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Dhul-Qarnayn or Zulqarnayn (Arabic: ذو القرنين ḏū al-qarnayn, IPA: [ðuːlqarˈnajn]), literally "the possessor of two horns",[1][2] is a figure mentioned in the Quran, the sacred scripture of Islam, where he is described as a great and righteous ruler who built the wall that keeps Gog and Magog from attacking the people whom he met on his journey to the north.

The identification of Dhul-Qarnayn in historical context is not clear, and therefore this subject has generated various theories. In modern scholarship the character is usually identified as Alexander the Great,[2][3][4] who is ascribed similar adventures in the Alexander romance.[5] The same opinion is held in traditional Islamic scholarship.[6] On the other hand, a minority of scholars identify the character as Cyrus the Great.[7] Some modern scholars also identify the character as Byzantine emperor Heraclius, who was celebrated by his contemporaries as a "second Alexander" and whose Persian campaign had inspired the Alexander romance.[8]


Arabic "Dhul-Qarnayn" (Arabic: ذو القرنين‎, ḏū al-qarnayni) literally translates to "possessor of the two horns". "Dhu" (Arabic: ذو‎, ḏū) means "owner". The word "qarn" means a horn, but can also mean a generation or a century. Thus "dhul qarnain" literally means "the two-horned one", or "the one who impacts upon two ages or generations". The latter interpretation is more likely since the word "qarn" was used in the Quran in the context of time and never as a horn. Furthermore, the barrier he erected is set to crumple in the Last Age [Quran 18:98]. However, according to a classical interpretation, the name is due to his having reached the two 'Horns' of the Sun, east and west, where it rises and where it sets during his journey.[9]

Quranic narrative[edit]

Dhul-Qarnayn (the possessor of two horns) is thought by some Quranic commentators to refer to Cyrus the Great

The story of Dhul-Qarnayn appears in fifteen verses of the Quran, specifically verses 18:83-98:

Verse Abdullah 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."

Traditional exegesis (tafsir)[edit]

12th century map by the Muslim scholar Al-Idrisi (South up). "Yajooj" and "Majooj" (Gog and Magog) appear in Arabic script on the bottom-left edge of the Eurasian landmass, enclosed within dark mountains, at a location corresponding roughly to Mongolia. This is a reference to the story of Dhul-Qarnayn in the Quran.

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

The Quraysh sent An-Nazr bin Al-Haariss 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.[2]

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.[3]


According to the various sources, he was either buried near Mecca or on Mount Tahama (Dumat al-Jandal), having died somewhere between Syria and Medina[citation needed].

Possible identity[edit]

Oghuz Khan depicted as Zulqarnayn on a 100 Turkmenistan manat

Differences between Alexander the Great, Cyrus the Great, and Dhul-Qarnayn[edit]

The suggestion that Dhul-Qarnayn is Cyrus the Great is supported by some of the Quranic commentaries (Tafsir) and Islamic scholars Allameh Tehrani,[7] Syed Ahmed Khan, Abul Kalam Azad (Minister of Culture, India, in Majma' al-Bayan), and Dr. Baha-ed-Din Khorramshahi. Mohammad Ebrahim Bastani Parizi the historian, denies the fact that Dhul-Qarnayn was Alexander the Great.[10] They believe that Dhul-Qarnayn was Cyrus the Great, the King and founder of Achaemenid empire. Their evidence includes artifacts, stone carving palaces and graves. Some of their reasons are:

  1. In the carved stone that can still be seen up to now show Cyrus with his crown with two horns.[10]
  2. According to the Quran, Cyrus was the first king (several hundred years before Alexander the Great) who conquered most of Europe and Asia.[10]
  3. Cyrus (as Dhul-Qarnayn) was a monotheist and worshipped one God, but Alexander the Great had many gods.[10]
  4. In the Quran, Dhul-Qarnayn noted that the journey begins to the west and then to the east before the road to the other (the North), which coincided with the start the expedition of Cyrus the Persian conquest in the West to Lydia in Asia Minor and then turned to the east until the Makran and Sistan prior to capturing the Northeast Europe near the Balkan.[10]
  5. Expedition of Cyrus proceeded with the conquest of Lycia, Cilicia and Phoenicia, and they used the techniques of wall construction which was not used by the Greeks at that time.[10]
  6. In accordance to story in Quran, more chances of it being Cyrus, as he ended his expeditions in 542 BC, before returning to Persia, while Alexander was still in war mission when he died.[10][11]

Azad also rejected what it already belongs to Qahtaan Arabic Yemen, on the basis that the question of the Jews by the Prophet was with a view to embarrass him, even if the Arabs of Quraish were aware of it and asked what was miraculous.[10]

Azad builds his theory on the basis that the origin of the name "Dhul-Qarnayn" comes from the name stated in the Torah is "Haqqərānayim" which is launched by the name of the Jews to Cyrus, to show tolerance to them when his predecessors had been unjust to them.[10][12]

Solomon as Dhul-Qarnayn[edit]

Muslim scholar Muhammad Akbar claimed in his research[13] based on the Quran that Dhul-Qarnayn is the second name of Solomon, just like Jacob is later called Israel.

His theory is based on the following points:

  1. According to the Quran, Solomon could travel great distances, from far east to west, because air obeyed Soloman. He could reportedly travel lengths equivalent to what an ordinary human could cover in one month within one day's time (i.e. dawn to dusk).
  2. Dhul-Qarnayn was not only a king but also a Prophet of God, who was in contact with God as mentioned in Quran Chapter 18, Verse 86: "We said: "O thou Two-Horned One! Thou mayest either cause [them] to suffer or treat them with kindness!"
  3. Dhul-Qarnayn refused to accept any reward for building the large wall because he likely possessed much wealth. Moreover, the project of completing the wall must have required great amounts of copper as well as a considerable workforce in order to construct it within a short amount of time. Soloman is said to have had access to both of those assets in Quran Chapter 34, Verses 12-13.
  4. The style of talk to Solomon and Dhul-Qarnayn is similar to each other as mention in Quran Chapter 18 Verse 97 and Chapter 27 Verse 36. Also Quran Chapter 18 Verse 96 and Chapter 38 Verse 39.
  5. According to Quran's Chapter 27 Verse 16 Solomon was familiar with even the language of birds. According to Quran's Chapter 18 Verse 93 Dhul-Qarnayn reached between two mountain and nation lived there could not understand the language of army of Dhul-Qarnayn, but according to Chapter 18 Verse 94 Dhul-Qarnayn understood their language, their request for building a wall. This was because of Solomon who can even understood the language of bird easily understood their language.
  6. In the Bible Solomon prays such kingdom, which is blessed to Dhul-Qarnayn.
  7. Shows from Bible at the time of Solomon people wear two horn top.


  1. ^ Mīrzā Malkum Khān (2005). "A traveller's narrative". In Lloyd Ridgeon. Religion and Politics in Modern Iran: A Reader. I.B. Tauris. p. 35. ISBN 978-1845110734. 
  2. ^ a b Algid, Hamar (1973). Mīrzā Malkum Khān: A Study in the History of Iranian Modernism. University of California Press. p. 292. ISBN 978-0520022171. 
  3. ^ William Montgomery Watt: al-Iskandar, in: Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., Vol. IV, 1997, p. 127
  4. ^ Price, Simon and Thonemann, Peter "The Birth of Classical Europe: A History from Troy to Augustine" 2011 Viking penguin,[1] p143
  5. ^ Rudi Paret: Der Koran. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, Germany, 2005, ISBN 3-17-018990-5, p. 318
  6. ^ "Alexander the Great". Oxford Islamic Studies Online. 
  7. ^ a b Ma'arefat Al-Maad - Ma'ad Shanasi, موقع المتقين.
  8. ^ V. Popp, K.-H. Ohlig: Der frühe Islam. Eine historisch-kritische Rekonstruktion anhand zeitgenössischer Quellen. Schiler Verlag, 2nd ed., 2010, p. 36
  9. ^ Tafsir ibn Kathir, English Translation, Quran 18:84
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i کوروش کبیر یا ذوالقرنین، ابو الکلام آزاد ترجمه : دکتر محمدابراهیم باستانی پاریزی، تهران: نشر کورش، AH 1375 1955/56 CE by Abul Kalam Azad
  11. ^ name=<"majma'albayan">مجمع البیان فی تفسیر القرآن، ابو‌علی فضل‌الله بن‌الحسن الطبرسی، تهران: وزارت فرهنگ و ارشاد اسلامی، 1380
  12. ^ متن تفسیر نمونه، آيت‌الله ناصر مکارم شيرازی، محمد‌رضا آشتيانی [و ديگران]، تهران: دار‌الکتب الاسلاميه، 1387، کتابخانه اهل البیت علیهم‌السلام
  13. ^ ذوالقرنین کون؟


Further reading[edit]