[Al-Quran 50:6-8] Have they not looked at the heaven above them - how We structured it and adorned it and how it has no rifts? And the earth - We spread it out and cast therein firmly set mountains and made grow therein [something] of every beautiful kind, Giving insight and a reminder for every servant who turns [to Allah].

Monday, June 9, 2014

Dhu al Qarnayn visited the Polar Regions?

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The story of Dhu al Qarnayn is briefly mentioned in Chapter 18 of the Qur’an, verses 83 – 98. The Qur’an mentions his name/title, and without going into the details of his person or his people,  informs us that he was established in power and had the means to all ends, and thus was able to travel everywhere on Earth

The verses about Dhu al Qarnayn’s travels have been variously interpreted, yet continue to perplex many Muslims. These verses have also been used by non-Muslims to point out factual inaccuracies in the Qur’an.  Based upon what we know of the polar regions of the Earth, I think that the first two travels were to the North and South Pole respectively. I’ve also attempted to understand the third travel. My reasoning is as follows: 

Who was Dhu al Qarnayn?
وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَن ذِي الْقَرْنَيْنِ ۖ قُلْ سَأَتْلُو عَلَيْكُم مِّنْهُ ذِكْرًا

[Al-Qur’an 18:83] [1] (Muhammad), they will ask you about Dhu 'l-Qarnayn. Say, "I shall tell you something about him".

‘Dhu al Qarnayn’ is the name or the title/attribute of this person. One of the meanings of ‘q-r-n’ in Lane’s Lexicon is ‘The part of the head of a human being which in an animal is the place where the horn grows’. ‘Qarnayn’ is the dual form of the noun. Various commentators have interpreted ‘Dhu al Qarnayn’ as the ‘Lord of the Two Horns’ or ‘Possessor of the Two Horns’. 
Based on my interpretation of the subsequent verses, I think Dhu al Qarnayn probably means Lord / Conqueror of the Two Poles, i.e. the polar regions of the Earth, except that he already had this title on the first visit described, as he is being addressed as 'Ya Zal Qarnain'. However, since he is being addressed by the author of the story, it is also plausible that he was already destined to be the Lord / Conqueror of the Two Poles.

إِنَّا مَكَّنَّا لَهُ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَآتَيْنَاهُ مِن كُلِّ شَيْءٍ سَبَبًا

[Al-Qur’an 18:84][2] We had given him great power in the land and all kinds of resources.

According to this verse, Dhu al Qarnayn must be a legendary person who was established in power and resources, and could reach anywhere on Earth. The last word: ‘sababun’ is variously translated[3] as ‘resources’, ‘road’, ‘way’, ‘ways and means’, ‘means of access’.

The subsequent verses go on to describe three specific travels described by some unique distinguishing features. Do we know of any such places?

 فَأَتْبَعَ سَبَبًا    
   حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ مَغْرِبَ الشَّمْسِ وَجَدَهَا تَغْرُبُ فِي عَيْنٍ حَمِئَةٍ وَوَجَدَ عِندَهَا قَوْمًا ۗ قُلْنَا يَا ذَا الْقَرْنَيْنِ إِمَّا أَن تُعَذِّبَ وَإِمَّا أَن تَتَّخِذَ فِيهِمْ حُسْنًا  
    قَالَ أَمَّا مَن ظَلَمَ فَسَوْفَ نُعَذِّبُهُ ثُمَّ يُرَدُّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِ فَيُعَذِّبُهُ عَذَابًا نُّكْرًا  
  وَأَمَّا مَنْ آمَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلَهُ جَزَاءً الْحُسْنَىٰ ۖ وَسَنَقُولُ لَهُ مِنْ أَمْرِنَا يُسْرًا  

[Al-Qur’an 18:85-88] [4]
[85] One (such) way he followed, [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." [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). [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."

This place is described by the following facts: the Sun is setting, what it is setting in, people dwell near there, and Dhu al Qarnayn has authority over them.

Disappearing or Setting Sun?
The phrase used is ‘magrib-e-shams’ which can also be interpreted as ‘western Sun’ or ‘disappearing Sun’.

The polar regions of the Earth experience a six-month long day followed by a six-month long night. At the North Pole, ‘In summertime, the sun is always above the horizon at the North Pole, circling the Pole once every day. It is highest in the sky at the Summer Solstice, after which it moves closer to the horizon, until it sinks below the horizon, at the Fall Equinox.’[5]

Hence, if the North Pole is visited during the few weeks before Fall Equinox, the Sun is in the process of disappearing or setting.

What does the Sun appear to be disappearing in?
‘ainin hamee-atin’ is variously translated as a well or warm spring, or spring with foul fetid mud[6], murky waters, dark mud, and so on.[7]

There is no land at the North Pole. ‘The Arctic consists of ocean that is largely surrounded by land. As such, the climate of much of the Arctic is moderated by the ocean water, which can never have a temperature below −2 °C (28 °F).’ [8]

The lands near the North Pole, in the Arctic Circle, are known for hot springs and geysers, with muddy water spewing out of some. [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] However, such places are also there near the South Pole, though perhaps lesser in number or less discovered. [14] [15] [16] Therefore, hot springs and geysers may not be a uniquely distinguishing feature of the North Pole from the South Pole. Hence, I’m inclined to think that ‘ainin hamee-atin’ refers to the warm waters of the Arctic Ocean.  

Near it he found a people?
The key word is ‘near it’. There are many lands in the Arctic Circle near the Arctic Ocean, where people dwell. [17]

Wikipedia  [19]
European Space Agency [20]

Hence, based upon the three key features: disappearing Sun, warm waters and people near it, I think the only place on Earth that exhibits all three features is the North Pole and the region surrounding it, i.e. the Arctic. 

  ثُمَّ أَتْبَعَ سَبَبًا    
  حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ مَطْلِعَ الشَّمْسِ وَجَدَهَا تَطْلُعُ عَلَىٰ قَوْمٍ لَّمْ نَجْعَل لَّهُم مِّن دُونِهَا سِتْرًا    

[Al-Qur’an 18:89-90] [21] [89] Then followed he (another) way, [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.
كَذَ‌ٰلِكَ وَقَدْ أَحَطْنَا بِمَا لَدَيْهِ خُبْرًا

[Al-Qur’an 18:91][22] So (it was). And We knew all concerning him.

The second place is described by three facts: that the Sun is rising, there are people dwelling there, so it is a land and that there is no protection from the Sun, followed by the claim that ‘We knew all...’.

Appearing or Rising Sun?
When there is Autumn in the Northern hemisphere, it is Spring in the Southern hemisphere.  When the sun finally disappears below the horizon at the North Pole at Autumn Equinox, and the six-month long night starts there, the Sun rises above the horizon at the South Pole, commencing the six-month long day at the South Pole.

People dwelling there? Land?
We know that there is land at the South Pole, i.e. the continent of Antarctica. Though only research teams stay at Antarctica now[23], however, we cannot rule out if people ever did or did not live in the continent of Antarctica.     

What do we know about natural protection from the Sun?
We know that the ozone layer in the atmosphere is a natural protection from the Sun’s harmful rays. We also know that every Antarctic spring, there is a large hole formed in the ozone layer over most of Antarctica.

“The Antarctic Ozone Hole was discovered ... Satellite measurements then confirmed that the springtime ozone loss was a continent-wide feature... The ozone hole is formed each year in the Southern Hemisphere spring (September-November) when there is a sharp decline (currently up to 60%) in the total ozone over most of Antarctica.[24]

“The severe depletion of the Antarctic ozone layer known as the “ozone hole” occurs because of the special atmospheric and chemical conditions that exist there and nowhere else on the globe” [25]


The ozone depletion over the North Pole is a recent phenomenon, caused due to ‘human’ reasons. Hence, based upon the three key natural features: rising Sun, land and no protection from the Sun, I think the only place on Earth that exhibits all three features is the South Pole and the region surrounding it, i.e. the Antarctic Circle.

 ثُمَّ أَتْبَعَ سَبَبًا  
    حَتَّىٰ إِذَا بَلَغَ بَيْنَ السَّدَّيْنِ وَجَدَ مِن دُونِهِمَا قَوْمًا لَّا يَكَادُونَ يَفْقَهُونَ قَوْلًا  
   قَالُوا يَا ذَا الْقَرْنَيْنِ إِنَّ يَأْجُوجَ وَمَأْجُوجَ مُفْسِدُونَ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَهَلْ نَجْعَلُ لَكَ خَرْجًا عَلَىٰ أَن تَجْعَلَ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَهُمْ سَدًّا  
    قَالَ مَا مَكَّنِّي فِيهِ رَبِّي خَيْرٌ فَأَعِينُونِي بِقُوَّةٍ أَجْعَلْ بَيْنَكُمْ وَبَيْنَهُمْ رَدْمًا  
   آتُونِي زُبَرَ الْحَدِيدِ ۖ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا سَاوَىٰ بَيْنَ الصَّدَفَيْنِ قَالَ انفُخُوا ۖ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَعَلَهُ نَارًا قَالَ آتُونِي أُفْرِغْ عَلَيْهِ قِطْرًا  
  فَمَا اسْطَاعُوا أَن يَظْهَرُوهُ وَمَا اسْتَطَاعُوا لَهُ نَقْبًا  
   قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَحْمَةٌ مِّن رَّبِّي ۖ فَإِذَا جَاءَ وَعْدُ رَبِّي جَعَلَهُ دَكَّاءَ ۖ وَكَانَ وَعْدُ رَبِّي حَقًّا
وَتَرَكْنَا بَعْضَهُمْ يَوْمَئِذٍ يَمُوجُ فِي بَعْضٍ ۖ وَنُفِخَ فِي الصُّورِ فَجَمَعْنَاهُمْ جَمْعًا   

[Al-Qur’an 18:92-99] [27] [92] Then followed he (another) way, [93] Until, when he reached (a tract) between two mountains, he found, beneath them, a people who scarcely understood a word. [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? [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:  [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." [28] [97] Thus were they made powerless to scale it or to dig through it. [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." [99] On that day We shall leave them to surge like waves on one another: the trumpet will be blown, and We shall collect them all together.

The third place Dhu al Qarnayn arrives at is distinguished by the facts that it is between two mountains or barriers, the people did not have understanding or knowledge, they were suffering due to Gog and Magog, who did great mischief on Earth, iron was used and another element was poured over it, the opening was sealed, thereby making them powerless to scale or dig through it.

Space between two barriers?
The word used is ‘alssaddayni’ [root: s-d-d] meaning two barriers. Since the word j-b-l has been used elsewhere in the Qur’an when speaking of mountains, and s-d-d has been used for barrier, hence it is reasonable to assume that here also two barriers are being referred to, and not two mountains.

Who scarcely understood a word? 
‘yafqahoona’ root f-q-h: to possess fiqh means to possess understanding, and knowledge, and intelligence, and especially knowledge of the law. [29] ‘la yakadoona yafqahoona qawlan’ or ‘who scarcely understood a word’ implies, I suppose, that these people were primitive in the sense that they were not organized in terms of religion or society, or were lawless/unable to follow the law/suffering lawlessness (due to terrorism?). The former follows from the fact that these people are in isolation between two barriers, while the latter follows from the fact that, in the subsequent verses, they converse with Dhu al Qarnayn, tell him about the mischief being created by Gog and Magog, request a barrier from them, and also offer tribute for the building of such a barrier. Furthermore, they were also able to bring (mine?) iron and lead or copper alloy, as well as provide the labour.  

Barriers against whom?
Barriers are meant to prevent something or someone from crossing over, i.e. entering or leaving, as the case may be. Dhu al Qarnayn was able to reach this place, thus these barriers did not keep him out. Perhaps, and this is pure speculation, these barriers were not meant to keep out the people on Earth, but rather were meant to seal a ‘portal’ to keep out ‘aliens’ from the sky or below Earth from reaching the Earth’s surface?

Filled between the ‘l-ṣadafayni’?
‘l-ṣadafayni’ is the dual form of the noun with root s-d-f, meaning mother of pearl as well as two tall structures meeting together or facing each other. [30] I assume then that this was a portal or a breached barrier that needed to be sealed.

Iron covered with molten Copper alloy or Lead? Powerless to scale or dig through it?
Sheets or blocks of Iron were placed to construct/repair the barrier. Then, it was coated with another material, probably to reinforce it and prevent rusting, thus giving it a smooth finish and making it impenetrable.

The word used for this coating material is ‘qitra’, which has been variously translated as Copper[31], Brass[32] and Lead. [33]  The same word has been used for the spring of molten liquid that was made available to Solomon. [34] (Interestingly, Iron was made pliable for his father, David. [35]) 

Gog and Magog, who did Great Mischief on Earth?
There is mention of and references to these in ancient scriptures and related works. [36] Some have identified them with a particular place/race, while others do not identify them with a particular place or race on Earth. Notable among them is the Hindu mythology, according to which they are hidden from human realm and are probably subterranean. [37] [38]

Legends and adventure stories[39] also abound about the inner Earth, of creatures/people dwelling within the Earth. Though modern science refutes ideas about a hollow earth, if there is any figment of truth to any of these accounts, then it is a wonder why we humans have not been able to dig through or find a way to their subterranean civilization, or why they haven’t been able to reach up to the Earth’s surface, unless there exists a natural barrier with only one opening, which was sealed by Dhu al Qarnayn.

Until the Promise comes to Pass?
In the Quran, this expected event is mentioned twice: in Chapter 18 (as quoted above), and in Chapter 21, Verse 96, ‘Until when [the dam of] Gog and Magog has been opened and they, from every elevation, descend,’ [40]

[1] Translator: Mohammad Sarwar
[2] Translator: Mohammad Sarwar
[4] [Translator: Yusuf Ali]
[6] Lane Lexicon Page 638 Col 3 last entry before h-m-d
[9] The Polar Regions of the Western Continent Explored by W. J. Snelling
[21] [Translator: Yusuf Ali]
[22] [Translator: Pickthall]
[27] [Translator: Yusuf Ali]
[29] Lane’s Lexicon Page 2429
[30] Lane’s Lexicon Page 1666