The Green Man and Al-Khidr of Islam

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The Green One

by Asiff Hussein

Al-Khidr literally means 'The Green (one)', though Muslim commentators are not agreed on who he exactly was. Some say he is a prophet while others say he is a wali meaning one who is close to God, in other words, a saint.

There can however be no doubt that it is he who figures in the Qur'an as the unnamed servant of God who initiates Moses into the mysteries or rather paradoxes of life.

Who he was is clearly mentioned in a hadith or saying of the Prophet Muhammad recorded in the Sahih Al-Bukhari where he figures in an episode identical to that related in the Qur'an. He is here called Khidr and described as a man covered with a garment. Another tradition of the Prophet recorded in Bukhari has it that Al-Khidr was so called because if he sat over a barren white land, it turned green with vegetation. Folk beliefs

Around this mysterious personage have grown a number of folk beliefs in various parts of the Muslim world, especially in Asia Minor and the Near East. The mystical tradition of the Sufis has it that he is immortal, having drunk of the Maul Hayat or 'Water of Life' though one wonders how this could be reconciled with the statement in the Qur'an that every soul shall taste of death. Sanctuaries dedicated to Khidr are said to exist in Samandag in Turkey, Samarqand in Uzbekistan and Bhakkar Island in Pakistan.

The Muslims of Sri Lanka know Khidr by various names. He is called Kilur, Kalir or Halir, all derivatives of the Arabic Khidr as well as Hayatun Nabi or 'The living Prophet'. This is in spite of the fact that it is Prophet Muhammad who is considered the last of the prophets in Islam. The rituals that have grown round Khidr here are however somewhat different from those existing in other parts of the Muslim world and show considerable South Indian influence, especially with regard to customs such as the flag-hoisting which constitutes an integral part of the local tradition.




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"...There are legends of him (Khidr) in which, like Osiris, he is dismembered and reborn; and prophecies connecting him, like the Green Man, with the end of time. His name means the Green One or Verdant One, he is the voice of inspiration to the aspirant and committed artist. He can come as a white light or the gleam on a blade of grass, but more often as an inner mood. The sign of his presence is the ability to work or experience with tireless enthusiasm beyond one's normal capacities. In this there may be a link across cultures, ... one reason for the enthusiasm of the medieval sculptors for the Green Man may be that he was the source of inspiration." — William Anderson, "Green Man: The Archetype of our Oneness with the Earth"

Al-Khidr, The Green Man

Khidr literally means 'The Green One', representing freshness of spirit and eternal liveliness, green symbolizing the freshness of knowledge “drawn out of the living sources of life.” Whatever the source for this green may he, it has come to symbolize the benign presence of the divine wisdom as imparted by the Divine Himself to Khidr and to Prophet Muhammad.

Qur'ânic commentators say that al-Khidr ('The Green Man' of pre-Islamic lore) is one of the prophets; others refer to him simply as an angel who functions as a guide to those who seek God. And there are yet others who argue for his being a perfect wali meaning the one whom God has taken as a friend.

Khidr is associated with the Water of Life. Since he drank the water of immortality he is described as the one who has found the source of life, 'the Eternal Youth.' He is the mysterious guide and immortal saint in popular Islamic lore and the hidden initiator of those who walk the mystical path.

In the Muslim tradition Khidr is alive and well and continues to guide the perplexed and those who invoke his name.


Idris and al-Khidr


The Biblical Idris is Enoch (Genesis V/23) who lived for 365 years on earth, a healer, teacher, one well versed in sciences and the arts and one whom God took unto himself. The consonants of the word Enoch, mean ‘initiated’. Hebrew Hanoch means initiator or opener of the inner eye.

The Koranic Idris is al-Khidr who appears in Sura 18/66 (Al Kalf, The Cave), where Moses and his attendant go on a long journey to a point where two rivers met, a point to be seen even though the march would take them ages. According to revelation received by Prophet Mohammad, they meet a personage who is “one of our slaves, unto whom we had taught knowledge peculiar to us” (wa 'allalnnahu min ladunna ilmy). This phrase alone categorically asserts the transmission of theosophia or divine wisdom down the ages, through Divine Guides or Teachers as the word rusted implies in the question Moses asks him: May I follow you on the understanding that you, a rusted teach me, what you have been taught?"

What were the hallmarks of the teachings of the hanifs or illuminati?

  1. Laws of involutionary and evolutionary cycles.
  2. Laws of emanation and manifestation.
  3. Science of the heart-mind (qalb)
  4. Science of Light (hikmat al-ilraq)
  5. The spiritual communion with the hierarchial Beings.

The periodical manifestation of Light called Logos, Christ or Word in Christianity, Buddha in Buddhism. Teerthamkara in Jainism, is termed qutb in Islam. Ali al Hujwiri in Khashf al Mahajab writes of such a hierarchy; "Besides the Qutb or Axis of the Universe, are three called Ifuqaba, four Awtad, seven Abrar". Ibn al-Arabi too refers to seven Abdal.

It is significant that over and over again, the Quran uses the words We, Our, Us. The sense of preservers of the cosmic order can be attributed to these words. Sura xxxvii/l64 As-Saffat, Those Who Set the Ranks, reads:

There is not one of Us but hath his known position
Lo! We, even We are They who set the ranks."

The Greeks call al-Khadir, Hormux (Hermes) the adept and Initiator into the Temple Mysteries of the Great Pyramid. Isaiah 19/2 of the old Testament refers to this Pyramid Temple as the "altar to the Lord in the middle of Egypt". Hermes, known to the Arabs as Idris, was called Enoch by the Hebrews.

The Spanish Arab historian Said of Toledo (d. 1069) said:

“Sages affirm that all antediluvian sciences originate with the first Hermes who lived in Said in upper Egypt.”

Idris, Enoch, al Khidr and Hermes all seem to be one person. This guide al-Khidr initiates Moses into deeply esoteric lore. The ijnaj Ilhami, in Hadith traditions, consider al-Khadir as a holy being, mysterious and immortal whom all spiritual initiatory orders revere as the Master of the Path (Tariqa). Al-Khidr is often mentioned as the Green Angel Guide in Islamic writings. In fact, in Egyptian frescoes he is some times painted green with the head of an ibis.

Al-Khidr can most certainly be connected as the head of the ancient school of the Prophets, el-Khadoras on Mt Carmel (modern Haifa). This sacred mount in mentioned as having been handed back with endowment by Thutmose III in the 1449 B.C. documents which recorded his conquest of the region. He was a great initiate himself. Iamblichus, the Syrian philosopher, calls it the most holy of all mountains, forbidden of access to the profane. The Phophets Elijah, Elisha and Samuel are all recorded to have visited the schools for disciples at Naioth, Bethel and Jericho.

A very valuable text was among others withdrawn by the official circles of the Church from public use. It was the Apocalypse of Elias - a very sacred text of the mystic order of Nazarenes or Essenes, to which order Joseph, Mary, John the Baptist and Jesus himself belonged. Fortunately in 1893 Maspero discovered a Coptic translation of it in the monastic archives of the Brotherhood in Upper Egypt. It gave many details of the school of prophets where the ancient wisdom was imparted at Al Khador.

From Theosophy and Islam, by Theja Gunawardhana


    Al-Khadir, Alexander and the Fountain of Life

    Kataragama's Islamic Legacy

    In worldwide Islamic tradition, the story of the prophet or saint known as Khwaja Khadir (Khizr) occupies a role of special distinction. A popular and familiar figure since early pre-Islamic times, al-Khadir (Arabic: 'The Green Man' ) is reputedly the only soul who has gained life immortal from tasting of the Ma'ul Hayat or Fountain of Life once in the distant past, possibly at Kataragama, Sri Lanka, or Khidirgama, 'the home of al-Khadir' according to oral traditions that likewise live on to this day.

    In spite of the scorn and disbelief evinced by modern-educated Muslims, the great majority of Islamic believers have long accorded the utmost respect toward this mysterious figure whom theologians variously class as a saint, a prophet or even as an angel. Elusive yet omnipresent, al-Khadir has long been said to reveal himself to those who are worthy of his companionship, to whom he transmits the sirr or divine secrets. Even today, face-to-face encounters with Khwaja Khadir are not uncommon among Islamic mystics in Sri Lanka and worldwide.

    By assembling a composite picture of al-Khadir as he is portrayed in the Holy Qur'an, in Persian literature and pre-Islamic legendary sources, a possible basis for Kataragama's long association with the ever-youthful 'servant of Allah' emerges. Intriguing patterns come to light that relate al-Khadir to Iskandar or Alexander the Great, who may represent the historical archetype from which evolved into the pan-Indian cult of the war god Skanda.

    Popular tradition concerning al-Khadir also finds ample support among learned scholars, the ulema. Some say that Khizr lived at the time of the biblical prophet Abraham and that he still may be seen at sacred places. According to the Isaba, 882, he was given immortality after a conversation with his friend the archangel Rafa'il in order to establish the true worship of God on earth and to maintain it.

    According to hadith or canonical account, al-Khadir was seen at the funeral of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (sal) offering condolence to the Prophet's bereaved companions. Khizr lives on an island (al-Tabari, i, 442) or upon a green carpet in the heart of the sea (al-Bukhari, Tafsir, sura 18, bab 3). He can find water beneath the ground and talks the language of all peoples (al-Suri). Others say that he can make himself invisible at will. Khizr and the biblical prophet Elijah perform haj annually and often appear in the disguise of bedawis. Both are entrusted with the duty of protecting travelers on their journeys. Elsewhere, al-Khadir's realm is an earthly paradise within the human world where Khadir rules over saints and angels; known as Yuh (also a name of the sun), it is situated in the far North.

    According to early Islamic historians, Khizr was the vizier (Arabic: wazir) of Zul-qarnain, 'The Two-Horned', who is generally considered to be identical with Alexander the Great of Macedonia (4th cent. BC). Al- Baizawi says, “He was Sikandar ar-Rumi, King of Persia and Greece.” Says al-Qastalani, the commentator on al-Bukhari, “Zul-qarnain was a king named Sikandar, whose wazir or chancellor was Khizr.”

    In Islamic tradition, al-Sikandar or Iskandar is recalled as a saintly leader or prophet whose armies conquered both East and West. Together with Khizr, who is variously portrayed as Alexander's cook, vizier or general leading the vanguard of his troops, Alexander is represented as having set out to reach the End of the World or the Land of Darkness in search of the Water of Life. “Alexander is guided by Khizr, but when they come to a parting of the ways, each follows a different path, and Khizr alone accomplishes the quest.

    “Nizami attributes Iskandar's failure to his eagerness (deliberately, in planned fashion) whereas in the case of Khizr 'the Water of Life arrived unsought'.” Khizr the cook, general or vizier did so naturally and in the course of duty, whereas Alexander was following his 'own' plan, i.e. with a sense of personal accomplishment or authorship. In this sense, Iskandar failed in the grail quest because he was, as it were, seeking to set himself up as a divinity, a purely hypothetical partner to Allah, Who alone is real. In contrast, Khizr found the Water of Life without even suspecting it.

    In the Holy Qur'an, passages concerning al-Khadir and Zul-qarnain occur in the eighteenth Sura called, significantly, Kahlf (Arabic: 'cave'; cf. Sanskrit Guha 'cave', also a name of Skanda), a compendium of mystical secrets revealed in response to three questions about legendary figures put to the Prophet Mohammed (sal) by skeptical Jewish doctors. One concerns the legend of time-traveling sleepers sealed up in a cave.


The Spirit and Flesh Sacred Texts Online Library: world religion and spirituality, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Gnosticism, Alchemy, Paganism, and more.