THE PLACE OF THE SETTING AND RISING OF THE SUN
Since Muslims are divided as to whether Zul-Qarnain is Alexander or not, in this part we are going to investigate the claims of the Qur'an about Zul-Qarnain, assuming that Zul-Qarnain is not Alexander the Great.
The Qur'an states:
Does the above verse speak of the Sun setting or does it speak of the place where the Sun sets? If the above verse speaks about seeing the Sun setting and no more, we have to ask, "But the Sun rises every day and on every nation. Why was that day and that place singled out in the life of Zul-Qarnain to be described in the words '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."? The only sense we can make out of the Qur'anic verse is that after so many sunrises and so many sunsets Zul-Qarnain finally "reached the setting of the Sun" and he found that "it set in a spring of murky water" near which he found a People."
The above verse does not give us the impression that next morning he saw the Sun rising. No, "he followed a way until, when he reached the rising of the Sun ..." In other words after so many sunrises and sunsets "he reached the rising of the Sun" and found it rising upon a people for whom We had not appointed any veil to shade them from it."
If all that Zul-Qarnain experienced was a daily sunrise and a daily sunset, why was he singled out by the Qur'an as the person who reached both the place of the rising and setting of the Sun? Zul-Qarnain is not the only person who saw the sun rise and set, we have all had this experience. The only sense that could be made of these verses is that Zul-Qarnain alone had this unique experience of reaching the place of the sunrise and the sunset.
But from where did this concept come ? It comes from the legends concerning Alexander the Great.
Here are some extracts from the Christian Legend Concerning Alexander:
So the whole camp mounted, and Alexander and his troops went up between the fetid sea and the bright sea to the place where the Sun enters the window of heaven; for the Sun is the servant of the Lord, and neither by night nor by day does he cease from his travelling. The place of his rising is over the sea, and the people who dwell there, when he is about to rise, flee away and hide themselves in the sea, that they be not burnt by his rays; and he passes through the midst of heaven to the place where he enters the window of heaven; and wherever he passes there are terrible mountains, and those who dwell there have caves hollowed out in the rocks, and as soon as they see the Sun passing [over them], men and birds flee away from before him and hide in the caves. ... And when the Sun enters the window of heaven, he [it] straight away bows down and makes obeisance before God his Creator; and he travels and descends the whole night through the heavens, until at length he finds himself where he rises.
THE SUN WORSHIPS UNDER THE THRONE
The Hadith picks up the thread of the Legend where the Qur'an stops. The Legend tells us: "When the Sun enters the window of heaven, he [it] straight away bows down and makes obeisance before God his Creator." And this what Bukhari's Hadith tells us:
'And the sun runs on its fixed course for a term (decreed). And that is the decree of All-Mighty, the All-Knowing....'" (36.38)
Modern scholars might find profound meaning to the above Hadith but would they apply the same meaning to the Legend that is word for word with the Hadith, and is the source of the Hadith?
The Qur'an states that when Zul-Qarnain "reached the setting of the sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring, and he found nearby a people." (The Qur'an 18:83-86; Arberry). There are two points that need to be observed here. The Qur'anic verse does not say, "When he saw the setting of the sun" but it says "when he reached the setting of the sun". The word "reached" denotes a place, and not a view. The second point is that the Qur'an does not say he "saw it setting in a muddy spring" but that he "found it setting in a muddy spring". Furthermore, it says that he "found" nearby a People. If Alexander's experience according to the Qur'an was merely an experience of vision, there would have been no need to specify the place or the people near that place, for the sun always rises and sets on everybody and this sight is experienced by everyone.
The word "found" (wagada) and its derivatives are mentioned 107 times in the Qur'an. It is never used as seeing.
Indeed when the Qur'an describes the experience of seeing it uses the appropriate word which is "ra'a". And it uses it in relation to seeing the sun in Q. 6:78, "When he [Abraham] saw (ra'a) the sun rising, he said, "This is my Lord". But when it set he said, ..."
Had the Qur'an used the same word "ra'a" for Zul-Qarnain's experience we would have had no problem understanding the experience as a mere vision.
We need to look at two words in the following verse, "found" and "until":
The grammatical construction of the verses describing Zul-Qarnain's experience excludes the modern interpretation as an experience of vision and clearly stress that it was an act of final achievement and discovery. Grammarians defined the word found "wagada" as: "a verb yofeed fil-khabere yaqeenan", that is, it is a verb denoting certainty of an account. They also define until (hatta) as a word denoting the end of an aim "'inthaa' al-ghayah."
Thus the Qur'anic verse describing Zul-Qarnain's experience could only make sense if it meant that after many sunrises and many sunsets and hundreds of miles in travelling, he achieved his aim of reaching and, with certainty, locating the places where the sun rises and sets. Abraham saw the rising and the setting of the sun, and so did all those whom God gave the gift of sight. But one, Zul-Qarnain, according to the Qur'an travelled until he reached and found the place of the rising and setting of the sun.
That confirms that the Qur'an implys that the earth is flat and that one specific point near the extreme west could be permanantly closer to the sunset, and one specific point near the far east is permenantly closer to the sunrise, since on a spherical earth there cannot be any such point. Each of these two points are specified by a particuler people according to the Qur'an.
HOT OR MURKY
The Qur'an tells us where the sun set. "They will question thee concerning Dhool Karnain. Say: 'I will recite to you a mention of him.' We established him in the land, and We gave him a way to everything and he followed a way until, when he reached the setting of the Sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring, and he found nearby a people." (Q. 18:83-86; Arberry).
The word translated "muddy" in "muddy spring" is read "hameiah" or "hame'ah". Commentators agreed that he word "hameiah" means very hot or sizzling. Ibn Kathir for example said it is hot because of its nearness to the sun when it sets and its meeting with the rays of the sun without any barrier. He then quotes a hadith in which once Mohammad, upon seeing the sun set, said: "In God's sizzling fire, if it was not prevented by the command of God it would have burned whatever was on the earth."
The above hadith confirms the legendary understanding that the sun sets somewhere on earth. As long as the sun in the sky there is no danger of burning the earth. It is when the sun sets in this sizzling spring that it needs God's command to prevent it from burning the rest of the earth.
This word "hame'ah" occurs three more times in the Qur'an in the verses 15:26, 28, 33. Commentators also said that it means black mud. Razi informs us that "hama'" is "the stinking black mud".
Where did the concept of stinking waters where the sun sets come from?
From the Legend:
What surrounds the earth, according to the Legend, is the fetid sea. So whoever manages to reach the end of the earth will have to contend with this stinking sea. And this is where the sun sets also.
Throughout Zul-Qarnain's travels he watched the sun set in many places. But the Qur'an singles one place at the end of Zul-Qarnain's travels as the place of the setting of the sun: a spring of muddy waters.
The Qur'an states that the sun sets in a "muddy spring". We have seen that word muddy is actually "stinking" and this came from the Christian Legend but where did the concept of a spring come from?
According to Mar Jacob's legend,
Mar Jacob's legend tells us that the fetid sea is "within these terrible seas". So according to Mar Jacob's legend there is a collection of stinking water surrounded by the terrible seas. This collection of stinking water is what the Qur'an called a spring.
But this collection of waters is also marked by its noise. All seas can be noisy due to the sound caused by the waves, but his one is markedly noisy. Why? If the sun sets in this collection of waters then it is only logical that its waters will be sizzling to say the least. The noise of this sizzling is so high that people flee away from its noise. So there is a collection or spring of stinking sizzling water surrounded by the terrible seas. It is appropriate then for it to be called "'ayn hame'ah" a sizzling/stinking spring.
THE DESCRIPTION OF THE PEOPLE NEAR THE RISING PLACE OF THE SUN
Ibn Kathir quotes the following in description of the people near the place of the sun rising in the course of commenting on the following:
I heard al-Hasan when asked about: "We had not appointed any veil to shade them from it," he said: "Their land can not sustain a building, so when the sun rises they dive into the water and when the sun sets they come out and graze like animals."
Qatadah said: "It is mentioned to us that their land sprout nothing. When the sun rises they enter the caves and when the sun sets they go about their daily living."
Where did this Quranic verse and the Hadith explaining it come from? From the Christian Legend:
Why do the people who live near by "when he [the sun] is about to rise, flee away and hide themselves in the sea"? Because: "We had not appointed any veil to shade them from it" as the Qur'an stated.
Once more we can see that both the Qur'an and the Hadith have borrowed from the same legend.
Razi mentions a traveller who went past China asking for those people mentioned in the above verse.
If the Qur'an and the Hadith have their source concerning this whole episode from a legend, scholars like Ibn Kathir and Razi are excused in relying on whatever they can find to support the Qur'an.
1. "A Christian Legend Concerning Alexander", In The History of Alexander
the Great Being the Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes.
Translated by E.A. W. Budge, 1889, p.145.
2. "A Christian Legend Concerning Alexander", In The History of Alexander the Great Being the Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes. Translated by E.A. W. Budge, 1889, p.148.
3. Hadith by Bukhari, English Translation, Hadith number 6.326.
4. Razi, at-Tafsir al-Kabir, commenting on Q. 15:26.
5. "A Christian Legend Concerning Alexander", In The History of Alexander the Great Being the Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes. Translated by E.A. W. Budge, 1889, p.145.
6. "A Discource Composed by Mar Jacob upon Alexander, the Believing King, and upon the Gate which he made against Gog and Magog", In The History of Alexander the Great Being the Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes. Translated by E.A. W. Budge, 1889, pp.166-168.
7. "A Christian Legend Concerning Alexander", In The History of Alexander the Great Being the Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes. Translated by E.A. W. Budge, 1889, p.148.
8. Ibn Kathir, commenting on Q. 18:90.
9. Razi, at-Tafsir al-Kabir, commenting on Q. 18:90.
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