Commentary for Sura Al Kahfi verses 60-82

وَإِذۡ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِفَتَٮٰهُ لَآ أَبۡرَحُ حَتَّىٰٓ أَبۡلُغَ مَجۡمَعَ ٱلۡبَحۡرَيۡنِ أَوۡ أَمۡضِىَ حُقُبً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 60

This episode in the story of Moses is meant to illustrate four points:-

  1. Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. Even so that wisdom did not comprehend everything, even as the whole stock of the knowledge of the present day, in the sciences and the arts and in literature ( if it could be supposed to be gathered in one individual), does not include all knowledge. Divine knowledge, as far as man is concerned, is unlimited. Even after Moses received his divine mission, his knowledge was not so perfect that it could not receive further additions.
  2. Constant effort is necessary to keep our knowledge square with the march of time and such effort Moses is shown to be making.
  3. The mysterious man he meets, to whom Tradition assigns the name of Khidhr (literally, Green), is the type of that knowledge which is ever in contact with life as it is actually lived.
  4. There are paradoxes in life: apparent loss may be real gain, apparent cruelty may be real mercy; returning good for evil may really be justice and not generosity. Allah’s wisdom transcends all human calculation.

The most probable geographical location (if any is required in a story that is a parable) is where the two arms of the Red Sea join together, the Gulf of ‘Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez. They enclose the Sinai Peninsular, in which Moses and the Israelites spent many years in their wanderings.

Huqub means a long but indefinite space of time. Sometimes it is limited to 80 years.

فَلَمَّا بَلَغَا مَجۡمَعَ بَيۡنِهِمَا نَسِيَا حُوتَهُمَا فَٱتَّخَذَ سَبِيلَهُ ۥ فِى ٱلۡبَحۡرِ سَرَبً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 61

Moses was to go and find a servant of Allah, who would instruct him a such knowledge as he had not already got. He was to take a fish with him. The place where he was to meet his mysterious Teacher would be indicated by the fact that the fish would disappear when he got to that place.

فَلَمَّا جَاوَزَا قَالَ لِفَتَٮٰهُ ءَاتِنَا غَدَآءَنَا لَقَدۡ لَقِينَا مِن سَفَرِنَا هَـٰذَا نَصَبً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 62

When they came to the Junction of the Seas. Moses forgot about the fish and his attendant forgot to tell him of the fact that he had seen the fish escaping into the sea in a marvellous way. They passed on, but the stages now became heavier and heavier and more fatiguing to Moses.

قَالَ أَرَءَيۡتَ إِذۡ أَوَيۡنَآ إِلَى ٱلصَّخۡرَةِ فَإِنِّى نَسِيتُ ٱلۡحُوتَ وَمَآ أَنسَٮٰنِيهُ إِلَّا ٱلشَّيۡطَـٰنُ أَنۡ أَذۡكُرَهُ ۥ‌ۚ وَٱتَّخَذَ سَبِيلَهُ ۥ فِى ٱلۡبَحۡرِ عَجَبً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 63

The attendant actually saw the fish swimming away in the sea and yet “forgot” to tell his master. In his case the “forgetting” was more than forgetting. Inertia had made him refrain from telling the important news. In such matters inertia is almost as bad as active spite, the suggestion of Satan.

فَوَجَدَا عَبۡدً۬ا مِّنۡ عِبَادِنَآ ءَاتَيۡنَـٰهُ رَحۡمَةً۬ مِّنۡ عِندِنَا وَعَلَّمۡنَـٰهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلۡمً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 65

One of Our servant: his name is not mentioned in the Quran, but Tradition gives it as Khidhr. Round him have gathered a number of picturesque folk tales, with which we are not here concerned. Khidhr means “Green”: his knowledge is fresh and green, and drawn out of the living sources of life for it drawn from Allah’s own Knowledge. He is a mysterious being, who has to be sought out. He has the secrets of some of the paradoxes of Life, which ordinary people do not understand, or understand in a wrong sense, as we shall see further on.

Khidhr had two special gifts from Allah:-
(1) Mercy from Him; (2) Knowledge from Him too.
The first freed him from the ordinary incidents of daily human life; and the second entitled him to interpret the inner meaning and mystery of events, as we shall see further on.

قَالَ لَهُ ۥ مُوسَىٰ هَلۡ أَتَّبِعُكَ عَلَىٰٓ أَن تُعَلِّمَنِ مِمَّا عُلِّمۡتَ رُشۡدً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 66

Moses, not understanding the full import of what he was asking, makes a simple request. He wants to learn something of the special Knowledge which Allah had bestowed on Khidhr.

قَالَ إِنَّكَ لَن تَسۡتَطِيعَ مَعِىَ صَبۡرً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 67

Khidhr smiles, and says that there will be many things which Moses will see with him, which Moses will not completely understand and which will make Moses impatient. The highest knowledge often seems paradoxical to those who have not the key to it.

وَكَيۡفَ تَصۡبِرُ عَلَىٰ مَا لَمۡ تُحِطۡ بِهِۦ خُبۡرً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 68

Khidhr does not blame Moses. Each one of us can only follow our own imperfect lights to the best of our judgement, but if we have Faith, we are saved many false steps.

قَالَ سَتَجِدُنِىٓ إِن شَآءَ ٱللَّهُ صَابِرً۬ا وَلَآ أَعۡصِى لَكَ أَمۡرً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 69

Moses has Faith. He adopts the true attitude of the learner to the Teacher and promises to obey in all things, with the help of Allah. The Teacher is doubtful, but permits him to follow him on condition that he asks no question about anything until the Teacher himself mentions it first.

فَٱنطَلَقَا حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَآ أَتَيَآ أَهۡلَ قَرۡيَةٍ ٱسۡتَطۡعَمَآ أَهۡلَهَا فَأَبَوۡاْ أَن يُضَيِّفُوهُمَا فَوَجَدَا فِيہَا جِدَارً۬ا يُرِيدُ أَن يَنقَضَّ فَأَقَامَهُ ۥ‌ۖ قَالَ لَوۡ شِئۡتَ لَتَّخَذۡتَ عَلَيۡهِ أَجۡرً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 77

The inhabitants were churlish. They broke the universal Eastern rule of hospitality to strangers and thus showed themselves beyond the pale of ordinary human courtesies. Note that they would have been expected to offer hospitality of themselves, unasked. Here Moses and his companion actually had to ask for hospitality and were refused point-blank.

As they were refused hospitality, they should, as self-respecting men, have shaken the dust of the town off their feet, or shown their indignation in some way. Instead of that, Khidhr actually goes and does a benevolent act.He rebuilds for them a falling wall and never asks for any compensation for it. Perhaps he employed local workmen for it and paid them wages, thus actually benefiting a town which had treated him and his companion so shabbily! Moses is naturally surprised and asks, “Could you not at least haved asked for the cost?”

أَمَّا ٱلسَّفِينَةُ فَكَانَتۡ لِمَسَـٰكِينَ يَعۡمَلُونَ فِى ٱلۡبَحۡرِ فَأَرَدتُّ أَنۡ أَعِيبَہَا وَكَانَ وَرَآءَهُم مَّلِكٌ۬ يَأۡخُذُ كُلَّ سَفِينَةٍ غَصۡبً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 79

They went on the boat, which was playing for hire. Its owner were not even ordinary men who plied for trade. They had been reduced to great poverty, perhaps from affluent circumstances and deserved great commiseration, the more so as they preferred an honest calling to begging for charity. They did not know,but Khidhr did, that boat , perhaps a new one, had been marked down to be commandeered by an unjust king who seized on every boat he could get-it may have been, for warlike purpose. If this to beggary, with no resources left them. By a simple act of making it unseaworthy, the boat was save from seizure. The owners could repair it as soon as the danger was past. Khidhr probably paid liberally in fares and what seemed as unaccountably cruel act was the greatest act of kindness as he could do in the circumstances.

وَأَمَّا ٱلۡغُلَـٰمُ فَكَانَ أَبَوَاهُ مُؤۡمِنَيۡنِ فَخَشِينَآ أَن يُرۡهِقَهُمَا طُغۡيَـٰنً۬ا وَڪُفۡرً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 80

This seemed at first sight even a more cruel act than scuttling the boat. But the danger was also greater. Khidhr knew that the youth was a potential parricide. His parents were worthy, pious people, who had brought him up with love. He had apparently gone wrong. Perhaps he had already been guilty of murders and robberies and had escaped the law by subtleties and fraud.

فَأَرَدۡنَآ أَن يُبۡدِلَهُمَا رَبُّہُمَا خَيۡرً۬ا مِّنۡهُ زَكَوٰةً۬ وَأَقۡرَبَ رُحۡمً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 81

The son was practically an outlaw,- a danger to the public and a particular source of grief to his righteous parents.Even so, his summary capital punishment would have been unjustified if Khidhr had been acting on his own. But Khidhr was not acting on his own. The plural “we” also implies that he was not acting on his own. He was acting on higher authority and removing a public scourge, who was also a source of extreme sorrow and humiliation to his parents. His parents are promised a better-behaved son who would love them and be a credit to them.

وَأَمَّا ٱلۡجِدَارُ فَكَانَ لِغُلَـٰمَيۡنِ يَتِيمَيۡنِ فِى ٱلۡمَدِينَةِ وَكَانَ تَحۡتَهُ ۥ كَنزٌ۬ لَّهُمَا وَكَانَ أَبُوهُمَا صَـٰلِحً۬ا فَأَرَادَ رَبُّكَ أَن يَبۡلُغَآ أَشُدَّهُمَا وَيَسۡتَخۡرِجَا كَنزَهُمَا رَحۡمَةً۬ مِّن رَّبِّكَ‌ۚ وَمَا فَعَلۡتُهُ ۥ عَنۡ أَمۡرِى‌ۚ ذَٲلِكَ تَأۡوِيلُ مَا لَمۡ تَسۡطِع عَّلَيۡهِ صَبۡرً۬ا

Al Kahfi: 82

The wall was in a ruinous state. If it has fallen, the treasure buried beneath it would have been exposed and would certainly have been looted, among so churlish and selfish people. The treasure had been collected and buried by a righteous man. It was not, in any sense of the word, ill-gotten gain; it was buried expressly in the interests of the orphans by their fathers before his death. It was intended that the orphans should grow up and safely take possession of their heritage. It was also expected that they would be righteous men like their father and use the treasure in good works and in advancing righteousness among an otherwise wicked community. There was thus both public and private interests involved in all the three incidents. In the second incident Khidhr uses the word “we”, showing that he was associating in his act the public authorities of the place, who had been eluded by the outlaw.

Those who act, not from a whim or a private impulse of their own, but from higher authority, have to bear the blame, for acts of the greatest wisdom and utility.


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