Most of the anti-Islamic material over the internet is pure hate which is not even disguised. The remaining is hate disguised as intellectual research. However, once scratched a little below the surface, the hate becomes apparent and motives come out in the open.
A lengthy article, or a mini booklet, by Martin Taverille (51 pages) went unaddressed by the Muslims. This absence of refutation perhaps gave an incorrect perception to some that the arguments are strong and the Qur’an got this one wrong. However, the primary reason for it going unaddressed are the excessive and baseless assumptions scattered over several pages.
The booklet is divided into the following sections:
Martin comes from the mindset where he must find a way to disprove the Qur’an so he could comfort himself and those who find the menacing warnings in the Qur’an somewhat disturbing and wish to gain peace of mind. It is not rational enquiry or critical analysis but the subconscious fear of punishment which forces him to spill out lies and distortions.
Criminals justify their acts in a number of ways to gain peace of mind which may be to convince themselves that they have been wronged, to convince themselves that their victim is actually someone who deserves the evil he received in addition to many other reasons. Once the criminal brainwashes himself into believing that he is right and his victim is wrong, then he stands on faulty ground and all his supporting acts and decisions would therefore be faulty as well.
Let us move on to the verses under discussion:
– حَتَّى إِذَا بَلَغَ مَغْرِبَ الشَّمْسِ وَجَدَهَا تَغْرُبُ فِى عَيْنٍ حَمِئَةٍ وَوَجَدَ عِندَهَا قَوْماً قُلْنَا يذَا الْقَرْنَيْنِ إِمَّآ أَن تُعَذِّبَ وَإِمَّآ أَن تَتَّخِذَ فِيهِمْ حُسْناً
Hatta itha balagha maghriba alshshamsi wajadaha taghrubu fee AAaynin hami-atin wawajada AAindaha qawman qulna ya tha alqarnayni imma an tuAAaththiba wa-imma an tattakhitha feehim husnan
Until, when he (Dhul Qarnayn) reached the setting of the sun, he found it [as if] setting in a spring of dark mud, and he found near it a people. We [Allah] said, “O Dhul-Qarnayn, either you punish [them] or else adopt among them [a way of] goodness.”
– حَتَّى إِذَا بَلَغَ مَطْلِعَ الشَّمْسِ وَجَدَهَا تَطْلُعُ عَلَى قَوْمٍ لَّمْ نَجْعَل لَّهُمْ مِّن دُونِهَا سِتْراً
Hatta itha balagha matliAAa alshshamsi wajadaha tatluAAu AAala qawmin lam najAAal lahum min dooniha sitran
Until, when he came to the rising of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We had not made against it any shield.
Before we move on with the objections raised by Martin, let us state some of the facts derived from the verses:
- When Dhul Qarnayn reached a certain place (verse 86), he reached at the time of sunset as he found the sun setting and when he reached another place (verse 90), he reached at the time of sunrise where he found it rising.
- Reaching the setting of the sun (figurative) refers to the west and the figurative ‘rising of the sun’ refers to the east similar to how east even today is referred to as ‘the land of the rising sun’.
- The sun did not rise nor set but Dhul Qarnayn actually found it rising and setting. In other words, the sun appeared to rise and set to him.
- The main purpose of the verses is not to figure out the route of the journey or what Dhul Qarnayn saw but the bottom line is what he found the people doing and what decisions he made concerning them. The Qur’an is a book of guidance and hence reading it as a story book will not help the reader; this may be done for other scriptures but the Qur’an requires using intellect and pondering over the meaning.
Martin claims that the verses describe the actual places of sunset and sunrise which Dhul Qarnayn reached and not the eastern most and western most parts of the earth. Taverille bases his argument on shaky ground; even though going to the place of sunset or sunrise actually refer to west and east, we shall see how strong his arguments are. He argues that the Qur’an uses the words ‘Mashriq’ and ‘Maghrib’ for East and West and hence using ‘matliAAa alshshams’ and ‘maghrib alshshams’ indicate that they do not refer to east and west, instead they refer to the actual rising and setting places of the sun. If this is true, then this would pose a problem and Qur’an would be wrong as it would claim that sun rises and sets on earth where Dhul Qarnayn actually reached. This is a faulty conclusion reached by Martin. He claims that in the absence of evidence, the conclusion he reached has to be the only conclusion! Since we have the words for east and west (Mashriq and Maghrib), Martin assumes that ‘eastern most’ and ‘western most‘ areas are covered by the same words (Mashriq and Maghrib). This is an unsupported and a baseless assumption; one would need to present examples of how ‘matliAAa alshshams’ and ‘maghrib alshshams’ have been used elsewhere in Islamic text and how his assumed meaning is the only one acceptable. At a minimum, he could have accepted that ‘matliAAa alshshams’ and ‘maghrib alshshams’ are different from merely ‘east’ and ‘west’ but can have more meanings than only the actual rising and setting places of the sun.
The Prophet (ﷺ)’s statement explains as follows:
أَهْلِ الْوَبَرِ قِبَلَ مَطْلِعِ الشَّمْسِ
Ahl il wabri Qibla matliAAa alshshams
the people of the tents in the direction of far east.
In the above narration, the Prophet (ﷺ) speaks of proud people who live in tents in the direction of eastern most part. If someone believes that the Prophet (ﷺ) spoke of people living on the sunrise, then he needs help; this is precisely what Martin’s argument sounds like. If someone argues that the direction of sunrise is the key word here which indicates that the original argument still stands, then further evidences are provided below; this approach is simply arguing for the sake of argument.
A point to note here is that ‘matliAAa alshshams’ and ‘maghrib alshshams’ refer to areas far to the east and far to the west; they may also refer to the farthest east and the farthest west but this is not a fixed rule and hence cannot exactly be called the Arabic version of ‘land of the rising sun’ even though this definition is one of the meanings of ‘matliAAa alshshams’ (rising of the sun).
Regarding this narration Taverille states:
This version of the hadith ends with “qibala almashriqi”, translated, “towards the East”. As mentioned above, al mashriq usually appears as an idiom to mean the east. It seems easy at first to argue that just as almashriq means the east in one version of this hadith, matliAAa alshshamsi just means the east rather than the rising-place of the sun in the other version. However, even if almashriq means the east in Sahih Muslim Book 1, Number 92 (rather than literally, “the rising point”, as in Qur’an 37:5 and 70:40), both the east and the imagined setting-place of the sun would be in the same direction. These hadith only show that the directions (“qibala”) of these two things (“matliAAi alshshamsi” and “almashriq”) are interchangeable.
Martin throws all his darts in the dark hoping one would hit the right target as we can see from the emphasised parts. I reiterate, at a minimum, he could have accepted that ‘matliAAa alshshams’ and ‘maghrib alshshams’ are different from merely ‘east’ and ‘west’ but can have more meanings than only the actual rising and setting places of the sun.
There are more examples of the sort quoted above:
فَاسْتَقْبَلَ مَطْلَعَ الشَّمْسِ فَ
Astaqbala matla’a al-shams
So he faced the east.
There is no qibla in the above Hadith and plainly refer to east side as matla’a al-shams further proving that the criteria created by the anti-Islamic writer have no basis and are made as required. However, when they are put to test, they falter.
Horns of Satan
The following narration is quoted by Taverille which, he believes, is the conclusive evidence for his view:
عَنْ أَبِي مَسْعُودٍ، قَالَ أَشَارَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم بِيَدِهِ نَحْوَ الْيَمَنِ فَقَالَ “ أَلاَ إِنَّ الإِيمَانَ هَا هُنَا وَإِنَّ الْقَسْوَةَ وَغِلَظَ الْقُلُوبِ فِي الْفَدَّادِينَ عِنْدَ أُصُولِ أَذْنَابِ الإِبِلِ حَيْثُ يَطْلُعُ قَرْنَا الشَّيْطَانِ فِي رَبِيعَةَ وَمُضَرَ ”
It is narrated on the authority of Ibn Mas’ud that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) pointed towards Yemen with his hand and said:
Verily Iman is towards this side, and harshness and callousness of the hearts is found amongst the rude owners of the camels who drive them behind their tails (to the direction) where emerge the two horns of Satan, they are the tribes of Rabi’a and Mudar.
The emphasis is from Martin. It is his incorrect belief that the horns of Satan emerge from the place of sunrise. In this particular Hadith, the horns of Satan have been defined by the Prophet (ﷺ) himself and he does so metaphorically, referring to the two tribes. If someone believes that this is a conclusive evidence and refers to actual horns of Satan on/near the sun, then he needs help and this is precisely what Martin’s argument sounds like. As for other Ahadith on similar subject, we see that they also do not speak of sun rising and setting literally on the horns of Satan:
لاَ تَحَرَّوْا بِصَلاَتِكُمْ طُلُوعَ الشَّمْسِ وَلاَ غُرُوبَهَا فَإِنَّهَا تَطْلُعُ بِقَرْنَىْ شَيْطَانٍ
Do not intend to observe prayer at the time of the rising of the sun nor at its setting, for it rises between the horns of Satan.
From other Ahadith, we know that the unbelievers prostrate themselves to it at that time. Satan positions himself in such a way that when a person prostrates in the direction of the sun, Satan stands in the way to get the prostration for himself and hence the sun would appear to be rising or setting between the horns of Satan. Whether the satan mentioned here is the individual satan with each person or the chief satan Iblees is something we do not know and since these are matters of the unseen, we cannot know much about them and should hear and obey.
The interesting part is that Martin does not discuss these Ahadith in extensive detail as he does with others and simply concludes this section of his with the words ‘which many other hadith tell us is where the sun rises’. Had he gone in detail to discuss these narrations, he would have to do a lot more of mental gymnastics than he has currently done and it appears that he lacks such an expertise possessed by the experts he quotes from time to time. He reaches a conclusion from these narrations that they imply a belief that there were locations where the sun sets and rises. Sunset and sunrise are figures of speech even used by scientists today; such a conclusion is erroneous to say the least.
Wajadaha (he found ‘it’ i.e. the sun)
Literally, ‘matliAAa alshshams’ and ‘maghrib alshshams’ mean rising (or emergence) of the sun and setting of the sun respectively. However, as explained above, these are not the only meanings. ‘MatliAAa alshshams’ can be said to be the Arabic equivalent of ‘the land of the rising sun’ and, apart from the literal translation, has further meanings as well such as Far East, far towards the east or farthest east.
Taverille claims that since the Qur’an uses the word Wajadaha (he found ‘it’), the east meaning does not apply as Dhulqarnayn witnessed it i.e. the sun rising. This, he claims, is the reason why the verses speak of literal setting and rising places of the sun. Even though ‘matliAAa alshshams’ and ‘maghrib alshshams’ have been explained earlier, and more below, and misconceptions clarified, a simple English example should clarify things further. I went to the land of the rising sun and I saw it rising between mountains. This example conveys the meaning well even though it may have some problems due to limitation of the English language as the it is not clear; the context makes it clear that the land did not rise and it was the sun which rose, however, the language still makes it not fully clear. In Arabic, this is not the case. The it in Arabic is feminine and so is sun while land or place is masculine. Therefore, the statement that Dhul Qarnayn went to the land of the rising sun and saw it (the sun) rising makes complete sense in Arabic linguistically and contextually. Martin’s expertise and sincerity are questionable when he makes such statements:
How would we know what anything in the Qur’an means if it uses words that commonly (and when the context suggests) mean a particular thing when it really means a different concept, for which it uses a different word everywhere else?
Since he claims to know Arabic, one wonders how he could miss such a basic Arabic concept and this is something which one studies very early in their Arabic learning stages. More on wajada later below.
Even though the verses themselves claim that he witnessed ‘sunset’ and ‘sunrise’, Martin claims that this assumption is invalid. His argument is that the words ‘matliAAa al shamsi’ refer to the rising of the sun i.e. the event and not the time. Furthermore, he makes a bold claim that ‘matliAAa al shamsi’ is not used for the time of sunrise either in the Qur’an or in the Hadith. The reality is however opposite to this. We find numerous statements of the Prophet (ﷺ) and a simple search is sufficient. One statement is mentioned here to convey the message:
لاَ يَتَحَرَّى أَحَدُكُمْ فَيُصَلِّي عِنْدَ طُلُوعِ الشَّمْسِ وَلاَ عِنْدَ غُرُوبِهَا
La yataharra Ahadukum fa yusalli inda tuloo’ al-shams wa la inda ghuroobiha
None of you should try to pray at sunrise or sunset.
‘MatliAAa al shamsi’ and ‘tuloo’ al-shams’ are different tenses of the same verb root. The prohibition is not about not praying on top of the sun when it rises or when it sets but at times of sunrise and sunset.
Martin plays with ‘hatta’, ‘itha’, and ‘balagha’ in an attempt to twist and fool the reader. He makes some claims without explaining why they are correct. He states that there is no need for ‘itha’ or ‘balagha’ if they mean that Dhul Qarnayn followed a way until the time of sunset/sunrise. Martin has displayed some poor Arabic skills (as seen in previous paragraph and more below) along with poor comprehension skills.
In verses 86 and 90, we find the word ‘itha’ (when). Martin argues that if by sunset and sunrise, times were intended then ‘itha’ (when) should not have been used without explaining why. The problem for him is that verses 92 and 93 describe Dhul Qarnayn reaching a location (instead of time) and there ‘itha’ is used. The next words clearly describe the location reached. The follow up words clearly mention that the intended meaning is place and not the time and hence, one must focus on the follow up words carefully to understand the clear picture. The follow up words in verses 86 and 90 are ‘he found it setting’ and ‘he found it rising’ clearly indicating the time reached. Martin completely ignores this rule of focusing on follow up words and uses such sly tricks all throughout.
Furthermore, Martin claims that since the sentence started with the reason why Dhul Qarnayn travelled, the ending of ‘time’ would seem rather pointless. This is again something that is going on inside his head where he makes some rules which carry no basis and then expects everyone to follow and implement them. Any person who has read even one book in his life would know that the start of a sentence does not necessarily determine the bottom line.
Another problem for the author is as follows:
“… if he just followed a way until the time when the sun sets rather than until he reached the place where the sun sets, there is no reason to then describe what he found the sun to be doing”.
What we find here is arguing for the sake of argument. A lay reader can determine that what he found the sun to be doing describes the place and people around. A person with disease in his thinking will continue to ask questions even when there is no need and when you make unnecessary rules, you get trapped inside them and eventually you find errors and contradictions inside the trap you have set yourself.
Taverille presents some verses from the Qur’an (18:17, 50:39, and 20:130) and argues that they refer to actual times of sunrise and sunset and claims that if 18:86 and 18:90 referred to times instead of places, then similar words should have been used. The Islam hating writer embarrasses himself once again with these silly claims. Let us look at the three verses quoted:
تَرَى الشَّمْسَ إِذَا طَلَعَت – وَإِذَا غَرَبَت
Watara alshshamsa itha talaAAat … waitha gharabat…
And you (might) have seen the sun when it rose … and when it set …
وَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّكَ قَبْلَ طُلُوعِ الشَّمْسِ وَقَبْلَ الْغُرُوبِ
…wasabbih bihamdi rabbika qabla tulooAAi alshshamsi waqabla alghuroobi
…and celebrate the praises of thy Lord, before the rising of the sun and before (its) setting.
وَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّكَ قَبْلَ طُلُوعِ الشَّمْسِ وَقَبْلَ غُرُوبِهَا
…wasabbih bihamdi rabbika qabla tulooAAi alshshamsi waqabla ghuroobiha…
…and celebrate (constantly) the praises of thy Lord, before the rising of the sun, and before its setting;
Firstly, these are not straight forward instances of sunrise and sunsets. They mention sunrise/sunset which could be the actual events; however, it is the supporting word in the latter two examples which makes them the time. ‘Qabla’ i.e. before, clarifies that the event is before sunrise/sunset and hence time is intended.
Secondly, the first example does not directly speak of the time of sunrise/sunset; it speaks of the event. Seeing the sun at the occasion of it rising would obviously occur at a certain time and hence the time is implied unlike how Taverille understood it i.e. an explicit mention of the time of sunrise and sunset.
After reading this passage, this statement from Martin sounds both silly and funny: Verses 18:86 and 18:90 could have simply followed this pattern. If the Qur’an had been by a fallible being, it surely would have errors as recommended by Martin Taverille. However, one statement from him is encouraging: if the Qur’an in 18:90 meant the time of sunrise, it would likely have used… Consciously or subconsciously, he knows that he is wrong and here he expresses the openness of his assumptions being incorrect.
It is argued that ‘Balagha’ was not used for someone reaching a time of day. This is again arguing for the sake of argument. Apart from physically reaching a place, Martin states that balagha can mean reaching an age or milestone in one’s life. He admits that there are other meanings but then limits to only his choice. In the case of reaching an age in life, a person does not travel towards the age; instead the age comes to him as time passes by and hence due to the movement of time, age reaches him while, for such an incident, we say ‘he reached’ such and such age. Similarly, Dhulqarnayn did not actually ‘balagha’ (reach) the sunset/sunrise, but time passed and he arrived at the time of sunset/sunrise. Reaching is not necessarily physical but can be in other ways as well and hence, Dhul Qarnayn did not necessarily reach a physical sunrise or sunset. We have a number of examples from the Qur’an where ‘Balagha’ has been used to describe reaching somewhere which is not a place and pertains to the movement of time.
Since we have established that the anti-Islamic argument lacks consistency and displays lack of proper Arabic and comprehension capabilities, it is important to clarify this idea to the hateful author, and other readers like him, in a plain basic example. If I were to explain an address to someone and I mention to him to keep ‘ABC’ building to his left and move straight, would I be speaking literally? Would the person be able to put the building to his left and then move on? Likewise, one must not create stiff rules by himself and then limit himself inside them. When the Qur’anic description is broad, putting screws to it and tightening it up would not be a wise thing to do. Furthermore, Lane’s Lexicon defines balagha thus:
The reaching, attaining, arriving at, or coming to, the utmost point of that to which, or towards which, one tends or repairs or betakes himself, to which one directs his course, or which one seeks, pursues, endeavors to reach, desires, intends, or purposes; whether it be a place, or a time, or any affair or state or event that is meditated or intended or determined or appointed: and sometimes, the being at the point thereof: so says Abu-l-Kásim in the Mufradát.
Taverille quotes the passage but it appears that he was not able to understand it properly and hence, limited the broad scope. Focusing on the emphasised parts should help eliminate this ignorance.
This allegation claims that the words of the verses do not refer to eastern and western most ends of the earth but actual rising and setting places. The Arabic of these verses do not have a word for ‘place’ in them and as explained earlier, Dhulqarnayn went far to the west and far to the east and not the ‘place of sunset’ or the ‘place of sunrise’. Since Martin claims to know Arabic, he should have done a better job with the Ahadith he quoted as follows:
تَطْلُعَ الشَّمْسُ مِنْ مَغْرِبِهَا
…tatluAAa alshshamsu min maghribiha…
…the sun rises from its setting (or its west)…
In the Arabic text, we do not find any word for ‘place’. However, since a translation is meant to convey the meaning and not necessarily be literal, appropriate words have been used for the occasion. Furthermore, a word having more than one meanings should not be limited to one meaning only. Maghrib refers to west as well as sunset and previously we have seen how ‘matliAAa alshshams’ and ‘maghrib alshshams’ also have a number of meanings one of them being ‘far to the east’ and ‘far to the west’.
Mentioning that Dhul Qarnayn found the sun setting in a spring also makes sense if he was at the place where it sets. Otherwise it could have just said that he found a people by a spring without mentioning the sun. Similarly, mentioning the people in 18:90 only in terms of how the sun affects them fits the rising place interpretation perfectly.
This is again a faulty conclusion reached. ‘Found the sun setting’ does not necessarily refer to the place and explains the time as well. Would it refer to the time or place or both is something that is deeper than the approach adopted by Martin i.e. of choosing one and narrowing down the meanings. Another Hadith quoted by him is as follows:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ تَعَالَى زَوَى لِيَ الأَرْضَ حَتَّى رَأَيْتُ مَشَارِقَهَا وَمَغَارِبَهَا وَأَ
Verily, Allah drew the ends of the world near me until I saw its east and west.
‘Its east’ and ‘its west’ are feminine, with ‘ha’ prefix. Taverille argues that this Hadith proves that the earth is flat according to Islamic text; however, the reality is that when you see a vision, it is obviously stretched out and hence seen as a flat surface. Even on the maps, we see east and west and the entire earth which appears to be flat but is not. Secondly, we do not know how the Prophet (ﷺ) saw the east and west; it could be on a flat surface like a screen or something like a walk in simulation showing the round earth or some other way we do not know. Either way, looking at the whole earth in a vision does not mean that the earth is flat.
Martin quotes a number of fabricated narrations from al-Tabari. I will not be going into details of those narrations since they are not the words of the Prophet (ﷺ) but are clear fabricated stories. Martin should have taken care with these as he seems to know the concept of authentic, weak and fabricated narrations as he quotes a Hadith elsewhere and presents its authenticity as well. If this is not deliberate trickery, then what do we call it? It is like an escaping enemy, whose sword has been broken, throws at those chasing him anything he finds on the ground be it only pebbles or dirt and grass.
Martin goes on to quote pre-Islamic and contemporary poetry to support his claims even though he must know how poets have the license to engage in free flowing words and convey messages in terms not commonly used in routine spoken language. I will not be addressing those poems as they are very clearly figurative and do not serve any purpose other than to make a lot of noise.
It is further claimed that the Islamic position is reading quite a lot into the text even though it is the claimant who has made rules and limited the broad scope. He asks for the 1) reasons for following a special road/way to get there, 2) why mention the sun setting and 18:86 and 90 in those terms, and 3) whether one can really describe a place on the horizon as the place where a much more distant object disappears.
1) The road is neither special nor emphasised 
2) They describe the time and could be clues to rough locations of Ya’juj/Ma’juj
3) Yes, it can be done so. The place was as far as he could travel by land. Furthermore, even now we say ‘land of the rising sun’ yet we do not criticize this term.
Some points to add are that if Dhul Qarnayn was moving in the direction of the sun, then sunset would be straight. Secondly, he could have seen the place from the start of the journey and then reach that place. When you start the day, you know where the sun would set and that specific location from your perspective is known. Therefore, reaching that place makes perfect sense.
The following Hadith is quoted by Martin as a proof for his understanding:
بِيهِ، عَنْ أَبِي ذَرٍّ، قَالَ كُنْتُ رَدِيفَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَهُوَ عَلَى حِمَارٍ وَالشَّمْسُ عِنْدَ غُرُوبِهَا فَقَالَ ” هَلْ تَدْرِي أَيْنَ تَغْرُبُ هَذِهِ ” . قُلْتُ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَعْلَمُ . قَالَ ” فَإِنَّهَا تَغْرُبُ فِي عَيْنِ حَامِيَةٍ
Narrated Abu Dharr: I was sitting behind the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) who was riding a donkey while the sun was setting. He asked: Do you know where this sets? I replied: Allah and his Apostle know best. He said: It sets in a spring of warm water (Hamiyah).
Please visit the explanation to this here.
Martin claims that ‘wajada’ refers to ‘finding’ something which eventually is true. He also claims that if something appears to someone but is not true, then such a thing does not fall under the scope of ‘wajada’. This is another bold claim he has made; so far we have seen the embarrassment and humiliation he encounters when he makes bold claims and we shall see here again.
Martin’s first basis for this absurd explanation is as follows:
It has been claimed by Zakir Naik, a prominent Muslim public speaker, that wajadaha means that it appeared to Dhul Qarnayn that the sun was setting in a spring. He says that Allah is telling us Dhu’l Qarnayn’s opinion, but Allah does not himself claim that this opinion was correct (he uses the analogy that a teacher would be wrong to say that 2 + 2 = 5, but the teacher can correctly say that a student thought that 2 + 2 = 5).
The flaw in the criticism is clearly visible. What he does is compare apples with oranges. If I claim that a person saw a mirage and I end my statement right there, who would criticize it? Mirage is something that appeared to the person while the reader knows the thing seen did not actually occur. Similarly, if it appeared to Dhulqarnayn, as it does to every human being, that the sun appeared to set in murky water, the sentence would make perfect sense. It is clear to even a lay reader that Allah says it appeared to him i.e. what he saw from his perspective.
Taverille dismisses the appearing reason based on Arabic grammar as well. He states:
We can trivially dismiss on grammatical grounds Naik’s specific claim that in 18:86 wajada means “it appeared” because it requires that the subject of wajadaha is the sun, when it can only actually be Dhu’l Qarnayn. The fatha (the “a”) after wajad indicates the masculine gender, so Dhu’l Qarnayn is doing the action of the verb, which is in the active voice (alshshams is a feminine noun). The -ha suffix is a feminine referent to the sun as the object of the verb. It must therefore mean Dhu’l Qarnayn [verb] the sun.
We have seen before that Taverille has displayed poor knowledge of basic Arabic along with poor comprehension skills. Since this mistake is too basic, I give him the benefit of doubt and go with poor understanding skills for this one. Hatta itha balagha maghriba alshshamsi wajadaha can be translated as ‘Until he reached the setting of the sun/far west, he saw it/it appeared to him/he appeared to have seen’. Martin chooses the English translation (it appeared) that narrows down the concept and forces his faulty interpretation on the word. Wajada means He saw or he appeared to have seen and ‘ha’ suffix at the end refers to what he had appeared to have seen which should be feminine i.e. the sun in this case. Therefore, wajadaha means ‘he appeared to have seen it’. One may use ‘it appeared’ to better convey the message in English but if letter by letter analysis is done, as Martin does, comparison would fall which is again what Martin forces on the word. This approach is twisted second hand knowledge where he translated the Arabic word to English, chooses the one that suits him best and then compares the chosen one back with Arabic. What Dr. Zakir Naik did was to use the words in translation that were easy and convenient and flow with the passage. After Martin makes such basic blunders, he goes on to say:
However, we must still examine the essence
I would like to give him the benefit of doubt again and assume that he knew the Arabic and simply tried to pull a fast one on the readers and since he knew his dismissal on grammatical grounds is not really a dismissal, he felt the need to find and gather more proofs for his stance. Martin quotes Lane’s Lexicon for Wajada (emphasis mine):
He found it; lighted on it; attained it; obtained it by searching or seeking; discovered it; perceived it; saw it; experienced it, or became sensible of it
The finding, etc., by means of any one of the five senses: as when one says وَجَدْتُ زَيْدًا [I found, &c., Zeyd]: and وَجَدْتُ طَعْمَهُ, and رَائِحَتَهُ, and صَوْتَهُ, and خُشُونَتَهُ, [I found, or perceived, &c., its taste, and its odour, and its sound, and its roughness]. Also, The finding, &c., by means of the faculty of appetite, [or rather of sensation, which is the cause of appetite:] as when one says وَجَدْتُ الشِِّبَعَ [I found, experienced, or became sensible of, satiety].
The definition of Wajada is conclusive. Taverille yet again tries to twist the meanings and proposes some points. He questions whether or not wajada can mean to visually perceive something which conflicts with the reality. He also appeals to emotional logic when he states:
We can assume that statements in the Quran where Allah is the speaker, as is the case in 18:86 and 18:90, are not meant to be mistakes or deceptions.
When you present a distortion with such clever words, you will force unsuspecting ones to admit that Allah does not make mistakes nor lies. Latter is a fact, however, the premise of this argument is faulty. Suppose that I say that ‘I find’ the smell of such and such a perfume repulsive, I would be making a statement that fits into the definition of wajada. Wajadtu (I found) the smell unpleasant but it may not be in reality or it may actually be repulsive or it may be neither and may depend on perception.
Martin quotes some examples from the Qur’an where Wajada refers to ‘find’ and the finding is a reality. This is a fact which he states; Wajada does mean to find or observe something which can be true, however, for the finding to confirm to reality is not a requirement. If a person’s head starts spinning and shaking and he says that ‘he found the entire room shake’, he would ‘see’ and ‘perceive’ something which may not be objective. Such a condition is not too uncommon.
Applying Martin’s logic against him:
[He found, in the sense of] he knew [by experience]. (A, TA, &c.) [In this sense, it is a verb of the kind called أفْعَالُ القُلُوبِ ; having two objective complements; the first of which is called its noun, and the second its predicate.] Ex. وَجَدْتُ زَيْدًا ذَا الحِفَاظِ I [found, or] knew Zeyd to possess the quality of defending those things which should be sacred, or inviolable.
In verses 18:86 and 18:90 respectively, the noun is the sun (via the referent “it”) and the predicate is “setting in a muddy spring” / “rising on a people for whom We had provided no covering protection against the sun”. It is clear from the quote that this usage means that a person actually comes to know something as it really is.
If we adopt the sly deceit that he uses, we could argue that ‘quality of Zeyd’ is a non-tangible thing while the sun is a material object i.e. matter. In the former, one ‘learns’ of a non-matter quality while in latter, it is a scientific, testable observation.
If we were to say ‘Zayd found a flying elephant’ even if he believed that he had actually found such a thing or merely thought that it appeared that way, it would be a factually incorrect statement. However, the same logic does not apply to 18:86 and 18:90 and Allah does not make a factually incorrect statement because this finding of Zayd is a material object and is different from perceiving. Being wrong, no matter what the context and circumstance, is different to perceiving something whether right or wrong. Either this is another display of poor Arabic from the author, where he translates to English and then compares English to English, or it is another example of poor comprehension on his part. This time, I won’t decide.
Further evidence for Wajada is as follows:
وَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ أَعْمَـلُهُمْ كَسَرَابٍ بِقِيعَةٍ يَحْسَبُهُ الظَّمْآنُ مَآءً حَتَّى إِذَا جَآءَهُ لَمْ يَجِدْهُ شَيْئاً وَوَجَدَ اللَّهَ عِندَهُ فَوَفَّـهُ حِسَابَهُ وَاللَّهُ سَرِيعُ الْحِسَابِ
Waallatheena kafaroo aAAmaluhum kasarabin biqeeAAatin yahsabuhu alththamanu maan hatta itha jaahu lam yajidhu shayan wawajada Allaha AAindahu fawaffahu hisabahu waAllahu sareeAAu alhisabi…
But the Unbelievers,- their deeds are like a mirage in sandy deserts, which the man parched with thirst mistakes for water; until when he comes up to it, he finds it to be nothing: But he finds Allah with him, and Allah will pay him his account.
The above statement is correct; however, our focus is on the literality of the word wajada. The man quoted above encounters a mirage which he finds to be nothing and he finds Allah with him. Finding Allah is not a false perception but if one were to say that he found Allah literally, then that would be something false. Furthermore, when the person finds Allah with him, it is only him who finds Allah and not others who may be looking at the said person. This verse explains two meanings of wajada; one that appears and is true and another that appears and is not literal but metaphorical and figure of speech. In the case of Dhul Qarnayn as well, what he saw was not necessarily false; he did see the sun rising and setting and this is how it appears.
More of Martin’s deceptions:
This does not, however, mean that the phrase in which the sun “set in a spring of murky water” could be a figure of speech because 18:86 is not an exact mirror of 18:90. 18:86 is describing the place that the sun sets into using the word “fee” meaning in or into. If 18:90 had said, “wajadaha tatluAAu min”, meaning “he found it rising from” somewhere (i.e. the rising place that the sun emerges out of, as in Sahih Muslim book 1, no. 297 quoted above), it would be describing for sunrise the corresponding action of that described in 18:86 for sunset. Then there would be no case that the phrase in 18:90 could be a figure of speech either.
What we see here is another case of making rules on his own and then forcing them upon the Qur’an. Martin quotes a Hadith which has these words: ‘(anything) on which the sun rises or sets’ and says that this is an example of figure of speech. On one hand, he believes that setting on is a figure of speech while setting in is literal. How did he make these rules as to what is literal and what is figurative? He claims that the words for the account of Dhul Qarnayn should have been ‘set in a spring of murky water’. His habit of making rules is not a one off or odd thing; he continues to do that all-throughout his arrogant article and claims that if it is a figure of speech, it is highly misleading. However, the important thing is that he is also not too confident when he uses words such as strongly imply and even if. As stated earlier, he is throwing all his darts in the dark hoping one would hit the right target.
Finally, we can see that the menacing warnings of the Qur’an which he finds somewhat disturbing and wish to gain peace of mind from are not meaningless and appear to have a base deep inside him when he admits that there may be a deeper meaning or lesson to be learnt from the account. This is a beauty of the Qur’an; it has a deeper meaning and at the same time, the plain reading has also been intended. Words like ‘wajada’, ‘balagha’, ‘maghriba alshshams’ and ‘matliAAa alshshams’ are plain and clear; creating own rules, twisting them and then applying them to the Qur’an to suit some motives would not change the plain and deep meanings of the Qur’an.
Even though the above evidences have clarified the matter conclusively, we shall look at further supporting evidences. The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
إِنَّ الشَّمْسَ تَدْنُو يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ حَتَّى يَبْلُغَ الْعَرَقُ نِصْفَ الأُذُنِ،
“On the Day of Resurrection, the Sun will come near (to the people) to such an extent that the sweat will reach up to the middle of the ears.
The Prophet (ﷺ)’s statement informs us that people would sweat profusely due to the closeness of the sun. Another statement from him informs us the depth of the sweat:
يَعْرَقُ النَّاسُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ حَتَّى يَذْهَبَ عَرَقُهُمْ فِي الأَرْضِ سَبْعِينَ ذِرَاعًا، وَيُلْجِمُهُمْ حَتَّى يَبْلُغَ آذَانَهُمْ
The people will sweat so profusely on the Day of Resurrection that their sweat will sink seventy cubits deep into the earth, and it will rise up till it reaches the people’s mouths and ears.
Since the matter speaks of the Day of Judgment and people would have already died and there would be no death afterwards, the statement is not problematic scientifically. These statements from the Prophet (ﷺ) inform us that he knew the significance of the sun and the extent of its heat and its impact on people. If the intended meaning of Qur’an 18:86 and 18:90 was a sunset and sunrise on the earth, then we would not have found such statements from the Prophet (ﷺ). Now surely, Taverille cannot argue that the people Dhul Qarnayn encountered at the physical location of sunset and sunrise sweated so much that they were drowning in it. On one hand we have direct statements from the Prophet (ﷺ) which inform us that it is not possible for the sun to be that close to the humans and on the other hand we have rules made up by Taverille which confine many limits and eventually reach a distorted conclusion that the sun is actually on the earth according to the Qur’an. If you find the menacing warnings in the Qur’an somewhat disturbing and wish to gain peace of mind, you may choose Taverille’s distortions and if you wish to adopt a stance that is based on evidence, then you may side with the Qur’an.
Martin claims that the knowledge of the roundness of the earth came to the Arabs after Ptolemy’s Almagest was translated into Arabic in the 8th century CE. Does he honestly think that all Muslims would have easily changed their understanding of scripture just because a ‘foreign scientific book of the disbelievers’ was translated into Arabic and said something? If the Muslims since the time of the Prophet (ﷺ) truly believed the earth was flat according to Qur’an and Ahadith, then one would have seen them rejecting this theory and making a massive issue out of it by the likes of what was done earlier and later on by the Christians by burning books teaching a spherically shaped earth. There were no Muslim Copernicus’s and Galileos’ when it came to this subject and the reason for that is because they already believed this theory to be in line with their scriptural understanding.
Ibn Abbas (رضي الله عنه), the companion of the Prophet (ﷺ) said regarding Qur’an 21:33:
كُلٌّ فِى فَلَكٍ يَسْبَحُونَ
(each in an orbit floating.) means, revolving. Ibn `Abbas said, “They revolve like a spinning wheel, in a circle.”
Furthermore, Ibn Taymiyah narrated that from Abu’l-Husayn ibn al-Munaadi, when he said:
Imam Abu’l-Husayn Ahmad ibn Ja‘far ibn al-Munaadi narrated from the prominent scholars who are well known for knowledge of reports and major works in religious sciences, from the second level of Ahmad’s companions, that there was no difference of opinion among the scholars that the sky is like a ball.
He said: Similarly they were unanimously agreed that the Earth, with all that is contains of land and sea is like a ball. He said: That is indicated by the fact that the sun, moon and stars do not rise and set over those who are in different parts of the earth at the same time; rather that occurs in the east before it occurs in the west.
He was asked about two men who disputed about the nature of heaven and earth: were they both round bodies? One of them said that they were, but the other denied that and said there is no basis for that. What is the correct view?
He replied: The heavens are round, according to the Muslim scholars. More than one of the scholars and Muslim leaders narrated that the Muslims are unanimously agreed on that, such as Abu’l-Husayn Ahmad ibn Ja‘far ibn al-Munaadi, one of the leading figures among the second level of the companions of Imam Ahmad, who wrote approximately four hundred books. Consensus on this point was also narrated by Imam Abu Muhammad ibn Hazm and Abu’l-Faraj ibn al-Jawzi. The scholars narrated that with well-known chains of narration (isnaads) from the Sahaabah (companions) and Taabi‘een (followers of the companions, and they quoted that from the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger. They discussed that in detail with orally-transmitted evidence. There is also mathematical evidence to that effect, and I do not know of anyone among the well-known Muslim scholars who denied that, apart from a few of those who engaged in arguments who, when they debated with the astrologers denied it for the sake of argument and said: It may be square or hexagonal and so on. They did not deny that it could be round, but they said that the opposite of that was possible. I do not know of anyone who said that it is not round – with any certainty – apart from some ignorant people to whom no one pays any attention.
Abu Muhammad ibn Hazm said: Evidence for the earth being round: Abu Muhammad said: We are going to discuss some of the arguments against the idea that the earth is round. They said: There is sound evidence that the earth is round, but the common folk say otherwise. Our response – and Allah is the source of strength – is that none of the leading Muslim scholars who deserve to be called imams or leaders in knowledge denied that the earth is round, and there is no narration from them to deny that. Rather the evidence in the Qur’an and Sunnah stated that it is round. … and he quoted evidence to that effect.
So far we have learned that the Qur’an and the Prophet (ﷺ) teach us that the earth is round and that the sun does not set on the earth. We also discussed the meanings of few Arabic words and explained their true meanings unlike the twisted ones formed and developed to criticize Islam. However, one may come up with a confusion as to which of the above meanings is the accurate one. The answer is simple; Dhul Qarnayn went to western and eastern most parts of the earth possible through the route he took at the times of sunset and sunrise where he witnessed sunset and sunrise which he saw setting and rising in spring of dark mud and rising on people without shelter from it. He did not visit the actual place of sunset and sunrise on earth.
One may ask as to why the Qur’an used such language that is vast and why the later commentators used knowledge unknown to 7th century Arabs. As for the latter, this has been addressed in 4 above and is further clarified by the following passage (in Urdu translated to English) which is also the answer to the former question:
چاند، سورج اور ستاروں کے بیان کئے گیے تو قصداً ایسی عبارت سے جو اس زمانہ کے مسلّماتِ عقلی و فکری سے ٹکراتی نہ تھی، لیکن اتنی لچک رکھتی تھی کہ جب صدیوں کے بعد نظریاتِ فلکی بدل جائیں’ تو الفاظ قرانی کی تفسیر و تشریح جب بھی ذہنوں پر گراں نہ ہو’ زمین کی کرویت اور زمین کی گردش، اور سورج اور چاند کی خلائی گردشیں سب کی سب کھل کر اس زمانے میں بیان نہیں کیں، جبکہ یونان، ہندوستان کے مہندس، عراق و مصر کے منجّم سب کے سب اس کے قائل و معتقد تھے کہ آسمان نام ہے ایک بڑی اور ٹھوس چھت کا، جس میں ستارے’ چاند، جَڑے اور جُڑے ہوے ہیں، اگر بیان کر دیتا تو کون اس کلام کو قبل اعتنا سمجھتا اور کتنی بحثیں عقلی اور دماغی، اصل مقصدِ ہدایت سے بلکل الگ نہ چھڑ جاتیں! لا محالہ حکمتِ خداوندی نے ایسا اعجازی طریقہ کلام اختیار کیا کہ جس سے ظاہری مطلب تو اس زمانے کے مزعومات، مسلّمات اور معتقدات کے مطابق نکل اے لیکن اتنی گنجائش اس میں ہو کہ جب عقلِ انسانی بلوغ کو پہنچ جائے اور علوم و فنون برگ و بار لے آئیں تو وہی کلام ایک مستقل دلیل بن جائے – اور مومنین صادقین کے علاوہ باہر والے بھی بہ قدر اپنے ظرف و نصیب کے اس سے مستفید ہونے لگیں.
When the sun, moon and the stars were mentioned, they were so with the examples that did not contradict the intellectual and mental state of the time but sufficient flexibility was retained such that after centuries, when the astronomical beliefs change, the explanation of the words of the commentary of the Qur’an do not confuse the mind. Roundness of the earth and its rotation and the movements of the sun and the moon – all these had not been mentioned in that time openly. The engineers of Greece and India, astronomers of Iraq and Egypt; all were of the view that the sky is the name of a big and vast roof in which the stars, moon are placed and fixed. If it had been mentioned, then who would have considered this Book worthy of believing and so many arguments, intellectual and mental, would have taken away the real purpose of guidance. The wisdom of Almighty chose such a miraculous way of speech in which the apparent meaning made sense to the people of that time but sufficient flexibility and space was kept so that when the intellect and knowledge of men reach its peak, then that same Book become a permanent evidence, and apart from pure believers and truthful ones, others also get benefit from it.
Since the Qur’an is the Book of Allah Almighty and it is for all times, this miraculous style of explanation makes complete sense.
It has been claimed that legends concerning Alexander were circulating during or before the times of the Prophet (ﷺ) and the Qur’an copied from there. This has not been touched in extensive detail by the anti-Islamic writer as is his habit of not delving deep into things which are not twistable to a considerable extent. This link refutes such allegations in detail. As for the Alexander Legends which originated in 628-29 at the earliest, which is near the time of the Prophet (ﷺ)’s death roughly 10 years after the migration from Makkah to Madina. The Syriac text has most probably a 9th century origin; however, for the sake of clarification, 628-29 have not been debated. The Qur’anic account is dated between five to 10 years before the migration and hence, we know for a fact that the events of Dhul Qarnayn, in the Qur’an, were revealed between 15 to 20 years before the Syriac version came into being.
It must be kept in mind that the chapter and events of Dhul Qarnayn were revealed because the Jews asked about them through the Makkan pagans. The events in the Qur’an start with these words: ‘And they ask you, [O Muhammad (ﷺ)], about Dhul-Qarnayn’. This indicates that there were some sorts of legends, distortions and confusion floating around and personalities were mixed and legends created; the Qur’an corrected them and narrated the actual history; it is the people who later (and even earlier) disputed the history and personality confusing him with Alexander, Cyrus and many others.
Now how did the Qur’anic account of Dhul Qarnayn become so popular that it left Makkah and reached the lands of Syria? Some Jewish tribes were earlier on expelled from Madina and they migrated to Syria. Could the Qur’anic account have been transferred there through them? The Jews did have bias in favour of Alexander. Furthermore, the legend ends with Alexander worshipping in Jerusalem. Jews in favour of Alexander the Macedonian being Dhulqarnayn argue that he played an enormous role in the Middle East for a number of reasons and not just because of his military conquests. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Alexander the Macedonian paid homage to the Jewish High Priest, Shimon HaTzadik. He was of the Zadokite priestly line (the one installed by King David). Alexander the Macedonian also confirmed the appointment of Tobiad dynasty. This dynasty had originally been appointed by Persia as governor of the Trans-Euphrates. According to some, Tobiah was the eponymous progenitor of the Tubba’ dynasty of Arabia. The Tubba’ kings of Arabia (who ruled from about 275CE to 525CE) claimed descent from Harith al-Raish or al-Filsuf. This Harith was honored by Alexander the Macedonian, and according to Jewish historians, he was also a grandson of Tobiah. To add to it, the Talmud also has many legends relating to Alexander and it would be no surprise if they merged the Qur’anic account of Dhul Qarnayn with Alexander.
We have no reason to believe that Alexander was a respected personality amongst the Muslims; however, we have plenty of evidences that he had high regard among the Jews. Jews had this bias in favour of Alexander not just during the times of the Prophet (ﷺ) but also much before that as can be evidenced from the infancy gospel. They even based their calendar on him.
Further reading here.
From the above, we have learned the following:
- Dhul Qarnayn had travelled to the western and eastern most parts possible
- He travelled to these place at the times of sunset and sunrise
- There, or along the way, he witnessed sunset and sunrise which appeared to him to set in murky water and rise on people who did not have shelter from it
- ‘He reached (Balagha)’ does not only refer to physically reaching a specific place and hence he did not travel to the actual places of sunset and sunrise
- He did not travel on a flat earth but a round one
- The Qur’an is clear in its language, the Prophet (ﷺ)’s statements are also very clear and the companions and early Muslims understood this very well
Indeed, Allah knows the best.
Related reading: Was Surah 18 plagiarized?
References and footnotes:
 Qur’an 18:86 and 18:90
 Sahih Muslim, book 1, Hadith 96
 Sunan an-Nasa’I, vol. 1, book 6, Hadith 625
 Sahih Muslim, book 1, Hadith 88
 As funny as it may sound but some of the experts quoted by Martin are Shamoun and Katz.
 Sahih Bukhari, book 9, Hadith 61
 Sahih Muslim, book 1, Hadith 303
 Sahih Muslim, book 54, Hadith 25
 Surah Al-Kahf: The Travels and Travails of Dhul-Qarnain. Martin has used his logic and asked some questions throughout his article; these are answered above and those not touched by me have been covered in the link.
 Sunan Abi Da’ood, book 32, Hadith 34
 Qur’an 24:39
 Sahih Bukhari, book 24, Hadith 77
 Sahih Bukhari, book 81, Hadith 121
 Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa (25/195)
 Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa (6/586)
 Al-Fasl fi’l-Milal wa’l-Ahwa’ wa’l-Nihal (2/78)
 Tafsir Majidi, Introduction 2, pg. 21, 22