Traditional representation of al-Khidr.
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA, is an excerpt from Hugh Talat Halman’s book, ‘Where The Two Seas Meet’, Fons Vitae, 2013. From page 196 to 199.
Hugh Talat Halman provides the latest update upon Khidr/Hızır studies in a work that is both, a critical collection and survey of the sources of the stories about Khidr and Moses and the vast literature of commentators that flourished throughout history, and, at the same time, a deep meditation upon Khidr’s symbolism, mission and teachings.
Through his visitations, al-Khidr can serve as either a model for or a test of one’s allegiance to God and the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ, peace be upon him). In considering the relationship of al-Khidr as such a model, Vincent Cornell observes:
‘In later Sufi traditions al-Khidr most commonly appear as a harbinger for the esoteric knowledge that the seeker derives from gnosis and is thus a pivotal figure in the concept of ‘al-insan al-kamil’, the paradigmatic or the ‘perfect man’. The Qur’anic figure of al-Khidr, stripped of its later association with the prophet Elijah (Ilyas) appears in the above account (the Qu’ranic narrative in Surat al-Kahf, 18:60-83) as nothing less than the paradigm of the Sufi Shaykh, while the prophet Moses, who normally would be regarded as superior in rank to a mere ‘wali Allah’, in reality serves as his disciple. Seen in this light, it is easy to understand how al-Khidr came to epitomize the ‘philosophia perennis’ or Hermetic tradition for generations of Sufi throughout the Islamic world. For early Sufis in both the Muslim East and the West, al-Khidr most commonly appeared as the Shaykh of Shaykhs and Supreme Spiritual Guide-the paradigmatic possessor of insight (basira) and esoteric wisdom (hikma).‘ (Mirrors of prophethood : the evolving image of the spiritual master in the Western Maghrib from the origins of Sufism to the end of the sixteenth century, 1989)
Cornell further describes al-Khidr’s role in opening the way for new figures and modes of authority outside the lines of the prophets and revelation as ‘hermetic’: ‘Al-Khidr is a famous hermetic figure of Islamic folklore who is believed to return in every age to reaffirm the truth of divine inspiration.’ (ibid) This identification of al-Khidr as ‘hermetic’ is a typological association without historical foundation in classical Islamic sources. Cornell’s observation articulate at least three features of al-Khidr’s persona:
First, al-Khidr embodies ‘divine inspiration’ (ilham), a category of knowledge that complements rather than challenges, prophecy.
Second, al-Khidr participates in a ‘hermetic’ mode of transmission that cultivates the experience of inner knowledge, or gnosis.
Third, Cornell’s observations underscore the feature of al-Khidr’s immortality.
The initiatic transmissions of al-Khidr and Hermes both share a common place in the broader context of religion in Mediterranean and Near-East culture of late antiquity. The figure of al-Khidr deserves to be characterized as ‘hermetic’, not only in the general sense as ‘secret’, but also in the more precise sense of the late-antique and Islamic Hermetic traditions.
Both al-Khidr and Hermes share a special provenance over issues of initiation, interpretation, immortality, and transformation.
In popular lore, both al-Khidr and Hermes are travelers’ patron.
Both are spiritual guides who personify the questions of crossing boundaries between the human and the divine, paradox, transformation and immortality. As we have seen, works such as the ‘Tafsirs’ of al-Tabari and Ruzbehan share with the ‘Corpus Hermeticum’ (books I and XI in particular) a sense of the transformation of a human being into an extraordinary being:
al-Khidr and Hermes both achieve an apotheosis in gnosis and an exceptional or extraordinary spiritual station.
Al-Khidr and Hermes share a place among immortal beings: al-Khidr finds the water of eternal life (ab hayyat); Hermes is the ‘keryx athanaton, κερυχ ατηανατον’, the messenger of the deathless.
As we shall discuss below, for Ibn Arabi, among others, al-Khidr and the prophet Idris, often identified as Hermes Trismegistus, belong to the group Ibn Arabi recognized among the solitary ones (afrad) as the four immortal saintly pillars (awtad):
As a figure for our work, al-Khidr stands where the two seas meet: on the Islamic side, his typology informs an understanding of prophecy and sainthood; within the broader context of the world of late antiquity, his typology complements an understanding of the inclusion and transformation of Hellenistic traditions in Islam.