (rahma) from your Lord.” (28:86)
The fact that the mercy (rahma) given to Khidr (Allah bless him) refers to revelation is shown by the phrase “from Us”, namely a revelation from Allah, as well as the fact that the word rahma is indefinite which in the Arabic language indicates exoltation as well as the unfathomable nature of the reality indicated by the word.
d. He was described in the Qur’an as one “We had taught knowledge from Ourselves” (18:65), which demonstrates that this knowledge was direct and revelatory.
[Qurtubi, Ahkam al-Qur’an; Abu’l Su`ud, Tafsir; Razi, Tafsir al-Kabir; Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim]
Is Khidr (Allah bless him) Alive?
The scholars also differed regarding the life of Khidr (Allah bless him).
Imam Nawawi in his commentary on Sahih Muslim states:
“The majority of scholars hold that he is alive and present among us, and this is agreed upon between the Sufis, the people of righteousness and gnosis. There narratives regarding witnessing him, gathering with him, taking from him, asking him questions and receiving answers from him, and his presence in noble and good situations and abodes is more than can be enumerated and more famous than can be concealed.
The Shaykh, Abu `Amr ibn Salah, said, ‘He is alive according to the majority of scholars and righteous and the commonality are with them in this.” (end quote)
The strongest proofs for this are:
a. A sound (hasan) narration, as stated by Ibn Hajar, narrated by Imam Ahmad in the Kitab al-Zuhd wherein the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said that our liege-lords Ilyas (Allah bless him) and Khidr (Allah bless him) meet every year and spend the month of Ramadan in Jerusalem.
b. The mass transmitted reports from the righteous on meeting Khidr (Allah bless him), which is what Imam Nawawi mentions in the paragraph cited previously.
This life, however, is not to be termed as immortality since immortality is defined as someone not being subject to death. This is clearly negated in the Qur’anic verse, “We have not granted any man before you eternity. Every soul shall taste death.” (21:34-35)
Rather, the scholars differed regarding when Khidr (Allah bless him) would die. Some said that would die after killing Dajjal. Others said he would die after the raising of the Qur’an. Others kept it general stating that he would die at the end of time. [Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim; Alusi, Ruh al-Ma`ani]
Similarly, they differed regarding how long he has been alive for. Was he alive before the time of Nuh (Allah bless him) or after? These are issues that have no decisive proof, do not form part of the necessary belief Muslims are required to hold, and so is of no practical concern to the laity.
There are many more details regarding Khidr (Allah bless him). Entire works have been written on him and the above was a brief overview of some of the more common issues people inquire about. As mentioned before, a lot of the issues are subject to difference of opinion due to the probabilistic nature of the proof-texts. As such, though we may disagree with the view points of others, we must not make the details surrounding our liege lord Khidr (Allah bless him) bones of contention.
And Allah knows best.
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani