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Shaykh Walead explains the story of Dhul Qarnayn and highlights the key lessons and significant themes from which we can learn.

The last parable in Sura al Kahf talks about Dhul Qarnayn.

وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَن ذِي الْقَرْنَيْنِ ۖ قُلْ سَأَتْلُو عَلَيْكُم مِّنْهُ ذِكْرًا

They ask you concerning Dhul Qarnayn. Say: “I shall recite to you remembrance of him.” (Sura al Kahf 18:83)

Dhul Qarnayn was someone who was given power and sulta (lordship) and he presided over the East and the West. That caused many of the scholars to conclude there was no person history who was actually able to do that – if indeed it was a man – except for someone like Alexander the Great.

Again, it’s not a not a tenant of faith that it was Alexander the Great. We just know that he is referred to as Dhul Qarnayn in the Qur’an. Different reasons are given as to why he was called that. The word qarn actually means horn. One narration is that he had two or four braids of hair that looked like two horns, and that’s why he was given that name.

The Rank of Dhul Qarnayn

Some say that when he goes between East and West there is symbolically one horn in the East and one in the West. Most of the narrations say that he was not a prophet, even though some mentioned he could have been. He was a good man either way and he was more like a king than a prophet.

Or he could have been a prophet-king in much the same way that Sulayman, peace be upon him, was. But again, it’s the moral of the story that we{re looking at rather than the details of it.

إِنَّا مَكَّنَّا لَهُ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَآتَيْنَاهُ مِن كُلِّ شَيْءٍ سَبَبًا

We made him strong in the land and given him the means to all things [he wishes to achieve]. (Sura al Kahf 18:84)

The Firmness of His Belief

Allah uses the term: tamkin. It is one of those things that is not necessarily good, not necessarily bad. It’s like wealth. It means having the ability and the power to pretty much achieve anything that you want to. That can be a blessing and that can be a curse. If it is used in the right way it is a blessing. If it is used in the wrong way it is a curse.

To have that level of power and sulta to just move your finger and people run and ask you what you want could be a power or a blessing or it could be a curse. But this is what Dhul Qarnayn was given.

فَأَتْبَعَ سَبَبًا

And he took to the road. (Sura al Kahf 18:85)

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

Till, when he reached the setting-place of the sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring, and found a people thereabout. We said: O Dhul Qarnayn! Either punish or show them kindness. (Sura al Kahf 18:86)

In other words, if you’re going to conquer these people either deal with them with kindness or deal with them by punishing them if they don’t submit. Obviously back then we’re talking about a different understanding of relationships between people and how things will run.

Remember we’re not talking about the Sharia of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him. Rather, we’re talking about something that precedes it by a millennium, if not more.

قَالَ أَمَّا مَن ظَلَمَ فَسَوْفَ نُعَذِّبُهُ ثُمَّ يُرَدُّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِ فَيُعَذِّبُهُ عَذَابًا نُّكْرًا

He said: As for him who does wrong, we shall punish him, and then he will be brought back unto his Lord, Who will punish him with awful punishment! (Sura al Kahf 18:87)

وَأَمَّا مَنْ آمَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلَهُ جَزَاءً الْحُسْنَىٰ ۖ وَسَنَقُولُ لَهُ مِنْ أَمْرِنَا يُسْرًا

But as for him who believes and do right, good will be his reward, and We shall speak unto him a mild command. (Sura al Kahf 18:88)

ثُمَّ أَتْبَعَ سَبَبًا

And he took to the road. (Sura al Kahf 18:89)

حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ مَطْلِعَ الشَّمْسِ وَجَدَهَا تَطْلُعُ عَلَىٰ قَوْمٍ لَّمْ نَجْعَل لَّهُم مِّن دُونِهَا سِتْرًا

Till, when he reached the rising-place of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We had appointed no shelter therefrom. (Sura al Kahf 18:90)

The Peoples of East and West

It is said that he ran into these people and then he moves on. Alexander the great crossed from east to west and that everything including sunrise and sunset was under the salta: under the power of Dhul Qarnayn.

The first people he reached was were more advanced. They had homes, rooms, and roofs over their heads. And their way of life was relatively easy.

The second group of people he reached at the rising place of the Sun – in other words, the East – were a people who had no permanent shelter, but were perhaps nomads.

Much in the same way that the Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula were nomads in many parts of the peninsula, whereas in Mecca and in Medina they were sedentary.

كَذَٰلِكَ وَقَدْ أَحَطْنَا بِمَا لَدَيْهِ خُبْرًا

So (it was). And We knew all concerning him. (Sura al Kahf 18:91)

ثُمَّ أَتْبَعَ سَبَبًا

And he took to the road. (Sura al Kahf 18:92)

That is, he left again or he took further means.

حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ بَيْنَ السَّدَّيْنِ وَجَدَ مِن دُونِهِمَا قَوْمًا لَّا يَكَادُونَ يَفْقَهُونَ قَوْلً

Till, when he came between the two mountains, he found upon their near side a folk that scarce could understand a word. (Sura al Kahf 18:93)

The People of the Valley

The word al saddayn means something that blocks, but in this particular context it means the two mountains: a valley, essentially. The mountains were so close together that you can actually build a dam or build like a gate to protect the area between the two mountains.

He came upon these people and they couldn’t understand one another because their languages were mutually unintelligible. They spoke no common language. They had to resort to sign language and hands and writing in the sand and so on.

قَالُوا يَا ذَا الْقَرْنَيْنِ إِنَّ يَأْجُوجَ وَمَأْجُوجَ مُفْسِدُونَ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَهَلْ نَجْعَلُ لَكَ خَرْجًا عَلَىٰ أَن تَجْعَلَ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَهُمْ سَدًّ

They said: O Dhul Qarnayn! Gog and Magog are spoiling the land. So may we pay you tribute on condition that you set a barrier between us and them? (Sura al Kahf 18:94)

These are the same tribes of the people of the hour. We don’t know exactly who they are. They are said to originate somewhere in the Far East, from the Mongolian steppes or wherever it might be.

They are conquerors, but they do it in a way where they they destroy people. So these people offer to pay some type of tribute on the condition that Dhul Qarnayn set a barrier between them and Gog and Magog.

قَالَ مَا مَكَّنِّي فِيهِ رَبِّي خَيْرٌ فَأَعِينُونِي بِقُوَّةٍ أَجْعَلْ بَيْنَكُمْ وَبَيْنَهُمْ رَدْمًا

He said: That wherein my Lord has established for me is better [than your tribute]. But help me with strength [of men in your numbers] and I will set between you and them a barrier. (Sura al Kahf 18:95)

آتُونِي زُبَرَ الْحَدِيدِ ۖ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا سَاوَىٰ بَيْنَ الصَّدَفَيْنِ قَالَ انفُخُوا ۖ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَعَلَهُ نَارًا قَالَ آتُونِي أُفْرِغْ عَلَيْهِ قِطْرًا

Give me pieces of iron – till, when he had leveled up [the gap] between the cliffs, he said: Blow! – till, when he had made it a fire, he said: Bring me molten copper to pour thereon. (Sura al Kahf 18:96)

فَمَا اسْطَاعُوا أَن يَظْهَرُوهُ وَمَا اسْتَطَاعُوا لَهُ نَقْبًا

And [Gog and Magog] were not able to surmount it, nor could they pierce [it]. (Sura al Kahf 18:97)

قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَحْمَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّي ۖ فَإِذَا جَاءَ وَعْدُ رَبِّي جَعَلَهُ دَكَّاءَ ۖ وَكَانَ وَعْدُ رَبِّي حَقًّا

He said: This is a mercy from my Lord; but when the promise of my Lord cometh to pass, He will turn it to dust, for the promise of my Lord is true. (Sura al Kahf 18:98)

وَتَرَكْنَا بَعْضَهُمْ يَوْمَئِذٍ يَمُوجُ فِي بَعْضٍ ۖ وَنُفِخَ فِي الصُّورِ فَجَمَعْنَاهُمْ جَمْعًا

And on that day we shall let some of them surge against others, and the Trumpet will be blown. Then We shall gather them together in one gathering. (Sura al Kahf 18:99)

The Tawfiq of Dhul Qarnayn

He built a wall like any other wall. They couldn’t get over it. In other words, they tried. And nor could they pierce it. Nor could they scale it. It was too high.

Notice the difference between how Dhul Qarnayn views this work, and how the one with the two gardens, viewed his. The latter said: “This is for me and it will never go away. I don’t think I’d find anything better.” And he put no effort into it or very little effort.

Now look at this. This is a completely man-made structure. It’s not like the garden that had the river flowing in between and things were just happening so easily. It took a lot of labor.One would think that it probably took months if not longer to build this wall.

Nevertheless, Dhul Qarnayn says: This is a mercy from Allah, but if the promise of my Lord comes to pass on that day when everything will be destroyed it will be destroyed. I was just a tool. I helped to bring about that which Allah has promised. And the promise of my Lord is true.


This lesson by Shaykh Walead Mosaad is part of the On Demand Course: Giving Life to Sura Al Kahf, in which Shaykh Walead explains the key lessons of Sura al Kahf: the four great stories in it and the four great tests they represent. Namely the tests of faith, wealth, knowledge, and power. Download the entire lesson-set here.

View other SeekersHub On Demand Courses here.


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"Whoever guides someone to goodness will have a similar reward"-- The Prophet (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him)