The Legend of Khwaja Khidr or the Green One

Being fascinated by the legends and myths across the world, I first came across the reference of Khwaja Khidr, the Green Sufi or the Green One while reading City of Djinns by Dalyrmple. As so happens, Khir 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.” Widely known as the guide of Moses and Alexander the Great, a wali (saint), a prophet, and one of four immortals along with Enoch (Idris), Jesus, and Elijah, the identity of Khidr in Islamic history is greatly commented upon.

Appearing in earliest Islamic traditions, the legend of Khidr has been inherited from “earlier myths and faiths” (Peter Wilson, “The Green Man…” Gnosis 22). Another commentator, George Sale argued that Muslim tradition confounds Khadir with Phineas, Elias, and St. George, and that his soul passed by a metempsychosis successively through all three.

Linked with the ancient legends – the epic of Gilgamesh, the Alexander Romance, and the Wandering Jew, “The nearest equivalent figure in the literature of the People of the Book is Melchizedek… In Gen. xiv. 18-20, he appears as king of Salem, priest of the Most High God…” (The Holy Qur’ān edited by The Presidency of Islamic Researches, IFTA. (Madinah: King Fahd Holy Qur’ān Printing Complex. 1410 A.H.), 840)

Described as “always dressed in green, and was called Khizr (Arabic for green) because wherever he knelt and prayed the soil instantly became covered with thick vegetation.” (Dalrymple, William (1994). City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi. Flamingo. ISBN 0-00-637595-2). In Sufi Tradition, Khidr is associated with the water of life; he drank the water of immortality and described as the one who has found the source of life, ‘the Eternal Youth (Cf. Schimmel. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. 106). Sometimes the mystics would meet him on their journeys; he would inspire them, answer their questions, rescue them from danger, and, in special cases, invest them with the khirqa, which was accepted as valid in the tradition of Sufi initiation (Corbin, Creative Imagination. 56.). Referred to as one of the afrād, those “who receive illumination direct from God without human mediation.” (Wilson. “The Green Man, in Gnosis, 23.), the hidden initiator of those who walk the mystical path like some of those from the Uwaisi tariqa ( Schimmel, And Muhammed is His Messenger and Corbin, Creative Imagination)

In India, the legend of Khwaja Khizr travelled “from the Sufis of the Delhi Sultanate to the Hindus of North India who quickly realized that Khizr was really an incarnation of Vishnu. In the Punjab, the Green One used to be worshipped as a river god …In Sindh he was known as the Raja Khidr, God of Boatmen…In the bazaars of Gujarat he was said to haunt the markets in the early morning and fix the rates of grain, which he also protected from the Evil Eye.” (Dalrymple, William (1994). City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi. Flamingo. ISBN 0-00-637595-2)

The legend of Khwaja Khidr has travelled far and wide across the world and is still believed to be alive by various Muslim writers who “if three times appealed to …would protect the pure in heart against theft, drowning, burning, snakes and scorpions, kings and devils.” (Dalrymple, William (1994). City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi. Flamingo. ISBN 0-00-637595-2)

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