When Prophet Moses met Al Khidr, he asked if he could follow him, so that the latter would teach him the knowledge and guidance which he had been taught.
Al Khidr somewhat hesitatingly agreed, but remarked:
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?
Those words surprised Moses, but only increased his interest and determination. His condition was clearly demonstrated in his response:
You will find me, if Allah wills, patient, and I will not disobey you in (any) order (Al-Kahf, 66-69).
However, Moses proved impatient, cutting short his companionship with Al Khidr.
It is possible that Moses from the outset knew what was at stake. Nonetheless, he wanted so much to be part of that extraordinary experience and to learn first-hand something new.
Such was his curiosity and thirst for knowledge. Moses did not mind to be the subject of an “experiment”, so to speak.
He might yet have known that he will not be able to be patient with Al Khidr. For that reason did he insert a clause “if Allah wills” (in sha’ Allah) in his reply. To somehow make up for the downside, he assured his companion that he will not disobey him on purpose in any of his orders.
There is No Patience for the Unknown or the Misunderstood
The story of Moses and Al Khidr abounds in lessons. One of them pertains to the meaning and significance of patience (sabr).
At the beginning of the encounter between the two then wisest and most knowledgeable persons on earth, the essence of the matter has been presented in an emphatic fashion.
Moses, a great prophet, wanted to learn even more from “a servant from among Our servants to whom we had given mercy from us and had taught him from Us a (certain) knowledge” (Al-Kahf, 65).
Moses enjoyed all the extraordinary qualities expected from a prophet, including patience, perseverance and courage.
He, for example, said that no matter what, he will continue looking for a location where he was supposed to find Khidr:
I will not give up until I reach the junction of the two seas or (until) I spend years and years in travel (Al-Kahf, 60).
At any rate, Al Khidr said to Moses that despite everything, he will not be able to be patient accompanying him. He then revealed the reason for that, disclosing at the same time a critical principle of life: there is no patience for the unknown or the misunderstood. Patience is compatible only with the known and the knowable.
Khidr’s lesson can be explained as follows.
Patience as a Process of Containing and Controlling the Self
Patience as an act of forbearance, self-control, tolerance and endurance in the face of difficult and unpredictable circumstances, challenges, strains and provocations, can be practiced only by those who have adequate knowledge, faith and obedience.
Under those conditions, practicing patience ever draws closer to righteousness, God-consciousness and kindness. It eventually morphs into total optimism, self-confidence and courage.
In the absence of knowledge, faith and obedience, inevitable life challenges that call for patience lead to perennial anxieties, despondency and restlessness.
As there are no solutions in sight, psychologically and spiritually they can shake a person’s being to its foundations. They then become the source of uncontrollable skepticism and distrust.
Accordingly, patience is perceived as a process of containing and controlling the self (habs al-nafs) against the factors and happenings that are bent on affecting it.