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17th-century Mughal painting of al-Khidr

Al-Khidr, also known as "The Green One," is an Islamis spiritual figure, the cosmic spiritual teacher who has guided and taught humanity throughout history. He is often associated with Elijah. The "greenness" of his name may refer to his liveliness of spirit, to the the clothes he wears, to the perpetual freshness of divine knowledge and encounters with the sacred, or to his having drunk the water of immortality at Kataragama, a Buddhist and Hindu pilgrimage site in Sri Lanka. This happened when he was serving Sikandar ar-Rumi (Alexander the Great) either as cook, vizier or army general. Sikander set off to reach the End of the World in search of the Water of Life. He accepted the guidance of the saintly al-Khidr, but when they disagreed about the route, they each followed different paths. Sikander failed while al-Khidr succeeded. A Persian rendition of this story states that Sikander was seeking his own greatness as much as immortality, and so he failed; whereas al-Khidr relied on Allah's direction, and "the water of life arrived unsought."

In the Quran it is stated that al-Khidr once travelled along the shore and across the waters in the company of Moses. There are also Islamic traditions stating that Mohammed met him twice -- once in his youth and once in old age -- and that despite the passage of time, al-Khidr himself had not aged at all. Many believe that be is still alive to this day, and face-to-face encounters with him are attested to, especially among the Muslims of Sri Lanka. He is revered by both Muslims and Hindus in Persia, India, Sri Lanka and Turkey.

Al-Khidr is usually shown as an elderly faqir, a wandering holy man who sustains himself by begging. He lives on an island -- some stories say a green carpet -- in the heart of the sea. He is dressed all in green, like Elijah, and is carried along the surface of the waters by a large fish.


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