‘Did the sun actually set in a ‘muddy spring?’ (Q 18:86)’
In this post I respond to the common Muslim argument that the Qur’an is only stating that the sun APPEARED to Dhu l-Qarnayn to be setting in a ‘muddy spring’. I consider the details of the Qur’anic text, as well as the Syriac ‘Alexander Legend’, which suggest to me that the Qur’an’s statement is intended as a literal, geographic description.
Happy to discuss the subject either on that blog or here 🙂
This has been replied to by Muslims countless times Richard 🙂
I know, and the article is why I don’t find the explanations convincing 🙂
Are there any really good Muslim responses on this topic Paul that you could point to me? I’m happy to learn more on this.
Islamic Awareness often has some very interesting articles, but their one on this is very short and doesn’t refer to van Bladel’s work (it seems to be published before) – https://www.islamic-awareness.org/quran/sources/bbhorned
I hope you are well.
Taha Soomro’s 2020 paper has quite persuasively addressed Van Bladel’s arguments suggesting that the Dhū-l Qarnayn pericope in sūrat al-Kahf is derived from the Neṣḥānā d-Aleksandrūs:
The rather popular argument circulating among certain Christian apologists that Q 18:86 is to be taken literally has been addressed repeatedly elsewhere. I find this argument tends to betray the double standards in the way Qur’ānic and biblical cosmology is treated in certain circles.
Thank you very much, I’m going to read this paper and then get back to you 🙂
So I’ve read the paper you shared – very interesting, thank you.
First of all, this paper is an interesting response to my appeal to ‘The Alexander Legend’. It doesn’t deal with my close examination of the Qur’anic text, which I intentionally lay out before going into any parallels with ‘The Alexander Legend.’
As for this article, there are some points of interpretation where I might disagree with Soomro on the details. But Soomro does make some good points in highlighting where van Bladel is being speculative, where his theory is quite debatable, etc. I certaintly wouldn’t defend with any confidence every point that van Bladel makes.
Fundamentally, I find a similar approach here as I have seen elsewhere in Muslim-Christian discussions about the Qur’an and its relationship to earlier traditions. Muslims might point out areas where the Qur’an disagrees, but I don’t think this undermines when substantial similarities suggest overlaps. My understanding is of the Qur’an engaging with other traditions in an oral culture (note in particular here Q 18:83 – the Qur’anic community has already heard about Dhu l-Qarnayn); if Muhammad heard stories orally and then retold them, of course its going to get some details right and other details wrong, or some details included and some excluded. Also, I do believe the Qur’an shapes materials according to its own theology, as Soomro highlights – absolutely! But this doesn’t negate where the Qur’an seems to be drawing on other material.
Having finished this article, where it notes minor differences or reshapings according to the Qur’ans perspective, I still see strong parallels between the Qur’an and ‘The Alexander Legend’, as I mention in my article. And these similarities between the two are not fundamentally challeneged or disproved by Soomro.
Soomro actually concludes:
‘The Syriac Legend of Alexander and the Qurʾānic account of Dhū-lQarnayn do not
share a direct relationship between them, but instead independently draw upon a
shared tradition found in the Late Antique Near East.’
Fine! Even if its a common tradition, I still stand by the point that my interpretation of the Qur’anic story of Dhu l-Qarnayn (that it is talking about a literal rising and setting place of the sun) fits well with the other branch of tradition (The Syriac Legend of Alexander), going back to a common source.
Thank you for your reply.
The story of Dhū-l Qarnayn certainly does resemble aspects of the Alexander Romances, but as Soomro points out, arguing that it is a simple copy of the Syriac Neṣḥānā d-Aleksandrūs is problematic.
That the Qur’ānic account resembles previous traditions is not theologically contentious for Muslims. Indeed the Qur’an presents itself as being in dialogue with, and correcting, previously existing scriptures and traditions.
– “if Muhammad heard stories orally and then retold them, of course its going to get some details right and other details wrong, or some details included and some excluded.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears to me that your definition of the ‘right’ account of a story is the one that chronologically appears first? Such a definition varies depending on what previous assumptions one holds. Muslims argue that the Qur’ān is a divine revelation and therefore the ‘right’ and corrected version is the one told in the Qur’ān, even if it is later.
Hi Lord of Abydos,
Thank you as well for your thoughtful reply.
It depends what we mean by a ‘simply copy’. Clearly the Qur’an isn’t sitting down the text in front of it, copying it word for word. But is it a ‘copy’ in the sense that it is trying to retell basically the same story (with all the changes however that come with oral transmission), I think the case for that can still be made. I did not find it convincing to highlight differences and therefore to suggest that the Qur’an is not directly engaging with this text, as opposed to some common source. The Qur’an will of course, especially in an oral milieu, selectively remember, recall and subtly change things to fit its own agenda.
Sure thing, good point, so let me clarify what I meant. All I meant was to counter the idea that the Qur’an isn’t trying to borrow from this source because the Qur’an differs from it at points. The Muslim eye of faith would say this is the Qur’an correcting that source. This is possible. It’s also possible that the Qur’an is not intending to correct that souce, it believes in the reliability of that source and tries to reproduce the material, but that it gets some details incorrect, as in it fails to recall them correctly.
Even if the Qur’an were correcting The Alexander Legend on some points, it still seems to retain other elements that suggest it really does envisage a literal rising and setting place of the sun, as I argue in these comments and in the blog
This kind of Anti-Islamic argument literally pisses me off.
Why can’t you people understand that it is a metaphore and not literal!?
I wish we can hide the Holy Quran from you so you’ll stop spreading misinformation and misconceptions about Islam.
You should better read the whole chapter and not just quoting without understanding, because what you guys are doing is precisely what the terrorists(may Allah’s curse be upon them) do! You clearly do not understand Holy Quran…
Alexanderabood, did you real the article?
‘Why can’t you people understand that it is a metaphore and not literal!?’ I literally wrote a lengthy blog post explaining exactly why.
‘You should better read the whole chapter and not just quoting without understanding’ – I have read the whole chapter. And it’s the broader context about Dhu-l Qarnayn that leads me even more to think it is meant to be literal.
One more thing I want to add is that Dhul Qarnayn is definitely not Alexander the Great, that’s only a speculation. But why doesn’t this matter that Dhul Qarnayn gas to be Alexander the Great!? Anyways, I choose Dhul Qarnayn to be Cyrus the Great and NOT Alexander the Great, because Cyrus the Great fulfilled Dhul Qarnayn’s description.
No, I have not read your blog, because your blog is misleading and so much misinformation about Islam.
I believe that if I challenge you for a debate, you’ll of course loose the debate, because you lie about our book!
And who the heck are you to correct our understanding of Islam!?? You have your own religion, so stick to your religion and don’t try to teach us Islam.
I’m tired of us being degraded and humiliated, this is not acceptable anymore.
With all due respect Alexanderabood, if you’re not going to read the blog (where I explain why I think Dhul Qarnayn is Alexander the Great), there is no point in us discussing.
Stick to my religion? Muslims and Islam tell me I must convert or I’ll burn for eternity. I think it’s fair enough for me to post my responses to Islam.
I am not degrading or humiliating Muslims, that was not the intention of the post. I am pointing out what I consider to be issues with the Qur’an, which Muslims repeatedly do to the Bible. We can all do this while respecting each other as individuals, and even (shock, horror) being friends.
Sorry for my behavior, I didn’t know about your intention.
Here’s explanation for the verse you have provided:
63. “The setting place of the sun” does not mean the place of the setting of the sun. According to Ibn Kathir, it means that he marched to the west conquering one country after the other till he reached the last boundary of the land, beyond which there was ocean.
64. “He found it setting in a muddy spring”: If Zul Qarnain was Cyrus, then that place would be the western limit of Asia Minor and the black waters would be the Aegean Sea. This interpretation is supported by the use of the word ain instead of bahr in the Quran.
Originally taken from: https://islamicstudies.info/tafheem.php?sura=18&verse=83&to=101
65. “We said” does not necessarily mean that Allah directly revealed to him these words, and that Zul-Qarnain was a Prophet or was the one who received inspiration from Allah, and the same is the reasonable conjecture. This concerns the time when Zul-Qarnain had taken possession of the land as a conqueror and the conquered people were utterly at your mercy. Then Allah posed a question before his conscience, as if to say: Now is the time of your trial. These people are utterly at your mercy, and you have the option either to behave unjustly towards them or to treat them generously.
No problem, and I know there are a lot of people out there who are unpleasant to Muslims, and so I can see why you might naturally feel defensive.
Just to say I appreciate your comment and will read it later, I’m just off to cook dinner 🙂
‘Here’s explanation for the verse you have provided:
’64. “He found it setting in a muddy spring”: If Zul Qarnain was Cyrus, then that place would be the western limit of Asia Minor and the black waters would be the Aegean Sea. This interpretation is supported by the use of the word ain instead of bahr in the Quran.’ I fundamentally disagree with you about who Zul Qarnain is, at least according to the Qur’an. I can see where you and that article are coming from; the two-horned one in Daniel 8 is indeed Medo-Persia. But there is also a long history of associating Alexander with horns as well (A. R. Anderson, 1927, ‘Alexander’s Horns’, available on JSTOR), and as I explain in my article, I think there are close parallels between the Qur’anic text and ‘The Alexander Legend’, where it is explicitly Alexander who is associated with horns. The link you sent me notes that ‘In general the commentators have been of the opinion that he was Alexander the Great’.
I have no objection to ‘We said’ meaning that God spoke to the conscience of Dhu l-Qarnayn and that he wasn’t a full prophet (though I think this is reading into the text).
I still think most of the detailed textual arguments I make in my article, and the parallels between the Qur’an and ‘The Legend of Alexander’, hold up.
Have you read ‘The Legend of Alexander’? The relevant section is very short. I recommend a read in case you haven’t yet 🙂
four corners of the earth REVELATİON 7:1 20:8 İSAİAH 11:12 EZEKİEL 7:2 DANİEL 11:4 4:10-12 MATTHEW 24:31 MARKOS 13:27 LUKE 13:29 PSALMA 22:27 74:14 89:12 JEREMİAH 49:36
Option A) These passages are speaking metaphorically. The difference between these passages and Q 18:83ff. is that the Qur’an says Alexander actually went to these places and found amazing things, and that we have the parallel ‘Legend of Alexander’ clarifying that these are real places where the sun sets and rises.
Option B) Maybe the Bible is wrong scientifically. As a Christian, and I believe that the Holy Spirit inspired human authors, I find it possible that God spoke his theological and moral truths through fallible humans who made scientific mistakes. Muslims, however, have a different doctrine of revelation; there is no human input, it is 100% God’s own words, and only God’s words, with no human inptu at all.
Again, the devil *took Him along to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;
luke 4:5 And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.
I can see why someone would interpret that verse literally – the combination of going up the high mountain, which can be seen as the basis for how the devil was able to show Jesus the nations of all the earth.
However, it could also be the case that going up to a great height with horizons and directions easily viewable, that is an appropriate moment to cast a vision or project an image. Perhaps that happened, rather than that the text is literally saying there is a mountain so high that all the nations of the earth can be seen.
The difference here is that this text is not the same kind of travel narrative where Dhu l-Qarnayn keeps going to actual literal places, finding things there, and interacting with people there. There is also, to my knowledge, no parallel text which portrays someone going up to a high mountain and actually being able to see all the nations of the earth (comparable to ‘The Alexander Legend’).
Additionally, I could concede for the sake of argument that this is a historical error, that the Gospels are theologically true but that the Gospel writer here is embellishing historical truth in favour of theological truth. That’s because I believe the Bible is inspired, but uses human authors. Muslims cannot take this approach as easily; they believe every word is only the word of God, not at all the word of Muhammad.
I don’t think this pans out. The word being used is balagha, that has more to do with reaching or attaining something. And is more often used in a sense of time than spatial sense. For instance, buloogh is when someone reaches puberty and becomes baaligh, like in the story of Yusuf (as) in 12:22 when it says he reached manhood “balagha”. Or when it mentions the same about orphans becoming reaching marriageable age 4:6 when it says “wa ibtaloo al-yatama hatta itha balaghoo an-nikaha” (test the orphans until they reach marriage)
Furthermore, the Qur’an mentions in 3:40 “balaghaniya al-kibaru” (old age has reached me).
So there is no problem in using balagha to mention the reaching of the setting of the sun in a sense of time – and is much more likely than using it as a marker in a spatial context.
Thus the text reads something akin to; “when he reached the time of sunset, he found it setting into a muddy spring…” which is a valid expression even used by moderns:
As far as the Alexander Legend, the first known (partial) manuscripts seem to be from the 9th century that are being claimed authorship by a man who lived in the 1st century writing about a man who lived two centuries before and there seems to be academic debate on whether or not it is all incorrect and really comes from the 7th century and is simply falsely attributed to the original author…? That seems to be a poor epistemic foundation to stand on.
I do agree that ‘balagha’ very often in the Qur’an means ‘attains’/’reaches the fulfilment of something’.
However, it can also mean ‘reach’ in quite a geographic sense, e.g. of something reaching someone or someone reaching a place. Interestingly, this is particularly prominent here in Q 18 (Q 18:60, 18:61,
(I would argue) 18:86 and 18:90, 18:93). Q 18:86 and 18:90 are part of this broader travel narrative, where people are literally reaching certain places.
While I have agreed that ‘balagha’ can mean to reach or ‘attain’ a certain age of maturity, I did not find any Qur’anic instances of reaching a time of day. Do you know of any?
To some extent yes I am dependant on van Bladel’s argument that The Alexander Legend dates to around 628, based on internal factors of the text (which typically are more important to Western scholars than earliest manuscript attestation). However I did mention that even if ‘The Alexander Legend’ comes after the Qur’an, it seems to be reflecting the same sort of ideas, and thus may help to clarify what the Qur’an is saying. It is especially helpful in highlighting what the Qur’anic text says – explaining the meaning of Dhu-l Qarnayn punishing those by the ‘murky spring’, which otherwise is puzzling, as well as highlighting the connection between the place of the rising of the sun and those who are scorched by its heat. If they are not geographically closer to where the sun is rising, then why does the Qur’an find it relevant to mention that they have no protection from its heat? Are these two things not connected in any way?
In the example I cited, the Qur’an mentions that “old age has reached me”, it is plainly a reference in time. There is no reason the Qur’an must use it in an exact parallel to the setting of the sun example.
In another verse (46:15), it uses it multiple times in “hatta itha balagha ashuddahu wabalagha arbaAAeena sanatan” (when he attains to full maturity and reaches forty years). The Qur’an – and Arabic – itself is flexible enough to use it in both ways depending on context.
The Alexander Legend (being a legend) could easily have borrowed an idea from a text in another language and completely misunderstood the context and derived a spatial understanding from it, losing the original in translation.
I honestly have no clue why the Quran mentions that specific detail in the narrative. It could be interpreted in many ways; including these people are aboriginals who have little clothing, primitive housing, lack of foliage, etc. Honestly no idea.
Yes, as I’ve acknowledged that’s true, but the idea of ‘attaining’/’reaching’ an age is well attested in the Qur’an – attaining a time of day simply is not. The former idiom makes more sense – one attains an age after acquiring many years. Acquiring a number of hours of the day makes less sense.
Its true, there is no reason the Qur’an MUST use an exact parallel. But my point is just that given the absence of such a clear parallel, it is not clear that time is in view here, especially when other features of the text suggest we are dealing with reaching actual places, as I have argued.
That is theoretically possible – but that’s why I have argued not only on the basis of the Alexander Legend, but I started my article by considering the Qur’anic text in its own right. And when I did that, I found features indicating it thinks there is a literal rising and setting place of the sun.
Also, I think van Bladel makes some good arguments about why The Alexander Legend is not borrowing from the Qur’an, which I mention in my article.
Fair enough, I appreciate the honesty. But I do prefer an interpretation that understands the answer to be in the text itself. It makes good sense that the issue of people not having protection against the sun is related to the issue immediately mentioned before, that they live close to the rising of the sun. People who have ‘little clothing, primitive housing, lack of foliage’ – this could apply anywhere on earth, it has no intrinsic link to the issue of the rising of the sun.
As Ibn Taymiyyah said, Alexander the great in not shul qarnayn and muslims should not say this, this is due to dhul qarnayn being a rightrous person and i think some have said a prophet such as Ibn Kathir and what we know of Alexander is that he was a pagan and his leader was a pagan so there is no way he would be dhul qarnayn.
Thank you, Allahu yahdik wa anna wa kulu muslimeen
Thank you, do check out my comment in response to alexanderabood above where I discuss who Dhu l-Qarnayn is, and why I think its Alexander.
I agree, this seems to be an important Muslim objection to the identification with Alexander, the fact that historically he was a pagan. However, as a non-Muslim, I find it plausible that the Qur’an might simply be incorrect on this point – especially as, from what I’ve read and studied, the Qur’an seems to reflect many pre-existing Jewish and Christian traditions (while of course shaping them to suit its own theology where appropriate), and Christians (and I think Jews too) did come to see Alexander as a righteous figure.
Let me ask you this Richard. What should have the author of the Quran have said if he wanted 18.65 to be taken metaphorically rather than literally?
So first of all the Qur’an could have avoided such a confusing metaphor. But assuming the author of the Qur’an wishes to use such a metaphor:
1) Don’t say ‘reached the setting of the sun’ when nowhere else in the Qur’an is this idiom used to refer to the time of day, but balagha is indeed used for reaching places. Perhaps another Qur’anic example could have been given where it is clear that a time of day and not a location is reached?
2) Say ‘he saw it set’ rather than ‘he found it set in a spring of murky water’. This would have clarified that he only saw the sun go down over the horizon, rather than it being literal.
3) Not parallel the setting of the sun in v. 86 with the rising of the sun in v. 90, which does seem to be literal, otherwise why focus on the fact that those people had no protection against the sun. Doesn’t sunset happen for people all over the world? What is different about these people, other than that they are geographically closer to the rising sun and so feel its heat more?
4) Not have other instances of balagha in Q 18 where it is clear that geographic places are being reached (Q 18:60, 18:61, 18:93).
5) Not use this expression in a travel story, with such an emphasis on reaching actual places.
6) Not use this expression with Dhu-l Qarnayn, when there is another story (‘The Alexander Legend’) that speaks of similar ideas and events, where it is even clearer (because there is more detail, its a longer story) that there is a literal rising and setting place of the sun.
Can you please write down an example sentence of what the Quran should have said in 18.65?
18:65? Did you mean a different verse? I’m not sure what 18:65 has to do with it. Sorry I assumed above that you meant the verse in question, Q 18:86
Zetter: 18:65? Did you mean a different verse? I’m not sure what 18:65 has to do with it. Sorry I assumed above that you meant the verse in question, Q 18:86
Yes, 18.86. So can you write an example of what 18.86 should have been if the author didn’t mean a literal sunset?
Well I’ve mentioned numerous ways in which things could be written differently to make this clearer. But to be concise and clear, the Qur’an could have just said, ‘Until, when the sun set, he found a People…’
Omit any mention of the spring of murky water. Omit ‘when he reached the setting of the sun.’
How about you actually write down a sentence that both reads like a metaphor and is more eloquent than the existing Arabic of 18.86?
حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا رَاءَ تَغْرُبَ الشَمسُ فِى عَيْنٍ وَجَدَ قَوْمًا قُلْنَا يَٰذَا ٱلْقَرْنَيْنِ إِمَّآ أَن تُعَذِّبَ وَإِمَّآ أَن تَتَّخِذَ فِيهِمْ حُسْنًا
Oh come on! You didn’t come up with an original sentence. You just made a few changes to the existing Arabic of 18.86. For example, you added ‘fee ainin’ before ‘wajada’ which literally reads ‘found it with two eyes’. Can you show any Arabic poetry, pre or post Islamic, where ‘fee ainin’ is used in conjunction with ‘wajada’? One of the meanings of ‘wajada’ is ‘to bring to view’. Thus, ‘wajada’ already implies a visual experience. Using ‘fee ainin’ with ‘wajada’ is redundant. ‘He found it with his two eyes’ sounds silly in both English and Arabic.
I didn’t claim it was original, I didn’t think that’s what you wanted. I thought you wanted me to tweak the Qur’an verse so as to make it clearer t hat the sun doesn’t actually set in a muddy spring.
I didn’t add fi aynin, I actually kept that from Q 18:86. If it means ‘two eyes’, then it must mean that in Q 18:86. Ayn = spring, in denotes the genitive indefinite ending.
The dual ending would be ān or ayn (depending on case) – this is not what I used.
ʿayn can mean either spring (Q 18:86, 88:5) or eye (Q 28:9) – https://web.qurangateway.org/verse_browser.php?S=EXACT:%CA%BFaynin These specific examples I give have exactly what I wrote, ʿaynin
‘Can you show any Arabic poetry, pre or post Islamic, where ‘fee ainin’ is used in conjunction with ‘wajada’?’ – I don’t know, I’ve not gone through all the Arabic poetry.
Also, I’m saying that ‘he found it setting in the spring’, not ‘he found it in the spring.’ ‘in the spring’ is more closely in conjunction with ‘setting’, which is exactly what the Qur’an verse says.
For the dual of ʿayn, see Q 12:84, 15:88, 18:28, 20:131, 55:50, 55:66, 90:8. You will note that they all have either long a (ā) or ay endings. I did not use this ending in my version below, I simply said ʿaynin.
please watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZ-tstWDLCo and speak with masters of the arabic language to appreciate the rhetoric. May God guide us all.
Thank you, I watched it. At least from what I have been taught of Arabic, I think he is drawing conclusions that are not necessary based on the grammar. Also, he only focuses on Q 18:86 and not the surrounding context, nor the parallel in ‘The Alexander Legend’. So I appreciate you sharing the video, but it still leaves many of my objections unanswered 🙂
Greetings. I hope I don’t offend anyone. I respect all opinions, and in my opinion I find this question to be illogical. The sun sets in the West. When the Qur’an says that it sets in muddy water, it means that the “Two Horn” wearing man, traveled until sunset, and looking West the sunset was in the water. It is illogical to claim that the sun physically sets in the muddy water. Why? Because if he, the “Two Horn” wearing man moved to the North or South the sun would set in something else. The word describing the water in Arabic is Ayn, meaning spring of water, which indicates that it is visibly limited in measurement.
What the verse means is exactly what it says. The man traveled until sunset, and to his West at the horizon was this muddy spring. It’s a measure of location at a specific time.
The interpretors of old are just that, interpretors. Sometimes they expand based on opinion and that opinion is sometimes wrong.
For example, saying that the “Two Horn” wearing man is not Alexander according to many scholars. We don’t know who he is and we don’t need to. If it were important, then the Qur’an would give us a name.
Hi M. Alzoubi,
Many thanks for your comment – it is very respectful and not offensive at all.
However I would say that your interpretation is assuming a certain scientific understanding (‘it is illogical to claim that the sun physically sets in the muddy water’) that one cannot assume a 7th century author has. I list reasons in my blog post to think the Qur’an does not share this worldview, based on what the text actually says. I also mention ‘The Alexander Legend’, which does not seem to share this modern scientific perspective that you and I share.
There is a certain level of hypocrisy, and a resultant arrogance here, in that one refers to extra-Qur’anic material when trying to exegete certain details into the text that one prefers, but at the same time when trying to restrict the meaning against what the people whom it was revealed to say, one attempts appeals to the linguistics sheer text itself, implicitly rejecting extra-Qur’anic material.
The Qur’an was responding to a particularly worded query. The Sabab an-Nuzul of these Qur’anic narrations are well known among those whom Allah granted fiqh in the Din.
Hi Mu’in al-Deen,
I am not intending to be hypocritical or arrogant, but if I am may God deliver me from it.
My point is that the extra-Qur’anic material confirms and supports a conclusion that I think can be found in the Quran’ic text itself.
We probably have a very different methodology when it comes to outside sources. I think based on internal grounds, I.e. internal similarities between texts, we can propose some kind of relationship between The Alexander Legend (or the traditions within it) and the Qur’an. I’m afraid like many non-Muslim westerners who have looked at the traditional Muslim literature and commentators, I don’t think these records are always reliable. But that’s a broader topic that we probably cant cover here
The Sunnah is the exegesis of the Qur’an, we say, for a reason. Without the Sunnah, people would say they wished and interpreted as they wished. The only authority that cannot be rejected without absurdity would be the Emissary, peace be upon him, himself, and his disciples.
You said earlier to someone else that the reason why you engage in polemics is because Islam is exclusivist and demands acceptance for salvation, but obviously the Islam one is being told to accept is that which includes the Sunnah. We’re not preaching Qur’anism here.
Out of interest, if we’re going to the Prophet, can you give me a hadith of the Prophet clarifying that the sun does not set in a muddy spring, but only appeared to be (i.e. he saw the sunset reflected in the water)?
I mentioned in my article a Hadith from Sunan Abi Dawud suggesting the Prophet literally thought the sun set in the spring. I am aware that Sunan Abi Dawud is not the highest or best collection of hadith – Bukhari and Muslim are better. So can you find me a better hadith than that one?
Sunan Abī Dāwūd 32:3991 is indeed generally classed as unreliable by the classical muḥaddithūn. This is discussed in the following video:
I’m not sure how familiar you are with ʻilm al-ḥadīth, but it must be kept in mind that the inclusion of a Hadith narration in a certain collection does not automatically class it as reliable, even if it appears in the Kutub al-Sittah.
Hi Lord of Abydos,
Thanks for sharing 🙂
I’ve looked a small amount about it, and I am aware there are certain criteria that are looked at. I fully concede that many Muslims would not recognise the reliability of this hadith. I’m just wondering if Mu’in al-Deen, or anyone, has a reliable hadith that clarifies that the sun did not actually set in the ‘muddy spring’? If not, then one cannot appeal to the Sunnah to discount such an interpretation
I thought the video was interesting in bringing up the Bukhari hadith, which does indeed say that once the sun sets it prostrates before Allah’s throne. However, isn’t even this hard to square with passages saying that God’s throne is in heaven? If there is a setting place then the sun is going beneath the earth, whereas God’s throne would be in heaven above. Perhaps it means that in so doing, in going under, it is in effect prostrating before the heavens above. That would be compatible with the sun going through a muddy spring.
I know Farid says that something metaphysical is going on – I explain in my blog why I don’t think that holds up here, why I think the Qur’an is being literal.
Also, to give another response about how the sun can prostrate before God’s throne but also go down into a muddy spring, if the Qur’an is indeed engaging with the kind of material found in ‘The Alexander Legend’, ‘The Alexander Legend’ seems to find it plausible that even though the sun goes down in the sky, it then enters a ‘window of heaven’ to prostrate before God, and then it comes out back to the place of its rising. I will quote the passage for the sake of clarity:
‘The place of his [i.e. the sun’s] 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 the heavens to the place where he enters the window of heaven; and wherever he passes there are terrible mountains…And when the sun enters the window of heaven, he straightway bows down and make 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.’
Unless we want to say the sun goes under the earth and the throne is down there, the best way I can make sense of this is that the sun passes into a different realm, prostrates before God, and then loops back round into our realm for the morning. But it seems to me like the objection that Farid raises was not an insurmountable objection to this 7th century scientific perspective as found in ‘The Alexander Legend.’
What I was referring to was the report that stated that most of the verses of al-Kahf were revealed in response to queries posed by Jews as a means of testing whether this claimant to prophethood knew certain things that were within their knowledge. Within their tradition, in fact.
This is the reason why I actually consider Dhu’l-Qarnayn to necessarily be a figure from Jewish (rabbinical?) tradition whom they viewed positively as a man of God. My personal view was always that Dhu’l-Qarnayn was potentially Melchizedek. The byzantine writers of the Alexander Legend, as well as those who made later additions, simply took details from earlier tales of earlier people and attributed them to Alexander.
Does it say specifically that the questions in Surat al-Kahf are asked by the Jews or the People of the Book?
You have not to forget about this beautiful passage
“Your territorial border will extend from the wilderness to the Lebanon Mountains, to the river—that great River Euphrates—all the land of the Hittites—as far as the Mediterranean Sea where the sun sets.”
It’s so beautiful..
I am aware of that passage, yes. However it is mentioned in passing as a way of describing the Meditteranean sea. There is nothing that suggests to me that it is intended literally – the language is far less emphatic and repetitive than the Arabic of Q 18:86. Nor is it paralleled with a literal rising place of the sun, where the sun scorches people because they are closer to its heat (Q 18:90). Nor is there a parallel legend that the Bible seems to be engaging with suggesting that people did understand that there was a literla setting and rising place of the sun.
A number of translations translate it ‘all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea TOWARD THE going down of the sun’ (emphasis added).
The Hebrew is:
מהַמִּדְבָּר֩ וְהַלְּבָנ֙וֹן הַזֶּ֜ה וְֽעַד־הַנָּהָ֧ר הַגָּד֣וֹל נְהַר־פְּרָ֗ת כֹּ֚ל אֶ֣רֶץ הַֽחִתִּ֔ים וְעַד־הַיָּ֥ם הַגָּד֖וֹל מְב֣וֹא הַשָּׁ֑מֶשׁ יִֽהְיֶ֖ה גְּבוּלְכֶֽם׃
(Jos 1:4 WTT)
Apologies, the Hebrew doesn’t seem to copy into wordpress very well.
The key bit being – ‘w-ad ha-yam ha-gadol mbo ha-shamesh’
The question is, is mbo ha-shemesh in apposition to ha-yam ha-gadol, in which case you could translate ‘towards the great sea where the sun sets’ (although my points still apply above about how the narrative does not suggest this is literal), or you could see both ha-yam ha-gadol (the great sea) and mbo ha-shamesh (going down of the sun) as both governed by ‘ad’, ‘unto/towards’, in which case you would translate it ‘towards the great sea and towards the setting of the sun.’
If quranic Dhū-l Qarnayn is not Alexander the Great why is quranic Isa historical Jesus? They both reflect common mythological narratives in mid Eastern late antiquity. As long as Muslim apologetics build smoke screens around these facts there is no progress in interpreting Islam reasonably for thinking people of the 21st Century.
Afraid this is too long for me to watch right now but I will save it to my ‘Watch Later’. Thank you for sharing 🙂
But yes you raise a great question about how we are able to recognise individuals in different texts if the names are different. If one can see how the name fits, and if the stories they are related in are sufficiently similar, then yes you can postulate they are the same person