Allah the Almighty says:
And they ask you about Zul-Qarnain. Say: “I shall recite to you something of his story.” Verily, We established him in the earth, and We gave him the means of everything. So he followed a way. Until, when he reached the setting place of the sun, he found it setting in a spring of black muddy (or hot) water. And he found near it a people. We (Allah) said (by inspiration): “O Zul-Qarnain! Either you punish them, or treat them with kindness.” He said: “As for him (a disbeliever in the Oneness of Allah) who does wrong, we shall punish him, and then he will be brought back unto his Lord, Who will punish him with a terrible torment (Hell).”But as for him who believes (in Allah’s Oneness) and works righteousness he shall have the best reward, (Paradise), and we (Zul-Qarnain) shall speak unto him mild words (as instructions).” Then he followed another way. Until, when he came to the rising place of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We (Allah) had provided no shelter against the sun. So (it was)! And We knew all about him (Zul-Qarnain). Then he followed (another) way. Until, when he reached between two mountains, he found, before (near) them (those two mountains), a people who scarcely understood a word. They said: “O Zul-Qarnain! Verily Yajuj and Majuj (Gog and Magog) are doing great mischief in the land. Shall we then pay you a tribute in order that you might erect a barrier between us and them?” He said: “That (wealth, authority and power) in which my Lord had established me is better (than your tribute). Do but help me with strength (of men), will erect between you and them a barrier. “Give me pieces (blocks) of iron;” then, when he had filled up the gap between the two mountain-cliffs, he said: “Blow;” then when he had made them (red as) fire, he said: “Bring me molten copper to pour over them.” So they (Yajuj and Majuj (Gog and Magog)) could not scale it or dig through it. He (Zul-Qarnain) said: “This is a mercy from my Lord, but when the Promise of my Lord comes, He shall level it down to the ground. And the Promise of my Lord is ever true.” (Al-Kahf, 83-98)
Was He a Prophet?
Allah the Almighty praised Zul-Qarnain in the Glorious Quran for his justice. He ruled over the Easts and Wests and many regions where he subjected their peoples and ruled them with perfect justice. The most likely opinion is that he was just a king.
Also, he was said to be a Prophet, or a Messenger. However, the most unlikely opinion thereof was that he was an Angel. The latter was narrated after the Leader of the Faithful, Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (R.A.) who heard a man calling another saying: 0 Zul-Qarnain! He (Umar) said: Shut up! Was it not enough with you to name yourselves after the Prophets, that you take names after those of the Angels?”
It is reported that Abdullah Ibn Amr said: Zul-Qarnain was a Prophet. Conversely, Abu Hurairah (R.A.) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) said: “I do not know whether Tubba was a cursed one or not? And, I do not know whether Hudud (the Prescribed Penalties) are expiatory for their people or not? And, I do not know whether Zul-Qarnain was a Prophet or not?” (This Hadith is Odd and Strange)
In other narration, Ibn Abbas (R.A.) transmitted a report that goes to the saying that Zul-Qarnain was a good king whose work was praised in Allah’s Book (the Glorious Quran); he was made victorious; and Al-Khadir was his minister, leader of his army, and his consultant.
Al-Azraqi and others mentioned that Zul-Qarnain embraced Islam at the hands of Ibrahim (Abraham) (Peace be upon him) and that he circumambulated around the Kabah with him and his son, Ismail (Peace be upon them). Also, it was narrated after Ubaid Ibn Umair and his son, Abdullah and others: that Zul-Qarnain set out on foot to perform Pilgrimage. Upon hearing this, Ibrahim (Peace be upon him) welcomed him and invoked Allah for his sake and gave him advice as well. In addition, Allah the Almighty subjugated for Zul-Qarnain the clouds to carry him wherever he wished. Allah knows best!
Why was he called “Zul-Qarnain” (i.e. Owner of the two horns)?
This is a controversial issue, that there is not a definite known reason behind this. Some said: he had something on his head that looked like two horns. Wahb Ibn Munabih said: He had two horns of brass on his head. (This interpretation is very weak)
Some scholars from among the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) said: This is because he ruled over Persian and Roman territories. It was also said: that he reached the first ray of the rising sun on the east and that on the west and he ruled over all that was in between. (The latter opinion is more likely true, which is the saying of Az-Zuhari)
Al-Hasan Al-Basri said: He had two braids of hair that he used to fold up and thus was called “Zul-Qarnain”. And, Ishaq Ibn Bishr narrated that the grandfather of Umar Ibn Shuaib said: ZulQarnain, once, invited a tyrant king to the way of Allah. The king hit him on the head and broke one of his horns. Zul-Qarnain invited him again and the tyrant broke the second horn. Thus, he was called “Zul-Qarnain”.
Narrated Ath-Thawri that Ali Ibn Abu Talib (R.A.) was once asked about Zul-Qarnain. He replied saying: He was a rightly-guided and pious man. He invited his people to Allah, but they hit him on his horn (side of the head) and he was killed. Allah the Almighty resurrected him and he invited them again, again they hit him on his second horn and he was killed (for the second time). Allah the Almighty revived him and thus he was called “Zul-Qarnain”. In other narrations, it was narrated by Abu At-Tufail after Ali Ibn Abu Talib (R.A.) that he said: He was neither a Prophet, nor a Messenger, nor an Angel, but was a Godly, pious worshipper.
What’s his Name?
Scholars disagreed regarding his name. Az Zubair Ibn Bakkar narrated after Abdullah Ibn, Abbas (R.A.): His name was Abdullah Ibn Ad-Dahhak Ibn Mad; or Musab Ibn Abdullah Ibn Qinan Ibn Mansur Ibn Abdullah Ibn Al-Azd Ibn Ghauth Ibn Nabt Ibn Malik Ibn Zaid Ibn Kahlan Ibn Saba Ibn Qahtan.
It has been narrated in a Hadith that he was from the tribe of Himyar and that his mother was Roman, and he was called the Philosopher for the excellence of his mentality. However, As-Suhaili said: his name was Marzaban Ibn Marzabah. This was mentioned by Ibn Hisham who mentioned in another location that his name was: As-Sab Ibn Dhi Maraid who was the grandfather of the Tababiah and it was him who gave the verdict to the benefit of Ibrahim (Peace be upon him) pertaining to the well of As-Sab.
It was said: He was Afridun Ibn Asfiyan who killed Ad-Dahhak. Al-Qass Ibn Saidah Al-Iyadi said in his famous sermon: 0 folk of Ayad Ibn As-Sab! Zul-Qarnain ruled over the West and East, subjugated the Jinn and mankind, and he lived for two thousand years. However, all this was just like a twinkle of the eye.
Ad-Daraqutni and Ibn Makula mentioned that his name was Hirmis, or Hirwis Ibn Qitun Ibn Rumi Ibn Lanti Ibn Kashaukhin Ibn Yunan Ibn Yafith Ibn Nuh (Noah (Peace be upon him)), and Allah knows best!
Ishaq Ibn Bishr narrated after Said Ibn Bashir on the authority of Qatadah as saying: Alexander was (called) Zul-Qarnain, his father was the first Caesar, and he was from among the offspring of Sam Ibn Nuh (Noah (Peace be upon him)).
At this conjecture one should distinguish between two people who were called Zul-Qarnain. The first is our pious Zul-Qarnain while the second is Alexander Ibn Philips Ibn Masrim Ibn Hirmis Ibn Maitun Ibn Rumi Ibn Lanti Ibn Yunan Ibn Yafith Ibn Yunah Ibn Sharkhun Ibn Rumah Ibn Sharfat Ibn Tufil Ibn Rumi Ibn AI-As far Ibn Yaqz Ibn Al-lis Ibn Ishaq Ibn Ibrahim (Peace be upon him). This lineage was stated by Al-Hafiz Ibn Asakir in his Tarikh (History). Moreover, he was the Macedonian, Greek, Egyptian leader who established Alexandria and basing on whom the Romans set their Calendar. He came after the first Zul-Qarnain with a very long time. This was three hundred years before Isa (Peace be upon him). His minister was the famous Philosopher Artatalis. Moreover, he was the one who killed Dara Ibn Dara, and subjugated the Persian kings and seized their lands. We only drew the reader’s attention to this because many people think that the two men called “Zul-Qarnain” are same, which is a big mistake for there were great differences between both. The first was a Godly, pious, righteous worshipper of Allah the Almighty, and he was a just king whose minister was the pious man, Al-Khadlr. Moreover, some scholars stated that he was a Prophet as well. Whereas, the later was a polytheist whose minister was a philosopher as mentioned earlier. In addition, the time elapsed between them both was more than two thousand years. Hence, none can miss the great differences and variance between both of them but an ignorant idiot who know nothing at all!
Allah’s Saying: (And they ask you about Zul-Qarnain) was revealed because the people of Quraish asked the Jews of something about which they would ask the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) to test his knowledge. The Jews told them: Ask him about a man who traveled through the Earth, and about some young men who set out and no one knew what happened to them?
Thereupon, Allah the Almighty revealed the stories of the Owners of the Cave and that of Zul-Qarnain. Thus, He said: (Say: I shall recite to you something of his story), i.e. enough and sufficient news about him and his status. Then, He said: (Verily, We established him in the earth, and We gave him the means of everything), i.e. Allah the Almighty expanded his kingdom and provided him with what might enable him to gain what he wished to. Narrated Qutaibah that Ali Ibn Abu Talib (R.A.) was once asked about Zul-Qarnain: how could he reach the East and West? Ali (R.A.) replied: The clouds wert subjugated for him, the means (of everything) were provided to him, and he was given extension pertaining to the light. Ali (R.A.) added: Do you want me to go on? The man became silent and thereupon, Ali (R.A.) became silent.
Narrated Abu Ishaq As-Subaii after Amr Ibn Abdullah Al-Wadai: “I heard Muawiyah as saying: four persons ruled over the earth: Sulaiman Ibn Dawud the Prophet (Peace be upon them), Zul-Qarnain, a man from the people of Hulwan and another man. Someone said: Was it Al-Khadir? Muawiyah said: No.” Az-Zubair Ibn Bakkar narrated that Sufyan Ath Thawri said: I have come to know that four persons ruled over the whole earth: Two of them were believers and the other two were disbelievers. The believing two were: Prophet Sulaiman and Zul-Qarnain. And, the disbelieving two were: Namrud and Bikhtinassar.”
The same was narrated by Said Ibn Bashir. Narrated Ishaq Ibn Bishr after Said Ibn Abu Urubah after Qatadah after Al-Hasan as saying: “Zul-Qarnain was a king after Namrud. He was a pious, righteous Muslim who traveled through the East and West. Allah the Almighty prolonged his life and granted him victory over the enemies and to get hold of their properties. He conquered the land, subjugated the people and traveled through the Earth till he reached the East and West.
Allah the Almighty says: And they ask you about Zul-Qarnain. Say: “I shall recite to you something of his story.” Verily, We established him in the Earth, and We gave him the means of everything, i.e. knowledge of seeking the means of fulfilling things. Ibn Ishaq said: Muqatil claimed that he used to conquer the lands and collect treasures, and used to offer the people two choices: whether they embrace his religion and follow him, or they be killed.
Ibn Abbas, Mujahid, Said Ibn Jubair, Ikrimah, Ubaid Ibn Yala, As-Sadyi, Qatadah and Ad-Dahhak said: (And We gave him the means of everything), i.e. knowledge. Qatadah and Matar Al-Warraq said: This means landmarks, locations, milestones and traces of the land. Abdur Rahman Ibn laid Ibn Aslam said: this means languages as he used not to conquer a people but he first speaks with them in their own language. The most possible and true explanation is that he knew all means through which he could fulfill his need or desire. As he used to take from every conquered region the provisions that enabled him to seize the next region, and so on.
Some scholars from among the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) mentioned that he spent one thousand and six hundred years traveling through the land inviting people to the worship of Allah the Almighty Who has no partner in His Dominion. But, it seems that there is some exaggeration in specifying that lengthy period, and Allah knows best!
Allah’s Statement (So he followed a way. Until, when he reached the setting place of the Sun) i.e. he reached the place that no one can ever overpass, and he stood on the edge of the western ocean called Oqyanus wherein the islands called Al-Khalidat “The Eternal Ones”. There, he could watch the setting of the sun. (He found it setting in a spring of black muddy (or hot) water), i.e. the sea or ocean, as one who stands ashore sees the sun as if it rises from and sets in the sea. For this he said (he found it), i.e. as he thought.
Imam Ahmed narrated after Yazid Ibn Hamn after Al-Awwam Ibn Haushab as saying: I was told by a freed slave of Abdullah Ibn Amr after Abdullah as saying: Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) looked at the sun when it sat and said: “In Allah’s blazing fire. Were it not for its prevention by Allah’s Command, it would burn all that is on Earth.” (This Hadith is very Strange and Odd and surely it is not an Authentic one)
Zul-Qarnain is Seeking the Eye of Life:
Ibn Asakir reported a lengthy narration in which: Zul-Qarnain had a friend from among the Angels called Ranaqil. Zul-Qarnain asked him: Do you know the place on earth called “The Eye of Life”? The Angel described to him its location. Zul-Qarnain set out seeking it appointing Al-Khadir as his harbinger.
Al-Khadir (A.S.) came upon it in the land of darkness and he drank thereof. But, Zul-Qarnain did not make it. However, Zul-Qarnain met with a group of Angels in a palace there and he was given a stone. When he returned to his army, he asked the scholars who put it on a scale and put on the other one thousand stones of the like (weight and shape). However, the scale containing the first stone tilted. He, then, asked Al-Khadir (A.S.) who put on the other scale a single stone and a handful of dry dust. Al-Khadir’s (A.S.) scale tilted this time. He then commented saying: “This is like the son of Adam (A.S.), he is never satisfied till he is buried (covered with dust)”. Thereupon, the scholars prostrated themselves before him as a sign of respect and honor; and Allah knows best!
Then, Allah the Almighty informs us that Zul-Qarnain gave verdicts pertaining to the people of that region (We (Allah) said (by inspiration): “0 Zul-Qarnain! Either you punish them, or treat them with kindness.” He said: “As for him (a disbeliever , in the Oneness of Allah) who does wrong, we shall punish him, and then he will be brought back unto his Lord, Who will punish him with a terrible torment (Hell)) i.e. he tastes the torment in this present life and in the Hereafter. He began with the torment of the present life for its more difficult in the sight of the disbeliever. (But as for him who believes (in Allah’s Oneness) and works righteousness he shall have the best reward, (Paradise), and we (Zul-Qarnain) shall speak unto him mild words (as instructions)) where he started with the reward of the Hereafter which is most important and he added thereto kindness, i.e. justice, knowledge and faith.
Allah the Almighty says, (Then he followed another way), i.e. he followed a way to return back from the West to the East.
Some say that it took him twelve years to return to the East. (Until, when he came to the rising place of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We (Allah) had provided no shelter against the sun), i.e. they do not have houses or any shelters to save them from the blazing sun. Some scholars say: They used to resort to trenches dug in the Earth to shelter then from the burning rays of the Sun. Then, Allah the Almighty says: (So (it was)! And We knew all about him (Zul-Qarnain)), i.e. Allah knows all about his affairs; He preserves and keeps him during his travels through the land from the vice versa, West to the East and It was narrated after Ubaid Ibn Umair, his son Abdullah and others that Zul-Qarnain performed Pilgrimage on foot. Upon hearing that, Ibrahim (Peace be upon him) met him and on their meeting he invoked Allah for his sake, and advised him. It was said also that he was brought a horse to ride, but he said: I do not ride (on the back of horses) in a land wherein Prophet Ibrahim (Peace be upon him).
Hence, Allah the Almighty subjugated for him the clouds, and Ibrahim (Peace be upon him) gave him the glad tidings pertaining to this. The clouds used to carry him anywhere he wished for. Allah the Almighty says: (Then, he followed (another) way. Until, when he reached between two mountains, he found, before (near) them (those two mountains), a people who scarcely understood a word), i.e. they were ignorant. It was said that they were the Turk, cousins of Gog and Magog (Yajud & Majud). However, they told him that Gog and Magog (Yajud & Majud) wronged them and practiced mischief in their land. They offered him a tribute for that he builds a barrier (dam) preventing them from raiding over them. He refused to take the tribute they offered him finding sufficiency in that which Allah the Almighty has given him, so (He said: “That (wealth, authority and power) in which my Lord had established me is better (than your tribute)). Then, he asked them to bring him men and tools to erect the barrier between them. Gog and Magog (Yajud & Majud) could only reach them from that place located between two mountain cliffs. The other paths were either vast seas, or high mountains. Consequently, he erected it using iron and molten copper: he put iron instead of bricks and molten copper instead of clay. Allah the Almighty commented, (So they (Gog and Magog (Yajud & Majud)) could not scale it) with escalators, (or dig through it) with axes or picks. ((Zul-Qarnain) said: “This is a mercy from my Lord) i.e. Allah the Almighty decreed this to be a mercy from Him to His slaves that they no longer assaulted by Gog and Magog (Yajud & Majud). (But when the Promise of my Lord comes) i.e. the time He decided for them (Gog and Magog (Yajud & Majud)) to demolish it and get out attacking mankind near the Last Hour, (He shall level it down to the ground) this will inevitably take place. As He says (And the Promise of my Lord is ever true), and (Until, when Gog and Magog (Yajud & Majud) are let loose (from their barrier), and they swoop down from every mound. And the true promise (Day of Resurrection) shall draw near (of fulfillment). Then (when mankind is resurrected from their graves), you shall see the eyes of the disbelievers fixedly staring in horror. (They will say): Woe to us! We were indeed heedless of this nay, but we were Zalimun (polytheists and wrongdoers)). (Al-Anbiya, 96 & 97)
Allah the Almighty says: (We shall leave them to surge like waves on one another) i.e. on the day Gog and Magog (Yajud & Majud) will come out, (and the Trumpet will be blown, and We shall collect them (the creatures) all together).
Narrated Abu Dawud At-Tyalisi after Ath-Thawri saying: I have been informed that the first human being to shake hands (with someone else) was Zul-Qarnain. Moreover, it was narrated on the authority of Kab Al-Ahbar that he said to Muawiyah: Zul-Qarnain on his death-bed told his mother, after his death, to prepare food and gather the women of the city and invite them to eat save anyone who lost any of her children (she should not eat thereof). The mother did as she asked, and none of them stretched a hand towards the food. She said: Glory be to Allah! Did you all lost children? They answered: By Allah! Yes we did. And, this was a great condolence for her.
Ishaq mentioned after Bishr Ibn Abdullah Ibn Ziyad after some of the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) the will of Zul-Qarnain, an eloquent and lengthy advice, and that he died at the age of three thousand years. (This is very odd and strange)
Ibn Asakir said: I was informed that he lived for about thirty-six years. Others said: he lived for thirty-two years and that he came seven hundred and forty years after Dawud (David) (Peace be upon him). He came after Adam (Peace be upon him) with five thousand and one hundred eighty-one years and that his reign lasted for sixteen years. But, that which he related is true as for the Macedonian Alexander and not our Zul-Qarnain. He thus mixed the former with the latter and this is perfectly wrong.
Among those who mixed them and declared both to be just one, was Imam Abdul Malik Ibn Hisham (Narrator of the Prophet’s (Peace be upon him) Biography), which was denied and rejected by Al-Hafiz Abu Al-Qasim As-Suhaili. He severely refused his sayings and set clear boundaries between the two persons as mentioned earlier. He said: May be some of the former kings called themselves “Zul-Qarnain” following the example of the first true one; and Allah knows best!