Dhul Qarnayn in the Quran is a righteous man to whom God had given sovereignty and who ruled over a large empire. As for who exactly Dhul Qarnayn is in history, there is a difference of opinion among historians and Quranic exegetes, and to this day it is not clear which king conforms to Dhul Qarnayn.
In this article, we will take a look at:
Dhul Qarnayn in the Quran: The Meaning of His Name
Dhul Qarnayn is not actually a name but a title. It literally means, the one with two horns. Now as for why he was given this title, there are some opinions. Some have said that the crown that he wore on his head had two horns. Others say that he was called this because he conquered the East and the West.
The Story of Dhul Qarnayn in the Quran
A group of Jews wanted to test to see if Prophet Muhammad is truthful about his prophethood. Therefore, they wanted to challenge him by asking him about Dhul Qarnayn. Therefore, Allah revealed verses 83-98 of surah Kahf in the Quran, telling the story of Dhul Qarnayn.
وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَن ذِي الْقَرْنَيْنِ ۖ قُلْ سَأَتْلُو عَلَيْكُم مِّنْهُ ذِكْرًا ﴿83﴾
They question you concerning Dhul Qarnayn. Say, ‘I will relate to you an account of him.’ 1
إِنَّا مَكَّنَّا لَهُ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَآتَيْنَاهُ مِن كُلِّ شَيْءٍ سَبَبًا ﴿84﴾
Indeed We had granted him power in the land and given him the means to all things. 2
This verse shows that Dhul Qarnayn was a mighty ruler who had the means for doing almost anything.
فَأَتْبَعَ سَبَبًا ﴿85﴾
So he directed a means.
حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ مَغْرِبَ الشَّمْسِ وَجَدَهَا تَغْرُبُ فِي عَيْنٍ حَمِئَةٍ وَوَجَدَ عِندَهَا قَوْمًا ۗ قُلْنَا يَا ذَا الْقَرْنَيْنِ إِمَّا أَن تُعَذِّبَ وَإِمَّا أَن تَتَّخِذَ فِيهِمْ حُسْنًا ﴿86﴾
When he reached the place where the sun sets, he found it setting over a warm sea, and by it he found a people. We said, ‘O Dhul Qarnayn! You will either punish them, or treat them with kindness.’ 3
The place where the sun sets means the west. So Dhul Qarnayn went to rule over the people in the western part of his empire. God gave him a choice: Either punish people or treat them with kindness. Dhul Qarnayn said:
قَالَ أَمَّا مَن ظَلَمَ فَسَوْفَ نُعَذِّبُهُ ثُمَّ يُرَدُّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِ فَيُعَذِّبُهُ عَذَابًا نُّكْرًا ﴿87﴾
He said, ‘As for him who is a wrongdoer, we will punish him. Then he shall be returned to his Lord and He will punish him with a dire punishment.
وَأَمَّا مَنْ آمَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلَهُ جَزَاءً الْحُسْنَىٰ ۖ وَسَنَقُولُ لَهُ مِنْ أَمْرِنَا يُسْرًا ﴿88﴾
But as for him who has faith and acts righteously, he shall have the best reward, and we will assign him easy tasks under our command.’ 4
Dhul Qarnayn in the Quran: Expansion into the East
Dhul Qarnayn employed another one of his means according to the Quran. Then he reached the east of his empire:
ثُمَّ أَتْبَعَ سَبَبًا ﴿89﴾
Thereafter he directed another means.
حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ مَطْلِعَ الشَّمْسِ وَجَدَهَا تَطْلُعُ عَلَىٰ قَوْمٍ لَّمْ نَجْعَل لَّهُم مِّن دُونِهَا سِتْرًا ﴿90﴾
When he reached the place where the sun rises, he found it rising on a people for whom We had not provided any shield against it.
كَذَٰلِكَ وَقَدْ أَحَطْنَا بِمَا لَدَيْهِ خُبْرًا ﴿91﴾
So it was, and We were fully aware of whatever [means] he possessed.5
Apparently, the people of this region were so backward that they could not even protect themselves from sunlight. Therefore, Dhul Qarnayn ruled over them and provided them with shelter.
Dhul Qarnayn in the Quran: Journey to the North
So Dhul Qarnayn employed another means and traveled until he reached a region between two barriers:
ثُمَّ أَتْبَعَ سَبَبًا ﴿92﴾
Thereafter he directed another means.
حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ بَيْنَ السَّدَّيْنِ وَجَدَ مِن دُونِهِمَا قَوْمًا لَّا يَكَادُونَ يَفْقَهُونَ قَوْلً ﴿93﴾
When he reached [the place] between the two barriers, he found between them a people who could hardly understand a word [of his language]. 6
It is said that this region is in the Caucasus known as the Darial Gorge.
قَالُوا يَا ذَا الْقَرْنَيْنِ إِنَّ يَأْجُوجَ وَمَأْجُوجَ مُفْسِدُونَ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَهَلْ نَجْعَلُ لَكَ خَرْجًا عَلَىٰ أَن تَجْعَلَ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَهُمْ سَدًّا ﴿94﴾
They said, ‘O Dhul Qarnayn! Indeed Gog and Magog are causing disaster in this land. Shall we pay you a tribute on condition that you build a barrier between them and us?’ 7
God and Magog were a tribe who were causing trouble for the inhabitants of this region. Therefore, they asked Dhul Qarnayn to build a wall in between them so that they do not bother them. Dhul Qarnayn, who was a wealthy king, said:
قَالَ مَا مَكَّنِّي فِيهِ رَبِّي خَيْرٌ فَأَعِينُونِي بِقُوَّةٍ أَجْعَلْ بَيْنَكُمْ وَبَيْنَهُمْ رَدْمًا ﴿95﴾
He said, ‘What my Lord has furnished me is better. Yet help me with some strength, and I will make a bulwark between you and them. 8
آتُونِي زُبَرَ الْحَدِيدِ ۖ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا سَاوَىٰ بَيْنَ الصَّدَفَيْنِ قَالَ انفُخُوا ۖ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَعَلَهُ نَارًا قَالَ آتُونِي أُفْرِغْ عَلَيْهِ قِطْرًا ﴿96﴾
Bring me pieces of iron!’ When he had levelled up between the flanks, he said, ‘Blow!’ When he had turned it into fire, he said, ‘Bring me molten copper to pour over it.’9
Therefore, Dhul Qarnayn made a strong wall made of iron and copper, such that they could neither climb it nor make a hole in it. Dhul Qarnayn said, “This is a mercy from my Lord. But when the promise of my Lord is fulfilled, He will level it; and my Lord’s promise is true.” 10
Who Is Dhul Qarnayn in the Quran?
There are several theories as to who Dhul Qarnayn was. Some say that he was Alexander the Great of Macedon (اسکندر مقدوني) who had made many conquests. However, it is very unlikely as his attributes do not match with the ones mentioned in the Quran. Specifically, he followed the religion of Greek polytheism and worshipped idols. On the other hand, some historians say Dhul Qarnayn was Cyrus the Great (کوروش کبیر). The truth is, it is not clear at all who exactly Dhul Qarnayn was. All we know is that he was a just and righteous ruler who had a vast empire.
In conclusion, we get to understand that Dhul Qarnayn in the Quran is a righteous ruler whom God had given much power in the land. He made three journeys, to the west, east, and north of his empire and ruled over the people there. There is not enough evidence indicating which ruler in history Dhul Qarnayn was.
- Quran 18:83 (Qara’i).
- Quran 18:84 (Qara’i).
- Quran 18:85-86 (Qara’i).
- Quran 18:87-88 (Qara’i).
- Quran 18:89-91 (Qara’i).
- Quran 18:92-93 (Qara’i).
- Quran 18:94 (Qara’i).
- Quran 18:95 (Qara’i).
- Quran 18:96 (Qara’i).
- Quran 18:98 (Qara’i).