وكم من عابد يمشي * مع الأقطاب والخضر
How many are the worshipers that walk
with the Qutbs and with al-Khadir.
– Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari
There are four or five figures that, according to Islamic traditions, have never died. Some of them were taken directly to Heaven in their bodies, like the Prophet Isa (Jesus) who was taken to Heaven before they were able to crucify him,(1) the Prophet Idris (Enoch), who was raised to Heaven by an Angel, the Prophet Ilyas (Elijah), who was raised to Heaven on a chariot of fire. Some add two non-prophets to the list: al-sayyida Maryam (Mary), and al-Khadir (aka Khidr). Since all of Allah’s creatures must die, and we know that sayyidna Isa will fight along with the Mahdi in the end of times and die afterwards, perhaps we can assume that the same is true of the rest of those on the list.
A saying attributed to Kaab al-Ahbar(2) about those who are still alive states that two are in the heavens: Idris and Isa, and two are on earth: Ilyas and al-Khidr. However, it is possible for those in the heavens to come down to Earth, as proven by the fact that all the Prophets in the Heavens prayed on the night of the Ascension behind the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) in Jerusalem.
For centuries, scholars have debated about “Abul-Abbas Al-Khadir”: was he a prophet or a righteous servant? Is he dead or alive? It is said that, thousands of years ago, Allah (most sublime) gave him immortality (some say he drank from the Fountain of Life), in order to roam the Earth, and help guide seekers on the spiritual path. Among those he helped were even Prophets like Moses, as related to us by the Qur’an.
Here are some teachings about our this blessed servant of Allah, from a chain of spiritual masters who met him and knew him. We begin with the Ocean from which all spiritual rivers flow, the City of Knowledge, our master Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace).
The Prophet Muhammad and Al-Khidr
It is reported when the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) died, and people came to pay their condolences, they heard a voice from a corner of the house saying: “Peace be upon you, oh People of the Household, and Allah’s mercy and blessings. Every soul shall taste death, and you will be given your rewards on the Day of Rising. In Allah you will find consolation from every catastrophe, and a successor to every one who dies, and arrival at everything that was missed. So in Allah do trust, and in Him have hope, for the only one who is truly afflicted is he who is denied any reward. And peace be upon you, and Allah’s mercy and blessings.” Sayyidna Ali ibn Abi Talib said, “Do you know who that is? It is al-Khadir (peace be upon him).” (3)
It is also agreed upon by those who say that Al-Khidr is alive that he and the Prophet Ilyas became part of the Ummah of the Prophet Muhammad ever since he became a Messenger, following his Shari’ah. There are many reports in Islamic traditions that every year, they spend Ramadan together in Jerusalem, and that they perform the Hajj every year, and drink from Zamzam, stand together at Arafat during the Hajj, and then cut each other’s hair. It is said that they never part before first saying this supplication:
بسم الله ما شاء الله لا يسوق الخير إلا الله. بسم الله ما شاء الله لا يصرف السوء إلا الله. بسم الله ما شاء الله ما كان من نعمة فمن الله
Al-Khidr and Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib
Ali ibn Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) said:
I entered the Tawaf one night, and found a man holding onto the cover of the Kaaba, saying:
يا من لا يشغله سمع عن سمع، ويا من لا تغلطه المسائل، ويا من لا يتبرم بإلحاح الملحين، اذقني برد عفوك وحلاوة رحمتك
I said to him: repeat to me what you said.
He said: Did you hear that?
I said: Yes.
He said: Supplicate with it after every Prayer, for by Him in whose hand is al-Khadir’s soul- if you had as many sins as the stars of the sky and its rain, and the pebbles of the earth and its sands, you would be forgiven as quickly as the blink of an eye. (4)
Al-Khidr and the early Shadhili Masters
Abul Abbas al-Mursi (d. 685 A.H) said, “Al-Khadir (peace be upon him) came to me once and introduced himself to me, and I acquired from him the knowledge of the souls of the believers, are they tortured or in bliss, so now even if a thousand scholars argue with me about that, and say that he is dead, I would not go back to believing what they say.”
He also said, “As for Al-Khadir (peace be upon him) he is alive. And I have shaken his hand with this palm, and he told me that everyone who says the following every morning, will become one of the Abdal,
اللهم اغفر لأمة محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم، اللهم أصلح أمة محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم، اللهم تجاوز عن أمة محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم، اللهم اجعلنا من أمة محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم”
Some students asked al-Mursi’s master Al-Shadhili about this and he said, “Abul Abbas has said the truth.” (5)
Al-Khidr and Al-Dabbagh
When Shaykh Abd al-Aziz al-Dabbagh became determined to reach pure servanthood to Allah, he began looking for everyone that people pointed to and referred to as a shaykh, and considered him to be a wali of Allah, and would make that person his shaykh and recite his litanies (awrad), but eventually he would feel his chest became constricted and that he was not progressing, so he would leave it and look for another one, and the same thing would happen again., and this went on for twenty-two years. During that time, he would stay every Friday night at the tomb of sidi Ali bin Hirzihim to read the Burda of al-Busiri with others. One night, after finishing it, he found a man sitting under the lote-tree near the tomb’s door, and that man spoke to him, revealing to him that he knew what Al-Dabbagh was thinking about, so he knew that he was one of the awliya arifeen. Al-Dabbagh asked him to give him a litany, but that man would keep ignoring him until he heard al-Dabbagh ask for it with such determination that he knew he would not ignore what he told him. Then he said to al-Dabbagh: I will not give you the litany until you give me an oath by Allah that you do not leave it, and al-Dabbagh did so. So that man said: repeat every day seven thousand times:
اللهم يا رب بجاه سيدنا محمد بن عبد الله صلى الله عليه وسلم اجمع بيني وبين سيدنا محمد بن عبد الله في الدنيا قبل الآخرة
Then the man who takes care of the tomb came, and the man said to him: take care of this man for me, so the caretaker said, “I will consider him my master, master.” On the day that caretaker died, right before his soul left his body, he said to al-Dabbagh: “Do you know who that man who taught you the dhikr at the lote-tree is? He is sayyidna al-Khidr (peace be upon him).” So for four years, Al-Dabbagh repeated that du’a seven thousand times a day, until he received the spiritual opening (fath) (6).
When al-Dabbagh became a great shaykh, and the Qutb of his time, his student the scholar Al-Lamati asked him questions about al-Khidr. The Qur’an tells us that Al-Khidr knew some things from the world of the unseen (like the future, etc), that the Prophet Moses, alayhi assalam, did not know. Because of this, many scholars argued that Al-Khidr must be a prophet, for if he were just a righteous servant and wali of Allah, he could not have known more than a prophet about these things. Sayyidi Al-Dabbagh replied,
Generally, the (spiritually) great are strong in witnessing Al-Haqq, Most Transcendent, and weak in witnessing the creation, whereas the (spiritually) small are strong in witnessing the creation and weak in witnessing al-Haqq, Most Transcendent. And this is what happened in the story between sayyidna al-Khidr and sayyidna Musa- upon our Prophet and upon them be peace and blessings- in what was related to us by Allah Most High in his great Book, from the story of the ship, the young man, and the wall. For knowledge of these things was hidden from sayyidna Musa (peace be upon him) because he was (absorbed) in the witnessing of that which is stronger than that, and that is Al-Haqq, Most Transcendent, and therefore Moses’s ignorance of these matters is utmost (spiritual) perfection.
His analogy, in relation to al-Khidr, is like two servants for a king. As for one of them, the king has chosen him for himself, and made him sit with him, having nothing to do but standing in front of the king, looking at his face, and if the king left he left with him, and if the king entered he entered with him, and if he ate he ate with him and if he drank he drank with him, and if he spoke he spoke with him. While the other servant has been appointed by the king to run the affairs of his subjects, so he goes out to them and does with them as the king commands, and speaks to them about their affairs and how to improve their state, and he might be away from the king for a long time in order to do these things. There is no doubt, then, that the first servant is closer to the king and more knowledgeable of his secrets from the second, even though, if he were asked about any of the affairs of the king’s subjects, he would not know about them as much as the second servant, especially if the subjects lived far away from the city of the king. And thus was the state of Moses with Allah Most High, for he is like the first servant, and sayyidna Al-Khidr is like the second servant, for sayyidna Musa is greater than him, without question, because he is the Messenger of Allah, and his kaleem (the one with whom he spoke) and his chosen one….
[Al-Khidr] is not a prophet, but a servant that Allah has ennobled by giving him knowledge of Himself…and there is nothing in his knowledge of the preceding matters that Moses did not know about, which necessitates that a non-prophet be more knowledgeable than a prophet, for what we have said earlier, that Moses- peace be upon him- was pre-occupied from these things with witnessing of Al-Haqq, which is something unparalleled, and therefore there is nothing that necessitates belief in (al-Khidr’s) prophethood.
Al-Khidr and Ahmad ibn Idris
Shaykh Ahmad ibn Idris became, in his own words, “a firm adept on the path” at the hands of his shaykh Abul Qasim al-Wazir. After the latter’s death, Ibn Idris saw the Prophet Muhammad and al-Khidr in a waking state. The Prophet ordered al-Khidr to implant in him the dhikrs of the Shadhiliyya order, which he did in the presence of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). Then the Prophet turned to al-Khidr and said,
“O Khadir, teach him that which combines within it all the dhikrs, salawat, and prayers for forgiveness, and is superior as to reward, larger as to number, more exalted in worth and greater in obtaining assistance.”
Al-Khidr asked him, “What is that, Oh Prophet of God?”
The Prophet Muhammad (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said the prayers that would become the supplications of Ahmad ibn Idris, and al-Khidr repeated them, and then Ibn Idris repeated them after the both of them.
Then the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “Oh Ahmad, you have been given the keys to the heavens and earth, which are the dhikr, the salaat (on the Prophet), and the prayer for the forgiveness of sins. If you say them once, they are equal to the world and what is in it many times over.” (7)
Al-Khidr and Shaykh Salih
Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari said,
“One year, and I think it was my first Hajj in 1372 A.H. (1953 CE), I met a Kurdish man who was going through a certain spiritual state, he came to me and put his hand on my head and started saying: Blessed! Blessed! So I said to him: Where is sayyidna Al-Khidr (peace be upon him)?
He said: You will meet him at the Noble Rawda (of the Prophet).
When I arrived to Medina, I sat one day after the Asr prayer in the Rawda, and a man came to me, the like of whom I have never seen before. He was wearing a yellow turban, and does not have a likeness among the people, and he had a great white beard.
He greeted me and said: Does this Prophet (peace be upon him), if we greet him, does he hear us, see us, and return the greeting?
I said to him: Yes.
He said to me in an eloquent Arab tongue: You put my heart to rest, may Allah put your heart to rest!
Then he said to me: If we were back in our countries, and we send him our greetings, does that reach him?
I said to him: Yes.
He said to me: You put my heart to rest, may Allah put your heart to rest!
Then he asked me about other things that I cannot remember now. Then people came to greet me and when they were gone I looked around but could not find him, and the words of the Kurdish man at Mina came to my mind. Then at night, I saw him in a dream vision: It was as if I was in the ship that he boarded with sayyidna Musa, peace be upon him, at sea, and I saw him standing on land, in the same clothes and manner in which I saw him, and he was greeting me from far away, and pointing to me with his hand, meaning: I am the one you saw yesterday. Upon our Prophet and upon him be Allah’s peace and blessings.”
One scholar who was a student of shaykh Salih and was an important figure in the Egyptian Ministry of Education, says:
“In one of Shaykh Salih’s lessons, a man who is a top-level government official and consultant, and used to come in his car to attend the lessons, said to the shaykh: Can sayyidna al-Khidr appear in the form of a man, any man, or does he have a particular form in which he appears? The shaykh did not reply to him, and then another man, who had the appearance of poverty and need on him, asked the shaykh a question, and the shaykh answered him, after which that man left. Then the shaykh turned and said: Where is the one who asked the first question? So the man said: Me, oh shaykh! So the shaykh said: The man who asked me a question after you was al-Khadir. The man started looking right and left, looking for that other questioner, but couldn’t find him!!”
Al-Khidr and Shaykh Abdul Ghani
One of the sharifs saw in his dream Shaykh Abdul Ghani b. Salih al-Ja’fari, and heard a voice, which was at one and the same time the voice of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and the voice of Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari (may Allah be pleased with him), as if they were one and the same. The voice asked, rhetorically,
“Is there anyone more similar to al-Khadir than Shaykh Abdul Ghani?!”
1) There are two interpretations of the Qur’anic verse about the ascent of the Prophet Isa (peace be upon him) which are discussed here: https://beneficialilm.com/2013/04/03/friday-lesson-sura-al-ikhlas-part-2/
2) He was a Jewish Rabbi who converted to Islam during the Caliphate of sayyidna Umar ibn al-Khattab. The saying comes from Ibn Kathir’s Stories of the Prophets.
3) Al-Bayhaqi, Dala’il al-Nubuwwa.
4) Ibn Asakir, at-Tirmidhi, Ibn al-Jawzi, as quoted in Ibn Kathir’s Al-Bidaya wal-Nihaya.
5) Dr. Abd al-Halim Mahmood, Qadiyyat at-Tasawwuf: Al-Madrasa al-Shadhiliyya, Cairo: Dar al-Maarif.
6 ) You can read a translation of this fath experience here: http://www.bogvaerker.dk/Bookwright/ibriz.html
7) Translation, slightly altered, from “Two Sufi Treatises of Ahmad ibn Idris” by Bernd Radtke, Sean O’Fahey and John O’Kane, in Oriens, Vol. 35, (1996), pp. 143-178.