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Last Updated: 2009/07/19
Summary of question
Who is Dhul-Qarnayn?
Who is Dhul-Qarnayn? Was he a prophet?
Concise answer

The name “Dhul-Qarnayn” has been mentioned in surah Kahf.

As for who exactly Dhul-Qarnayn was in history, there are differences of opinion amongst historians and commentators of the Quran.

Yet, taking into consideration the attributes of Dhul-Qarnayn that the Quran has mentioned, one can conclude that Dhul-Qarnayn was actually Cyrus the Great.

Most scholars believe Cyrus to be human. A great deal of hadiths tells us that he wasn’t a prophet, but was a righteous servant of Allah (swt). Imam Baqir (as) has been reported saying: “Dhul-Qarnayn wasn’t a prophet, but was a righteous servant of Allah (swt) that He loved.”

Detailed Answer

The title Dhul-Qarnayn has been mentioned in surah Kahf and his story regarding the Gog and Magog has also been narrated there.[1]

There is great debate about who Dhul-Qarnayn exactly was amongst interpreters of the Quran and historians and which famous person this title refers to.

It seems the first thing that needs to be considered in order to figure out who he was, are his traits.

The most significant reference for such a matter would be the Quran, which tells us that he possessed great and unique characteristics:

1- “Indeed We had granted him power in the land and given him the means to all things”[2]

2- He had three military expeditions; one to the West, one to the East and one to a strait located in a mountainous region, meeting different peoples in each one.[3]

3- He was a kind monotheist and a believer never straying from the path of justice, resulting in Allah’s (swt) special grace towards him. He was aid to the righteous and an enemy to the transgressors and tyrants, and had no feeling towards wealth and money.[4]

4- He both believed in Allah (swt) and the Day of Judgment.[5]

5- He built one of the most important and powerful dams ever; a dam made of iron and copper instead of the traditional materials used such as bricks and stone. This dam was made to help a weak and defenseless group of people against the transgressing Gog and Magog.[6]

6- He was known amongst the people before the revelation of the Quran, and that is why the Quraysh or Jews of the prophet’s (pbuh) time asked him of Dhul-Qarnayn[7], and that is why the Quran says: “And they ask you of Dhul-Qarnayn”.

Taking into consideration the attributes the Quran has mentioned about him, which of the past conquerors could have Dhul-Qarnayn been? There are different views on this issue:

a) Alexander of Macedonia: Some call him Alexander Dhul-Qarnayn. He lived no longer than 36 years and his body was buried in Alexandria.[8]

Yet, this theory isn't correct, because Alexander was a polytheist and idol worshipper and claimed to be deity after defeating the Achaemenians, which are all in complete contradiction with Quranic facts.[9]

b) Some historians believe that Dhul-Qarnayn was a king of Yemen. According to this theory, the dam he built would be the same dam known as Ma’reb.[10]

This theory is also incorrect because firstly, the dam of Ma’reb in Yemen in no way matches the one described in the Quran because according to the Quran, Dhul-Qarnayn’s dam was made of copper and iron, protecting those behind it from the attack of wild tribes, while the Ma’reb was made of traditional materials for the purpose of collecting water and the prevention of floods.[11] Secondly, there are several kings from Yemen who were known as Dhul-Qarnayn, and it isn't for sure that they were monotheists or not![12]

c) Cyrus the Great: This is a relatively new theory presented by the famous Islamic scholar AbulMakarem Azad that most experts tend to accept as the true identity of Dhul-Qarnayn.[13] Cyrus was a Persian king and descendant of Achaemenes (Hakhamanish) living in the sixth century b.c. In contrast to the other two theories, there are chances that Dhul-Qarnayn was actually Cyrus the Great. He was a monotheist (Zoroastrian) with an unaltered religion that could easily be found in both East and West Persia.[14]

Some of the reasons for why Dhul-Qarnayn can be Cyrus the Great:

1- He was a monotheistic believer that was familiar with God

2- He was a just and kind king that cared for his people

3- He was hard on transgressors and enemies

4- Allah (swt) had given him the means to all things

5- He bore religion, intellect, good deeds, virtues, wealth and glory

6- He had an expedition to the West and conquered Lidya as well

7- He travelled to the East and reached "مطلع الشمس" (where the sun rises) and met a wild desert dweller there

8- Cyrus built a dam in the Daryal Gorge that lies in the Caucasus Mountains, near the city of Tiflis.[15]

It should be noted that the title of Dhul-Qarnayn has been mentioned in both the Quran and the Torah.  Basically, what these two books have to do with Dhul-Qarnayn is that according to hadiths, those asking the prophet (pbuh) about Dhul-Qarnayn were either the Jews themselves or the Quraysh with the encouragement of the Jews, trying to put him on the spot with a hard question and prove that he isn't a prophet. Therefore, the Dhul-Qarnayn the Quran speaks of is the same Dhul-Qarnayn that the Torah speaks of.

It is clear that in the Torah, Dhul-Qarnayn is Cyrus the Great, because he dreamed of Daniel as a ram plowing the West with one horn and the East with another, meaning that he would take over both, as according to the prophecy of Isaiah, Cyrus would become the “Eagle of the East”, meaning that he was the fierce warrior of the East.[16]

Abul-Makarem Azad Hindi says: “It is possible that the story of Daniel is only a myth, yet what the Quran mentions is surely true and has taken place. Contemporary historians have attested to Cyrus’s great, just and virtuous personality.”[17]

The link between two horns and Cyrus:

In the 19th century, a statue of Cyrus was discovered near the river of “Morghab” relatively the size of a full-sized human, depicting Cyrus with two spread wings like those of an eagle, and a crown with two horns like those of a ram. A group of German scientists travelled all the way to Iran just to see this statue, which is a great specimen and sample of ancient stone-carving. After comparing traits mentioned in the Holy Book with those seen in the statue, these historians reached a conclusion about why Cyrus was called Dhul-Qarnayn (The bearer of two horns), and also why his statue had wings like those of an eagle. All of these clues led to the conclusion about who Dhul-Qarnayn was in history (Cyrus the Great).[18]

Historians have also listed some moral attributes for Cyrus. For instance, Herodotus, the Greek historian writes: “Cyrus was a generous and very kind and gentle king, not thinking of accumulating wealth like other kings.”[19]

Others have also written: “Cyrus was a smart and kind king, possessing both the greatness of kings and the virtues of the wise. He had high determination and a dominant being, his slogan was to serve humanity and [one of] his characteristics was to be just; humility and humbleness had taken the place of pride and arrogance in him.”[20]

On this basis, there is no doubt that Dhul-Qarnayn was Cyrus the Great and today, many Islamic researchers and commentators have reached the same conclusion; that the Dhul-Qarnayn mentioned in the Quran is none other than the Dhul-Qarnayn mentioned in the Torah.

Was Cyrus a Prophet?

There is also a difference of opinion here amongst Islamic scholars as well. According to Allamah Tabatabai, in some hadiths, he has been introduced as a human[21], while in others he has been considered a heavenly angel.[22] Nevertheless, most scholars believe him to be a human. Many hadiths tell us that he wasn’t a prophet, but a righteous servant of Allah (swt).

Imam Baqir (as) has said: “Dhul-Qarnayn wasn’t a prophet, but was a righteous servant that Allah (swt) loved.”[23]

[1] For more information on the story of the Gog and Magog, see: Question 2241 (website: 2699).

[2] Kahf:84.

[3] Naser Makarem Shirazi, Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 12, pg. 544.

[4] Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 12, pg. 544 (verses 88, 95 and 98).

[5] Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 12, pg. 544 (verse 98).

[6] Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 12, pg. 545 (verses 94-96).

[7] Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 12, pg. 545.

[8] Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 12, pg. 542.

[9] Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 12, pg. 543.

[10] Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 12, pg. 542.

[11] Tafsir Nemouneh vol. 12, pg. 543.

[12] Seyyid Mohammad Hosain Tabatabai, Tafsir Al-Mizan (farsi translation of Mohammad Baqir Musavi Hamedani), vol. 13, commentary on surah Kahf, under the hadithic discussion about the related verses.

[13] Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 12, pg. 543; Tafsir Al-Mizan, vol. 13, commentary on surah Kahf, under the explanation of the related verses.

[14] Tebyan website, Library, Quran Commentary section, the subject of “Dhul-Qarnayn in the Quran and Old Testament”.

[15] Tafsir Al-Mizan, vol. 13, commentary on surah Kahf, under the hadithic discussion on the related verses; Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 12, pg. 549.

[16] Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 12, pp. 546 and 547; Torah, Book of Daniel, chapter 6; Book of Isaiah, chapter 46, no.11; Book of Jeremiah, Book of Azra, Second book of histories of the past days, Book of Nehemiah.

[17] AbulMakarem Azad, Kurushe Kabir (Dhul-Qarnayn) (translation of Dr. Bastani Parizi, pg. 192; Besharat magazine, issues of Farvardin and Ordibehesht of the year 1384, number 46; Seyyid Mostafa Hosaini Dashti, Ma’aref va Ma’arif, under the letter “ذ

[18] Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 12, pg. 547.

[19] Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 12, pp. 547 and 548.

[20] Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 12, pg. 548.

[21] Tafsir Al-Mizan, vol. 13, commentary on surah Kahf, under the hadithic discussion on the related verses.

[22] Suyuti, Al-Durrul-Manthur, vol. 4, pg. 265; Ibn Kathir, Bidayah wa Nihayah, vol. 2, pg. 103.

[23] Tafsir Nurul-Thaqalain, vol. 3, pp. 294-295.

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