by Karima Omar
” ... and never afraid of the reproaches of such as find fault. .. ”—Sura 5:54
Who, me?! Fear creatures over their Creator?! Look to mere mortals for approval and validation more than to Allah (SWT)? Well—my heart rate has been known to increase by a few hundred beats per minute when that linebacker of a sister charges towards me to stuff a stray lock of hair back into my hijab. And yeah, I’ve been known to slow down my nafal salat to sub-chicken pecking speed when I happened to be in the masjid. Must have been something in the carpeting there. Sure. That’s it.
OK: I admit it. I am a recovering Islamic Co-dependent. There. I said it. True confessions time. For, as incomprehensible as it may appear to the naked eye of today, I was once—perfect.
Got your attention, didn’t I? No, I wasn’t perfectly perfect. Perfection was—my hobby. OK, it was often my idol, the flimsy icon with which I committed the Subtlest sort of shirk. Indeed, I was so preoccupied with the external details of Islam that I nearly forgot about Allah (SWT). For that matter, the internal details managed to distract me pretty thoroughly as well.
Qur’an is filled with allusions to this syndrome—this Pharisaism, this all-too human tendency to allow the letter of the law to eclipse the spirit. Even in the word “shar’iah” we are reminded that the law itself is a “way to water”. It takes us to that place in which we can quench our thirst—it takes us Home to our Creator, our Source. But—even Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala is not the water—astaghfirullah! He is the Source of the thirst -slaking stuff; He is the origin of the thirst, of the longing—and of the ultimate satisfaction.
Sayyidina Musa (AS) received a painfully profound lesson on this score—in his encounter with the mysterious “servant” referred to in Sura Kahf (18:65-82). In fact, in light of these ayat, it seems that the Divine sense of humor was acutely active in the life of this Prophet. After all: Moses had the challenge of bringing the Law to the idolatrous Israelites (to say nothing of the particulars of his early life amidst the Egyptians!)—who promptly regressed to their old ways. In other words—the Law was undoubtedly a prominent theme in all aspects of his life, to put it mildly!
The story is so familiar, yet, as with the Qur’an in general, each reading, each paraphrasing, reveals yet another facet of the diamond. “So they found one of Our servants, on whom We had bestowed Mercy from Ourselves and whom We had taught knowledge from Our own Presence. 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?’ (The other) said: ‘Verily thou wilt not be able to have patience with me! And how canst thou have patience about things about which thy understand is not complete?’” (ayat 65-68)
According to tradition, this mysterious guide is Khidr (“Green”). Imam Muhyddin Ibn Arabi identifies him as Balya ibn Malikan and—oh, Khidr himself would undoubtedly scold me for even worrying about his identity!
So—here is Prophet Musa (AS), the Messenger of the Law, of a code of proper conduct and behavior and worship. Naturally, he would humbly defer to a teacher more learned than himself (taught, after all, by the Divine Presence!); patience for such a being would undoubtedly come easily! Musa hastens to assure Khidr that he will be a receptive student obedient and loyal.
We know the story: on three occasions, Khidr commits acts which defy the Law which Allah (SWT) had revealed through Musa. Each time, Musa (AS) speaks up; each time, Khidr rebukes him—until at last he says that they must part. Khidr explains the reasons—the higher reasons—for all of his actions, for scuttling a boat, for committing murder, for working without recompense in spite of the inhospitable behavior of the townsfolk.
Khidr is the fresh, green growth of Divine Guidance. He reminds us that indeed, “If the ocean were ink (wherewith to write out) the words of my Lord, sooner would the ocean be exhausted than would the words of my Lord, even if we added another ocean like it, for its aid” (18: I 09), that Allah’s (SWT) Revelation is real and relevant in each and every moment—of each and every age. It is never limited by the cramped confines of human logic and comprehension; it uses law as a tool for our benefit—not as an end unto itself.
Khidr continues to smash through our complacency, our infatuation with our own piety, our tendency to judge, to “enjoin the• good and forbid the evil” externally-rather than turning it inside-out. After all-if we start such a process within ourselves, allowing Allah (SWT) Alone to Judge our actions, worship and intentions, those around us will quite naturally fall into the rhythm of our example.
Khidr reminds us of the subtlety, the insidious delicacy of the traps which befall the practicing (and stridently perfect!) Believer. His message is far from original-it is simply—from the Origin! It is not cluttered with the glitter of intellect, nor is it all decked out for Paradise. it is an affirmation of the ayah, “And have in their mind no favor from anyone for which a reward is expected in return, but only the desire to seek the Countenance of their Lord Most High ... ” (92:20)
Just Allah (SWT). Just Allah?! Just the Creator and sustainer of the Universe?! Hmmm. Not even the wonders of Paradise?! Not even the sweet murmurings of bliss in glorifying His Names?! No—just Allah (SWT). Allah (SWT) sent an anarchistic agent to remind us of this. He used the Prophet who, in Islam, Judaism and Christianity alike, is synonymous with the Law—to remind us of this subtle snare which Shaitan sets for us in our egos. Through Khidr, He reminds us of Sura Ma’un (“Neighborly Needs”/108)—“Those who (want but) to be seen (of men) but refuse (to supply) even neighborly needs.” (6-7)
These ayat should make us more than a bit uncomfortable. They should, insha’ Allah, slap our hypocrisy in the face. They should hold a magnifying mirror to our tendency to reduce Islam to a perfectly choreographed performance of piety, to line up all of our fards and nafls and halals and harams in an orderly row—while blithely ignoring that human eyesore sitting over there (she’s probably not even a Muslim, for goodness sake!).
All the more reason: to risk the disapproval of our Muslim peers, to step across the boundaries of absolute propriety, to ultimately live Islam in fullness—in complete and total submission to Allah (SWT).
It’s easier than it sounds—and, while the malamatiya were often onto something, one need not throw every last shred of sanity and respectability to the welcoming winds (though, as one recovering from Terminal Perfection, I personally recommend it!).
Step off of the edge of Allah’s (SWT) Love and you’ll discover a curious fact, indeed: it leads not to a plunge but to ascension. And as you know that happens if you take but a single step towards Him ...
But—don’t take my word for it—please!
And I’ll try not to take yours.
Only His. Only Allah’s ...
Originally published in the Winter 1993 print edition ofThe American Muslim