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Dhul-Qarnayn (Arabic ذو القرنين dhū al-qarnayn, ; Aramaic: Tre-Qarnayia), literally meaning "He of the Two Horns" (Quarnayn has several meanings including Time and Sun, therefore it may mean "He of the Two Suns" or "He of the Two Time"), is a figure mentioned in the Qur'an, the sacred scripture of Islam, where he is described as a great and righteous ruler who built a long wall that keeps Gog and Magog from attacking the people of the West. Some of them said he was called Dhul-Qarnayn (the one with two horns) because he reached the two "Horns" of the sun, east and west, where it rises and where it sets. Traditionally Dhul-Qarnayn has been identified with Alexander the Great, who is ascribed similar adventures in the Alexander romance. This remains the opinion of secular historians, though some contemporary Islamic scholars have argued that Dhul-Qarnayn cannot be Alexander, and have identified him with other figures such as Cyrus the Great.

Reference to context on Dhul-Qarnayn

According to Tafsir ibn Kathir by Ibn Kathir, a widely used 14th-century commentary on the Qur'an:

The Quraysh sent An-Nadr bin Al-Harith and `Uqbah bin Abi Mu`it to the rabbis in Al-Madinah, and told them: `Ask them (the rabbis) about Muhammad, and describe him to them, and tell them what he is saying. They are the people of the first Book, and they have more knowledge of the Prophets than we do.' So they set out and when they reached Al-Madinah, they asked the rabbis about the Messenger of Allah. They described him to them and told them some of what he had said. They said, `You are the people of the Tawrah and we have come to you so that you can tell us about this companion of ours.' They (the rabbis) said, `Ask him about three things which we will tell you to ask, and if he answers them then he is a Prophet who has been sent (by Allah); if he does not, then he is saying things that are not true, in which case how you will deal with him will be up to you. Ask him about some young men in ancient times, what was their story for theirs is a strange and wondrous tale. Ask him about a man who travelled a great deal and reached the east and the west of the earth. What was his story And ask him about the Ruh (soul or spirit) – what is it If he tells you about these things, then he is a Prophet, so follow him, but if he does not tell you, then he is a man who is making things up, so deal with him as you see fit.[108999]

According to Maududi's conservative 20th century commentary:

This Surah was sent down in answer to the three questions which the mushriks of Makkah, in consultation with the people of the Book, had put to the Holy Prophet in order to test him. These were: (1) Who were "the Sleepers of the Cave"? (2) What is the real story of Khidr? and (3) What do you know about Dhul-Qarnain? As these three questions and the stories involved concerned the history of the Christians and the Jews, and were unknown in Hijaz, a choice of these was made to test whether the Holy Prophet possessed any source of the knowledge of the hidden and unseen things. Allah, however, not only gave a complete answer to their questions but also employed the three stories to the disadvantage of the opponents of Islam in the conflict that was going on at that time at Makkah between Islam and un-belief.[109000]

The two horned one

Some commentators believe that the name "Dhul-Qarnayn" means the "two horned one" (a literal translation of the term), and implicitly refers to coins minted in the same style as those of Alexander the Great. Others, that it was a crown worn by an Arab king in the style of Alexander. The 14th century Muslim Tafsir of the Qur'an gives a different reason, in Ibn Kathirs tafsir the different reason given says, "some of them said he was called Dhul-Qarnayn (the one with two horns) because he reached the two "Horns" of the sun, east and west, where it rises and where it sets."

Further, the name Dhul-Qarnayn is also translated as "he of two generations" or "he of two centuries" or "he of two kingdoms" or "ruler of two kingdoms". Many translate the words differently.

Dhul-Qarnayn in the Qur'an

The story of Dhul-Qarnayn appears in sixteen verses of the Qur'an, specifically verses 18:83-98:













Verse Yusuf Ali Pickthall
18:83 They ask thee concerning Zul-qarnain Say, "I will rehearse to you something of his story." They will ask thee of Dhu'l-Qarneyn. Say: "I shall recite unto you a remembrance of him."
18:84 Verily We established his power on earth, and We gave him the ways and the means to all ends. Lo! We made him strong in the land and gave him unto every thing a road.
18:85 One (such) way he followed, And he followed a road
18:86 Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it set in a spring of murky water: near it he found a people: We said: "O Zul-qarnain! (thou hast authority), either to punish them, or to treat them with kindness." 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 Dhu'l-Qarneyn! Either punish or show them kindness."
18:87 He said: "Whoever doth wrong, him shall we punish; then shall he be sent back to his Lord; and He will punish him with a punishment unheard-of (before). He said: "As for him who doeth wrong, we shall punish him, and then he will be brought back unto his Lord, Who will punish him with awful punishment!"
18:88 "But whoever believes, and works righteousness, he shall have a goodly reward, and easy will be his task as we order it by our command." "But as for him who believeth and doeth right, good will be his reward, and We shall speak unto him a mild command."
18:89 Then followed he (another) way. Then he followed a road
18:90 Until, when he came to the rising of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We had provided no covering protection against the sun. 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.
18:91 (He left them) as they were: We completely understood what was before him. So (it was). And We knew all concerning him.
18:92 Then followed he (another) way. Then he followed a road
18:93 Until, when he reached (a tract) between two mountains, he found, beneath them, a people who scarcely understood a word. Till, when he came between the two mountains, he found upon their hither side a folk that scarce could understand a saying.
18:94 They said: "O Zul-qarnain! the Gog and Magog (people) do great mischief on earth: shall we then render thee tribute in order that thou mightest erect a barrier between us and them?" They said: "O Dhu'l-Qarneyn! Lo! Gog and Magog are spoiling the land. So may we pay thee tribute on condition that thou set a barrier between us and them?"
18:95 He said: "(The power) in which my Lord has established me is better (than tribute): help me therefore with strength (and labour): I will erect a strong barrier between you and them: He said: "That wherein my Lord hath established me is better (than your tribute). Do but help me with strength (of men), I will set between you and them a bank."
18:96 "Bring me blocks of iron." At length, when he had filled up the space between the two steep mountain sides, he said, "Blow (with your bellows)" then, when he had made it (red) as fire, he said: "Bring me, that I may pour over it, molten lead." "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."
18:97 Thus were they made powerless to scale it or to dig through it. And (Gog and Magog) were not able to surmount, nor could they pierce (it).
18:98 He said: "This is a mercy from my Lord: but when the promise of my Lord comes to pass, He will make it into dust; and the promise of my Lord is true." He said: "This is a mercy from my Lord; but when the promise of my Lord cometh to pass, He will lay it low, for the promise of my Lord is true."

Theories on the identity of Dhul-Qarnayn

Alexander the Great as Dhul-Qarnayn

The story of Dhul-Qarnayn as described in the Qur'an follows very closely some passages of the Alexander Romance, a thoroughly embellished compilation of Alexander the Great's exploits from Hellenistic and early Christian sources which underwent numerous expansions and revisions throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The Alexander Romance was enormously popular in the Hellenistic world, including Jewish communities, among which Alexander had practically gained the status of a folk hero. Some adaptations containing all the elements of the Qur'anic account can be found in early Hellenistic documents, such as the Armenianmarker recension of the Alexander Romance. Some of the elements of the story (an iron gate constructed by Alexander blocking the passage of Scythian tribes; identification of said Scythians with Gog and Magog) can already be found in Josephus and in Saint Jerome, although in fragmented occurrences (see Alexander in the Qur'an for details). Furthermore, in many versions of the romance Alexander is actually addressed as "O Two-Horned Alexander".

For these reasons the widely accepted view is that the (indirect) model for Dhul Qarnayn is Alexander the Great. The majority of medieval Muslim scholars were happy to identify Dhul-Qarnayn as Alexander. However, some Muslim scholars have asserted that the medieval scholars were mistaken and that Dhul-Qarnayn cannot be Alexander, because Alexander the Great was not a monotheist, while Dhul-Qarnayn should be a God-worshipper and a just ruler, since the Qur'an has brought into prominence these characteristics more than anything else in the quoted passages. As against that, it could be argued that Alexander was a pupil of Aristotle, who was widely regarded in the Islamic tradition as a teacher of monotheism.

Cyrus the Great as Dhul Qarnayn

Some contemporary Muslim scholars, such as Maududi and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad , have suggested that Dhul-Qarnayn is Cyrus the Great. This theory has been endorsed by Iranian scholars Allameh Tabatabaei (in his Tafsir al-Mizan), Allameh Tehrani and Grand Ayatollah Makarim al-Shirazi (Bargozideh Tafseer-i Nemuneh, Vol 3, p69), and was refuted by Shapur Shahbazi. Cyrus was also a follower of Zoroastrianism, which was an early monotheistic faith like Judaism and predates monotheistic faiths Christianity and Islam.

Archaic Dhul-Qarnayn

Some early Islamic commentators stipulated that Dhul-Qarnayn must have been a contemporary of Abraham. Others postulated an Alexander who lived 2000 years before Alexander the Great [109001].

Arab Dhul-Qarnayn

Two early Arabian kings were known as Dhul-Qarnayn: the northern Arabian king Al-Mundhir al-Akbar ibn Ma' as-Sama' (so called for his two curled locks), and the early South Arabian king Tubba' al-Aqran. South Arabian interpreters of the Qur'an argue that the Qur'anic Dhul-Qarnayn was their king Tubba'. Other supporters of the Yemeni Dhul-Qarnayn theory included (the Persian) Biruni in his Āthār al-bāqiyah (آثار الباقیه), Asma'i (اصمعی) in his Tarikh al-Arab ("History of Arab" تاریخ العرب), and Sirah of Ibn Hisham, among others.

Others have suggested that Dhul-Qarnayn could be the Egyptian pharaoh Narmer , who unified northern and southern Egypt. Among supporters of the Arab Dhul-Qarnayn theory were Al-Maqrizi (المقریزی) in his book Al-Khitet (الخطط), and Allama Sayyed Habeddin al-Shahrestani (علامه سید هبه الدین الشهرستانی). How an Egyptian pharaoh's fervent polytheism may be reconciled with notions of Dhul-Quarnayn remains to be seen.

East Asian Indo-european speaking Dhul Qarnayn

The great wall of china could be a reference to the great barrier built by dhul qarnayn's army to block the invading tribes (traditionally called Mongolians, but also could've been another group with distance relationships with the xiongu, since the xiongu have attacked much later than the time when abraham was alive), above defending the Chinese people. The quran said the dhul quranayn's army could not understand a word between the people under suppression, this meant that the people who were attacked were most likely sino-tibetan people and dhul quarnayn could've been an indo-european speaker. In the alexandrian theory , the Armenian people are attacked , but it would not be true since being both indo-european, some very basic words could be understood, like the word "No" or "me". If it is true, then it would fully justify them not understanding a single word between each other. There have been cases of indo-european speakers found in china. There are tocharian people that were found in tarim basin, with manuscripts written in tocharian language, an indo-european language. Since some sources tell that dhul-qarnayn was with abraham then it could likely be that Tocharians are related to the Semetic people and since their present day possible descendants , the pashtun people have evidence of Jewish ancestry.Tarim mummies are most likely tocharians, essentially most of the mummies have cacausoid features with coloured hair, buried next to east Asian looking mummies. Other than Tocharian, his army could've been an Iranian colony of east Asia, because Iranians have been the other cacausoid people in east Asia other than tocharians. Since alexander the great was a pagan and had homosexuality , and Cyrus the great was a zorastrian, a religion claimed to be "ale-al-kitab" or "people of the book", Tocharians have an unknown religion, therefore leaving space to say dhul-qurnayn could've been a Muslim. The earliest dating of 1 tarim mummie named Beauty of lolan was old enough to have come from near the time when abraham could've been alive. Also noted that when the tarim mummies were dated, was the same year East Asian people have started to boost in technology.


  1. Tafsir ibn Kathir, English Translation, Quran 18:84
  2. Ma'arefat Al-Maad - Ma'ad Shanasi, موقع المتقين.
  3. The Archaemenian, BBC News.


  1. Alexander the Great, p. 37, Richard Stoneman, Routledge, 1997.
  2. A. Shapur Shahbazi, 'Iranians and Alexander', American Journal of Ancient History n.s. 2 (2003), 5-38
  3. The Wars of the Jews, VII, vii, Flavius Josephus.
  4. The Antiquities of the Jews, I, vi, Flavius Josephus.
  5. Sahih Bukhari, English Translation, Hadith number 6326

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