فَوَجَدَا عَبْدًا مِّنْ عِبَادِنَا آتَيْنَاهُ رَحْمَةً مِنْ عِندِنَا وَعَلَّمْنَاهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلْمًا
“And found one of Our servants, on whom We had bestowed mercy from Ourselves and unto whom We had imparted knowledge from Ourselves.” [Al Kahf 18: 65]
At last, after much physical hardship that even involved the chagrin of having gone off course from the intended destination, Prophet Musa and Yusha bin Nun عليه السلام successfully retraced their footsteps and found the place where the fish had gone into the sea in a tunnel-like fashion. There, just as Allah had promised, they found Al-Khadir.
Allah describes the fact that He had granted special knowledge to Al-Khadir (عَلَّمْنَاهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلْمًا) as a special mercy from Himself towards him (آتَيْنَاهُ رَحْمَةً مِنْ عِندِنَا). This is very interesting, the fact that knowledge from Allah is actually a manifestation of His special mercy.
This is because, in the current age at least, we tend to staunchly believe that education and knowledge (of any kind, even practical training) is restricted inside schools, institutes, colleges and universities. Whereas here was Al-Khadir, who had been taught special knowledge directly from Allah, which he was about to impart to Musa عليه السلام (to obtain which, Musa had intended to go on searching for Al-Khadir, even if it took him years and years to find him), and this knowledge did not require a classroom setting to be acquired.
This is the kind of learning or knowledge that Allah bestowed upon Prophet Yusuf عليه السلام as well, whom He subjected to trials, making him endure extreme physical hardships, betrayals, and emotional let-downs from close people (those whom he trusted, primarily his brothers).
Coming back to Prophet Musa and Al-Khadir عليه السلام, we see a wonderful picture of what etiquette a seeker of knowledge should observe when he or she wants to learn from a person of knowledge. The kind of learning Prophet Musa عليه السلام wanted to undertake did not involve classes, with a teacher sitting before his or her students giving talks or lectures on a subject, but rather, it consisted of practical “field work” or on-the-job apprenticeship, as they are known in the modern age, in which learning took place mostly via observation.
Prophet Musa عليه السلام humbled himself and sought permission from Khadir to learn from him:
قَالَ لَهُ مُوسَى هَلْ أَتَّبِعُكَ عَلَى أَن تُعَلِّمَنِ مِمَّا عُلِّمْتَ رُشْدًا
“Musa said to him, “May I follow you on the understanding that you will impart to me something of that consciousness of what is right that has been imparted to you?” [Al Kahf 18: 66]
We are talking about a Prophet of Allah here (Musa عليه السلام). The fact that he sought permission to learn from Khadir indicates to us how, even if we occupy positions of unquestionable and exclusive authority over people, we should seek permission when seeking knowledge – of any kind – from someone else, be it that of a practical skill, or literary know-how, even if the person who’ll be imparting that knowledge to us belongs to a lower social, economic or financial stratum.