Who is the prophet dhulqarnayn? What is the story of prophet dhulqarnayn?
The man who carried the flag of tawhid east and west
-peace be upon him-
Dhulqarnayn literally means ‘the owner of two epochs’. Reports suggest that he was called by that name because he journeyed the east and west of earth, and that Allah gave him power over darkness and light.
It is disputed whether Dhulqarnayn (as) was a prophet or saint. The Qur’an briefly speaks of his campaigns east and west. It is reported that he is a descendent of Noah’s (as) son, Yafes, and that his real name is Iskandar, whose Western variant is Alexander. However, he should not be confused with Alexander the Great. Alexander was a general born in Macedonia in the 3rd century BC, who campaigned as far as India in the east. He was a student of Aristotle. However, in contrast, Dhulqarnayn (as) lived around the same time as Abraham (as). It is even said that he offered pilgrimage with Abraham (as) and received his blessings.
In addition, the nature and motives of Alexander’s expeditions bear little resemblance to those of Dhulqarnayn (as). History does not tell us that Alexander ever built a wall. Alexander did not believe in Allah either. Neither did he treat the nations he conquered with mercy and justice. Many details of Alexander’s life have been recorded; yet, none of his conduct indicates even a small likeness to that of Dhulqarnayn (as). Alexander does not carry any quality truly worthy of the title ‘Dhulqarnayn’.
It is narrated Dhulqarnayn’s (as) first cousin was Khidr (as), who served as a commander in the army. Dhulqarnayn (as) led the army in wars waged on pagans. He built a wall of copper and iron against the nations of Gog and Magog. He spread the religion of Allah (jj) and the message of His Oneness; and delivered truth and justice to people.
Dhulqarnayn (as) passed away at Dumatu’l Jandal, between Medina and Damascus, and is believed to be buried near Mecca in the Tihamah Mountains.
In his interpretation of the Qur’an, Qurtubi notes that only four people ruled over the entire earth as it was known at the time. Two of them were Muslims, while the other two were pagans. The Muslims were Dhulqarnayn (as) and Solomon (as), while the pagans were Nimrod and Nebuchadnezzar. There will also come a fifth person, also a Muslim, to rule over the entire earth. In line with the declaration “Allah will make Islam prevail over all religions” (Al-Tawbah, 9: 33) that person will be Mahdi (as). (Al-Qurtubi, Tafsir, XI, 47-48)
Ali (kw) was once asked how Dhulqarnayn (as) had managed to reach the ends of the world’s east and west. He explained:
“The clouds would yield to him. Everything he needed was placed under his command. It made no difference whether it was night or day, as the light always shined for him.” (Ibn Ishaq, Sirat, p. 185)
In Meccan period, the Prophet (saw) would explain the stories of past nations his followers to reflect on. Jews and Persians then began elaborating their own accounts of past nations. At the time, there were Jews in Medina who believed that the last prophet would be born from among their community. After hearing that a prophet had hailed from Mecca, they sent a message to the pagans, saying:
“Test him to see if he really is a prophet! Ask him about the Sleepers of the Cave, Dhulqarnayn and the nature of spirit! If he answers the first two questions in full but is brief with the last, he is a prophet to be followed. But he if he is unable to answer them, he is a liar!”
So, the Meccan pagans went to the Prophet (as) and asked, “Who are the Sleepers of the Cave and Dhulqarnayn, who campaigned east and west? And what is the nature of spirit?”
It was then that Allah revealed chapter al-Kahf. This is how it begins telling the story of Dhulqarnayn:
“And they ask you about Dhulqarnayn. Say, ‘Here is a small recollection about him!’ We did indeed establish him on the earth, and gave him a way to all things.” (Al-Kahf, 18: 83-84) (Al-Alusi, Tafsir, XVI, 24; Al-Wahidi, p. 306)
The Traits of Dhulqarnayn (as)
Allah the Almighty had given Dhulqarnayn (as) power. He launched expeditions east and west; and built the wall from a mixture of copper and iron.
He had clouds and other means at his service, to travel from place to another.
He was given knowledge, authority and an exceptional sense of judgment.
He had two flags, white and black. When journeying in daylight, he would place the black flag behind him and darkness would descend on his trail. That way, the enemies chasing him would become baffled and lost in the dark. At night, he would place the white flag in front of him, which would light up the path for his soldiers, and enable him to rout his enemies.
Dhulqarnayn (as) was merciful and just towards his subjects. After conquering a land, he would tell the people, “The innocent has no reason to fear. Those who do good will get their rewards.” He found a way inside people’s hearts through compassion, tolerance and understanding. He loved anything that was for the good of the people.
Dhulqarnayn (as) was not a slave to greed and ambition. At the time when people offered him money in return for building a wall, he said, “Allah has blessed me with too many things for me to be in need of what you offer. Instead, work on the wall and help me with your physical strength.”
He was generous. Unlike other rulers, he would not chase wealth. He was a gentle and forgiving man, who gave away a lot in charity.
Dhulqarnayn (as) was modest, dignified and wise. He recognized that his true aim was to serve people and bring them justice. He believed that wealth was for the welfare of the people, not for the comfort of kings.
Campaigns of Tawhid
Dhulqarnayn (as) expanded the borders of his realm and strengthened his state. He began to deliver Allah’s prohibitions and commands all across the world. With his army of believers, he first led an expedition west. He invited every pagan nation to believe that Allah is One. He reached the furthermost point in the west. The land had come to an end and they were standing on the shores of a vast ocean. It was sunset; and it looked as though the sun was dipping in a pool of mud. There, he saw a pagan nation. Some of them believed in the message of Dhulqarnayn (as). Others resisted. Nevertheless, they were quickly defeated. In the end, they repented and embraced the belief of tawhid. The Qur’an explains:
“So he followed a way, until he reached the setting of the sun. He found it as if it was setting in a spring of dark mud. And nearby, he saw a people. Allah said, ‘Dhulqarnayn, you may either punish them or put them on a way of goodness.” (Al-Kahf, 18: 85-86)
Even though Dhulqarnayn (as) had been allowed to deal with those people as he pleased, he opted to act within divine guidelines:
“He said, ‘We will punish the one who does wrong. Then he will be returned to his Lord, and will be punished even more severely! But as for one who believes and does what is right, he will have a good reward and we will make him do only what comes easy!” (Al-Kahf, 18: 87-88)
Dhulqarnayn (as) always invited people to believe. Those who accepted found salvation. Others who resisted were punished.
Afterwards, he turned his army east and reached the point of dawn. The Qur’an says:
“He then followed a way, until he reached to the rising of the sun. He saw it rise on a people who We had given no shelter. And so it was. We had encompassed all that he knew.” (Al-Kahf, 18: 89-91)
This suggests that on this expedition, Dhulqarnayn (as) conquered one land after another until he reached the furthest point in the east, where civilization had come to an end. There, he encountered a people still living primitively, without proper clothes or homes.
When the sun came up, they sought shade in their caves or headed to the sea; and came out to search for food only after the heat was gone. Dhulqarnayn (as) also invited them to the religion of truth.
He then led his army north until he came across a nation speaking a foreign language. He spoke to them through an interpreter. The Almighty says:
“Then he followed a way, until he reached a pass between two mountains, where he found a people nearby who could hardly understand speech.” (Al-Kahf, 18: 92-93)
They complained to Dhulqarnayn (as) about the constant pestering of Gog and Magog and asked him to build a wall to keep them out. It was after this that the Wall of Dhulqarnayn was built. This nation then chose the path of salvation and became Muslim.
The Qur’an recounts the event:
“They said, ‘Dhulqarnayn! Gog and Magog are great corrupters in the land. So can we pay you a fee for you to put up a barrier between us and them?’
He said, ‘That in which my Lord has established me is better than what you offer! But help me with your strength, and I will make between you and them a dam. Bring me sheets of iron!’
When he had leveled them between the two mountain walls, he said, ‘Blow with bellows!’ And when it became like fire, he said, ‘Bring me molten copper to pour over it!’ Thus, Gog and Magog were neither able to pass over it, nor penetrate it!
Dhulqarnayn said, ‘This is a mercy from my Lord; but when the promise of my Lord comes, He will make it level, and the promise of my Lord is always true!’” (Al-Kahf, 18: 94-98)
The Wall of Dhulqarnayn is not the Great Wall of China. Its exact location is disputed. Nevertheless, its collapse is a sign of the final hour. Gog and Magog will breach the wall and cause mischief across the entire earth.
Gog and Magog
Reports say that Gog and Magog are two troublesome and evil nations. They have flat faces, small eyes and big ears. They are short in height but many in number. As Judgment Day approaches, they will spread across the world and multiply rapidly, like flies on honey. Only Allah (jj) knows where they are now.
When that time comes, the Wall of Dhulqarnayn will be flattened; and Gog and Magog will sweep across every part of the world, except for Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. Only these three places will be spared. They will consume everything in their path and lay waste to their surroundings. They will pester like a plague of grasshoppers and be as bothersome as a swarm of cockroaches. In the end, Allah will destroy them.
The Prophet (as) said:
“Each day, Gog and Magog chip away at the wall. However, just as they are about to open a hole, their leader says to them:
‘Enough for today; you will resume work tomorrow morning’. Nevertheless, overnight, Allah (jj) repairs the wall stronger than before. Days will follow like that, one after another, until finally their time is up and they are given reign to harass people. This time, their leader will say:
‘Enough for today. Allah-willing, you will drill a hole through the wall tomorrow!’ He will say Allah-willing for the first time.
So, they will stop work and return the next day, this time to find the wall as they had left it the night before. At the end of the day, they will break open a hole. They will then descend onto people. They will drink every source of water dry. People will flee before them in fright. Gog and Magog will shoot an arrow into the sky. The arrow will fall back down with blood on the tip. They will say:
‘We have trampled and crushed those on earth and humiliated those in the skies!’
Allah (jj) will send maggots that will seize them from the napes of their necks. These maggots will rip them to shreds and lay their dismantled corpses on the ground. And by the name of He who has my life in His hands, every single animal on earth would rejuvenate, lactate and beef up just by feeding on their corpses.” (Al-Tirmidhi, Tafsir, 18/6; Ibn Majah, Fitan, 33/4080)
Abdullah ibn Masud (ra) explains:
“On the night of Miraj, the Messenger of Allah (saw) met prophets Abraham (as), Moses (as) and Jesus (as). The discussed the day of judgment. They first consulted Abraham (as). He had no knowledge about it. They then asked Moses (as). He, too, did not know anything about it. The, it was Jesus’ (as) turn to speak.
‘I have been given knowledge about the signs that will come prior to the day’, he said. ‘But only Allah knows when exactly the day will be’. He then spoke of the emergence of Dajjal and added:
‘I will then come back down and kill him. After that, people will return to their homelands. However, then they will be met with Gog and Magog, who will attack from every hill. They will drink up all the water they find and spoil everything they lay their hands on. I will then pray to Allah for Gog and Magog to perish; and they will. The foul smell of their slain corpses will fill the earth. I will then pray to Allah once more. He will send a rain that will wash away their corpses to the seas. Afterwards, the mountains will crumble and scatter, and the earth will spread out like leather. I have been told that once that takes place, the Day of Judgment will be as near as birth is to a woman in the final stages of her pregnancy.’”
Awwam, who is among the narrators of that hadith, says that those events are confirmed by the verse:
“…until the day, when the dam of Gog and Magog is opened and they descend from every hill.” (Al-Anbiya, 21: 96) (Ibn Maja, Fitan, 33/4081)
The Prophet (saw) informs us that the destruction of Gog and Magog will be followed by a period of peace and calm, where people will continue to live the religion.
“This House (the Kaaba) will receive pilgrims even after Gog and Magog.” (Al-Bukhari, Hajj, 47)
The Prophet (saw) also says Gog and Magog will be thrown into hellfire.
Abu Said (ra) reports that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said:
“On the Day of Judgment, the Glorious Allah will call out, ‘O, Adam!’
‘Yes, my Lord’, Adam (as) will say. ‘I am at Your command. All things good lie in Your hands!’ He will then hear a voice:
‘Allah has commanded you to set aside the dwellers of hell!’
‘My Lord, how many people are in hell?’ Adam (as) will ask. He will be told:
‘999 out of every 1,000!’
And that is the time when the pregnant will miscarry, children will age and people will become drunk from the intensity of the punishment, even though they have had nothing to drink!’”
The companions found it difficult to digest what they had just heard and turned pale. Our Prophet (saw) continued:
“Every 999 out of a 1,000 from Gog and Magog will enter hell. However, from you, it will be 1 out of every 1,000. Know that among all humankind, you are only as many as a white strand of hair on a black cow or a black strand hair on a white one.’” (Al-Bukhari, Tafsir, 22/1; Anbiya, 7)
The Prophet (saw) has warned believers against all the tribulations before the final hour, especially that of Gog and Magog.
Zaynab bint Jahsh (rha) recounts:
“The Messenger of Allah (saw) once entered the room terrified and said:
‘There is no god but Allah! Woe to the Arabs from an approaching catastrophe!’ He then made a circle with his thumb and index finger and said, ‘Today, a whole like this has been punctured in the wall of Gog and Magog!’
I asked, ‘Messenger of Allah, does that mean we will all be destroyed even with righteous people among us?’
‘Yes’, he answered. ‘If evil becomes prevalent!’ (Al-Bukhari, Anbiya, 7; Muslim, Fitan, 1/2880)
The reason why the Prophet (saw) refers to only ‘Arabs’ here is the fact that the Muslims of the time were all but Arab. Therefore, it is better to take it as a reference to all Muslims. Some scholars say that ‘the approaching catastrophe’ implies the troubles that began with the murder of Caliph Uthman (ra). Those troubles are considered the first spiritual and physical cracks that appeared in the wall of Gog and Magog.
Stories of Wisdom from Dhulqarnayn (as)
During one of his campaigns, Dhulqarnayn (as) encountered a tribe trying to overcome their egos and the fear of death. They possessed no wealth like gold or silver, and ate only vegetables, which they took great care to preserve. Each person also dug his own grave, cleaned it every day and performed his prayers inside it. Dhulqarnayn (as) summoned their chief. But he refused to go to him.
“I do not wish to see anyone”, he remarked. “And if someone wants to see me, he can come here!”
So, Dhulqarnayn (as) went to see him personally.
“Why did you refuse my invitation?” he inquired.
“I would have come if I needed you”, the chief responded.
Dhulqarnayn (as) then asked, “What is the story with you people? I have not come across anyone like you!”
“Well, we do not value gold or silver”, the chief explained, “Because we have come to realize that once a person obtains a certain amount of them, he wants more. Nevertheless, in doing so, he loses his inner peace. We have therefore decided not to chase after the world.”
“What are these graves?”, Dhulqarnayn (as) then asked. “Why do you dig them up and pray inside them?”
The chief said, “We do so to curb our desire for the world. Once we see the graves, we remember that we will end up in them. And that makes us forget about everything else.”
“Why don’t you eat anything but vegetables?” Dhulqarnayn (as) then inquired.
“We do not want our stomachs to become graves for animals”, he said. “Besides, all food tastes the same once it passes the throat!”
A man once came to Dhulqarnayn (as) and asked, “Teach me something that will strengthen my belief and yaqin!”
He advised, “Do not get angry with anyone…for there is never an easier time for the devil to enter one’s body than when he is angry. Do not rush! By rushing, you will lose what would have come to you. Be soft to people near and far! Abstain from being stubborn, disbelief and oppressing others!”
On his deathbed, Dhulqarnayn’s (as) said:
“Wash my corpse, wrap it in a shroud and place it in a coffin. However, let my arms hang out. Have my servants follow me and load my treasures on mules. Let the people see that despite my magnificent kingship, I, too, am going empty handed, unable to take either my wealth or servants to the other side. And let them not be deceived by the dazzle of the word!”
His will was carried out. Scholars have interpreted his words as:
“I conquered east and west with invincible armies behind me. Countless soldiers and servants were under my command. None of them ever disobeyed me. The world was under my rule from end to end. I possessed treasures no soul could count. However, none of them are lasting. As I am being carried to the grave, you can see that my hands are bare. Wealth stays in the world. Do things you can take to eternity!”
The Prophet (saw) also confirms that with the words:
“Three things follow the dead to the grave: his family, wealth and deeds. Two of them, the family and wealth, return while deeds remain by his side.” (Al-Bukhari, Riqaq, 42; Muslim, Zuhd, 5)
Despite his kingdom, Dhulqarnayn (as) used to make armors and earn a living from his own labor. He would donate what he did not need.
Peace be upon him…
. There is no harm in eating the meat of animals God has declared clean. These people abstained out of choice.
.Yaqin means certain and complete knowledge removed of all doubt.