We have seen in the previous section that the story of the iron gate of Gog and Magog belongs to the realm of fairy tales or the category of "Gone with the Wind" as shown in the "Romance of Alexander." We now turn to investigate more of the Qur'anic claims about Zul-Qarnain.
The Qur'an speaks about Zul-Qarnain as a historical figure. Who could this man be?
Yusuf Ali identifies Zul-Qarnain as Alexander the Great when he states:
Razi explores three possibilities as to who is Zul-Qarnain. In spite of some difficulties he prefers to identify Zul-Qarnain as Alexander the Great.
We agree with Yusuf Ali's statement, but here again the Qur'anic claims about Alexander the Great do not fit the historical facts.
ALEXANDER WAS NOT EVEN A BELIEVER
The language of the Qur'an about Zul-Qarnain or Alexander the Great leaves us with the impression that Alexander the Great was a true believer. He talks like a believer and behaves like a believer. He even talks as if he was a prophet.
From the above we understand that Zul-Qarnain or Alexander the Great received a promise from God concerning this barrier that he personally built. This promise was not given hundreds of years before the building of the barrier. This promise was a personal message to Alexander the Great there and then.
Furthermore we are told in Q. 18:86 that God spoke to him directly. Razi observed that "God spoke to Zul-Qarnain without intermediary, and that proves that he was a prophet".
But was Alexander the Great a prophet, or even a believer?
Alexander the Great, contrary to the impression given by the Qur'an, was an infidel par excellence.
"At Memphis Alexander sacrificed to Apis (one of the Egyptian idols) and was crowned with the traditional double crown of the Pharaohs; the native priests were placated and their religion encouraged." "Alexander consulted the god (Ammon) on the success of his expedition." And "On the Hyphasis Alexander erected 12 alters to the 12 Olympian gods."
In Egypt he was received as the son of Ammon (one of the Egyptian gods). This god is represented by a ram, with two prominent horns of course, and hence Alexander's name in the Qur'an Zul-Qarnain meaning the two horned one.
Furthermore, "He seems to have become convinced of the reality of his own divinity and to have required its acceptance by others ... The cities perforce complied, but often ironically: the Spartan decree read, 'Since Alexander wishes to be a god, let him be a god."
Alexander was far from being even a believer.
Where did the Qur'an then get the idea that Alexander the great was a prophet? It came from the legend concerning Alexander.
The Jews made Alexander a believer and favoured by God so much that "God parted the waters of the Pamphylian sea so that Alexander's troops might pass in pursuit of the Persians."
Like wise the Christians made him a saint. Here is a sample of Alexander's prayer:
According to the Qur'an and the legends Alexander was a believer, but not according to history.
DID ALEXANDER GO WEST?
The Qur'an claims that Alexander travelled west.
However, Alexander never went west as the Qur'an claims. He travelled east and south (to Ammon and Memphis in Egypt).
HOW FAR DID ALEXANDER GO EASTWARD?
The Qur'an claims that Alexander travelled to the far east.
Ibn Kathir understood from the Qur'anic passages that Zul-Qarnain travelled the whole length and breadth of the earth. And Razi said that "he reached the closest place to the rising of the sun". But how far east did Alexander the Great travel?
When reaching "the Hyphasis [west of India] his (Alexander's) army mutinied, refusing to go further in the tropical rain; they were weary in body and spirit, and Coenus, one of Alexander's four chief marshals, acted as their spokesman. On finding the army adamant, Alexander agreed to turn back."
Contrary to the claims of the Qur'an Alexander the Great was not a believer he did not travel west and he did not go to the far east.
Even though the classical Muslim scholars are very unanimous on the identity of Zul-Qarnain, after looking at the above presented historical problems, it is no surprise that some contemporary Muslims deny that Zul-Qarnain is Alexander the Great.
They say the Qur'an does not mention Alexander the Great in sura 18, but it mentions Zul-Qarnain.
Is there evidence that the person mentioned as Zul-Qarnain is Alexander the Great?
In the Qur'an 18:83 we read: "They will ask thee of Zul-Qarnain. Say: I shall recite unto you a rememberance of him."
Who did ask Mohammad a question about Zul-Qarnain? Ibn Kathir informs us that the unbelievers of Mecca sent to the People of the Book asking them what questions they could pose to Mohammad in order that they might test him. The people of the book said: Ask him about Zul-Qarnain, some youth whom he did not know what they did, and the Spirit.
What was the form of the question suggested by the People of the Book and posed to Muhammad by the Meccan unbelievers?
If they had come to Mohammad, asked him about Alexander the son of Phillip, and he replied by mentioning Zul-Qarnain, then we have no argument with our Muslim friends. According to this form of the question Zul-Qarnain is Alexander the Great.
The other alternative is that the Meccans asked Mohammad about someone called Zul-Qarnain. And in reply he recited, "They will ask thee of Zul-Qarnain ..." It is the People of the Book then who were the source of the question about Zul-Qarnain and Mohammad responded with information about the SAME person. So the name Zul-Qarnain was mentioned by the People of the Book before Mohammed provided the answer that mentioned Zul-Qarnain.
The question then becomes: What did the People of the Book mean when they told the Meccan unbelievers what to ask Mohammad, not what did the Qur'an mean when it mentioned Zul-Qarnain.
Someone was known to the People of the Book as Zul-Qarnain before the Qur'an made a mention of him. And Mohammad in his reply to the question was talking about the same person. Who was that person? The answer is not from speculating what the Qur'an might have meant by Zul-Qarnain, but what did the People of the Book mean by Zul-Qarnain. For the title Zul-Qarnain came from the lips of the People of the Book before it came from the lips of Mohammad. In other words, the meaning of the title Zul-Qarnain is not to be found in the Qur'an but in the sources that were available to the People of the Book who were the contemporaries of Mohammad. The documented historical evidence tells us that the title Zul-Qarnain was exclusively the legendary title for Alexander the Great.
In "The Christian Legend Concerning Alexander", we find that Alexander said in one of his prayers, "O God ... Thou hast made me horns upon my heads". And the translator adds in a footnote that in the Ethiopic version of this legend "Alexander is always referred to as 'the two horned'" It was from this Ethiopic version or a similar one that the People of the Book knew the title Zul-Qarnain. THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK DID NOT INVENT THE TITLE ZUL-QARNAIN.
The title "the two horned" i.e. Zul-Qarnain was a legendary title first. It was passed to the People of the Book from the legends second. It was put into a question to Mohammad third. And it was mentioned in Mohammad's answer fourth. What the Qur'an meant by Zul-Qarnain, is what the People of the Book meant by Zul-Qarnain when posing their question.
Please remember that the People of the Book used that title first in the question they gave the Meccans to test Mohammad. That proves that this title is pre-Quranic. And the only source for the title "Zul-Qarnain" is found in the legends about Alexander the Great. It is true that others were described as animals with two horns, but not a human with two horns and then only in a vision as symbol of their power, not as reality and history as in the case of Alexander the Great. No one else in history was called Zul-Qarnain except Alexander the Great. Not only was the name Zul-Qarnain only applied to Alexander the Great but the description of the Qur'an fits the legends about him too, as we shall see later.
1. The Holy Qur'an, Translation and Commentary by Yusuf Ali, Appendix 7, page 763 (1983)
2. Razi, at-Tafsir al-Kabir, commenting on Q. 18:83-98.
3. Razi, at-Tafsir al-Kabir, commenting on Q. 18:86.
4. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Alexander III, 1971.
5. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Alexander III, 1971.
6. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Alexander III, 1971.
7. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Alexander III, 1971.
8. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Alexander III, 1971.
9. The Medieval Alexander, George Cart, Cambridge at the university press, 1956, p.126.
10. "A Christian Legend Concerning Alexander", in The History of Alexander the Great Being the Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes. Translated by E.A. W. Budge, 1889, p.146.
11. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Alexander III, 1971.
12. Ibn Kathir commenting on Q. 18:83.
13. "A Christian Legend Concerning Alexander", in The History of Alexander the Great Being the Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes. Translated by E.A. W. Budge, 1889, p.146.
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