Where Two Seas Meet: Al-Khidr and Moses— The Qur’anic Story of al-Khidr and Moses in Sufi Commentaries as a Model for Spiritual Guidance


Sufi teachers often refer to al-Khidr, the immortal Green Man, the guide of Moses in the Qur’an (18:60-82), to whom Sufi saints or spiritual masters are connected, to validate spiritual authority, teaching or practice. Here, three medieval Sufi Qur’an commentators — al-Qushayri, Ruzbihan Baqli, and al-Qashani — explain this story in their Qur’an commentaries to describe the master-disciple relationship and aspects of the Sufi path.


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The immortal Islamic Green Man, al-Khidr, has been compared to the Celtic Green Man, Hermes and the Buddha and in cultural practice to Elijah and Saint George. Al-Khidr figures prominently in the Qur’an, Hadith, hagiographies, and the Alexander Romance. He is cited by Sufi teachers, who draw wisdom from his story as the guide of Moses (Qur’an 18:60-82) about the Sufi path and spiritual authority.

This book presents the explanations of the story as shown by three medieval Sufi Qur’an commentators, al-Qushayri (986-1072), Ruzbihan Baqli (1128-1209), and al-Qashani (d. 1329), presented here in translation for the first time. In addition, it reveals al-Khidr’s special compassion and inner knowledge (‘ilm al-ladduni) as divine inspiration distinct from conceptual knowledge and as a model of the mentoring master (shaykh al-suhba), who is distincet from the instructing master (shaykh al-ta‘lim) discussed in hadith, Qur’an commentaries, and hagiographies. The master-disciple relationship, particularly the role of companionship (suhba) and manners (adab) is central.

Where Two Seas Meet also includes important Sufi stories, including those of Rumi, Hafiz, and Ibn ‘Arabi. It then explores the story in light of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker’s theory of human death-denial through the aspiration for both physical and symbolic immortality. This book will empower people in understanding and navigating the dynamics of the master-disciple relationship and learn to value that relationship, deal with death-anxiety, and understand and pursue the quest for symbolic immortality at the heart of our lives. This book opens a conversation about a story that has been more acclaimed than studied, more valorized than examined, more revered than understood, and illuminates the dynamics of the master-disciple relationship and our relationship to death and dying and the quest for immortality.

[Moses] found one of Our servants – a man to whom we had granted Our mercy and whom We had given knowledge from Our own. – Qur’an (Kahf) 18:65 Blessed is the one who finds such a “servant” and who holds the story of Moses and al-Khidr in his heart, and makes it his Imam. – Shams-i Tabrizi




H. Talat Halman here provides a rewarding meditation on the crucial Qur’anic story of al-Khidr and Moses.Drawing on the key Sufi concept of the master-disciple relationship, this book opens a window onto one of the world’s richest and most enigmatic spiritual narratives, which continues to resonate across religious boundaries.
Carl W. Ernst, author of How to Read the Qur’an: A New Guide, with Select Translations.
"Hugh Talat Halman’s forensic analysis reviews what others have said of Khidr and Moses, looking at a treasure trove of scriptural, hagiographical, and folkloric material on the Islamic Green Man. But it also adds a radically new, and refreshingly existential, perspective. Just as the Khidr-Moses narrative is the centerpiece of the Cave Chapter, which itself is the showcase for major elements of the Holy Qur’an, so this pioneering study by Halman brings to light features of Khidr-Moses not clearly foregrounded by others, with productive benefit for all future enquirers into this wellspring of Muslim spirituality."
Bruce B Lawrence, Nancy & Jeffrey Marcus Humanities Professor, Professor of Islamic Studies, Duke University
The story of Moses and Khidr stands at the very heart of the Islamic mystical tradition. It’s all here: the relationship between a master and a seeker, mysteries and paradox, the path, parting and union, and above all, Intimate Knowledge from God’s own presence. No one, no one, has done more to unpack and explore this narrative than H. Talat Halman, and this long-anticipated volume is most enthusiastically recommended for all students of Islam, as well as readers of all spiritual traditions who seek the mysteries. A must read!
Omid Safi, Professor of Islamic Studies, UNC Chapel Hill