Musa had just delivered a magnificent sermon and was pleased with himself.
‘O Musa is there anyone more learned than you?’ asked his enraptured audience.
‘It is true, I am the most learned,’ said Musa proudly, forgetting that knowledge without humility is no knowledge at all.
For his arrogance he was immediately scolded by God. Allah said, ‘Musa, you are wrong to think you are the wisest of men. At the junction of the two seas there is a slave of mine who is more learned than you.’
Humbled and apologetic, Musa asked, ‘O my Lord, how can I meet him?’
The prophet was asked to take a roasted and salted fish with him in a basket and to keep walking until a moment would come when he would lose the fish. It was then that he would meet the wise man his Lord had told him of.
Musa took the fish and, accompanied by his young protégé Yusha bin Nun, set off towards the point where the two seas meet. He knew it would be a long journey, and his path was unclear, but he was determined to find this great and wise man he had been told of.
The long, hard walk on the dusty roads, under the hot sun, took its toll on the old man. Musa’s steps became slower, wearier, and when he and his companion came upon a spring called Ayn Al Hayat (the Spring of Life), they decided to rest. So they put down the basket, laid their heads on the ground and immediately fell asleep.
When the spring’s fine spray fell on it, the fish miraculously came to life. It jumped out of the basket and, wriggling its way into the waters, swam off towards the sea. Yusha bin Nun woke up in time to see this curious incident but he forgot to mention it to his master. As soon as Musa got up they hurriedly resumed their journey, worried that they had delayed their search for the most learned man.
That evening, weary, they settled down again to rest. As Musa and Yusha sat down to eat their evening meal, the young servant suddenly remembered the incident of the fish and felt foolish. How could such an important event have slipped his mind? Was the Devil playing with him? He said to his master shamefacedly, ‘Remember when we rested by the rock by the stream? As we slept, I forgot to keep my eye on the fish and I awoke to find the most marvellous thing. The roasted fish suddenly came to life and made its way into the sea. In our hurry to continue, it slipped my mind to tell you. Perhaps it was the work of Satan to lead us off the right path.’
Musa realized immediately that this was the sign God had told him of. Yusha looked guilty enough, so he didn’t scold him. It was far more important that they return to the stream as soon as possible. The two men got up hurriedly and retraced their steps.
At the spring they found an old man dressed in green waiting patiently for them. This was Khwaja Khizr, a mystical guide to all those seeking the meaning of the unknown. He guides and protects those in distress.
The old man introduced himself as Khizr.
‘May I follow you and watch and learn from you?’ asked Musa of the old saint after they introduced themselves.
‘O Musa you won’t have the patience to bear with me. How can you when you have no knowledge of the things that I do?’ asked Khwaja Khizr. The old man had been given special knowledge by Allah and, as we all know, what to the uninitiated might seem strange seems perfectly reasonable to those wiser.
‘Inshallah you will find me amongst the patient,’ promised Musa.
But he forgot to add Inshallah or if God wills when he added, ‘I promise you, I will not disobey any of your instructions on this trip.’
Khwaja Khizr knew that true knowledge comes from placing trust in the teacher and said, ‘Then if you follow me, do not ask me about anything, whether you understand it or not, until I mention it to you.’
So they set off on their quest. Musa and Yusha followed Khwaja Khizr silently through the dry and dusty roads. As instructed they remained quiet, watching the scene around them, wondering where they were being led to. Soon they reached a river and Khwaja Khizr asked some boatmen to give them a ride. A kind-hearted boatman who recognized Khizr agreed to ferry them across for free.
To Musa’s great astonishment Khwaja Khizr made a hole in the bottom of the boat. He had promised to be patient but this was too much for him. ‘Why have you committed such an unjust and unwise act? Surely we will drown!’ he cried out.
‘Have I not told you not to ask questions till I raise the subject myself? Did I not warn you that you would not have the patience to accompany me?’
A contrite and penitent Musa apologized and the three continued on their journey. Musa walked silently, but he was full of questions. Where were they going? Why had the boat been damaged?
They had been walking wordlessly for some time when they saw a group of boys playing in the village. The boys seemed harmless enough but Khwaja Khizr suddenly walked towards them and seizing one of them, a young, handsome lad in his teens, flung him down on the ground. To Musa’s complete astonishment, the khwaja drew out his knife and cut the youth’s throat.
This was too much for Musa. He cried out, ‘Have you killed an innocent person who has killed no one? Why would you commit such a terrible deed?’
The khwaja reprimanded Musa, ‘Did I not tell you that you had to be patient if you were to accompany me?’ Musa knew that he had overstepped the line yet again and broken his vow. Guiltily, he promised, ‘If I should question you any further, I will leave.’
They had been travelling for some time and were tired and hungry. Seeing a village, they stopped and asked for food. The inhospitable and rude villagers refused to give them any shelter. Khwaja Khizr didn’t complain. Instead, he did the opposite. Seeing a wall in the village that was falling apart, he repaired it.
Despite his best intentions, despite every promise he had made, Musa couldn’t help but react to this unaccountable action. He cried out, ‘Why did you slave for these people who did nothing to help you? And if you did why did you not ask for wages? We could have bought some food with it.’
With this third break of promise, Musa’s journey with Khizr came to an end. The old man said, ‘This is the parting of ways between me and you. And now I shall let you know the real meaning of my actions.’
Khwaja Khizr explained the first incident saying, ‘The boat belonged to a few poor men who worked hard and were dependent on it for their livelihood. Their king was about to seize every boat in the region and I wanted to protect them. I made a hole in the boat so that it was no longer seaworthy and would not be taken by their king.
‘As for that young man, his parents were true believers – whereas we had every reason to fear that he would bring bitter grief upon them by his wickedness. A wayward and wicked child causes more grief to his parents by living than in his death. God desired to save the couple the greater grief and give them a more loving and righteous son.
‘Now lastly the wall. It belongs to two orphan boys living in the town, and beneath it is buried a treasure belonging to them by right. Their father had been a devout man and the Lord willed it that when the two boys came of age they should find the treasure and enjoy its fruits. Had I not repaired the wall the selfish, cruel villagers would have found the treasure and usurped it.
‘I did not do any of this of my own accord, what I knew God had told me. This is the real meaning of my three actions.’
Khwaja Khizr has drunk from the fountain of life, and is thus immortal and ever at hand to answer the call of those in trouble and rejuvenates the faith of the wavering.