Al Khidr and St George

Question:

Salam aleykoum wb wr respected scholars,

What is the connection between Al Khidr (as) and St-George? Some Christians say St-George was the son of a Palestinian Christian and was martyred, but then in our story he taught Musa (as). So, are they really the same figure?

Is al Khidr (as) considered to have slayed a dragon by Muslims, or is Iskandar? I’m looking for points of comparison because my family is Christian of Celtic origin and they really love St-George. I’m also curious about how Celtic countries ended up with a tradition of the “Green Man”- did he visit them too? It’s really a huge blessing that he is in our Naqshbandi golden chain! Subhanallah!!!

Answer:

Wa `alaykum as-Salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.

The present master of the Golden Chain, the Sultan al-Awliya Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani (may Allah sanctify his secret), has confirmed that Saint George is Sayyidina Al-Khidr, peace be upon him. The word “confirmed” is appropriate, since this identification has been widely made for a long time. According to HRH Prince Charles, for example: “We forget too easily that the veneration of the Virgin is shared in the Middle East to this day by Christians and Muslims alike; that the mysterious prophet of the Muslims, Al-Khidir, was identified with…the Christian St George…” Perhaps most obviously, St. George’s Day in the Ottoman Empire was better known as Hidrellez, a name deriving in part from the title al-Khidr or “the Green.” If it is objected that Hidrellez falls on the 6th of May rather than the 23rd of April, that is, St. George’s Day in those regions of Western Europe still holding to this tradition, let it not be forgotten that the 6th of May is simply St. George’s Day in the Eastern liturgical calendar.

As for the history of this holy person, how are we to understand the life of one who has drunk of the Water of Life, and how are we explain his activities when these could not even be understood by Sayyidina Musa, peace be upon him, without explanation? The Christian history of the martyrdom of Saint George is related in Islamic sources also, as the history of Jirjis. According to the latter, Jirjis – peace be upon him – is granted martyrdom repeatedly, only to be restored to life, in keeping, perhaps, with the qualities of one who has tasted the Water of Life. It is of further interest to note that in Christian accounts, the event with the dragon involves a miraculous appearance of the saint subsequent to, and not preceding, his martyrdom. In other words, it concerns a mysterious glimpse of a saint who lives beyond the limitations of history but who sometimes enters it in various guises, and such are all his appearances from the time of Musa onwards, including, of course, his involvement in the expeditions of Iskandar Dhul-Qarnayn, peace be upon him.

I have witnessed the medieval iconography of the Green Man with the Sultan al-Awliya, and not only in Britain, but even in Cyprus. Your inspiration is likely correct concerning his “visit” to the Celts, whose lands are at the outer reaches of Europe; after all, al-Khidr – peace be upon him – is the teacher of the Afrad or Solitaries, that is, saints “outside” the community of believers. Especially relevant in this context is the medieval poem “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” since the “Green Knight” must be recognized as yet another “mysterious glimpse” of al-Khidr; some reasons for this are given in the introduction to The Royal Book of Spiritual Chivalry.

Concerning the symbolic character of these glimpses, beware the imaginary interpretations of those without a proper understanding of esoterism. Exoteric myopia is dangerous, and is warned against in the very verses of the Holy Qur’an in which al-Khidr, peace be upon him, is understood to appear.

Your inquiry particularly concerns the iconography of dragon slaying. To begin with, one must observe that in this Christian iconography, the dragon is not dead but is rather being transfixed by the weapon of the saint. I am not familiar with this image of the saint in an Islamic context, even though al-Khidr plays a critical role in the slaying of a seven-headed dragon by the warrior saint Sari Saltiq – may Allah sanctify his secret – in the Ottoman epic. I would, however, like to direct your attention to another iconography, that belonging to various portraits of Khwaja al-Khidr in the Indian milieu.

See example here.

Here the saint always appears upon a fish, and it was Coomaraswamy who rightly associated this vehicle in its Indian context with the Makara, or sea-dragon. What is more, the fish (Nun) is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an (68: 1), and Tabari for his part explains that this is the fish that supports the earth in Islamic cosmology: “The fish moved and became agitated. As a result, the earth quaked, whereupon He firmly anchored the mountains on it, and it was stable.” This role of the mountains in balancing the instability of the world has been designated in the Holy Qur’an by a specific term: {And the mountains: stakes} (78, 7). Now, “stakes” (awtad, singular watad) has in turn been applied to an exalted group of four in Islamic esoterism, and al-Khidr – peace be upon him – is among them. It may even be observed that the saint’s staff in this iconography depicts a kind of “stake,” and is therefore equivalent to the weapon of Saint George which fixes or “stabilizes” the dragon.

No doubt the blessing of al-Khidr flows through the Golden Chain, but how many practice the silent remembrance that was taught by him to Khwaja `Abdul-Khaliq al-Ghujduwani, may Allah sanctify their secrets? And who is to deny that it is also al-Khidr who enjoys the blessing of spiritual association with the great saints who have succeeded him in the silsilah? Your family’s love for Saint George is an opening for them to the love of the greatest Saints of Allah.

The medieval poem mentioned above ends with a mysterious motto in old French: “Honi soit qui mal y pense (Shame be to him who thinks evil of it).” This is, however, the motto of the Order of the Garter, the most venerable order of chivalry in the world – and where now is chivalry in the lands of Islam? – whose patron is Saint George. Even Ottoman Sultans became Garter Knights. As the Garter Knight Prince Charles Philip Arthur George has reminded us, there is a sanctity that reconciles Muslim and Christian allegiances. This sanctity is embodied in the Green Man, and in his fellow watad Jesus, peace be upon them, and in others. Shame be to those who think evil of it.

May Allah bless you, and forgive me.

Mahmoud Shelton

About Ustadh Mahmoud Shelton

Mahmoud Shelton studied at the University of Edinburgh before taking a degree in Medieval Studies at Stanford University. Shelton is the author of Alchemy in Middle Earth: The Significance of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, The Balance of George Lucas' Star Wars, and numerous articles. He is also a contributor to The Royal Book of Spiritual Chivalry and The Sufi Science of Self-Realization. Contributions by Mahmoud Shelton * Chivalry of the Night and Day * Alchemy in Middle Earth * contributor, The Royal Book of Spiritual Chivalry
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