The Qur’anic verses 18:60–82 in Sūrat al-Kahf present the story of Khiḍr and Moses as a lesson on the modalities of being and of knowing. Traditionally, the story is seen from a variety of vantage points that include historical, textual, literary, and allegorical, each of which is framed differently depending on the religio-cultural context. This book, in addition to examining the theological sources, traces the story’s mythical, mystical, and popular interpretations engendered by the Qur’anic story. The author argues that the story’s major contribution is its ability to communicate the importance of cultivating humility—a fundamental goal for any person of faith. Despite his importance in the Qur’an, Moses is not the main hero in this story; instead, he is used to point to an even higher truth pertaining to the spiritual dimensions of faith. This book suggests that Khiḍr’s Qur’anic story symbolizes these truths by providing a perspective on the tension between materiality and spirituality, the ẓāhir (exoteric) and the bāṭin (esoteric), and human and divine forms of knowledge. Additionally, in this work, the Khiḍr narrative is viewed as a source of nourishment for theories that speak to the intersectionality between Islam and other religious traditions.
Irfan A. Omar is associate professor in the Department of Theology at Marquette University.
Chapter 1: The Origins and Meanings of the Khiḍr Story
Chapter 2: Khiḍr in Muslim Sources and Traditions of Piety
Chapter 3: Khiḍr in Sufism
Chapter 4: Khiḍr in Folklore
Chapter 5: Khiḍr in Muḥammad Iqbāl’s Poetry
Omar offers a fresh and insightful narrative of a timeless, ubiquitous, protean, and always engaging figure in Islamicate literature and lore. He draws on a wide range of sources, from exegesis of the Qur’an’s Sura of the Cave (18) to mystical texts elaborating on Al-Khiḍr’s unique spiritual credentials. Omar emphasizes throughout Al-Khiḍr’s role as an interreligious cross-cultural symbol of mediation and liberation from stereotypes—an ‘initiator’ who continually surprises with manifestations of his stature and versatility as a paradigmatic sage and mentor.
Irfan Omar has done an splendid job in bringing to light the enigmatic story of Khidr, the mysterious prophet in Islam. Khidr’s mystical significance as a grand Sufi master is particularly noteworthy here.
Prophet Al-Khiḍr: Between the Quranic Text and Islamic Contexts brings to readers the wisdom of the past and the life lessons drawn from Khiḍr’s story for making meaning in the contemporary world. Khiḍr’s story appeals to Muslims across geographical and temporal boundaries. It is produced and reproduced through Quranic and prophetic interpretations, literature, poems, and Sufi manuals spanning through several centuries. In Omar’s book, Khiḍr becomes alive through his relationship as a Sufi master to Moses as his disciple and various mystical interpretations. He reaches a legendary status on accounts of his spiritual roles, popular folk tales, and scriptural narratives. Dr. Omar shows how Khiḍr’s story gets Islamized and becomes “Islamic.” He masterfully infuses Khiḍr’s story with the complexity of an intricate relationship between a Sufi master and a disciple, a mode of knowing through intuition and revelation, the tension between the law (shar‘īah) and the mystical path (ṭarīqah), and the realization of the two intersecting worlds of the hidden (bāṭin) and the apparent (ẓāhir) as part of everyday life. In all, Prophet Al-Khiḍr: Between the Quranic Text and Islamic Contexts benefits readers looking for spiritual connection and intellectual engagement to the life journey of Khiḍr and his transformative impacts across cultures, histories, and geographies.
Omar’s Prophet al-Khiḍr is a highly valuable addition to the literature on Khiḍr because of Omar’s insightful and nuanced discussions, careful and thorough research, robust compilation of references and footnotes, and the synthetic overview, the book provides a multivalent and longstanding religio-spiritual resource that is the Khiḍr story. [It] makes clear that the Khiḍr story is deeply resonant with important themes and questions surrounding knowledge and how the divine makes it accessible to humans. The book also makes clear that the Khiḍr story remains alive because it offers infinite possibilities for the interpretation of themes central to Islamic piety ranging from the lofty to the mundane. Overall, readers can take from Omar’s highly engaging and nuanced study an increased appreciation for the power and influence of the Khiḍr story in Islamic tradition as well as a broader view of central themes in Islam that the Khiḍr narrative and symbology—and questions surrounding them—can illuminate.