One of the gems that Rumi produced is his anecdote: “If you wish to acquaint yourself with the inner truth, drop the letter and espouse the spirit.”
If you delve deeper into this quote, it appears to be a beautiful Sufi rendition of the profound wisdom illustrated in a Quranic chapter named “Kahaf” (the cave). It is a moving story in the Quran of how a sage (Khidr) enlightened a prophet (Moses), despite his higher exaltation and direct conversation with God. Thus, the Quran makes it crystal clear that the inner knowledge is not a monopoly of anyone in this world. God gifts spiritual intellect to whosoever he wishes. It is also stated in clear terms in other chapters of the Quran.
The Surah Kahf has given a detailed account of the spiritual incident. It beautifully describes how Prophet Moses met Khidr: “And at the junction of two oceans (Majm’aa al-Bahrain), upon the rock, they found a servant from among the specially chosen servants to whom the divine had given mercy and had taught him direct knowledge (ilm ladunni). Behold, the divine is he who encompasses both past and present in his infinite knowledge, and no sentient being can attain a single thing of his secret knowledge except for what he wills.”
In essence, the story tells that Moses once asked God if there was any human more erudite and wiser than himself. God ordered him to meet Khidr, a common man who augmented more wisdom, worthiness and deeper spiritual insight, though he was not a Prophet. Moses was told that Khidr can be found at a place where the two oceans meet (Majm’aa al-Bahrain). The Prophet resolved to meet such a God-gifted common man and said: “I will not give up until I reach the point where the two rivers meet, though I spend years and years in travel.”
The story as mentioned in the Quran is replete with several spiritual trials that the Moses encountered with utmost surprise and, in the process, was exposed to newer horizons of spiritual intellect. As a matter of fact, it carries within it inner spiritual meanings that are eternally meant for the wise and mindful to explore and reflect on. Commentators of the Quran illustrated the story of Moses and Khidr as a morale-booster as well.
A Jewish-born Austro-Hungarian traveller, writer and Islamic thinker Muhammad Asad renders an insightful and spiritually-inclined commentary on this Quranic parable. He expounds: “The theme of spiritual awakening undergoes a significant variation: it is shifted to the plane of man’s intellectual life and his search after ultimate truths. Appearance and reality are shown to be intrinsically different — so different that only mystic inside can reveal to us what is apparent and what is real.”
As the great Persian Sufi mystic Rumi is quoted above, many Sufi sages believed that only those blessed with spiritual intellect and intuitive insight would be able to penetrate the truth. This is precisely what the story of Moses and Khidr in the Quran teaches us.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is an alim (classical Islamic scholar) and a Delhi-based writer. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org