Al Khidr on Failaka

In the northwest of Failaka Island used to stand a maqam dedicated to Al Khidr*, best known for his interactions with Prophet Musa in verses 65 – 82 of Surah Al-Kahf. According to Failaka Island: The Ikaros of the Arabian Gulf, “the shrine in the 1930s was built from blocks of stone and stood out prominently from the land and the sea. Local lore had it that Al Khidr, on route to Friday prayer in Mekkah, stopped every Thursday night in Failaka.” According to this Gulf News article, he, “stayed there for some time to make the island verdant and provide it with the underground fresh water that Failaka enjoys even though the mainland was parched.” In his thesis The Archaeology of Kuwait, Majed Almutairi writes that, “the Al-Khidr Site consists of a building constructed at the end of the 19th century on a tell. It was built by a rich Saudi woman who was married to a man from Failaka Island. The purpose of this construction was to be a lighthouse located on a high-ground to guide ships to port that were passing near this part of the island where there are coral reefs and dangerous rocks. She also ordered a well to be dug near this building. After her death another woman took over the building and she told the story that there is a carved rock with a picture of a pot and stick belonging to al-Khidr. This place became a shrine, which some people make a pilgrimage to, often sacrificing sheep and asking for help. Locally, the Al-Khidr shrine was known to protect fishermen and cure disease and problems, such as infertility. In the 1930s, the island’s governor ordered the destruction of this building because of the “unrealistic actions” of some people. Shortly after, some people started collecting the stones and practicing their beliefs again. P.V. Glob, a Danish archaeologist visited the site in 1958. In 1976 the Kuwait government ordered its permanent destruction.” As stated here, the building no longer exists, but below are old photographs (sources afterwards):

1 Mohammed Alkouh, 2 Voice of the Oud by Jehan Rajab, 3 Baghdad Sketches by Freya Stark, 4 Kuwait by the First Photographers (photograph by Stark), 5 Failaka Island in the Postcards by Dr. Hassan Ashkanani, 6 Looking for Dilmun by Geoffrey Bibby, 7 this article, 8 this article, 9-12 Voice or Failaka Island by Jehan Rejab, 13 Dana Al Rashid, 14 The John Hopkins University Reconnaissance Expedition to the Arab-Iranian Gulf by Theresa Howard Carter, 15-16 Jehan Rajab, 17 found on reddit

Here are some images of Al Khidr. The first two come from the Victoria & Albert museum. The third was found on this twitter thread, where Ali A Olomi describes Khidr as, “the mysterious teacher of prophets, who is associated with mystic dreams, the holy man who crosses confessional boundaries to become St. George, is associated with Pisces in various treatise.” In this article, Shatha Almutawa explores why he is often depicted as riding on a fish in Mughal miniatures.

Khidr is often linked to Dhu al-Qarnayn, usually identified as Alexander the Great. In the Middle Ages, many stories were told about Alexander, through the Alexander Romance and Sīrat al-Iskandar genres. The Met writes that, “Alexander the Great features prominently in Persian literature and histories.” Famous examples include the Eskandar-Nâmeh/Iskandar Naama and the Khamsa, both by the 12th century Persian poet Nizami, and the Shāh-nāmeh by the 11th century Persian poet Ferdowsi. In these works, Iskander (Alexander) and Khidr search for the Fountain of Life. Although Alexander and Khidr begin the journey together, they are separated and only Khidr is successful, eventually finding the fountain alongside the Prophet Ilyās (Elijah). According to this website, “Nizami attributes Iskandar’s failure to his eagerness, whereas in the case of Khidr ‘the Water of Life arrived unsought.'” Khidr and Ilyas sit to eat dried fish by a small body of water. When the fish falls into the water, it comes back alive, and the two realize that they have found the Fountain of Life. Below are depictions of this story, sources afterwards:

A late 16th century manuscript of the Shahnameh, 17th century copy of Nizami’s Sharaf-Nama, a 15th century copy of the Shahnama, a folio from the Khamsa, two folios at the Walters Art Museum, a 15th century copy of the Khamsa, a 17th century copy of the Iskandarnamah, a copy of a Falnama (Book of Omens) found on Wikipedia, a 16th century copy of the Shahnameh, and an illuminated “Qisas al-Anbiya,” or Stories of the Prophets. You can see copies of such manuscripts digitized at the New York Public Library Collections, the Library of Congress, and the Harvard Art Museum.

Some scholars have connected Al Khidr to the Green Knight from the Arthurian legend Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which survived in only one medieval copy–the Pearl Manuscript (seen below, as well as images from modern copies of the book). In 1974 Alice Lasater first “noted extensive parallels between a well-known popular Islamic folk figure, al-Khidr (the Green One), and the Green Knight. Both the Arthurian Green Knight and Al-Khidr serve as teachers to holy men (Gawain/Moses), who thrice tested their faith and obedience. It has been suggested that the character of the Green Knight was brought to Europe with the Crusaders and blended with Celtic and Arthurian imagery.”

*Alternatively spelled Khizr, Khader, Khudhur

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