Masjid al-Haram

Al-Khidr: The Green Man of Sufism

Al-Khadir (right) and companion Zul-Qarnain (al-Sikandar) marvel at the sight of a salted fish that comes back to life when touched by the Water of Life
Al-Khadir (right) and companion Zul-Qarnain (al-Sikandar) marvel at the sight of a salted fish that comes back to life when touched by the Water of Life. "When Alexander sought he did not find what Khizr found unsought" (Sikandar Nāma LXIX.75).

Al-Khidr is Khezr, the Hidden Prophet, the Green Man, King of Hyperborea, wily servant of Moses, trickster-cook of Alexander, Khezr who drank from the fountain of life in the Land of Darkness. Flowers and herbs spring up in his footsteps, and he strolls across the water, walking toward Ibn Arabi's ship, coming closer; his green robe trailing on green waves -- or perhaps woven of waves. Or Khezr appears in the desert with water and initiation for the masterless ones, the mad and blameworthy, the unique ones. "And three things are worthy of the glance: water, green things, and a beautiful face..."

When you say the name of Khezr (or Khadir) in company you should always add the greeting "Salaam Aleikum!" since he may be there -- immortal and anonymous, engaged on some mysterious karmic errand. Perhaps he'll hint of his identity by wearing green, or by revealing knowledge of the occult and hidden. But he's something of a spy, and if you have no need to know he's unlikely to tell you. Still, one of his functions is to convince skeptics of the marvelous, to rescue those who are lost in deserts of doubt and dryness. So he's needed now more than ever, and surely still moves among us playing his great game.

From the point of view of "History of Religions" clearly Islam inherited Khezr from earlier myths and faiths, a fact recognized by the Islamic tradition which associates him with Moses and Alexander. By the Middle Ages, however, he had been thoroughly assimilated into the world of Islam and taken on a special role, symbolized by his two titles, "the Green Man" and "the Hidden Prophet". In particular, he comes to stand for a certain kind of esoteric knowledge, which can only manifest in our banal everyday life as shock, either of outrage or of laughter, or both at once.

Khezr is one of the afrad, the Unique Ones who recieve illumination directly from God without human mediation; they can initiate seekers who belong to no Order or have no human guide; they rescue lost wanderers and desperate lovers in the hour of need. Uways al-Qarani is their historical prototype, Khezr their ahistorical prototype.

Some have indentified Khezr with St. George -- but he might more accurately be seen as both St. George and the dragon in one figure. Nature, for esoteric Islam, does not need to be pinned down like some biology specimen or household pest -- there exists no deep struggle between Nature and Order in the Islamic worldview.

The "spirits" of Nature, such as Khezr and the djinn -- who are in a sense the principles of natural power -- recognize in the Muhammadan Light that green portion of the spectrum upon which they themselves are also situated. If Christian moralism "fixes" Nature by "killing it", Islam proceeds by conversion -- or rather, by transmutation. Nature maintains its measure of independence from the merely human and moral sphere, while both realms are bathed in the integrative and salvific light of Muhammadan knowledge.

...As an immortal mortal, Khezr behaves like a figure in a dream; in fact, he behaves as we do in our happiest dreams of flying, or of the quintessence of life, "a green thought in a green shade". He resembles those late medieval paintings of vegetable people, faces made out of fruit and leaves and sunlight: slightly sinister, at once funny and beautiful...

Nowadays Khezr might well be induced to reappear as the patron of modern militant eco-environmentalism, since he represents the fulcrum or nexus between wild (er) ness and the human / humane. Rather than attempt to moralize Nature (which never works because Nature is amoral), Khadirian Environmentalism would rejoice simultaneously both in its utter wildness and its "meaningfulness" -- Nature as tajalli (the "shining through" of the divine into creation; the manifestation of each thing as divine light), Nature as an aesthetic realization.

From ~ Sacred Drift: Esasys on the Margins of Islam, pgs. 57, 138-139, 140, 143
By ~ Peter Lamborn Wilson


Al Khidr's Feast Day is April 23.