Monday, August 1, 2011

"Sun setting in muddy pond" and "Alexander the Great was a Muslim"

"Kevin", like the Islamic apologist/miracle seeker below, suggested that the infamous Qur'anic verse about the sun setting in a "muddy pond/murky spring" was a turn of phrase used when describing the journey of a traveller who found himself watching the sun set over a horizon that had the physical characteristic of a muddy pond. 

Really? Let’s look at the verses again: They ask thee concerning Zul-qarnain. Say, "I will rehearse to you something of his story. Verily We established his power on earth, and We gave him the ways and the means to all ends. One (such) way he followed. 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."  18:83-86.
The verse clearly states that Zul-qarnain (Alexander the Great according to Muslim commentators) reached the place where the sun sets and found people there! But don’t take my word for it. We should study the relevant hadith for clarification: The meaning of the Almighty’s saying, "Until he reached the place of the setting of the sun he found it set in a spring of murky water," is as follows: When the Almighty says, "Until he reached," He is addressing Zul-Qarnain. Concerning the verse, "the place of the setting of the sun he found it set in a spring of murky water," the people differed on how to pronounce that verse. Some of the people of Madina and Basra read it as "Hami’a spring," meaning that the sun SETS IN A SPRING that contains mud. While a group of the people of Medina and the majority of the people of Kufa read it as, "Hamiya spring" meaning that the sun SETS IN A SPRING of warm water. The people of commentary have differed on the meaning of this depending on the way they read the verse.
You are also presumably unaware that the whole of this section (18:83-97) of the Qur’an is startling like an apparently 6th century Christian legend called The Romance of Alexander. The literary parallels are quite astonishing in fact:
1.      Both characters travel so far west that they reach the place where the sun sets.
2.      Both stories have the sun setting in or near a murky body of water.
3.      Both the Romance and Muhammad in the Hadith on this Sura (Bukhari 6.326) have the sun going up into heaven and worshipping God.
4.      Both characters then travel so far east that they reach the place where the sun rises.
5.      Both narratives have the people who live near this place try to hide themselves so that they won’t be scorched by the rising sun.
6.      Both characters then travel to a place where two great mountains separate an oppressed people from Gog and Magog.
7.      Both stories have these people ask the characters to build a barrier so that the armies of Gog and Magog cannot pass through.
8.     Both characters end up building a giant gate made of iron and copper which the armies of Gog and Magog could not pierce.
9.     Both narratives say that God will open up the gate in the last days so that the armies of Gog and Magog will sally forth and meet their doom.

If we take this a little further we can see that this story also contains a very clear historical error, for the Qur’an states that Zul-qarnain lived to be an old man but we know that Alexander died at the age of 33. Now, before you claim that obviously this story doesn’t then refer to Alexander (despite the Muslim expert commentaries to the contrary and the astonishing parallels noted above!) you perhaps ought to know that the name the author of the Qur’an gives to his character in the story[1] means “two Horned”, a title that Alexander used himself because of his belief that he was the son of the Egyptian god, Ammon, who was represented by a ram with two large horns. (so, NOT much of a monotheistic Muslim then, as claimed in the Qur’an – another mistake!) And it’s not just Western commentators looking to pick holes in the Qur’an who believe this.
AL-ISKANDAR.  It is generally agreed both by Muslim commentators and modern occidental scholars that Dhu’l-Karnayn, “the two horned”, in Sura XVIII, 83/82-98 is to be identified with Alexander the Great.”
                -Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1978), Vol. 4.
Even the orthodox Muslim commentator and apologist, Yusuf Ali, admitted:
I have not the least doubt that Zul-qarnain is meant to be Alexander the Great, the historic Alexander, and not some legendary Alexander.”
-Yusuf Ali, The Holy Quran (Brentwood, Maryland: Amana Corp., 1983), p.763

[1] Interestingly, Ibn Ishaq, in his Sirat Rasulullah, recorded a pre-Islamic ? poem composed by Tubba:
Dhu’l-Qarnayn before me was a Muslim
Conquered kings thronged his court,
East and west he ruled, yet he sought
Knowledge true from a learned sage.
Before him Bilqis my father’s sister
Rule them until the hoopoe came to her.)
(Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad [Oxford University Press, Karachi, tenth impression 1995], p. 12


  1. You have made a good point about the fact that Zul-qarnain is said to have found a people at the muddy spring.

    Could a Muslim apologist wriggle his way out of this by arguing that Zul-qarnain perceived from a great distance as if the sun was setting in a muddy spring but found people near the muddy spring when he eventually reached it?

    I would appreciate hearing your views on this.