The Parable of Moses and Khidr in the Holy Quran: An Ismaili Interpretation – by Jehangir A. Merchant


By Jehangir A. Merchant


“It is He Who has sent down to you the Book: in it are verses basic or fundamental (of established meaning); they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical.” Holy Qur’an, Sura Ali ‘Imran, 3:7

The Holy Qur’an clearly defines the nature of its contents in the above passage and lends significant clue to the method of its interpretation. Regarding the sacred text of the Holy Qur’an, Hazrat Mawlana Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq is reported to have said.

“The Book of God contains four things, namely:

(1)ibarah – the announced expression

(ii) Isharah – the allusion

(iii) Lata’if – the hidden meaning related to the supersensible worlds and

(iv) Haqa’iq – the spiritual truths.

The first, ‘ibarah, meaning the announced or literary expression, is for the common people (‘awamma); the Isharah, allusion, is for the elite (khawass); Lata’if, the hidden meaning, is for the friends of God (awliya) and Haqa’iq, the spiritual truths, are for the prophets (anbiya).”

On the whole, the Holy Qur’an may be divided into two inter-related elements, namely (a) the nucleus or foundation of the Book, and (b) the part which is figurative, metaphorical or allegorical. The division is not between the verses but in the meaning associated with them. The verses described as ‘basic or fundamental of established meaning’ refer to categorical orders and other matters which are plain to everyone’s understanding, whilst those which are termed as ‘allegorical’, refer to the spiritual themes that are clothed in multi-hued garb and often expressed in the form of stories.

The stories of the Prophets in the Holy Qur’an, which appear as plain and simple narrative of events, carry within them profound spiritual elements for the wise and mindful. It would be interesting to take just one such story from the Holy Qur’an (Sura Kahf, Sura 18, Ayats 60 to 82), which chronicles the meeting of Prophet Moses and Khidr and explore one inner meaning. Mawlana Rumi, the great Persian mystic is quoted as having said: “If you desire to become acquainted with inner truth, drop the letter and adopt the spirit.”


Moses said unto his servant: ‘I will not give up until I reach the point where the two rivers meet, though I spend years and years in travel.’ The Holy Qur’an – 18:60

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