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The prophet and the saint: exploring tensions and possibilities for dialogue between faiths.


The qur'anic account of Moses is generally in accord with the biblical account. A major exception to this is one section in Surah 18. This section contains an extraordinary narrative of the prophet Moses and his mysterious travel companion. (1) The Qur'an does not present any information on the identity of this bizarre individual. On areas not elaborated, Islamic traditions generally complement the Qur'an. In the case of this narrative, however, parallel canonical traditions provide tantalizingly few additional details. Traditional Muslim scholars and Muslim mystics or Sufis have made their own contributions in terms of providing a further exposition of this narrative.

The narrative in question, in its diverse contexts, appears to have been a source of addressing the problem of the authority of Sufi knowledge. Sufism has, for centuries, subscribed to the notion of the saint's being "the heir of the Prophet" and sainthood's being "the heir of prophecy." Some Sufis even proposed the idea of the one succeeding the other to support their aspiration for revelation to be progressive and their role as the agents of revelation. Khidr seems to play an important role in this context. This, to me, is a promising development for a continuing dialogue between the Islamic and Judeo-Christian traditions.

The question of the relationship between the prophet (prophethood) and the saint (sainthood) has been unanswered. Traditions about "the companion" or Khidr have been a major source of this debate. Courtesy toward the prophets may have restricted the saints-sainthood part of the debate, but narratives challenging the traditional authority have long been in existence. This essay does not intend to reexamine the history of this debate or the qur'anic narrative per se. Patrick Franke's work (2) may be consulted for further background. Here, I examine how some within Sufism negotiate the tension between the notions of prophet/prophethood and saint/sainthood. The companion seems to be an important link in this process. The aim is to present a reading of the narrative that shows evidence of continuity between the Islamic and the Judeo-Christian traditions. This, to me, provides a basis on which these faiths can have a deeper level of dialogue.

I. Moses and His Companion: Identification with Khidr

The qur'anic story tells us of Moses' searching for and finding a travel companion at a place where "the two seas meet" (3) (possibly a picture of the interface between the worlds), (4) his covenant with this person, his journeys, conversations, and eventual "enlightenment." This story has been repeated and expounded on in both canonical and Sufi traditions.

Muslim historian Al-Tabari (d. 935 C.E.), in his major work on the history of the prophets and kings, held the view that the history is sacred because it involves God's prophets. He identifies Moses' companion with the enigmatic figure of Khidr. (5) Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari (810-70), the compiler of one of the canonical traditions, Sahih al-bukhari, included the qur'anic narrative in his work; he, too, named Moses' companion as Khidr. (6) The traditional narrative encompasses the following key details: God is said to have led Moses to Khidr, a learned contemporary; Moses requests Khidr to take him on as an apprentice; Bukhari is warned of the potential failure of this association; Moses, however, persists and comes off the wiser. Three bizarre and seemingly incomprehensible acts lead to Moses' gaining knowledge beyond mere concrete facts: First, Moses and Khidr are rescued by a boat without charge; then (1) Khidr deliberately removes a plank from the boat so it will sink, possibly drowning the sailors; (2) the two of them watch boys playing, and Khidr beheads one of the boys; and (3) although they are refused food by some people, Khidr repairs their wall that was about to collapse. In each case, Moses' overt incomprehension (possibly protest) reminds the reader of the impossibility for this association to continue. Moses, however, is in the end given an interpretation of these apparently absurd acts. The details of the new learning that Moses gains are similar in the traditional narratives and the qur'anic account.

As in the qur'anic narrative, in Islamic traditions Khidr is depicted as a wanderer. One can imagine travels in the early and medieval times to have been filled with all sorts of dangers. Large parts of the world were unexplored and unmapped, which would have often meant travelers' getting permanently lost and dying. Myths about traveling helpers like Khidr would have thrived in such a world. Nizami's (1141-1209) Iskandarnamah is one well-known Islamic source on the intrepid explorer and empire-builder Alexander the Great. Unsurprisingly, here, part of the success of this great traveler has been attributed to his travel companion, also called Khidr. (7)

This Khidr has been linked to St. George, which may reflect a sort of point of contact between Christians and Muslims. (8) In Turkey, Khidr tradition was rooted in the broader legends of saints and their miracles and an undeniable interface between Christians and Muslims at the ordinary level of spirituality. (9) Such traditions, however, were not limited to Muslim-Christian circles. Khwaja Khizr, Pir Badar, or Raja Kidar was venerated commonly as a deity among Muslims and Hindus on the Indus River near Bakhar, in the north Indian states of Bihar and Bengal, and at the Kataragama Shrine in Sri Lanka. (10) A Khidr-like figure has been popularly represented as an old mendicant clothed in green and, like Jonah, is believed to use the fish as his vehicle in travels. Hindus and Muslims share legends in which he plays a central role. In some of their folklore, he is believed to be the guardian of the vegetation and the Water of Life (see Surah 21:30), and his parallels are found in the Vedic stories of the elixir of life. He is, however, never identified with God in either folk-Islamic or Hindu tradition but instead holds a godlike position between God and humanity. The parallels to the qur'anic idea of Khidr's being found at the intersection of "the two seas" are located in the Rig Veda, where the sky god and the god of the celestial ocean, Varuna, is said to reside at the very source of the rivers seeking to preserve humankind from death through the elixir of life. (11) In certain Hindu traditions, the fish (also a significant part of Islamic Khidr traditions) is considered to be the vehicle of the gods; the river goddess Ganga (Ganges) is also presented as being supported by a fish. (12)

II. Khidr and Western Scholarship

The legends of a Khidr-like individual are far wider than Islam. The identification of the companion of Moses with such a figure is therefore not surprising. Arent Jan Wensinck and Julian Obermann (among others) suggested that Islam inherited the tradition of Khidr from some of the most ancient legends floating around the Islamic world as Muslims communicated with Christians and Jews. These legends are The Epic of Gilgamesh (hereafter, The Epic), Hibbur Yafeh me-ha-Yeshu'a, and the Alexander Romances. (13) The traditional identification of Moses' travel companion with Khidr likely occurred as a result of Muslim interaction with these sources. This, however, does not lead us to surmise that the qur'anic account itself owed to one or more of these sources.

The Epic, written around 2500 B.C.E., relates the adventures of Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk. An English scholar, George Smith, first found a tablet containing what seemed to him to be the Genesis account of the flood. It was later found that the tablet pre-dated the biblical account and formed part of The Epic, which led to the discovery of more tablets of The Epic. (14) Gilgamesh was believed to be two-thirds god and one-third man, hence, mortal. The story begins with the coming of Enkidu. Gilgamesh has no compassion for Uruk; therefore, the gods create Enkidu, a second self. Gilgamesh undertakes a journey of discovery with Enkidu, which transforms him. Wensinck suggests that The Epic was the source of the qur'anic story, a supposition that was most certainly based on his reading of the qur'anic commentaries. (15) The qur'anic commentaries use, as Brannon M. Wheeler has argued, "non-Qur'anic elements thick in Biblical allusions" (such as The Epic and the Alexander Romances). (16)

The Alexander Romances are said to be another possible source of the Khidr tradition in Islam. (17) Alexander (Sikander or Iskander in Islamic tradition) was the king of Macedonia (334-323 B.C.E.) who went on a campaign against the great Persian empire; by the time of his death his influence had stretched almost to the Indian subcontinent. He has inspired many different stories all over the world. (18) The argument that the Khidr tradition may have links to the Alexander Romances is based on two factors: first, the idea of the fish in Surah 18:61 and 63, which appears to dovetail with some versions of the Alexander stories; (19) second, the association of "the Alexander stories with Surah 18:60-82 was based on the presence of 'al-Khidr' in the Arabic, Ethiopic, and Persian versions of the Alexander stories." (20) John D'Urso, M.S.M Saifullah, and Elias Karim have argued, however, that the Arabic, Ethiopic, and Persian versions of Alexander stories are of later origin than Islam; hence, the Qur'an could not have borrowed the story from these sources. (21) Wheeler did not deny that Surah 18:60-82 could have links with the Alexander stories but argued that the later texts of these stories, including the ones in Arabic, Ethiopic, and Persian, relied on the Qur'an. (22)

The legend of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi's undertaking a journey with Elijah has interesting parallels with the qur'anic narrative. (23) Like Khidr, Elijah lays down rules for his association with the rabbi and does things that seem inexplicable. This association, as in Moses' case, changes Rabbi Levi. The purpose of this legend was inward; that is, to encourage Jewish people with a model for attaining perfect righteousness. (24) The question of source remains unsettled even here. Obermann argued (before the discovery of the original Arabic version) (25) that the source of the qur'anic account was the Jewish legend of Rabbi Ben Levi and Elijah. (26) However, Roberto Totolli is right in having suggested that, though some consider the story to be of Jewish origins, there is little agreement on this. Haim Schwarzbaum, for example, thinks it is of "composite origin." (27) Wheeler's position is that the Qur'an was not dependent on this Jewish source for the simple reason that an Arabic version pre-dates it. (28) Interpretations of the qur'anic narrative, however, are a different matter. Wheeler himself has argued that Muslim exegetes "intentionally used" ideas from the biblical sources and that in doing so they intended to "delineate a particular image of Moses." (29) There may have been an undercurrent of apologetic intent here, but that does not seem to be the primary point. What is worth noting is that Muslims were "purposeful" in integrating ideas "consonant with Jewish and Christian interpretation of the Bible." (30)

III. The Prophet and the Saint: The Problem of Khidr-Moses Relations in Islam

"Al-'Alim" ("the All-Knowing" or "the Omniscient") is one of the ninety-nine names of God. All Muslims are expected, therefore, to aspire for knowledge. Some passages in the Qur'an can be read as suggesting a knowledge-based hierarchy. (31) Writing on the growth and development of theology in Islam, Ignaz Goldziher said that the prophet did not expound on systematize the revelation. (32) Islam is a dynamic faith. As times changed, it continued to provide guidance to the faithful, defended the faith against challenges, and interacted with prevailing thought and other religions, leading to the phenomenal amplification of the traditional faith through jurisprudence, theology, philosophy, and mysticism. Those who engaged in such development activities have been described as the "heirs of the prophet." Different types of heirs contributed to the needs of changing times and circumstances. (33) Seyyed Hossein Nasr classified these as theologians, philosophers, Isma'ilis, and Sufis. (34) William C. Chittick classified them as jurists, theologians, philosophers, and Sufis. (35) These belong to two broad and complimentary categories, namely, traditional (jurists and theologians) and mystical (Sufis, philosophers, and Isma'ilis). Clearly, therefore, the heirs would be expected to present different readings of our narrative in Surah 18.

Traditional Islamic search for knowledge was represented by the continuing traditional interpretations of the Qur'an for edificatory-instructive and juristic-legal purposes. Here, the interpreters, legal experts, and theologians were considered to be the heirs of the prophet Mohammed. In interpreting the story of Moses and Khidr, the interest of this type of knowledge-seeker would be to reassert the traditional centrality accorded to the prophets and prophecy (the revelation). Those interpreting the revelatory text naturally assume the role of power and influence. Classical Arab philosophy ceased as a separate discipline with Ibn Rushd (1126-98) of Islamic Spain. It continued, however, in intellectual forms of Sufism and Shi'ism. Sufism became for mystics an alternative means to "the deeper meanings" of the prophecy that ceased after the prophet Mohammed. These mystics, too, thought of themselves as the heirs of the prophet but, in a sense, different from the traditional scholars (jurists and theologians). (36)

How do Sufis understand the Khidr-Moses narrative, and which of these traditions (Sufi or traditional) promises a realistic possibility of a deeper dialogue with Christians and Jews?

A. Khidr and Traditional Islam

Most traditional Muslims would believe Khidr to be either a special prophet under whom Moses apprenticed or an angel of God charged with the function of guiding the seekers of God or simply an unidentified mysterious individual of high prophetic status. These interpretations do not go beyond the traditional notions of "prophecy" and "prophethood."

Franke's work on Khidr shows him to be an important focus of the actual practice of a large amount of Muslim devotion around the world. In addition to underlining some of what we have discussed earlier, Franke also shows how Khidr's distinction as "the friend of God" is employed by many Muslims (through claims of direct encounters) as a way of endorsing certain beliefs, practices (and the traditions in support of these), legitimacy of individual leadership, and so on. The work is particularly useful, however, as it speaks of the existence of debates among Muslims on the matter of Khidr from an early period of Islam till now. One of the main debates has to do with his identity: Was he a prophet or a saint? (37)

Most traditional Islamic scholars understandably declare Khidr to be a prophet, hence undermining the Sufi claims of progressive revelatory knowledge through the means of a living "friend of God" (wali). Wheeler has noted that there is no agreement on his status as a prophet. (38) Wheeler's own list of authorities, which demonstrates this disagreement on Khidr's role, contains names such as Ibn Hajar (d. 1448, Shafi'ite scholar), Abu Hayyan Tawhidi (d. 1023, essayist and grammarian), Abu al-Hasan 'Ali b. Muhammad b. Habib al-Mawardi (d. 1058, Islamic law and qur'anic commentator), Abu al-Khattab b. Duhiyyah (d. c. 1236, Hadith scholar), and Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 1072, Sufi). All of these (except Qushayri) were traditional scholars. Duhiyya "sits on the fence" in suggesting he does not know whether Khidr was "an angel, a prophet or an upright servant of God"; Qushayri, as a Sufi, believed Khidr was not a prophet but a saint; all the rest support his role as a prophet, and Abu Hayan even suggests that "most scholars hold that he was a prophet." (39)

The question of Khidr's identity in relation to the prophet Moses (and prophecy in general) is, however, difficult to address. This task is further complicated because, in Islamic traditional narrative, he is apparently presented as a teacher of a major prophet, Moses. The qur'anic "history of salvation" seems to assume a single religion (din). God sends guidance to humanity in all ages. (40) Thus, all the previous prophets and prophecies were the means by which God led people onto the "straight path." The Qur'an sent down through the prophet Mohammed was the last of these. The stories of the prophets in the Qur'an therefore served the purpose of reminding people how God had been guiding people in the past and how these examples pointed to the prophet Mohammed's own role as the final prophet-messenger, the seal of all the prophets and prophecies.

Our problem is complicated, however, because Moses was not simply a nabi (prophet in the general sense) but was, like David, Jesus, and Mohammed, also a rasul (a messenger sent with a revealed book). Although the Qur'an calls Khidr a "servant of God" ('abd allah), he is not presented as holding the high title of nabi or rasul. If, however, he was merely a prophet (nabi) and not a messenger (rasul) like Moses, it would be difficult to answer the question as to how a prophet of lower spiritual rank was able to instruct Moses and how a prophet of Moses' rank followed him in order to be instructed in divine knowledge (Surah 18:66). For these reasons, one can suggest that the traditional Islamic interpreters previously referred to generally supposed that the companion of Moses was himself at least a prophet and at best a high-status but unidentified prophet-messenger.

The qur'anic use of the term rahm (mercy) in relation to Moses' companion can be used to support the argument that he was a prophet (Surah 18:65). We know the Qur'an often refers to God as the rahim, the benevolent, or rahman, the merciful (see Surah 1 and bismillah). One of the attributes of God in the Qur'an is his rahm (mercy). (41) The narrative in Surah 18 speaks of the companion as having received "mercy, from God." The notion of mercy characterized the prophets. (42) The phrase "mercy from God" is normally reserved for the prophets in the Qur'an. God channeled God's mercy to humanity through the prophets so that they might turn to the worship of the one God, Allah (Surah 21:107). God used the prophet Mohammed as God's mercy for the final time (see also Surah 11:28, 63).

This explanation regarding mercy does not solve the problem, as there is still doubt about whether Khidr was a plain prophet or a prophet-messenger. There is, however, broad agreement among traditional Islamic scholars on Khidr's being a prophet. The difference of opinion between them and the Sufis seems almost irreconcilable. However, such internal differences are signs of creative tension within Islam, and this is promising for interfaith dialogue.

B. Khidr in Sufism

Sufis, in contrast to traditional scholars, would think of Khidr as the wali-e kamil (the perfect saint or a "friend of God"). (43) The idea of "friendship" suggests that Khidr, like other saints, enjoyed a special intimacy with God and, thus, was a fount of revelatory knowledge. This knowledge qualified him to be a guide or mentor. Sufis such as Abu Muhammad Ruzbihan Baqli (1128-1209) spoke of him as "the immortal spiritual guide." (44) The idea of his being eternal is clearly based on his association with "the Water of Life"--the reason for his eternal youth (al-khidr means, literally, "the green man" or "the green one"). The green color of Sufism would represent, to some, not simply eternal life but also the freshness of divine knowledge. Khidr was, therefore, trusted as a living saint who answers prayer on behalf of God, and as a symbol of sainthood his function was paralleled with none greater than the seal of the prophets or prophecy, Mohammed. (45)

The Sufi position on Khidr assumes that he was neither a prophet nor a messenger but a saint-heir of the prophet Mohammed. (46) The Sufis would claim that knowledge of or from God is not the exclusive preserve of the nabi or rasul. The wali (saint) shares this quality with them as the heir of Mohammed. If, however, we assume that Khidr was not a prophet but a saint, this raises a serious question: How can a prophet of Moses' rank be taught by a "nonprophet," and how can the apparently different modes of revelatory knowledge be reconciled?

In speaking of Khidr, the Sufis draw on philosophy in Islam. Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani (d. c. 1021) was a well-known Isma'ili philosopher. His predecessor was Abu Ya'qub al-Sijistani (d. c. 971), who spoke of "the doctrine of ibda" (creation through an all-knowing mubdi', or Creator). (47) Al-Sijistani proposed a series of conscious emanations of this Creator beginning with "the Word of God" and ending with the corporeal world of humanity. (48) In Islamic philosophy, a clear distinction was not made between knowledge of the Creator and the Creator, and the Greco-Christian idea of the logos, the Word, was used as a parallel to the Neoplatonic idea of the Universal or the Chief Intellect. The logos was said to be the source of the creation and all the divine wisdom (hikma) or revelations (wahy) to saints and prophets alike. (49)

Isma'ilis claimed that the Ikhwan al-Safa' (tenth century C.E.), a group of unidentified scholars based in Basra who wrote an encyclopedic treatise called the Rasa'il, were themselves Isma'ilis. (50) The Rasa'il is a collection of fifty-two epistles, parts of which expand Plotinus' idea of Being (called "the One"), Intellect, and Soul. (51) These epistles conceive of "the One" as the Creator emanating into the Intellect, the Soul, the Prime Matter, the Nature, the Absolute Body, the Sphere, the Four Elements, and finally the beings of this world. (52) The "highest" state of knowable being was said to be the Intellect. Similar to the Isma'ilis, the Arab philosophers (al-Kindi, al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, and Ibn Rushd) were generally influenced by Neoplatonism. (53) In contrast to the Isma'ilis and the Arab philosophers, following the Persian Islamic theologian-mystic Abu Harold al-Ghazzali (1058-1111), and classical Muslims mystics, namely 'Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani (1098-1131), (54) Ibn 'Arabi (1165-1240), (55) Mir Damad (1543-1631), (56) Mulla Sadra (c. 1572-1640), (57) and Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi (1154-1191), (58) used the idea of the Light (nur) to denote the nature of the emanating Being. God was said to be the pure substance (jawhar) in contrast to the relational, creative, and knowledge-imparting aspect called the Light (often also used in a possessive construction as "the Light of Mohammed," nur-e muhammadiyya). Here the "Light" was a synonym of the "Spirit," and the "Light of Mohammed" a synonym of the "Spirit of Mohammed." The jawhar was the "Sheer Light" or the "Light of Lights" that remained unknown and unknowable. (59) This Light or the Light of Mohammed, however, was the knowable aspect of the Sheer Light, and this was manifest to the Sufis. For this reason, the Sufis in Islamic tradition (60) presented themselves as heirs of the Prophet Muhammad. (61)

One of the greatest Islamic mystics was Ibn 'Arabi. (62) He, like other mystics, believed Khidr to be a manifestation of the Spirit of Mohammed who taught the Sufis as their saint-guide. Ibn 'Arabi believed himself to have been initiated to the path to God and God's knowledge by Khidr. Khidr is, therefore, generally acknowledged by Sufis as the head of their silsila (chain of spiritual ancestry). As someone intimate with God, Khidr mediated life and knowledge. Like many others in the history of Islam, Ibn 'Arabi discussed the Moses and Khidr narrative in the background of the qur'anic account of them. In his discussion, he spoke of three grades of knowledge. (63) The lowest was that of the nabi, followed by the rasul. The highest grade was that of the "intimate knowledge" (al-'ilm al-ladunni) of the saints, who stand in "the presence of God." Khidr represented this level of being and knowledge. Although Ibn 'Arabi did not appear to declare directly Khidr's superiority over Moses, he seems to have presumed that Moses failed to comprehend Khidr for this reason of spiritual hierarchy or rank. (64) In one of his many writings, be suggested that the prophets and their prophecy were fulfilled by Khidr, the saint. (65) He attempted at reconciling these proposals by arguing that Mohammed (the prophetic exemplar) and Khidr (the saintly exemplar) represented two different "ways" of relating to God and different "phases" of a single continuum of revelation: the prophets, the conduits of the prophecy (nabuwat) contained in the texts of revelation; the saints, the conduits of sainthood (wilayat), the hidden truth or spirit of prophecy. (66)

This was obviously a problematic proposition, as it appeared to call into question the traditional priority of Mohammed as the final prophet and the very notion of prophecy. Working within the purview of Islamic Neoplatonism, this was addressed quite easily by Ibn 'Arabi, the Sufis following him, in my view. They supposed (at least notionally) that both nabuwat and wilayat were fundamentally rooted in a preexistent being (who can be called anything, even Khidr or Jesus). This being was named appropriately, however, as the Spirit or Light of Mohammed. (67) The supernatural nature of Khidr and Mohammed (and Jesus in some references) was clearly intended. The ontological status of this preexistent being was undoubtedly drawn from Islamic Neoplatonism. (68) Khidr, in this context, was assumed to be the material manifestation of the Spirit of Mohammed; thence came the assumption of his "superiority" over the prophet Moses.

IV. The Sufi Contribution: Basis for Dialogue between Faiths?

One cannot say with certainty what the purpose was of Moses' narrative in Surah 18, but we can speculate. We know in such cases as the change of the qibla (direction of prayer) from Jerusalem to Mecca that the lack of a favorable response from the Jewish tribes of Medina might have contributed to the abrogation of the old and the institution of the new direction for prayer (Surah 2: 142-144). Much in the same sense as the qur'anic Jesus is often portrayed as correcting the conceptions Christians hold about his supposed divinity and relations to God, this narrative may have originally been intended to "correct" the recalcitrant Jewish tribes who were refusing to acknowledge Mohammed as "the prophet like Moses," the promised messiah. If indeed this was the original qur'anic purpose, it is not clear from the traditional expositions. The Sufi exposition of this story, however, adds an interesting new dimension to the question of purpose, which is where the emphasis of this essay rests.

The qur'anic tradition of Moses, for the most part, is very similar to the biblical story. Apparently, the qur'anic story of Moses' journey and conversations with his mysterious companion forms one of the longest and most elaborate departures from the biblical narrative. One can argue, however, that the brief story of Abraham and Melchizedek (another mysterious person) in Gen. 14:18-20, does come close to this (not in details bur in the essential form--that is, a prophetlike figure associating with a mysterious figure and treating him as a superior or mentor). In the short Genesis narrative, Melchizedek appears from "nowhere" after Abraham's rescue of his nephew, Lot. He is not identified with any known prophet in the Hebrew scripture and is likely not even a Hebrew himself. However, be knows the one true God, whom he calls "El Elyon" (the Most High God); he knows God to be the Creator--but not simply a transcendent Creator, an immanent one too. Abraham may have missed this, but this is the God who has given Abraham the victory. The Christian Scriptures (Hebrews 7) identify this mysterious companion of Abraham as a type of Jesus Christ. As the Jewish believers in Jesus Christ looked back at their scriptures, they understandably saw Jesus prefigured there. The understanding was that Abraham's companion was superior in status to him; Jesus, being in the same order, "supersedes" the Hebrew priesthood. Clearly, from Jewish-Christian relations' point of view, much of the Christian Scriptures' elaboration of this connection would seem to be problematic. I do not wish to dwell on it, as this essay is not about that topic.

Beyond such promising though problematic scriptural ideas, on the actual plane of history the rise of Islam and its expansion in the Middle East witnessed a great "cultural interaction" between people of faiths. As Redefining Christian Identity shows, faced with the rise of Islam, Christians here adopted a number of strategies; of these, "inculturation" was one of the most abiding. (69) Theo M. van Lint's essay in particular speaks of Khidr and John the Baptist as patron saints of Muslims and Armenians. (70) Here, the fundamental issue has to do with the idea that poetry is divinely inspired, and the patron saints play a central role in it. Khidr, like the precursor of Jesus, John the Baptist, leads a new revelatory dispensation as a type of sainthood (wilayat). Friendship and intimacy with God marks sainthood as being different from prophecy (nabuwat). The association between faiths in the Middle East naturally led to "inculturation" around the mystical and saintly figure of Khidr, who, as the "friend of God" (wali, saint), possessed the hidden knowledge of God. (71) The parallels of Khidr-like biblical (for example, Elijah, John the Baptist, Melchizedek) and extra-biblical (for example, St. George) figures in Judeo-Christian traditions are therefore not surprising. (72)

As we have seen in an earlier discussion, the question of sources is rather complicated. It does need a more thorough discussion, although its significance in my view would be largely academic. What is noteworthy is that ideas such as those found in The Epic, the Alexander Romances, and the Jewish legends of Elijah and Joshua ben Levi were shared by the Jewish tribes, Christians, and Arabs alike; that at least in the case of the Muslim exegesis of Surah 18, Muslim scholars took the initiative to assimilate ideas from the broader consanguineous spiritualities of Christianity and Judaism. Christian and Jews did not lag behind in "inculturation," as I have noted above. This sort of shared nature of discourse from the past can serve as a promising context for furthering the discussion on dialogue among these faiths.

Arab philosophy flourished while the West was experiencing the so-called Dark Ages. This type of philosophy ceased after the great Spanish Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd died, but not before its elements were absorbed by Sufism. The philosophical categories enabled the great Muslims mystics to construct a broader worldview within which the language of immanence and intimacy received wide currency. Sufism was and remains a complex tradition within Islam. It continues today in both its intellectual and popular forms.

The attempts at identifying Khidr with the prophet Mohammed and Jesus in mystical contexts promise much for interfaith dialogue at both the ordinary and the intellectual levels. One should bear in mind that such dialogues would be viewed with suspicion if Christians read the Jesus of their tradition into a mystical tradition or if Khidr or the "Spirit of Mohammed" were presented as "the hidden Christ" or "Messiah" in Islam. Some inclusive traditions of Indian Christian theology, for example, do engage in similar discussions in the Hindu context. (73) Some Muslims, too, have not lagged behind in seeing the prophet Mohammed in the Bible. (74) I suspect that most serious theologians would reject this option for its overt vanity. Pragmatically speaking, I do not believe this holds much promise for any constructive interfaith dialogue. However, there is no reason why people of faiths may not agree to explore such developments in their own traditions if this happens in a spirit of friendship.

In such dialogical settings, one may recall developments in what has been called the "fulfillment theology." This theology gained enormous currency among theologians from the nineteenth to the early twentieth century. (75) The fulfillment tradition in the theology of religions is by no means dead, as a doctoral thesis on this subject shows. (76) The classical fulfillment theology was founded on the idea that religions possess relative truth, bur Christianity represents the sum total or fullness of them all. Needless to say, variants of this rather self-absorbed idea of fulfillment may seem to some to be immensely problematic. (77)

However, this idea also does hold immense promise for interfaith relations. The concepts of the "word" and "spirit" raise the level of discourse from history, time, and particularities to the timeless and cosmic realm of God. All particular historical developments in the knowledge of God, whether manifested intra- or interreligiously appear to be generating from this source of being and knowledge. Khidr, the Spirit of Mohammed, and Jesus in Islamic tradition seem to point in the direction of the cosmic and not to the particular or the historical. In this background, the companion of Moses in Surah 18:60-82, later identified as Khidr, may be seen as a particular "Islamic type" of revelation, "the Spirit of Mohammed," and an "ecumenical type" represented by the "the Spirit of Jesus." These types, as Muslim mystics show, "transcend" the exoteric prophetic religions in encouraging people of faiths to consider the option of direct intimacy with God. This framework provides a basis for thinking afresh that the ideas of love and immanence fulfill the law and prophets. Here is perhaps something common for Muslims, Christians, and Jews to use as the basis for further conversation.

However, there is the danger of pushing the distinction between the types too far. The idea that "prophet centricism" conceives of God in terms of transcendence is simplistic. It is true that, in supposedly mainstream Hebrew and Islamic cultures, prophets act as agents of the revelation of the Will of the transcendent God. People are deemed righteous when they fulfill the requirements of this Will. However, the authenticity of the prophetic message was predicated on the prophets' identity derived from the call, often accompanied by the performance of signs and wonders, charisma, and wisdom manifested in speech (involving fore- or forth-telling). Mohammed (who is not credited with having performed charismatic miracles--at least according to mainstream Islam) was the divine conduit for the appearance of the great miracle of the Qur'an. His call to prophecy is in the Qur'an (Surah 96 and 74), and this is corroborated in the Sirat and the Traditions. His identity as the true prophet was understood in relation to Moses (who himself had a clear sense of a call from God to prophecy). (78) Both call experiences are characterized by the intimacy of the propbets-to-be with God or God's angel. Islamic, Christian, and Jewish traditions where intimacy and direct apprehension of revelation are emphasized are, therefore, firmly founded.


We have noted that there are obvious similarities in the Moses narratives in the Qur'an and the Bible, and the exception to this is Surah 18:60-82. We have also noted how complex the question of sources is. The Epic, being the most ancient source, is likely a basis of the idea of Khidr-like individuals in the broader religious legends of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Cultural and historical contact among Jewish tribes, Christians, and Arabs are indisputable; therefore, it is not surprising that common legends such as those surrounding Khidr and Moses were exchanged among them. The question of which of these was the prime location of the idea is academic. What is significant is that such ties existed and such ideas were shared.

The approach of this essay was addressing a particular problem as raised by the Sufis. The Sufis took the notion of "the heirs of the prophet" to another level in supposing a sense in which sainthood was deemed to be a virtually new "phase" of revelation and saints the "new type of prophets." The debates on the issue of the identity of Khidr among both the traditional Muslims and Sufis suggest plurality was the norm. The Sufi position appears to be rather simple and not one that can be understood by the literalistic approach. Unsurprisingly, therefore, Sufism relied on philosophy in Islam to argue for the priority of sainthood and its exemplar, Khidr, without denying the notional centrality of the prophet Mohammed. It did so by supposing that sainthood, too, was rooted in Mohammed--not the Mohammed in "flesh and blood" but a supposed preexistent being called the "Spirit" or "Light of Mohammed." The companion of Moses, or the Khidr of Islamic traditions, was identified with this being.

Dialogues I have read about or been part of often make simplistic assertions about what is common in faiths. The stories of the prophets, not least Moses and Abraham, are advanced as evidence of common traditions. This is an important acknowledgment--but not if it means one has to ignore differences. Differences are important too. The analysis of a qur'anic narrative we focused on in this essay is an instance of the difference. However, at a deeper philosophical level, as in Sufism, this narrative becomes a basis for interfaith dialogue. A saint (Khidr) teaches a prophet-messenger (Moses), and this is fine because sainthood, like prophecy, flows from the same being. Prophecy and sainthood have the same divine roots. Mohammed's or Jesus' finality is preserved in the naming of the very roots of all revelatory knowledge: the Spirit or the Light of Mohammed and Jesus. This can be a tremendously promising start for interfaith dialogue.

Appendix 1: Surah 18:60-82 (Yusuf Ali's Translation)79

60. Behold, Moses said to his attendant, "I will not give up until I reach the junction of the two seas or (until) I spend years and years in travel."

61. But when they reached the Junction, they forgot (about) their Fish, which took its course through the sea (straight) as in a tunnel.

62. When they had passed on (some distance), Moses said to his attendant: "Bring us our early meal; truly we have suffered much fatigue at this (stage of) our journey."

63. He replied: "Sawest thou (what happened) when we betook ourselves to the rock? I did indeed forget (about) the Fish: none but Satan made me forget to tell (you) about it: it took its course through the sea in a marvellous way!"

64. Moses said: "That was what we were seeking after:" So they went back on their footsteps, following (the path they had come).

65. So they found one of Our servants, on whom We had bestowed Mercy from Ourselves and whom We had taught know[edge from Our own Presence.

66. Moses said to him: "May I follow thee, on the footing that thou teach me something of the (Higher) Truth which thou hast been taught?"

67. (The other) said: "Verily thou wilt not be able to have patience with me!

68. "And how canst thou have patience about things about which thy understanding is not complete?"

69. Moses said: "Thou wilt find me, if God so will, (truly) patient: nor shall I disobey thee in aught."

70. The other said: "If then thou wouldst follow me, ask me no questions about anything until I myself speak to thee concerning it."

71. So they both proceeded: until, when they were in the boat, he scuttled it. Said Moses: "Hast thou scuttled it in order to drown those in it? Truly a strange thing hast thou done!"

72. He answered: "Did I not tell thee that thou canst have no patience with me?"

73. Moses said: "Rebuke me not for forgetting, nor grieve me by raising difficulties in my case."

74. Then they proceeded: until, when they meta young man, he slew him. Moses said: "Hast thou slain an innocent person who had slain none? Truly a foul (unheard-of) thing hast thou done!"

75. He answered: "Did I not tell thee that thou canst have no patience with me?"

76. (Moses) said: "If ever I ask thee about anything after this, keep me not in thy company: then wouldst thou have received (full) excuse from my side."

77. Then they proceeded: until, when they came to the inhabitants of a town, they asked them for food, but they refused them hospitality. They found there a wall on the point of falling down, but he ser it up straight. (Moses) said: "If thou hadst wished, surely thou couldst have exacted some recompense for it!"

78. He answered: "This is the parting between me and thee: now will I tell thee the interpretation of (those things) over which thou wast unable to hold patience.

79. "As for the boat, it belonged to certain men in dire want: they plied on the water: I bur wished to render it unserviceable, for there was after them a certain king who seized on every boat by force.

80. "As for the youth, his parents were people of Faith, and we feared that he would grieve them by obstinate rebellion and ingratitude (to God and man).

81. "So we desired that their Lord would give them in exchange (a son) better in purity (of conduct) and closer in affection.

82. "As for the wall, it belonged to two youths, orphans, in the Town; there was, beneath it, a buried treasure, to which they were entitled: their father had been a rightcous man: So thy Lord desired that they should attain their age of full strength and get out their treasure--a mercy (and favour) from thy Lord. I did it not of my own accord. Such is the interpretation of (those things) over which thou wast unable to hold patience."


We pleased to welcome as our newest Associate Editor Dr. Marcia Sachs Littell, since 2002 the Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, in Pomona, N J, where she was the founding director of the first M.A. program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies in the United States (1997-2006). She directs the Philadelphia Center on the Holocaust, Genocide, anal Human Rights, anal, since 1980, has been Executive Director of the Annual Scholars' Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, both of which are based at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. The March 6-8, 2010, gathering was the 40th annual Scholars' Conference.

An internationally recognized Holocaust educator and scholar, Marcia Littell has conducted seminars, workshops, and lectures on three continents, including at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. She edited Holocaust Education. A Resource Book for Teachers and Professional Leaders (Edwin Mellen Press, 1985); and Liturgies on the Holocaust: An Interfaith Anthology (Edwin Mellen Press, 1986). She authored Women in the Holocaust: Responses, Insights, and Perspectives (Merion Westfield Press International, 2002); and is presently completing Breaking the Silence. A History of Holocaust Education in North America. 1945-2010. She has also co-edited fifteen books, most recently The Genocidal Mind (Paragon House Press, 2005). Her articles have appeared in a dozen other books.

Professor Littell received her B.S., MS., and Ed.D. (1990) from Temple University, and taught in Temple's Intellectual Heritage and Women's Studies programs, 1989-97, after which she moved to Richard Stockton College. She was also the International Executive Director of the Anne Frank Institute, 1981-89. In the 1970's, she taught in the Philadelphia and Lower Merion school districts anal at Philadelphia Community College. Summer teaching positions have taken her to Yad Vashem (1981-89), St. Joseph's University (2003), Warsaw University (2006), and Jagiellonian University in Krakow (2006-08).

In addition to J.E.S., she serves on the editorial advisory boards of Prism (Yeshiva University Graduate School of Education), Holocaust and Genocide Studies (a journal of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum), Bridges (a journal of Christian-Jewish dialogue), and Challenges (a journal of the Zachor Honor Society).

The widow of the late Franklin H. Littell, who served on the J.E.S. editorial board from our first issue in 1964 till his death in May, 2009, Marcie Littell is the mother of three married children: Jonathan Sachs, a Princeton, N J, physician (wife Susan is dean of the School of Nursing at The College of NJ): Rob Sachs and wife Terry, who are attorneys in Philadelphia; and Jennifer Sachs Dahnert and husband Stephen, who are affiliated with Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY; among them, there are seven grandchildren, ranging from 12 to 24 years of age. She also has four stepchildren: Stephen W. Littell, Karen Littell, Miriam Littell, and Jeannie Littell Lawrence, who lives with husband Duane in Las Vegas; among them they have given her four step-grandchildren and four step-great-grandchildren.

(79) Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur'an. Text, Translation, and Commentary (Elmhurst, NY: Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an, Inc., 1987), pp. 747-753.

(1) This traveler is henceforth referred to simply as "the companion" or "Khidr" (lit., "the Green One"), as he is named in the later traditional accounts. See more on this below.

(2) Patrick Franke, Begegnung mit Khidr: Quellenstudien zum Imaginaren im traditionellen Islam, vol. 82 (Beirut-Stuttgart: Beiruter Texte und Studien/Ergon, 2000); also see a review of this by Claudia Liebeskind in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol. 3, no. 65 (2000), pp. 569-570.

(3) Surah 18:60-82.

(4) See more in David Emmanuel Singh, "Ibn Arabi's Concept of Ma'ad with Special Reference to the Barzakh" (M.Th. thesis, Serampore, India, 1995).

(5) William M. Brinner, tr. The History of al-Tabari, vol. 3 (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991), pp. 1-18.

(6) Sahih Bukhari, 1:124; online text at

(7) See Minoo S. Southgate, tr., Iskandarnamah: A Persian Medieval Alexander Romance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1978).

(8) Mawil Izzi Dien, The Environmental Dimensions of Islam (Cambridge, UK.: Lutterworth Press. 2000), p. 56.

(9) F. W Hasluck, Christianity and Islam under the Sultans, ed. Margaret M. Hasluck (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929), pp. 63-74, 75-97, 278-297, and 319-336.

(10) See A[nanda] K[entish] Coomaraswami, What Is Civilization and Other Essays (repr., Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Press, 1989), pp. 157-167; and The Sunday Observer, April 7, 1991.

(11) See Ralph T. H. Griffiths, tr., The Rig Veda: Complete (1896); available at http://www sacred

(12) Coomaraswami, What Is Civilizatton and Other Essays, pp. 157-167.

(13) A[rent] J[an] Wensinck has valuable analysis of these links in his long essay on "al-Khadir" in M. Th Houtsma, T. W. Arnold, and E. Basset, eds., The Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 2 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1927), p. 862; Julian Obermann, Studies in Islam and Judaism: The Arabic Original of Ibn Shahin's Book of Comfort Known as the Hibbur Yaphe of R. Nissim b. Ya aqobh (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1933); see also Irfan Omar's work on "Khidr in the Islamic Tradition," The Muslim World, vol. 83, nos. 3-4 (1993), pp. 279-294.

(14) See George Smith, The Chaldean Account of the Deluge, Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 2 (1873), pp. 213-234; at For an E.T. of The Epic, see Andrew George, tr. and intro., The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Allen Lane, Penguin Press, 1999). Parallels include competition, conflict, and reconciliation, as well as Enkidu's accepting Gilgamesh's supremacy, pp. 22-29: expeditions to the forest of Cedar, pp. 30-38; the dreams, pp. 70-100, etc.

(15) A[rent] J[an] Wensinck, "Al-Khadir," Encyclopedia of Islam, vol. 4 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1978), pp. 902-903.

(16) Brannon M. Wheeler, Moses in the Quran and Islamic Exegesis (New York and London: Routtedge/Curzon, 2002), p. 9.

(17) See Southgate, Iskandarnamah.

(18) See E. A. Wallis Budge, The Life and Exploits of Alexander the Great: Being a Series of Translations of the Ethiopic Histories of Alexander by the Pseudo-Callisthenes and Other Writers (London: C. J. Clay and Sons, 1896): idem, The History of Alexander the Great Being the Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes (Cambridge. UK.: Cambridge University Press. 1889).

(19) One particular reference to fish m the Alexander Romances is interesting: Alexander and Khidr sit by a fountain to eat dried fish; a fish tails into the water and comes back to life. This is how they accidentally find the Water of Life. The Qur'an, too, speaks of the Water of Life where it is equated with the true knowledge of God (Surah 21:30). Sikandar's eventual failure (as in the Moses story) may owe to his disposition to understand things in concrete and rational terms, whereas, m the case of Khidr, "the Water of Life arrives unsought" (i.e., revealed indirectly by its effect on the fish).

(20) See Wheeler, Moses in the Quran and Islamic Exegesis, p. 11.

(21) John D'Urso, M. S. M. Saifullah, and Elias Karim, "Is the Source of Qur'an 18:60-65 the Alexander Romances?" in Islamic Awareness (August 17, 1999; updated October 5, 2005; available at

(22) Brannon M. Wheeler, "Moses or Alexander? Early Islamic Exegesis of Qur'an 18:60-65," Journal of Near Eastern Studies 57 (July, 1998): 191-215.

(23) Nissim ben Jacob Ibn Shahin [c. 990-1062], Hibbur yafeh me-ha-yeshu 'ah (eleventh century), tr. William M, Brinner as An Elegant Composition concerning Relief after Adversity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977).

(24) Avidov Lipsker, "How One Becomes a Perfect Saddik--A Comparative Study of "Nathan of the Radiance' and 'The Story of Joseph the Gardner of Ashkelon and his Wife,'" Fabula, vol. 42, nos. 3-4 (2001), pp. 243-262.

(25) Obermann, Studies in Islam and Judaism.

(26) Julian Obermann, "The Two Elijah Stories in Judeo-Arabic Transmission," Hebrew Union College Annual, vol 23, no. 1 (1950-51), pp. 387-404.

(27) Roberto Tottoli, Biblical Prophets in the Qur'an and Muslim Literature (London: Routledge, 2002), p. 59, n. 43; cf. Haim Schwarzbaum, "The Jewish and Moslem Versions of Some Theodicy Legends," Fabula, vol. 3, nos. 1-2 (1959), pp 119-169.

(28) Brannon M. Wheeler, 'The Jewish Origins of Qur'an 1865-82? Reexamining Arent Jan Wensinck's Theory," Journal of the American Oriental Society 118 (April-June. 1998): 153-171. See also Wheeler, Moses in the Quran and Islamic Exegesis, p. 20.

(29) Wheeler, Moses in the Quran and Islamic Exegesis, p. 9.

(30) Ibid.

(31) Surah al-Nahl 71, Surah Yusuf 76, and Surah al-Zumar 9.

(32) Ignaz Goldziher, Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law, Modern Classics in Near Eastern Studies, tr. Andras and Ruth Hamori (Princeton, N J: Princeton University Press 1981 [orig.: Vorlesungen uber den Islam (Heidelberg, 1910)]), p. 67 and n. 1.

(33) See Barnaby Rogerson, The Heirs of the Prophet Muhammad and the Roots of the Sunni-Shia Schism (London: Abacus, 2006).

(34) Seyyed Hossein Nasr, An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1993) p. 20.

(35) William C. Chittick, Ibn al-'Arabi's Metaphysics of Imagination: Sufi Path of Knowledge (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1989), pp. 147 ff.

(36) See Arthur F. Buehler, Sufi Heirs of the Prophet: The Indian Naqshbandiyya and the Rise of the Mediating Sufi Shaykh, Studies in Comparative Religion (Columbia, SC : University of South Carolina Press, 1998), pp. 1-28, 98-130, and 147-167. Buehler wrote of Sufis who saw themselves as the heirs of the prophets. See also Liyakat N. Takim, The Heirs of the Prophet. Charisma and Religious Authority in Shi'ite Islam (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2006).

(37) See note 2, above.

(38) Brannon M. Wheeler, Prophets in the Quran (New York: Continuum, 2002).

(39) Ibid., p. 225.

(40) See Norman Solomon, Richard Harries, and Tim Winter, Abraham's Children: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conversation (London: T & T Clark, 2005), p. 203.

(41) Oliver Leaman, "Al-Rahman," in Oliver Leaman, ed., The Qur'an: An Encyclopedia (London: Routledge, 2008), pp. 527-529.

(42) See John Renard, Seven Doors to Islam: Spirituality and the Religious Life of Muslims (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996), pp. 192-193.

(43) See earlier references to Qushayri and to Ibn 'Arabi below.

(44) Carl W. Ernst, Ruzhihan Baqli: Mysticism and the Rhetoric of Sainthood in Persian Sufism (Richmond, U.K.: Curzon, 1996), p. 52.

(45) See more on the relational aspect of God in a Sufi tradition from the twelfth century in David Emmanuel Singh, "The Possibility of Having Knowledge of Al-wujud Al-mahd 'Sheer Being' according to Ibn 'Arabi's K. Al-jalal Wa-l-jamal," Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, vol. 10, no. 3 (1999), pp. 295-306.

(46) Buehler, Sufi Heirs of the Prophet.

(47) Azim Nanji, "Isma'ili Philosophy," in Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Oliver Leaman, eds., History of Islamic Philosophy, part 1, Routledge History of World Philosophies 1 (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 149; see also Sura al-Baqara 117.

(48) Ian Richard Netton, Allah Transcendent: Studies in the Structure and Semiotics of Islamic Philosophy, Theology. and Cosmology (London: Routledge, 1989), pp. 213 and 221.

(49) Seyyed Hossein Nasr, "the Meaning and Concept of Philosophy in Islam," in Nasr and Leaman, History of Islamic Philosophy, part 1, pp. 21 and 34.

(50) Ian Richard Netton, Muslim Neoplatonists: An Introduction to the Thought of the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwan al-Safa') (London and Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1982), pp. 95-104; for an ideological connection between the Isma'ilis and the Brothers of Purity, see Nasr, Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines, p. 36; also S[amuel] M[Miklos] Stern. Medieval Arabic and Hebrew Thought, ed. F W. Zimmerman, Collected Studies Series 185, vol 5 (London: Variorum Reprints, 1983), pp 325-337.

(51) Ian Richard Netton, "The Brethren of Purity (Ikhwan al-Safa')," in Nasr and Leaman, History of Islamic Philosophy, part 1, p. 222.

(52) Ibid. pp. 227-228.

(53) See more in David Emmanuel Singh, Sainthood and Revelatory Discourse (Oxford: Regnum, and Delhi: ISPCK, 2003).

(54) To be distinguished from the fourteenth-century mystic Sayyid 'Ali Hamadani (1314-1385), a patron saint of Kashmiris; for details, see Jamal J. Elias, "A Second 'Ali: The Making of Sayyid 'Ali Hamadani in Popular Imagination," The Muslim World, vol. 90, nos. 3-4 (2000), pp. 395-419 See also Hamid Dabashi, "Mir Damad and the Founding of the "School of Isfahan,'" in Nasr and Leaman, History of Islamic Philosophy, vol. 1, pp. 597-634, for details of sources on Ayn al-Qudat Hamadani, a Muslim mystic-philosopher.

(55) A mystic-philosopher whose works show the continuation of Greek and Arab philosophy into Sufism; Julian Baldick, in his Mystical Islam: An Introduction to Sufism (London: I. B. Taurus, 1989), p. 69, noted that Ibn 'Arabi was chief among those who systematized philosophical mysticism in Islam.

(56) See Dabashi, "Mir Damad," pp. 597-634; "Mir Damad was the teacher of Mulla Sadra, a well-known Shi'i philosopher who considered his teacher to be superior to al-Farabi and Ibn Sina.

(57) Also called Sadr al-Din al-Shirazi, he was one of the main inheritors of Ibn 'Arabi's thought in Persia; he attempted a reconciliation of Arab philosophy, Shi'ism, and the thought of Ibn 'Arabi and is known as the thunder of existentialism. For details, see Fazlur Rahman, The Philosophy of Mulla Sadra (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1975).

(58) Known as "Master of Illumination" (shaykh al-ishri) and the Illuminationist (ishraqi) tradition; see Hossein Ziai, "Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi: Founder of the Illuninationist School," in Nasr and Leaman, History of Islamic Philosophy, part 1, pp. 434-496.

(59) See, for details, Fadlou Shehadi, Ghazali's Unique Unknowable God: A Philosophical Critical Analysis of Some of the Problems Raised by Ghazali's View of God as Utterly Unique and Unknowable (Leiden: E J. Brill, 1964); and David B. Burrell, Knowing the Unknowable God: Ibn-Sina. Maimonides, Aquinas (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1986).

(60) See more on Sufi brotherhoods in Alexander Knysh, Islamic Mysticism: A Short History (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2000), pp. 169-244, 301-302, and 245-300; and Ian Richard Netton, Sufi Ritual: The Parallel Universe (Richmond, U.K.: Curzon, 2000), pp. 61-102.

(61) See Buehler, Sufi Heirs of the Prophet, pp. 29-54.

(62) See more on Ibn 'Arabi in David Emmanuel Singh, Wilayat and the Bayan: Examining the Bases for the Authority of Revelatory Discourses in Mystical Islam (Saarbrucken: VDM Verlag Dr Muller, 2009), pp. 30 and 52-56.

(63) From ladun, meaning "in the presence of, in front of, before or with, in possession of (God)."

See Hans Wehr, Arabic-English Dictionary, ed. J. Milton Cowan (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1979), pp. 863 and 863; and Ibn 'Arabi, Futuhat al-makkiya (Cairo) I-IV, 1274H, II.41.

(64) Ibn 'Arabi, Futuhat al-makkiya (Cairo) I-IV, 1274H, II.41.

(65) Ibid., II.262

(66) Ibid., II.261.

(67) Sahl bin 'Abd Allah al-Tustari (c. 818-896) was a famous Sufi from Iraq. The dhikr brings about the experience of intimacy--a point at which God "begins to effect his own recollection in the heart of his perfected servant." See Gerhard Bowering, The Mystical Vision of Existence in Classical Islam: The Qur'anic Hermeneutics of the Sufi Sahl At-Tustari (d. 283/896) (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1980), pp. 153-157.

(68) See Singh, Sainthood and Revelatory Discourse, pp. 73-83 and 84-101, for details on the different names used for the source of knowledge and being in Sufism and related traditions; the spirit of Mohammed is comparable to the logos, which is at once both the source of creation and knowledge of God.

(69) J[an] J. van Ginkel, H[eleen] L. Murre-van den Berg, and T[heo] M. van Lint, Redefining Christian Identity: Cultural Interaction in the Middle East since the Rise of Islam, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 134 (Leuven, and Dudley, MA: Peeters, 2005).

(70) Theo M. van Lint, "The Gift of Poetry: Khidr and John the Baptist as Patron Saints of Muslim and Armenian 'Asiqs--Asuls," in van Ginkel, Murre-van den Berg, and vaza Lint, Redefining Christian Identity, pp. 335-378.

(71) See ibid., p 369

(72) See ibid., p. 366.

(73) See Robin H. S. Boyd, An Introduction to Indian Christian Theology (repr, Delhi: ISPCK, 2000).

(74) See Zakir Naik, "Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the Bible, "available at http://www.islam.101 com/religions/Christianity/mBible.htm

(75) See J[ohn] N[icol] Farquhar, The Crown of Hinduism (London and New York: H. Milford, 1913; repr., New Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint Corp., 1971); and Kenneth Cracknell, Justice, Courtesy, and Love: Theologians and Missionaries Encountering World Religions, 1846-1914 (London: Epworth, 1995).

(76) Ivan Satyavarta, "God Has Not Left Himself without Witness" (Ph.D thesis, Open University, Milton Keynes, UK., 2001).

(77) See a liberal development in William Ernest Hocking, Re-thinking Missions: A Laymen's Inquiry after One Hundred Years (New York: Harper and Bros. 1932); and a conservative response in H[endrik] Kraemer, The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, International Missionary Council (New York: Harper & Bros., 1938). The Catholic fulfillment theology is a separate field of enquiry in itself, from Raimundo Pannikar's Unknown Christ of Hinduism (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1964; rev. ed., Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1981) to Jacques Dupius, Toward a Chrtstian Theology of Religious Pluralism (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997), and Felix Wilfred, Beyond Settled Foundations: The Journey of Indian Theology (Madras: University of Madras, 1993).

(78) See David Emmanuel Singh, "Muhammad, 'The Prophet Like Moses'?" Journal of Ecumenical Studies 43 (Fall, 2008); 545-561.

David Emmanuel Singh (Methodist) has been a Research Tutor at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies in the U.K., and editor of Transformation, a journal published by SAGE Publications since 2003. He has also been Admissions Tutor and Leader of the MPhil. program validated by the University of Wales, since 2005. He was on the staff of the Henry Martyn institute in Hyderabad, India, from 1998 till 2001, and an editor of its .journal. He worked previously with the Bible Society of India for North West India (in New Delhi), 1995-98; lectured at Allahabad Bible Seminary (1992-93) and Union Biblical Seminary, Pune (1990-91); and worked for World Vision on community development and child-care projects in New Delhi (1984-87). He holds a B.Sc. from the University of Allahabad, a B.D. and an M.Th. from the Serampore College, and a PhD. (2003) from the University of Wales. He lectures and participates in professional consultations in the U.K. and throughout South Asia, mentors and examines M.Phil. and Ph.D. students, and is a consulting editor of the Dictionary of South Asian Theology. His publications include over 50 journal articles, in addition to book chapters, reviews, and dictionary entries. He is co-editor (with B. C. Farr) of Christianity and Cultures. Shaping Christian Thinking in Context (Regnum, 2008), and editor of Jesus and the Cross. Reflections of Christians from Islamic Contexts (Regnum/Paternoster, 2008). He published Sainthood and Revelatory Discourse. An Examination of the Bases for Bayan's Authority in Mahdawi Islam (Regnum International and ISPCK, 2003). Forthcoming volumes include Theological Education: Shaping Christian Thinking in Context; Jesus and the Incarnation Reflections of Christians from Islamic Contexts; and The Gujjars of the Rajaji National Park: Deobandi Islamization and the Gujjar Response.
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Author:Singh, David Emmanuel
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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