the final story in Surah Al Kahf is in relation to Dhul-Qarnayn. This story, including the story of the People of the Cave, was revealed in response to the efforts by the Jews of Mecca to discredit Rasulullah SAW. Their scholars had knowledge of certain tales only known to the religious elite amongst them, and they challenged Rasulullah SAW by giving him certain key words and asking him to describe these stories in full to prove that he was indeed a Prophet. Not having Jewish or Christian ancestry, these stories were not known to the community of Mekkah at that time and were not part of their traditions. So, the only means of which Rasulullah SAW could have told them the details was if the story was revealed by Allah himself (through the angel Jibril AS).

When asked to describe these incidents, Rasulullah SAW asked the questioners to return the following day, and that he would answer their questions then – but he omitted from saying“Insha Allah” (God willing). This was a tiny mistake on his part, but Allah swiftly admonished him for this oversight. Usually when challenged by the disbeliever, or if faced with an issue that would require divine guidance to solve, Jibril AS would reveal the revelations to Muhammad SAW and the answer to challenges were provided quickly: if not the same day itself, then within a short period of time after that. In this case, however, day after day passed and as time went by, Jibril AS did not materialize. As time passed, people speculated that Rasulullah SAW did not rise up to the challenge thrown by the Jews. This was a trial from Allah, and also for admonishing Rasulullah SAW for not saying “Insha Allah” before making a commitment.

This reminder is in fact recorded in the Qur’an:

And never say of anything, “Indeed, I will do that tomorrow,” Except [when adding], “If Allah wills.” And remember your Lord when you forget [it] and say, “Perhaps my Lord will guide me to what is nearer than this to right conduct.”

(Al Qur’an; 18:24)

Who was Dhul-Qarnayn?

Eventually however, Allah revealed the answers to Rasulullah SAW, and they are contained in the eighteenth chapter of the Qur’an, Surah Al Kahf.

And they ask you, [O Muhammad], about Dhul-Qarnayn. Say, “I will recite to you about him a report.”

(Al Qur’an 18:83)

Who exactly is Dhul-Qarnayn? It is popularly believed that Dhul-Qarnayn refers to Iskandar Dhul-Qarnayn or Alexander the Great of Macedonia. However, the historical details do not match, and further, Alexander the Great of Macedonia was not a believer in Islam whereas Dhul-Qarnayn was a pious believer. There are many theories of who this man was and in what era he lived. However, the precise identity of Dhul-Qarnayn is not described in the Qur’an and Hadith, and Allah did not provide us with the details for a wisdom that He knows. As with many other Qur’anic stories, Allah only reveals essential information to us, and if details are not revealed, then the knowledge of such details is inconsequential to our journey of iman and we should not enquire or debate any further about it.

What is known is that Dhul-Qarnayn was a man endowed by Allah with many talents and abilities, including military prowess, the ability to rule kingdoms, and extensive practical knowledge on many aspects of life. He was also a pious and steadfast Muslim who constantly contemplated over the signs of Allah and lived his days travelling from one destination to the next in order to establish justice in the land and alleviate the suffering of the people.

Indeed We established him upon the earth, and We gave him to everything a way. So he followed a way.

(Al Qur’an 18:84 – 18:85)

The Travels of Dhul-Qarnayn

Dhul-Qarnayn travelled extensively in his life. It is said that he ruled the earth from east to west, but it is noted that Allah only revealed part of this story to us. We therefore record what is revealed in the Qu’ran, and will not cite information which is not verified by authentic sources.

One of this travels brought him to the West, where he found the sun setting as if in a spring of dark mud. In this location he discovered a community who were living under oppressed conditions.

Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it [as if] setting in a spring of dark mud, and he found near it a people. Allah said, “O Dhul-Qarnayn, either you punish [them] or else adopt among them [a way of] goodness.”

(Al Qur’an 18:86)

So Dhul-Qarnayn went into the community and led them to the correct path and ways of life in accordance with the rulings of the Almighty. He liberated the community from the oppression that they were subject to, inflicted punishment upon the oppressors, criminals and evildoers and aided the weak and oppressed until justice was established in the land.

He said,

“As for one who wrongs, we will punish him. Then he will be returned to his Lord, and He will punish him with a terrible punishment. But as for one who believes and does righteousness, he will have a reward of Paradise, and we will speak to him from our command with ease.”

(Al Qur’an 18:87 – 18:88)

Having completed his task, he and his army continued on their journey, until one day, against the rising sun, he found a people who were backward and ignorant, living in the open without any shelter or protection against the sun.

Then he followed a way. Until, when he came to the rising of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We had not made against it any shield.

(Al Qur’an 18:90)

He educated the community there on what they needed to do. He shared and imparted his knowledge to them, taught them the skills required such as carpentry and agriculture, and then continued on his journey.

Thus. And We had encompassed [all] that he had in knowledge.

(Al Qur’an 18:91)

The next part of his journey is the most astounding, where he met a curious community, so far removed that he barely understood their language.

Then he followed a way. Until, when he reached [a pass] between two mountains, he found beside them a people who could hardly understand [his] speech.

(Al Qur’an 18:92 – 18:93)

They said, “O Dhul-Qarnayn, indeed (Ya’juj) Gog and Magog (Ma’juj) are [great] corrupters in the land. So may we assign for you an expenditure that you might make between us and them a barrier?”

(Al Qur’an 18:94)

Little is known about Ya’juj and Ma’juj – what race they are, their exact location and what form they appear in. There are various ahadeeth however, which categorically describes them as being corrupters of the land, and it is prophesized in both Al Qur’an and ahadeeth that they will, close to the end of time, appear on the land and cause great trouble and strife.

Many scholars have their own opinion on this matter. However, we are of the view that this is the knowledge of the unseen, and the theories of the scholars are not based on authentic or confirmed sources within ahadeeth and the Qur’an. Hence we will not be exploring the speculations of the scholars, but will take a literal approach and quote only the text in the Qur’an for the purpose of this story.

Allah gave Dhul-Qarnayn the knowledge to solve the predicament of the people there, and so he instructed them to build a gigantic wall or dam of iron between the two mountains and then pour molten copper to strengthen and increase its impenetrability.

He said, “That in which my Lord has established me is better [than what you offer], but assist me with strength; I will make between you and them a dam. Bring me sheets of iron” – until, when he had leveled [them] between the two mountain walls, he said, “Blow [with bellows],” until when he had made it [like] fire, he said, “Bring me, that I may pour over it molten copper.” So Gog and Magog were unable to pass over it, nor were they able [to effect] in it any penetration.

(Al Qur’an 18:95 – 18:97)

However, the qadr of Allah is still to pass. One day, close to the end of time, the barrier will be levelled and from there, Ya’juj and Ma’juj will be liberated and will spread great corruption and discord throughout the land.

[Dhul-Qarnayn] said, “This is a mercy from my Lord; but when the promise of my Lord comes, He will make it level, and ever is the promise of my Lord true.”  And We will leave them that day surging over each other, and [then] the Horn will be blown, and We will assemble them in [one] assembly.

(Al Qur’an 18:98 – 18:99)


Lessons to be learnt

Saying “Insha Allah”

Often, we become confident in our ability to deliver, and we attribute such abilities to our own might and strength: a casual promise, or even the undertaking to meet a deadline or attend an appointment. However, nothing in this earth happens without Allah’s will or permission. This is why, even the role model of mankind, Muhammad SAW, was reprimanded for not uttering the phrase “Insha Allah” when he gave his undertaking to explain the story of The People of the Cave and also Dhul-Qarnayn. We as Muslims, are obligated to say “Insha Allah” when promising to deliver something, for without Allah’s will, nothing can happen. How many of us have already been stuck in some unforeseen circumstance – a traffic jam, or a broken server, an illness, which took away our ability to keep to our commitment?

This is not to be confused with the “Insha Allah” carelessly uttered by many Muslims today, which has evolved into some sort of polite but totally inappropriate substitute for “no”. This is a distortion of the original intention of the phrase. “Insha Allah” is only to be used when someone intends to keep his commitment and will use his best efforts to keep his promise, but also has the humility to acknowledge that it is only Allah who can carry his commitments to fruition.

What Do We Do With Our Abilities?

The main lesson that can be learnt from the story of Dhul-Qarnayn is that all ability, might and power comes from Allah, and when one’s inclination is towards goodness, he should use those abilities to do good.

The more we are sincere in wanting to perform good deeds, the more Allah will increase our ability to spread the message, meaning such parts of our abilities that enable us to benefit others. Dhul-Qarnayn travelled extensively from one end of the earth to another, in order to spread justice, to alleviate the suffering people and to educate and advance them by spreading his knowledge to them. In doing so, he was also guided by Allah, and governed his actions accordingly to Allah’s rulings.

If we are sincere, Allah will give us the capacity as well as the victory, according to our piety, connection to Allah and faith in Allah. The purpose of Dhul-Qarnayn’s travels were not for the sake of amassing fortune and power, but to establish justice in the land and rid it of oppression. He conquered in order to spread the rule of Allah over the land. Allah gave him the knowledge and equipped him with ability and means. Dhul-Qarnayn did not waste these abilities on himself, but rather, travelled from one remote place to another to help elevate his fellow mankind in dunia and akhirah.

The story teaches us how a Muslim should be dynamic and to be a high achiever. However, the objective is a high one – not for worldly fortune, but for the empowerment and betterment of people for the sake of Allah.

If this is our goal, our first step should be to cleanse and purify the sincerity of intention in order to act in accordance with Allah’s wishes. Many of us lose sight of that objective, and by the time we graduate from college and university, our hearts are immersed in the material love of the world. We get lost in the competitive arenas of our careers, and together with it, our original objective is also lost, dunia and akhirah.

This is why the end of Surah Al Kahf talks about the purity and sincerity of intention, for without them, all good deeds are wasted.

As a final note, Allah gives each of us different abilities. Dhul-Qarnayn was a conqueror, and only a few of us have this immense ability. However, we all have different skills – some of us are persuasive talkers, some of us are wealthy, some of us are good at organizing projects, some of us have extensive knowledge of the akhirah, and some of us have extensive knowledge of the useful things in dunia (for example, medicine, engineering, life skills). When given such skills by Allah, we should not just monopolize them for our own advantage, but also use them for the betterment of others and for sabeelillah, because we will be question about it in the hereafter.


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