The Qur’an tells us that when sayyidna Musa, alaa nabiyyina wa alayhi afdal assalatu wassalam, met with sayyidna al-Khadir alayhi assalam, al-Khadir said to him: “You will not be able to bear with me patiently. How could you be patient in matters beyond your knowledge?”
So Musa alayhi assalam, promises to be patient and not to question the actions of his teacher, but cannot stop himself from doing so when he sees what the man that Allah had sent him to learn from does. First he makes a hole in a ship that they were on, and removes two of its wooden planks, and then when they are back on the land, he sees a young boy playing with other boys, and decapitates him.
The Prophet Musa is shocked and appalled at these apparently evil acts, but is later told the wisdom behind them. The ship belonged to poor people who needed it for their living. But there was a King who was in quick need of ships and was seizing every good ship and adding them to his fleet. When he would find a hole in that ship, he would decide that it would not be of any help for the urgent matter. The poor people will keep the ship, which they can fix later on.
As for the young boy, his parents were pious, and the child would have grown up to be very evil, oppressing them with rebellion and disbelief. So Allah Most Wise had him killed, and gave the parents instead a better offspring: He gave them a daughter that was very merciful to them, and that married a Prophet. Her child was also a Prophet and Allah guided through him one of the nations of mankind.
(Some of the details are from the Qur’anic commentaries).
So al-Khadir was , so-to-speak, the “hand of God” in doing things that on the outside appear absolutely evil or outrageous, but in reality will lead to a good outcome that is hidden from our eyes.
It is interesting that we find some rare accounts of the Mongol invasions of the Muslim world, scattered in different books of history, literature, and Sufi hagiographies, that understand that event in the same light, and even place al-Khadir there, with the same role that he played in the Qur’an.
Ibn Karbala’i, who wrote in the 16th century a compendium of hagiographies of the Sufis buried in Tabriz, has an entry on a 13th-century Sufi known as Baba Hamid, who came from a little village near Tabriz that came to be named after him.
Ibn Karbala’i says that it is widely reported that “at the time when Genghis Khan came out upon the land of Iran”, some of the awliya of that era saw al-Khadir, “who was running ahead of that band of obstinate apostates and was helping them; he was saying, “Kill, O infidel people, these evildoers!” (uqtuloo ya qawm al-kafara, haadhihi al-fajara).”
Baba Hamid, he says, was one of those who recognized al-Khadir, so he said to him: “Even you?!”
So al-Khadir replied: “Even He!”
This account is interesting because more than a century earlier, the Indian Sufi Sayyid Ashraf Jahangir Simnani wrote two letters in which he said that the wealth and luxury of the Khwarezmian dynasty made the people there forget about worship and to do wicked things. But he said, the awliya who remained devoted to Allah and His worship, began to hear voices from the unseen world, coming from all sides, saying:
“O infidels, kill the evildoers!” (Ya ayyuhal kafara, uqtulul fajara!)
These voices, he said, began to arise in those regions in the year 591 AH/1195 C.E.
Likewise in the 15th century, Dawlatshah Samarqandi, in his anthology of poetry and poets Tadhkirat al-Shu’ara, wrote of a dialogue between the Khwarizm Shah and his son Jalal al-Din that is said to have been recounted by one of Khwarizmshah’s poets. He says that the son asked his father why, being a great King who ruled Iran unchallenged for 20 years, and famous for his bravery and power, he was now fleeing from a band of infidels (the Mongols) and allowing the Muslims to fall into their hands.
The father said: “My son, you do not hear what I hear.”
The son insisted on an explanation, so the father said:
“Every time I arrange my ranks for battle, I hear a group of the men of the unseen world (rijaal al-ghayb) saying: “O infidels, kill the evildoers!” (ayyuhal kafaratu’uqtulul fajarata); fear and terror and dread overcome me. Forgive me, my son.”
(Khwarizmshah then fled to an island on the Caspian Sea, where he died.)
“And it is related by those to whom hidden realities are unveiled (ashaab al-kashf) and by the saints of the faith that they saw the people of God (rijaal Allah) and al-Khadir in front of the army of Genghis Khan, guiding that army. The discernment of the intelligent is struck dumb by this phenomenon, and the wisdom of the wise is rendered weak by this fact; but ‘God does what He wishes and commands what He wills’ “.
The oldest story of them all, only 50 years after the Mongol destruction of Baghdad, comes from one of the discourses of the famous Indian Sufi Nizam ud-Din Awliya. In the year 708 AH/ 1308 CE, he talked about the famous Qalandari Sufi Qutb al-Din Haydar.
“When the emergence of Genghis Khan was underway, the infidels turned toward Hindustan; and during that time, [Qutb ad-Din Haydar] one day turned to his companions and said, “Flee from the Mongols, for they will prove to be overpowering.” They asked how this would be. He said: “They are bringing a dervish along with them, and they are under the protection of that dervish. In my inmost being (sirr), I wrestled with that dervish; he threw me to the ground. Now the reality is that they will be victorious; you must flee!” After that he himself went into a cave and disappeared; and in the end it happened as he had said.”
What’s interesting is that most of these accounts (and there are a few more scattered about), are unconnected to each other, and there is no evidence that their transmitters had knowledge of each others’ works. Whether or not they are true, Allah only knows. But when we see great catastrophes that we don’t understand in life, we must remember that Allah does what He wills, and that there is always a hidden reason that we don’t understand.
As Muhammad Iqbal said in his poem Jawab-e-Shikwa:
It is evident from the story of the Mongol invasions
that the Kaaba found new protectors in the people of the temples.
* DeWeese, Devin, “Stuck in the Throat of Chingiz Khan: Envisioning the Mongol Conquests in Some Sufi Accounts from the 14th to 17th Centuries”. History and Historiography of Post-Mongol Central Asia and the Middle East: Studies in Honor of John E. Woods, ed. Judith Pfeiffer and Sholeh A. Quinn in collaboration with Ernest Tucker (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2006), pp. 23-60.
* Muhammad Uthman al-Mirghani (al-Khatm): Taaj al-Tafaaseer li-Kalaam al-Malik al-Kabeer.
(See also Hulago Khan’s letter to the Mamluks where he claims to be sent by God against those who have incurred His anger: riyada.hadithuna.com/looking-back-at-history/ )