Dhul Qarnayn (as), Khidr (as) and the fountain of youth


Assalaamualaikum dear Shuyookh,

I have heard parts of a tradition relating that Sayyidina Dhul Qarnayn (as) and Sayyidina Khidr (as) went in search of the “fountain of youth” or “water of life” and that is how Sayyidina Khidr (as) is alive until today through drinking that blessed water.

I find this very interesting because we see many movies and books about people searching for the fountain of youth and to learn that it has a basis in Islamic tradition is amazing.

Are these narrations regarded as acceptable by Islamic scholars? According to my limited knowledge, with regards to history, weak narrations are accepted?

Could you perhaps post the full story/narration for us?



Wa `alaykum as-Salam wa rahmatullah.

The tradition to which you refer is true, and it is not subject to scholarly opinion. Indeed, historians have remained rather silent concerning these events, perhaps because they have taken heed from the challenges faced by no less than Sayyidina Musa in understanding the actions of Khwaja al-Khidr – peace be upon them – as related in the Chapter of the Cave. Put another way, history concerns all that transpires under the Sun, whereas it was only in the Land of Darkness that the quest for the `Ayn ul-hayat – the “Fountain of Life” – was accomplished. Of course, this Land is not to be explored using mundane science; for now it is enough to presume that this Darkness lies beyond the Sun.

However, the pens of the poets and of the painters have not been so reticent. The various  Islamic contributors to the Iskandarnamah or Epic of Alexander do not fail to include something of this tradition. Interestingly, Nizami solved the challenge of reconciling the history and mystery of  Iskandar who is Dhul-Qarnayn – peace be upon him – by dividing his Iskandarnamah in twain: the Book of Nobility and the Book of Wisdom.

Perhaps this bifurcation suggests yet another significance for the name “Lord of the Two Qarns.” In any case, the Iskandarnamah contains a most remarkable reminder of how far a man’s himma may take him; yet the failure of Iskandar to find the Fountain of Life is a reminder of how even the himma of the “Great” is bound to the Divine Decree.

In this tradition concerning the Fountain of Life, it is not only Khwaja al-Khidr (as) but also Sayyidina Ilyas (as) who are the guides of Iskandar in his quest, peace be upon them all. So it is that miniature painters have depicted these two Living Prophets with their riding mounts at the Fountain, along with the fish that is described in the epic as being revived by the Water of Life. It is therefore of considerable interest to recall that Islamic esoterism includes the prophet `Isa among the four Living Prophets, peace be upon them all, and that the symbol used by the earliest Christians was the fish.

You are correct in observing that the Spanish legend of the Fountain of Youth has its source in the Islamic Iskandarnamah. More importantly, it is not only in the Land of Darkness that the Water of Life has been found, but also in the traces of the presence of al-Khidr (as). Sayyidina Musa (as) and his fata (youthful servant) Yusha bin Nun discover this presence – peace be upon them all – after the fish revives in the Chapter of the Cave, in events apparently preceding the quest of Iskandar. Similarly, according to the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him: “The Green Man was so named because he sat on a barren white land once, after which it turned luxuriantly green with vegetation.”

Even though Khwaja al-Khidr has initiated many on the spiritual path, he is only included in the Golden Chain of the Naqshbandi Order, and so it is not only to Islam but especially to this order that the reality of the Water of Life is to be traced. It is not for nothing that a renowned hagiography of the early Naqshbandi Masters is entitled Rashahat `ayn al-hayat, or “Droplets of the Fountain of Life.”   While it may also be noted that the great Jami of the Naqshbandi Order composed an Iskandarnamah, no better source for this tradition may be consulted than the third volume of Lore of Light by Hajjah Amina `Adil, may Allah sanctify her secret (see below)!

As for the Water itself, the custodians of the Golden Chain have promised that “He who makes a regular practice of the Adab and the Awrad shall obtain the water of true life and with it he will perform wudu, he will bathe in it and drink it, and by means of it he will reach his goal.”

Our blessed mother Hajjah Amina bint Ayesha Adil relates, in Lore of Light, Volume 3:

The Search for the Water of Life

Iskender then passed on and came to a country of a very cold climate where many of his men died. At last he came to another city where he was made welcome and he was pleased to stay there for a while – One day a man came on him who said, “Oh Shah (which means King), I have heard that there is a sea, and there is a darkness upon it; but whoever is able to cross through this darkness will come to a spring on the other side of the water. This spring is called the ‘Water of Life’, and who so drinks of the water of this spring will live forever and never die.’ Iskender made no reply, but resolved to try to find this spring. He asked Khidr (as) and Eliyas (as) to accompany him, and with them went a company of 4000 young men, none of them older than 40. He forbade anyone older than that to take part in this campaign.

… Now they had reached the border of the great darkness. Iskender called Eliyas (as) and said to him, “I have here two stones which shine with a light of their own.  I will take one of them and you take the other; with its help you may find the spring in this darkness, or I, and we will let each other know.” Then they entered the darkness.

Khidr (as) went with Eliyas (as) and Iskender went his separate way. They had been gone for a week. One evening they came to a place where they thought to camp the night, and prepared to share the dried fish they had brought with them. Khidr (as) washed his hands in a stream, and took the fish in order to divide it between them. As soon as the first drop of water touched the fish, it came alive and was whole again – thus Khidr (as) knew that they must have found the spring of the Water of Life. Khidr (as) drank from it and told Eliyas (as) also to drink, and they watered their horses as well. They understood that they had fulfilled their quest and that Iskender was not destined to reach this stream. Khidr (as) went out from there and became invisible from that time on.

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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