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Why he was called Al-Khidr

Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, said that the Prophet said concerning Al-Khidr.

« إِنَّمَا سُمِّيَ خَضِرًا لِأَنَّهُ جَلَسَ عَلَى فَرْوَةٍ بَيْضَاءَ، فَإِذَا هِيَ تَهْتَزُّ مِنْ تَحْتِهِ خَضْرَاء »

(He was called Al-Khidr because he sat on a barren Farwah that turned white, then it turned green (Khadra') beneath him.) Imam Ahmad also recorded this from `Abdur-Razzaq. It was also recorded in Sahih Al-Bukhari from Hammam from Abu Hurayrah that the Messenger of Allah said,

« إِنَّمَا سُمِّي الْخَضِرَ لِأَنَّهُ جَلَسَ عَلَى فَرْوَةٍ، فَإِذَا هِيَ تَهْتَزُّ مِنْ تَحْتِهِ خَضْرَاء »

(He was called Al-Khidr because he sat on a barren Farwah and it turned green (Khadra') beneath him.) The meaning of Farwah here is a patch of withered vegetation. This was the view of `Abdur-Razzaq. It was also said that it means the face of the earth.

﴿ ذَٲلِكَ تَأۡوِيلُ مَا لَمۡ تَسۡطِع عَّلَيۡهِ صَبۡرً۬ا

(That is the interpretation of those (things) over which you could not be patient.) meaning, `this is the explanation of the things which you could not put up with or be patient with until I took the initiative of explaining them to you.' When he explained them and made them clear and solved the confusion, he used a milder form of the verb,

﴿ تَسۡطِع

(you could) When the matter was still confusing and very difficult, a more intensive form was used,

﴿ سَأُنَبِّئُكَ بِتَأۡوِيلِ مَا لَمۡ تَسۡتَطِع عَّلَيۡهِ صَبۡرًا

(I will tell you the interpretation of (those) things over which you were unable to be patient with) )18:78(. The intensity of the verbal form used reflects the intensity of the confusion felt. This is like the Ayah:

﴿ فَمَا ٱسۡطَـٰعُوٓاْ أَن يَظۡهَرُوهُ

(So they (Ya`juj and Ma`juj) were not able to scale it) (18:97) which means ascending to its highest point,

﴿ وَمَا ٱسۡتَطَـٰعُواْ لَهُ ۥ نَقۡبً۬ا

(nor are they able to dig through it) (18:97) which is more difficult than the former. The intensity of the verbal form used reflects the difficulty of the action, which has to do with the subtleties of meaning. And Allah knows best. If one were to ask, what happened to the boy-servant of Musa who appears at the beginning of the story but then is not mentioned. The answer is that the objective of the story is what happened between Musa and Al-Khidr. Musa's boy-servant was with him, following him. It is clearly mentioned in the Sahih Hadiths referred to above that he was Yusha` bin Nun, who was the one who became the leader of the Children of Israel after Musa, peace be upon him.

﴿ وَيَسۡـَٔلُونَكَ عَن ذِى ٱلۡقَرۡنَيۡنِ‌ۖ قُلۡ سَأَتۡلُواْ عَلَيۡكُم مِّنۡهُ ذِڪۡرًا إِنَّا مَكَّنَّا لَهُ ۥ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَءَاتَيۡنَـٰهُ مِن كُلِّ شَىۡءٍ۬ سَبَبً۬ا

(83. And they ask you about Dhul-Qarnayn. Say: "I shall recite to you something of his story.'') (84. Verily, We established him in the earth, and We gave him the means of everything.)

The Story of Dhul-Qarnayn Allah says to His Prophet,
﴿ وَيَسۡـَٔلُونَكَ

(And they ask you) O Muhammad,

﴿ عَن ذِى ٱلۡقَرۡنَيۡنِ‌ۖ

(about Dhul-Qarnayn.) i.e., about his story. We have already mentioned how the disbelievers of Makkah sent word to the People of the Book and asked them for some information with which they could test the Prophet. They (the People of the Book) said, `Ask him about a man who traveled extensively throughout the earth, and about some young men who nobody knows what they did, and about the Ruh (the soul),' then Surat Al-Kahf was revealed. Dhul-Qarnayn had great Power

﴿ إِنَّا مَكَّنَّا لَهُ ۥ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ

(Verily, We established him in the earth,) means, `We have given him great power, so that he had all that kings could have of might, armies, war equipment and siege machinery.' So he had dominion over the east and the west, all countries and their kings submitted to him, and all the nations, Arab and non-Arab, served him. Some of them said he was called Dhul-Qarnayn (the one with two horns) because he reached the two "Horns" of the sun, east and west, where it rises and where it sets.

﴿ وَءَاتَيۡنَـٰهُ مِن كُلِّ شَىۡءٍ۬ سَبَبً۬ا

(and We gave him the means of everything.) Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, Sa`id bin Jubayr, `Ikrimah, As-Suddi, Qatadah, Ad-Dahhak and others said, "This means knowledge.'' Qatadah also said,

﴿ وَءَاتَيۡنَـٰهُ مِن كُلِّ شَىۡءٍ۬ سَبَبً۬ا

(and We gave him the means of everything.) "The different parts and features of the earth.'' Concerning Bilqis, Allah said,

﴿ وَأُوتِيَتۡ مِن ڪُلِّ شَىۡءٍ۬

(she has been given all things) (27:23), meaning all things that monarchs like her are given. Thus too was Dhul-Qarnayn: Allah gave him the means of all things, meaning the means and power to conquer all areas, regions and countries, to defeat enemies, suppress the kings of the earth and humiliate the people of Shirk. He was given all that a man like him would need. And Allah knows best.

﴿ فَأَتۡبَعَ سَبَبًا حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا بَلَغَ مَغۡرِبَ ٱلشَّمۡسِ وَجَدَهَا تَغۡرُبُ فِى عَيۡنٍ حَمِئَةٍ۬ وَوَجَدَ عِندَهَا قَوۡمً۬ا‌ۗ قُلۡنَا يَـٰذَا ٱلۡقَرۡنَيۡنِ إِمَّآ أَن تُعَذِّبَ وَإِمَّآ أَن تَتَّخِذَ فِيہِمۡ حُسۡنً۬ا قَالَ أَمَّا مَن ظَلَمَ فَسَوۡفَ نُعَذِّبُهُ ۥ ثُمَّ يُرَدُّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِۦ فَيُعَذِّبُهُ ۥ عَذَابً۬ا نُّكۡرً۬ا وَأَمَّا مَنۡ ءَامَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَـٰلِحً۬ا فَلَهُ ۥ جَزَآءً ٱلۡحُسۡنَىٰ‌ۖ وَسَنَقُولُ لَهُ ۥ مِنۡ أَمۡرِنَا يُسۡرً۬ا

(85. So he followed a way.) (86. Until, when he reached the setting place of the sun, he found it setting in a spring of Hami'ah. And he found near it a people. We said: "O Dhul-Qarnayn! Either you punish them or treat them with kindness.'') (87. He said: "As for him who does wrong, we shall punish him, and then he will be brought back unto his Lord, Who will punish him with a terrible torment (Hell).'') (88. "But as for him who believes and works righteousness, he shall have the best reward, and we shall speak unto him mild words.'')

His traveling and reaching the Place where the Sun sets (the West)
﴿ فَأَتۡبَعَ سَبَبًا

(So he followed a way.) Ibn `Abbas said that he followed different routes to achieve what he wanted.

﴿ فَأَتۡبَعَ سَبَبًا

(So he followed a way.) Mujahid said that he followed different routes, east and west. According to one report narrated from Mujahid, he said:

﴿ سَبَبًا

(a way) means, "A route through the land.'' Qatadah said, "It means he followed the routes and landmarks of the earth.''

﴿ حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا بَلَغَ مَغۡرِبَ ٱلشَّمۡسِ

(Until, when he reached the setting place of the sun,) means, he followed a route until he reached the furthest point that could be reached in the direction of the sun's setting, which is the west of the earth. As for the idea of his reaching the place in the sky where the sun sets, this is something impossible, and the tales told by storytellers that he traveled so far to the west that the sun set behind him are not true at all. Most of these stories come from the myths of the People of the Book and the fabrications and lies of their heretics.

﴿ وَجَدَهَا تَغۡرُبُ فِى عَيۡنٍ حَمِئَةٍ۬

(he found it setting in a spring of Hami'ah) meaning, he saw the sun as if it were setting in the ocean. This is something which everyone who goes to the coast can see: it looks as if the sun is setting into the sea but in fact it never leaves its path in which it is fixed. Hami'ah is, according to one of the two views, derived from the word Hama'ah, which means mud. This is like the Ayah:

﴿ إِنِّى خَـٰلِقُۢ بَشَرً۬ا مِّن صَلۡصَـٰلٍ۬ مِّنۡ حَمَإٍ۬ مَّسۡنُونٍ۬

("I am going to create a man (Adam) from dried clay of altered Hama'h (mud)) (15:28), which means smooth mud, as we have discussed above.

﴿ وَوَجَدَ عِندَهَا قَوۡمً۬ا‌ۗ

(And he found near it a people.) meaning a nation. They mentioned that they were a great nation from among the sons of Adam.

﴿ قُلۡنَا يَـٰذَا ٱلۡقَرۡنَيۡنِ إِمَّآ أَن تُعَذِّبَ وَإِمَّآ أَن تَتَّخِذَ فِيہِمۡ حُسۡنً۬ا

(We (Allah) said (by inspiration): "O Dhul-Qarnayn! Either you punish them or treat them with kindness'') means, Allah gave him power over them and gave him the choice: if he wanted to, he could kill the men and take the women and children captive, or if he wanted to, he could set them free, with or without a ransom. His justice and faith became apparent in the ruling he pronounced:

﴿ أَمَّا مَن ظَلَمَ

(As for him who does wrong,) meaning who persists in his Kufr and in associating others in worship with his Lord,

﴿ فَسَوۡفَ نُعَذِّبُهُ ۥ

(we shall punish him,) Qatadah said, i.e., by killing him.

﴿ ثُمَّ يُرَدُّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِۦ فَيُعَذِّبُهُ ۥ عَذَابً۬ا نُّكۡرً۬ا

(and then he will be brought back unto his Lord, Who will punish him with a terrible torment.) meaning a severe, far-reaching and painful punishment. This implies a confirmation of the Hereafter and the reward and punishment.

﴿ وَأَمَّا مَنۡ ءَامَنَ

(But as for him who believes), meaning `who follows us in our call to worship Allah Alone with no partner or associate,'

﴿ فَلَهُ ۥ جَزَآءً ٱلۡحُسۡنَىٰ‌ۖ

(he shall have the best reward,) meaning in the Hereafter, with Allah.

﴿ وَسَنَقُولُ لَهُ ۥ مِنۡ أَمۡرِنَا يُسۡرً۬ا

(and we (Dhul-Qarnayn) shall speak unto him mild words.) Mujahid said, `(words of) kindness.'

﴿ ثُمَّ أَتۡبَعَ سَبَبًا حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا بَلَغَ مَطۡلِعَ ٱلشَّمۡسِ وَجَدَهَا تَطۡلُعُ عَلَىٰ قَوۡمٍ۬ لَّمۡ نَجۡعَل لَّهُم مِّن دُونِہَا سِتۡرً۬ا كَذَٲلِكَ وَقَدۡ أَحَطۡنَا بِمَا لَدَيۡهِ خُبۡرً۬ا

(89. Then he followed (another) way,) (90. Until, when he came to the rising place of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We (Allah) had provided no shelter against the sun.) (91. So (it was)! And We knew all about him (Dhul-Qarnayn).)

His Journey East

Allah tells us that Dhul-Qarnayn then traveled from the west of the earth towards the east. Every time he passed a nation, he subjugated the people and called them to Allah. If they obeyed him, all well and good, otherwise he would humiliate them and take their wealth and possessions. From every nation he took what his armies needed to fight the next nation. When he reached the place where the sun rises, as Allah says,

﴿ وَجَدَهَا تَطۡلُعُ عَلَىٰ قَوۡمٍ۬

(he found it rising on a people) meaning a nation,

﴿ لَّمۡ نَجۡعَل لَّهُم مِّن دُونِہَا سِتۡرً۬ا

(for whom We (Allah) had provided no shelter against the sun.) meaning, they had no buildings or trees to cover them and shade them from the heat of the sun. Qatadah said, "It was mentioned to us that they were in a land where nothing grew, so when the sun rose they would go into tunnels until it had passed its zenith, then they would come out to go about their daily lives and earn themselves a living.''

﴿ كَذَٲلِكَ وَقَدۡ أَحَطۡنَا بِمَا لَدَيۡهِ خُبۡرً۬ا

(So (it was)! And We knew all about him.) Mujahid and As-Suddi said, "This means that Allah knew everything about him and his army, and nothing was hidden from Him, even though they came from so many different nations and lands. For,

﴿ لَا يَخۡفَىٰ عَلَيۡهِ شَىۡءٌ۬ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَلَا فِى ٱلسَّمَآءِ

(Truly, nothing is hidden from Allah, in the earth or in the heaven.) (3:5)''

﴿ ثُمَّ أَتۡبَعَ سَبَبًا حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا بَلَغَ بَيۡنَ ٱلسَّدَّيۡنِ وَجَدَ مِن دُونِهِمَا قَوۡمً۬ا لَّا يَكَادُونَ يَفۡقَهُونَ قَوۡلاً۬ قَالُواْ يَـٰذَا ٱلۡقَرۡنَيۡنِ إِنَّ يَأۡجُوجَ وَمَأۡجُوجَ مُفۡسِدُونَ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ فَهَلۡ نَجۡعَلُ لَكَ خَرۡجًا عَلَىٰٓ أَن تَجۡعَلَ بَيۡنَنَا وَبَيۡنَهُمۡ سَدًّ۬ا قَالَ مَا مَكَّنِّى فِيهِ رَبِّى خَيۡرٌ۬ فَأَعِينُونِى بِقُوَّةٍ أَجۡعَلۡ بَيۡنَكُمۡ وَبَيۡنَہُمۡ رَدۡمًا ءَاتُونِى زُبَرَ ٱلۡحَدِيدِ‌ۖ حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا سَاوَىٰ بَيۡنَ ٱلصَّدَفَيۡنِ قَالَ ٱنفُخُواْ‌ۖ حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا جَعَلَهُ ۥ نَارً۬ا قَالَ ءَاتُونِىٓ أُفۡرِغۡ عَلَيۡهِ قِطۡرً۬ا

(92. Then he followed (another) way,) (93. Until, when he reached between two mountains, he found before them a people who scarcely understood a word.) (94. They said: "O Dhul-Qarnayn! Verily, Ya'juj and Ma'juj are doing great mischief in the land. Shall we then pay you a tribute in order that you might erect a barrier between us and them'') (95. He said: "That in which my Lord had established me is better. So help me with strength, I will erect between you and them a barrier.'') (96. "Give me Zubar of iron;'' then, when he had filled up the gap between the two mountain-cliffs, he said: "Blow;'' then when he had made them (red as) fire, he said: "Bring me Qitran to pour over them.'')

His Journey to the Land of Ya'juj and Ma'juj, and building the Barrier

Allah says of Dhul-Qarnayn:

﴿ ثُمَّ أَتۡبَعَ سَبَبًا

(Then he followed (another) way) meaning, he traveled from the east of the earth until he reached a place between the two mountains which were next to one another with a valley in between, from which Ya'juj and Ma'juj (God and Magog) will emerge into the land of the Turks and spread mischief there, destroying crops and people. Ya'juj and Ma'juj are among the progeny of Adam, peace be upon him, as was recorded in the Two Sahihs;

« إِنَّ اللهَ تَعَالَى يَقُولُ: يَا آدَمُ فَيَقُولُ: لَبَّيْكَ وَسَعْدَيْكَ فَيَقُولُ: ابْعَثْ بَعْثَ النَّارِ، فَيَقُولُ: وَمَا بَعْثُ النَّارِ؟ فَيَقُولُ: مِنْ كُلِّ أَلْفٍ تِسْعُمِائَةٍ وَتِسْعَةٌ وَتِسْعُونَ إِلَى النَّارِ وَوَاحِدٌ إِلَى الْجَنَّةِ، فَحِينَئِذٍ يَشِيبُ الصَّغِيرُ وَتَضَعُ كُلُّ ذَاتِ حَمْلٍ حَمْلَهَا. فَقَالَ: إِنَّ فِيكُمْ أُمَّتيْنِ مَا كَانَتَا فِي شَيْءٍ إِلَّا كَثَّرَتَاهُ يَأْجُوجَ وَمَأْجُوج »

"Allah said: "O Adam.'' Adam said, "Here I am at Your service.'' Allah said, "Send forth the group of Hellfire.'' Adam said, "What is the group of Hellfire" Allah said: "Out of every thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine will go to Hell and one will go to Paradise.'' At that time young men will turn grey and every pregnant female will drop her load. Among you are two nations who never come to anything but they overwhelm it with their huge numbers. (They are) Ya'juj and Ma'juj.''

﴿ وَجَدَ مِن دُونِهِمَا قَوۡمً۬ا لَّا يَكَادُونَ يَفۡقَهُونَ قَوۡلاً۬

(he found before them a people who scarcely understood a word. ) he could not understand their speech, because they were so isolated from other people.

﴿ قَالُواْ يَـٰذَا ٱلۡقَرۡنَيۡنِ إِنَّ يَأۡجُوجَ وَمَأۡجُوجَ مُفۡسِدُونَ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ فَهَلۡ نَجۡعَلُ لَكَ خَرۡجًا

(They said: "O Dhul-Qarnayn! Verily, Ya'juj and Ma'juj are doing great mischief in the land. Shall we then pay you a tribute'') Ibn Jurayj reported from `Ata' from Ibn `Abbas that this meant a great reward, i.e., they wanted to collect money among themselves to give to him so that he would create a barrier between them and Ya'juj and Ma'juj. Dhul-Qarnayn said with kindness, righteousness and good intentions,

﴿ مَا مَكَّنِّى فِيهِ رَبِّى خَيۡرٌ۬

(That in which my Lord had established me is better (than your tribute).) meaning, the power and authority that Allah has given me is better for me than what you have collected. This is like when Sulayman (Solomon), peace be upon him, said:

﴿ أَتُمِدُّونَنِ بِمَالٍ۬ فَمَآ ءَاتَٮٰنِۦَ ٱللَّهُ خَيۡرٌ۬ مِّمَّآ ءَاتَٮٰكُم

(Will you help me in wealth What Allah has given me is better than that which He has given you!) )27:36( Similarly, Dhul-Qarnayn said: `What I have is better than what you want to give me, but help me with strength,' i.e., with your labor and construction equipment,

﴿ أَجۡعَلۡ بَيۡنَكُمۡ وَبَيۡنَہُمۡ رَدۡمًا ءَاتُونِى زُبَرَ ٱلۡحَدِيدِ‌ۖ

(I will erect between you and them a barrier. Give me Zubar of iron,) Zubar is the plural of Zubrah, which means pieces or chunks of something. This was the view of Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid and Qatadah. These pieces were like bricks or blocks, and it was said that each block weighed one Damascene Qintar or more.

﴿ حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا سَاوَىٰ بَيۡنَ ٱلصَّدَفَيۡنِ

(then, when he had filled up the gap between the two mountain-cliffs,) means, he put the blocks on top of one another, starting at the bottom, until he reached the tops of the mountains, filling the width and height of the gap. The scholars differed about the precise width and height.

﴿ قَالَ ٱنفُخُواْ‌ۖ

(he said: "Blow;'') means, he lit a fire until the whole thing was burning hot.

﴿ قَالَ ءَاتُونِىٓ أُفۡرِغۡ عَلَيۡهِ قِطۡرً۬ا

(he said: "Bring me Qitran to pour over them.'') Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, `Ikrimah, Ad-Dahhak, Qatadah and As-Suddi said it was copper. Some of them added that it was molten. This is similar to the Ayah:

﴿ وَأَسَلۡنَا لَهُ ۥ عَيۡنَ ٱلۡقِطۡرِۖ

(And We caused a fount of Qitran to flow for him) (34:12). So it resembled a striped cloak. Then Allah said:

﴿ فَمَا ٱسۡطَـٰعُوٓاْ أَن يَظۡهَرُوهُ وَمَا ٱسۡتَطَـٰعُواْ لَهُ ۥ نَقۡبً۬ا قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَحۡمَةٌ۬ مِّن رَّبِّى‌ۖ فَإِذَا جَآءَ وَعۡدُ رَبِّى جَعَلَهُ ۥ دَكَّآءَ‌ۖ وَكَانَ وَعۡدُ رَبِّى حَقًّ۬ا وَتَرَكۡنَا بَعۡضَہُمۡ يَوۡمَٮِٕذٍ۬ يَمُوجُ فِى بَعۡضٍ۬‌ۖ وَنُفِخَ فِى ٱلصُّورِ فَجَمَعۡنَـٰهُمۡ جَمۡعً۬ا

(97. So they could not scale it or dig through it.) (98. He said: "This is a mercy from my Lord, but when the promise of my Lord comes, He shall Dakka' it down to the ground. And the promise of my Lord is ever true.) (99. And on that Day, We shall leave some of them to surge like waves on one another; and the Trumpet will be blown, and We shall collect them (the creatures) all together.)