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Dear reader,

**Zul-Qarnain and the Setting of the Sun in Surah 18:85-86**

Is it true that the sun sets in a spring of muddy or dark water, or is there an error in the Quran, or is there another explanation? First, let's look at the clear meaning of Surah 18:85-86, and then we will look at some Muslim explanations and responses to this issue.

**A Little Astronomy**

It may not be widely known that the Abbasid Muslim rulers, Arabs, and Persians made significant advancements in astronomy, naming many stars, and even correcting some of Ptolemy’s astronomical tables. However, the sun is many times larger than the entire Earth, and the Earth orbits around the sun. The sun does not set in a muddy spring.

**Who is Zul-Qarnain?**

We have no evidence that Muhammad ever told anyone who Zul-Qarnain actually was. Muslims have four different views.

- **Alexander the Great (of Macedonia)**: This is the view held by most Muslims. Zul-Qarnain means "the man with two horns." There is a fabricated legend that Alexander the Great was a god and had two ram's horns growing from the sides of his head. Despite the fact that this wasn't true (and it would be problematic to find a helmet that could fit), this legend was known, and many Muslims think that Allah mentioned Alexander in Surah 18 by this name.

- **Cyrus I of Persia**: This is another view. His kingdom was essentially a dual kingdom of the Medes and Persians, but there is no evidence that the two horns refer to him.

- **A king of Yemen** who wore a helmet with two ram’s horns, is another view held by some Muslims.

- **An unknown person**: This is the fourth view. However, it doesn’t seem very helpful to give an explanation about someone whom the speaker has never heard of.

Conclusion: It doesn’t matter who Zul-Qarnain was. If he discovered that the sun sets in a spring of muddy water, and it doesn’t set in a spring of muddy water, then this is false regardless of who Muhammad was talking about.

**Surah 18 Thoughts and Responses**

**Idea 1: The sun sets in a spring of muddy water!**

For early Muslims, the Quran taught that this actually happens. The early Muslim historian al-Tabari, volume 1, page 234, shows this. Another example is “[Dhu al-Qarnaiyn] saw the setting of the sun in its resting place in a black, muddy spring.” According to al-Tabari volume 5, pages 173-174, Dhu Qarnain [Zul Qarnain] is also found in al-Tabari volume 1, page 371.

Another related thing is that the Earth sits on a large fish according to al-Tabari volume 1, page 220 (839-923 CE).

**Idea 2: The sun appeared to Alexander to set in the lake of Ithaca in Macedonia**

This idea assumes that Zul-Qarnain was Alexander, and that Alexander was a good Muslim. This idea does not fit with the fact that Alexander had a temple built for himself. Additionally, Alexander went to conquer lands northwest of Ithaca, which is modern Albania.

Even worse for this idea, Greeks had settlements hundreds of miles west of Ithaca, including in Spain, Sicily, etc., for at least five hundred years before Alexander. Why would a very intelligent Greek think the sun set in a lake in Macedonia when Greek ships were sailing far west of Alexander’s country? Furthermore, Tertullian in "A Treatise on the Soul" chapter 49, page 227, says that Aristotle, who lived at the same time, mentions a hero from the island of Sardinia far west of Macedonia but about the same latitude.

**Idea 3: The “spring of muddy water” is the Atlantic Ocean**

The Atlantic Ocean is not muddy and not black; it is blue-green. Also, it is not a spring but an ocean. The sun does not set in the ocean. More importantly, Alexander, Cyrus I of Persia, and the kings of Yemen never went to the Atlantic Ocean, and Surah 18:85-86 says Zul Qarnain saw or witnessed this.

Any one of these four reasons is enough to dismiss this idea, so why do some Muslims propose this? This shows the lengths they go to in order to show that Surah 18:1-2 is not false. If the Allah of Islam thought this idea was true in the Quran, and Allah knew this idea was false, then this would be a lie. If the Allah of Islam did not know this fact, they would not have the knowledge and certainly not the power to know everything. If these verses did not come from the Allah of Islam, then the Quran would have an obvious error, as it attributes this falsehood to Allah when it was not so. Of course, if the Allah of Islam does not really exist, and the true God is not the author of the Quran, then the Allah of Islam did not lie because he does not exist.

**Idea 4: The “spring of muddy water” is where Cyrus I looked at the Black Sea**

Even if Cyrus I went to the eastern shore of the Black Sea, how would the sun appear to set in the Black Sea if he had already passed the eastern shore heading south and east? We have no evidence that Cyrus ever traveled to the region that includes modern Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, etc., east of the Black Sea.

A Muslim would have a slightly weaker argument if they said Cyrus saw the sun rising from the Black Sea, as he passed through to Greece, but the Quran talks about the sun setting. However, the Black Sea is not a spring, and everyone from the Egyptians to those far north knew the sun did not set in the Black Sea.

**Idea 5: The “spring of muddy water” is where Cyrus I looked at the Aegean Sea**

But the Persians knew very well the Athenians, Spartans (original Greeks), and other Greeks. The Persians would know that the Greeks were not on the other side of the sun.

**Idea 6: The “spring of muddy water” is where a king looked at the Red Sea**

Yemenis (Sabaeans/Shebans) were always aware of the Abyssinians (Ethiopians) across the river. If they thought the sun set in the Red Sea, then the Abyssinians would be the people on the other side where the sun was.

**Idea 7: The “spring of muddy water” is a metaphor**

If this was not real but a metaphor for something else, then the Quran failed to explain that it was not real, and the idea would be misleading. Furthermore, no one can say for certain what this metaphor referred to.

There is nothing in the Quran that indicates this was not real, and most early Muslims took it as literal truth. Considering that they knew the actual meaning of this from Muhammad’s followers, they were misled by Surah 18.

**Idea 8: Muhammad was recounting a dream**

This idea does not identify who Zul-Qarnain was. If Muhammad was recounting a dream, the sun could set wherever he wanted it to. Even if it is not clear who this mythical figure saw something totally false, and people believed it to be true, how would that teach us to believe the truth?

However, if someone said they saw someone named ‘Ali doing some amazing things, and millions of people believed in him for many centuries, how could that person be a liar if they forgot to tell people that "it was just my dream, and I did not see Ali doing this with my eyes"?


Regardless of who Zul-Qarnain was, the Quran presents this as truth that the sun sets in a spring of muddy water. Even people 1,000 years before Muhammad knew the sun did not set in Spain. This idea was not a metaphor because no early Muslim took it as such or provided an alternative meaning as a metaphor, and all early Muslims believed the Quran was not meant to deceive.

**List of Quranic Commentaries**

1. Arberry, Arthur J. The Koran Interpreted. Macmillian Publishing Co., Inc. 1955.

2. Dawood, N.J. The Koran. Penguin Books. 1956-1999.

3. Malik, Farooq-i-Azam. English Translation of the Meaning of AL-QUR’AN: The Guidance for Mankind. The Institute of Islamic Knowledge. 1997

4. Pickthall, Mohammed Marmaduke. The Meaning of the Glorious Koran. Dar al-Islamiyya (Kuwait) (no date given)

5. Rodwell, J.M. The Koran. First Edition. Ivy Books, Published by Ballantine Books. 1993.

6. Shakir, M.H. The Qur’an. Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, Inc. 12th U.S. Edition 2001.

7. Sher Ali, Maulawi. The Holy Qur’an. Islam International Publications Limited (Ahmadiyya) 1997

8. Yusuf ‘Ali, Abdullah. The Holy Qur-an: English translation of the meanings and Commentary. King Fahd Holy Qur-an Printing Complex. (Al Madina Saudi Arabia) 1410 A.D.

**Other Reference Books**

- Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 1958.

- The History of al-Tabari: An Annotated Translation. Ehsan Yar-Shater, General Editor. State University of New York Press 1989-

God bless you all.


 am Dr. Max Shimba, a servant of Jesus Christ, our great God and Savior. **Titus 2:13**

For Max Shimba Ministries Org,


Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.

March 22, 2016

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