Atheism and the story of Musa and Khidr

Download PDF

The beloved Prophet Muhammad (S) has said in a hadith reported by Abu Hurairah (R) and recorded in Sahih Muslim:

Men will continue to question one another till this is propounded: Allah created all things but who created Allah? He who found himself confronted with such a situation should say: I affirm my faith in Allah.

And in another very similar hadith:

The Satan comes to everyone. of you and says: Who created this and that? till he questions: Who created your Lord? When he comes to that, one should seek refuge in Allah and keep away (from such idle thoughts).

These sayings of the Prophet (S) confirm a simple fact. That is, that human beings have a tendency to question the unknown. Allah (S) further confirms this fact in the Quran in the story of Musa (A) and Khidr (A). When Musa (A) went to meet with Khidr (A) to obtain a certain divine knowledge, Khidr (A) said:

Indeed, with me you will never be able to have patience. And how can you have patience for what you do not encompass in knowledge? (Quran, 18:67-68).

This lack of patience over the unknown is a human quality experienced by everyone, even the prophets; peace be upon them all.

And [mention] when Abraham said, “My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead.” [ Allah ] said, “Have you not believed?” He said, “Yes, but [I ask] only that my heart may be satisfied.” (Quran, 2:260)

However, just as with other human emotions and qualities, the most important factor is how we address it. If the person keeps questioning the unknown, it can lead him towards not believing in God altogether. This phenomenon is also presented in the same story along with the consequences.

Let’s study the sequence of events in the Musa/Khidr (A) story and compare it to the human being’s chain of events and thoughts.

1) The agreement between the beholder of knowledge and the seeker of knowledge

When Musa (A) meets with Khidr (A) and asks to obtain this knowledge, Khidr (A) questions his patience. However, Musa (A) assures him that he will be patience and obedient throughout their time together.

[Musa] said, “You will find me, if Allah wills, patient, and I will not disobey you in [any] order.” He [Khidr] said, “Then if you follow me, do not ask me about anything until I make to you about it mention. (Quran, 18:69-70)

We, as human beings, have taken a similar oath with the One who has knowledge over everything.

And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” [This] – lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.” (Quran, 7:172)

We all agreed and accepted to God’s ultimate authority and lordship. We agreed that He created us, sustains us, and has knowledge over everything. Musa (A) was not able to put aside his logic to accept the action of the one who was the beholder of knowledge (Khidr). When we question the lordship of God, we also are not able to put aside our logic to accept the decisions of the One who has knowledge of everything.

 2) Questioning the loss of property

The first reported incident between Musa (A) and Khidr (A) is related to loss of property.

So they set out, until when they had embarked on the ship, Khidr tore it open. [Musa] said, “Have you torn it open to drown its people? You have certainly done a grave thing.”” (Quran, 18:71)

Often times, people have found themselves questioning The Will of God when experiencing materialistic loss. We have observed ourselves and others around us begin to lose faith after losing a job or losing wealth whether by accident or by mistake. People have fallen in depression and have become suicidal unable to accept the loss they had experienced.

 3) Questioning the loss of life

The second incident between Musa (A) and Khidr (A) is related to loss of life.

So they set out, until when they met a boy, Khidr killed him. [Moses] said, “Have you killed a pure soul for other than [having killed] a soul? You have certainly done a deplorable thing.” (Quran, 18:74)

Musa (A) was unable to understand the wisdom and the reason behind Khidr (A)’s actions. How often have we found ourselves or others lose complete faith in God over loss of life. Atheists will often say something like “What kind of God allows people and children to die of hunger?” When people lose a loved one, say a child at a very young age, they begin to question and say things like “Why did God take my child away from me?”

 4) Questioning the absence of immediate results

The third incident between Musa (A) and Khidr (A) is related to not being able to accept the lack of immediate results of our actions.

So they set out, until when they came to the people of a town, they asked its people for food, but they refused to offer them hospitality. And they found therein a wall about to collapse, so al-Khidh r restored it. [Moses] said, “If you wished, you could have taken for it a payment.” (Quran, 18:77)

Musa (A) was not happy that an effort was put in to help those who didn’t deserve it and to not be compensated by it. We also lose patience over not seeing the immediate results of our actions. People give up on finding a job after X number of weeks/months searching for it. Some of us give up on helping our children and family members because they don’t appreciate or don’t deserve it. This leads to overall hopelessness and people begin to lose faith in divine help especially related to results of our actions.

It is important to note here that all of Musa (A)’s comments were very logical and made perfect sense. Similarly, the questions that come up in our minds are often very logical and make sense to us. But we fail to understand that just because something doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done or it doesn’t exist.

5) The answers will be revealed with consequences

In the case of Musa (A), he received the answers to his questions.

As for the ship, it belonged to poor people working at sea. So I intended to cause defect in it as there was after them a king who seized every [good] ship by force. And as for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared that he would overburden them by transgression and disbelief. So we intended that their Lord should substitute for them one better than him in purity and nearer to mercy. And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the city, and there was beneath it a treasure for them, and their father had been righteous. So your Lord intended that they reach maturity and extract their treasure, as a mercy from your Lord. And I did it not of my own accord. That is the interpretation of that about which you could not have patience. (Quran, 18:79-82).

This was the “Ahaa” moment for Musa (A). His questions were answered with facts that appealed to his logic. BUT it all came with a consequence:

[Khidr] said, “This is parting between me and you.” (Quran, 18:78).

Musa (A) lost the company of and deprived himself of the knowledge he could have further obtained from Khidr (A).

Similarly, our questions will all be answered on the Day of Judgment. “Does God exist?” “Is there an afterlife?” “Why did my son die at a young age?” etc. But the consequences will be severe. Just as the people of heaven will be awarded with the company of God Himself, the people of hell will be deprived of this company and that will be the most difficult and painful aspect of their afterlife. On the other hand, the people of heaven will be most satisfied when they will meet their Lord. As Allama Iqbal has said:


Ye Jannat Mubarik Rahe Zahidon Ko
Ke Mein Ap Ka Samna Chahta Hun

May the pious be happy with this Paradise
Only to see your Countenance I desire


There are several points that we can conclude with. First, it is a normal human aspect to be inquisitive and ask questions even related to things that we have no answers for. As the Prophet (S) has said, when that happens and we begin to question the bigger aspects, we need to seek refuge from God and affirm our faith in Him. We also have to understand that there are realms of knowledge and existence beyond our sense perception and understanding. We may never be able to understand these issues and our human mind is not capable of such knowledge. Therefore, it is far better to focus on internal factors rather than external ones. Instead of asking “Who created us?” we should be asking “Why was I created?” Instead of questioning a loss, we should accept it and consider all positive aspects or possible good that may come from it. It is easier said than done but we have an example from the Quran to show us that the process is not worth the consequences.

May God protect us all. Ameen