The analytical methods which postmodernism has given birth to are qualified by many sad features. One is the rejection of the idea of greatness. These methods leave no space for great men or women. What we find instead is an unrealistic leveling that reduces every prince to a valet and confers upon every valet princely pretensions. For example, Malcolm X, eulogized by Ossie Davis as a “black shining prince,” a man who had the courage to change when his commitment to the truth demanded change, as highlighted in his autobiography, is reduced to a conniving hustler who is constantly “reinventing” himself in Manning Marable’s deconstruction of his life.
More disturbing, and of perhaps greater import for Muslims, is the removal of God as an active agent in history. Providence has no bearing on historical outcomes. Similarly, Divine guidance is not to be considered when examining the complicated array of decisions and choices that lead any of us to become who we are. There is only a boring, random collection of unrelated accidents, which if they are to be examined systematically, it will be through a framework provided by sociology or anthropology. Some would call the whole arrangement, “new school.”
Being an old school person I have never been impressed with the new school. It is much too predictable and intellectually hegemonic. There must be ways of assessing reality that differ from the stark materialism bequeathed to us by the modern and now post-modern West. Islam provides us one of those alternative approaches, for more than any other system it demands that the Divine be considered in all things. It is through the prism of Islam, specifically through the unfolding of God’s plan, that I wish to examine some of the major aspects of the life of Muhammad Ali, may God have mercy on him.
My contention is that Ali would never have become Ali had not God both prepared him for his times and prepared his times for him. That preparation began with Ali’s deeply religious mother, Odessa Lee Clay. His mother’s deep religiosity left an indelible imprint on the young Ali. That imprint would influence Ali becoming a dedicated member of the Nation of Islam (NOI) and a faithful follower of Elijah Muhammad. It would also sustain Ali once he moved away from the NOI under the leadership of Imam Warith Deen Muhammad, and later in his life as he became more deeply influenced by more traditional expressions of Islamic spirituality.
Of course, it is highly possible for a child growing up without the influence of a devout parent to end up deeply religious, however, the odds are greatly enhanced when those closest to you during your formative years are themselves devout. In both his home and in church Ali was being prepared for a religious life. This is something all who knew Ali note. Like Moses, his being placed in a particular house was one of the first notable acts of Divine intervention in Ali’s life.
Ali was also conditioned in childhood to make the kind of history-altering choices he would make later in life. He knew from a young age that there was danger in the path of a black man in America, hence, whatever decision you made you needed to be prepared to die for it. This sense of danger was drilled into Ali’s consciousness by the lynching of Emmitt Till. Ali would never forget that brutal Mississippi murder of a young man his own age. It informed him of the depths of hatred some men could sink to when you offended them, either via imagined or petty offenses, such as that attributed to Emmitt Till, or in highly charged ways, as Ali would later do. That being so, Ali knew that when you took a stand you had best be prepared to die for it. Hence, he was dead serious when he said, commenting on the hell he caught when he refused induction into the United States military, “Whatever the consequences may be, I will not renounce the religion of Islam. I’m ready to die. If you put me before a firing squad tomorrow, I’m ready to die.” Both that consciousness and courage were necessary gifts God gave to Ali.
Ali’s boxing career itself began with what can only be described as an act of God. Of course, as Muslims we believe that everything is “an act of God,” I state it here for emphasis. That particular act was the theft of Ali’s brand new bike. Such an occurrence is common. I can remember my bike being stolen as a young boy, however, what happened next is extremely uncommon. First of all, Ali reported the theft to the police, something I never considered doing because the relationship between the police and those living in the vast public housing project I grew up in was such that you did not think of inviting the police to intervene in such matters.
Young kids in our community were usually trying to avoid the police at all costs. Ali, however, went to the police and the officer he found, in segregated Louisville, Kentucky, happened to be a white boxing coach, Joe Martin, who had taken an interest in helping young black kids. Instead of blowing off the skinny twelve-year-old he suggested that he learn how to fight if indeed he wanted to punish the thief were he to find him. There are tremendous odds against this series of events occurring as they did. God had a plan for Ali and Ali was always aware of that fact.
In preparing Ali for the world God blessed him not only with incredible physical ability, perhaps, during the earlier phase of his boxing career, he possessed the fastest hands in the history of the sport. He was also blessed with great physical beauty and a quick, poetic wit. There had been many talented boxers before Ali. We could mention in that regard one Ali himself idolized, Sugar Ray Robinson. However, none possessed Ali’s charisma and beauty– two attributes that would serve him greatly via the medium of television.
In that regard, God brought Ali unto the national stage at a time when television was just emerging as a household standard and Ali was tailor-made for that particular medium. Whether bombastically threatening Sonny Liston, predicting the round in which his next opponent would fall, playing around with the Beatles, or bantering with Howard Cosell, Ali was the first athlete whose fame and/or notoriety was boosted to such an extent by television. A medium had been prepared for Ali which would be instrumental in projecting him unto the global stage. Like John Kennedy, whose improbable victory over Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential election was attributed in large part to his televised persona, Ali’s rise, initially as Cassius Clay, was greatly enhanced by television. Had he appeared even five years earlier he would have been just a talented boxer little known outside of the fight world.
Thereafter, God guided Ali to Islam. When one considers the likelihood of a brash, charismatic, highly successful athlete, with the prospect of making millions of dollars because of the aforementioned emergence of television and the tremendous revenues it opened up for top-level professional athletes (remember the picture of Ali sitting on a pile of cash), one must concede that Ali’s Islam itself is a miracle. God alone guided Ali to Islam and in so doing made him one of the most popular men on earth; for the entire Muslim world could relate to a boxing champion named Muhammad Ali. Ali became their champion. Had he remained Cassius Clay he would not have gained that degree of global recognition and popularity no matter how talented a fighter he was.
Ali’s popularity was further enhanced when he took his stand against participating in the Viet Nam War. By refusing induction into the United States military Ali suffered the loss of his title, the loss of his livelihood and the constant threat of losing his very life. However, he would not back down. By so doing, he was facing, up close, the same forces that were ravaging not just Viet Nam but countless other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. In defying those forces Ali was now the champion of not just the Muslim world but the entire Third World. As he left the 1960s stripped of his title but steeped in his dignity, Ali was the most popular man on Earth.
Throughout the ordeal he was forced to endure because of the stand he had taken Ali was acutely aware of the dangers he faced. As we mentioned earlier, he was always haunted by the specter of Emmitt Till’s murder. Shortly after he became Muslim, his most significant early mentor, Malcolm X, was assassinated. Soon after Ali’s defiance of the US war machine, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down, in all likelihood because of the stand he had taken against the war in Viet Nam. Yet Ali persevered and he never resorted to taking a bodyguard. He knew that God was with him. When asked if he has a bodyguard Ali responded,
I have one bodyguard. He has no eyes, yet He sees. He has no ears, yet He hears. He remembers everything with the aid of mighty memory. When He wishes to create a thing He orders it into existence, but His order is not conveyed with words, which take a tongue to follow it or the sound carrying ears. He hears the secrets of those under quiet thought. Ask me, who is that? That’s God, Allah. He’s my bodyguard, He’s your bodyguard.
Through his courage and defiant speech, Ali had captured the hearts of the struggling, oppressed Muslim and Third World masses. He commanded the global stage. Yet there was another audience God prepared Ali to capture, white America. Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the army occurred at a time when the movement to end the war in Viet Nam was just building up momentum. His courageous stand, taken as the heavyweight champion of the world instantly made Ali’s case the cause celebre of the antiwar movement. It also catapulted Ali, despite his involvement with the NOI, into the hearts of America’s rebellious white youths. As these youths, many of them attending elite universities, made their way into professional and public life, Ali would benefit in many tangible and intangible ways.
Not all of white America was antiwar though. Not all of white America had been able to cleanse itself of the persistent stench of racism to an extent that would allow it to embrace such a fiery young black voice. The conquest of larger swaths of white America would come not through Ali’s words but through his silence. As Ali, once famously dubbed the “Louisville Lip” owing to his loquaciousness, lost his speech he began to speak with the tongue of his state. It was that tongue that was able to touch the hearts of millions of white Americans who, pitiably, were not prepared to listen to the young Ali, or Malcolm, or Dr. King, or Fannie Lou Hamer, or the angry black youth flooding the streets of Detroit, Newark, Watts, Hartford, Chicago, Washington DC and elsewhere throughout the nation.
That silence allowed those who refused to listen to Ali or the masses he spoke for to finally hear him. God sent them a voice they could understand. That voice was a silent Ali. Contrary to what some may believe and have stated, that voice was not a passive voice of weakness, defeat and resignation. It was a powerful voice that roared through its dignity, love, compassion, perseverance, and its matchless affirmation of the ability of the human will to triumph over the most desperate circumstances. It roared in the presence of kings and presidents. It roared from the top of the Olympic stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. It roared, even after his passing, in Louisville, as Ali’s body wove through the streets of his childhood home en route to his final place of rest. It roars even today for those who care to listen.
Finally, it was also God’s plan was to enter Ali, in my estimation, into a relationship with Himself of love, nearness and service, a relationship Muslims refer to as Wilaya. Ali was once asked by a young man in Ireland what he planned to do after boxing? Ali’s response was that he planned to use his remaining days to prepare to meet his Lord. God facilitated that preparation, among other ways, by taking Ali’s speech. The ensuing silence led to the contemplation, serenity, reflection, devotion and service necessary to cement Ali’s relationship of Wilaya with his Lord.
Finally, just as God ordered Abraham to proclaim the pilgrimage among all nations of the world, promising him that He would ensure that every soul would hear his voice, He made sure that all of the nations of the world, even those who refused to listen, would hear Ali’s voice. It was always a voice calling to peace, and ultimately to love, mutual respect and goodwill towards all. As we stand today in a nation rife with polarizing hatreds, resurging racism, entrenching tribalisms and a debilitating refusal to listen to each other, it is time we started listening to Ali. It is God’s plan.
Imam Zaid Shakir
More Baby, Less Shark: Planning For Kids In The Masjid
Of all the challenges that your focus can face in prayer, there are few as insidious as Baby Shark.
Doo-doo-doo doo. Baby Shark, doo doo doo doo. Baby Shark.
If you are not a parent, or have the type of amnesia that parents sometimes develop once their kids grow up, then you might assume that not having kids in the masjid is actually a solution to Baby-Shark induced distraction.
The inconvenient (and often sticky) truth is that not having kids in the masjid is a serious problem, not a solution. No kids in the masjid means an entire generation of the Muslim community growing up outside of the Muslim community.
Restricting the presence of children and assigning masjid priority to fully-formed, quietly attentive, and spiritually disciplined attendees – like adults – is a bit like restricting health club membership to triathletes. You’re already fit. So can we please let someone else use the treadmill, even if they’re not using it as well as you could?
The masjid is the center of the community for all Muslims, not a sanctuary for the preservation of reverent silence. For a more detailed discussion on this, please see this great Soundvision article, Children in the Masjid, Making Space for Our Future.
For suggestions on how to help your children enjoy the masjid without Baby-Sharking the rest of the congregation to tears, I present the following recommendations.
Rather than assume your child will be entertained by nothing but the carpet and how many weird faces they can spot in the bilaterally symmetrical patterns, bring them something to play with. One way to do this is to prepare your child a special bag for the masjid.
Stock it with as many things applicable:
- A reusable water bottle: Select a bottle that your child can drink from on their own, preferably not likely to tip or spill onto the masjid carpet. No one appreciates a soggy sujood
- A nut-free snack: If you think it’s too much trouble to be considerate of people with life-threatening allergies, consider how much trouble it is to bury a child who dies of anaphylaxis. Children share snacks in the masjid, and that’s ok as long as no one dies.
- A small, quiet toy: The dollar store can be tremendously helpful in keeping your inventory fresh and financially feasible. Please be aware of swallowing hazards, since your child is likely to share the toy with others. One hopes.
- A sweater or blanket: Sitting for long periods of time in an air-conditioned building can make anyone cold.
- Art Supplies: Pack crayons, pencils, or markers IF you feel your child can refrain from drawing on the walls, or allowing other, smaller children from doing so. Magic Erasers don’t work on the prayer rug.
Critically- and I do mean critically- don’t let your children access the special masjid bag unless they are in the masjid. The last thing you want is for your child to be bored with its contents before they even make it to prayers. Storing this bag somewhere inaccessible to your child can help keep its contents fresh and interesting longer.
Non-parent tip: Keep allergen-free lollipops in your pocket. Reward the kids sitting nicely (with parents’ permission) and you have killed two birds with one stone.
- You’ve helped a child establish a happy memory and relationship to the masjid.
- Kids with lollipops in their mouths make less noise.
Do not pack:
Balls: Not even small ones, not even for small children. Your child may not have the gross-motor skills to kick or throw a ball at people who are praying, but there will always be children in the masjid who do. They will take your child’s ball, and they will play ball with it, because that’s what balls are for. Consider also the potential damage to light fixtures, ceiling fans, audio/video equipment, and the goodwill of people who get hit, run down, or kicked in the shins. The masjid is just not the place to play ball, even if the floor is green and has lines on it.
Scooters: Do not bring scooters, skateboards, heelies, or other mobility toys that would turn your child a faster-moving object than they already are. Your child’s long-term relationship with the community can be fostered by not crashing into it.
Slime: Slime and carpets do, in fact, go together. They go together so well as to be inextricable of one-another. Please, do not bring slime to the masjid.
Gum: Please, for the love of everyone’s socks, no gum.
Toy Guns, Play-weapons: It should go without saying. And yet, I have seen nerf guns, foam swords, and toy guns in masjid. Apart from the basic indoor etiquette of not sword-fighting, nor launching projectiles in a house of worship, please be sensitive. No one wants to see guns in their masjid.
Non-parent tip: If children playing near you are making “too much noise” smile and find another place to sit if possible. It is not always possible to ignore or move away from disruptions, but glaring, eye-rolling, and making tsk-tsk sounds is not likely to effect long-term change in either the child’s behavior or the parents’ strategic abilities. At best, you will embarrass the parents. At worst, you will push families away from the faith and the community while confirming the opinion that masjids are full of cranky, impatient people who wish kids didn’t exist in the masjid while criticizing Muslim youth for not being there.
Avoid Electronics. But if you can’t…
I am prefacing this suggestion with a disclaimer. Habitually putting your child on a smartphone or tablet so that you can “enjoy” the masjid without the “hassle” of you making sure they behave properly is not good parenting. A child being physically present but mentally absent in the masjid is not a long-term strategy that any parent should get behind.
Having said that, if you do give your kids a tablet or phone in the masjid, please disable Youtube and bring over-ear headphones.
Do not rely on YouTube Kids to take responsibility for your child’s content choices either. Long after Baby Shark has sunk to the depths of the internet, there will always be loud, inappropriate, or just plainly distracting and disturbing things that your child can access on it.
Instead of relying on Youtube at all, install child-friendly apps that you know won’t have external links embedded in their ads, and won’t lead to inadvertent, inappropriate viewing in case your child – or my child sitting next to them – click out of their app and into the great wide world. I highly recommend anything from the Toca Boca suite of apps.
Non-parent tip: If you see a child on a tablet, do not lecture their parent. As a special needs parent, there are times when I too allow my autistic son onto a tablet to prevent a meltdown or try to get just 15 more minutes out of him so I can finish attending a class. Do not automatically assume laziness or incompetence on behalf of parents whose children you see on an electronic device.
Reward for Success, in this life and the next
You show up in the masjid because you hope for a reward from Allah. As an adult, you have the ability to delay the gratification of this reward until well after you die. Your kids, however, don’t.
Motivate your kids with small rewards for small accomplishments as you remind them of the reward that Allah has for them too. You can choose to reward a child after every two rakah, or after every two days. How often you reward them, and what you choose to reward them for depends on their age and their capabilities.
Make dua for your kids when you reward them. If they get a small handful of gummy bears after a good evening at the masjid, pair it with a reminder of the bigger reward too.
“Here the icecream I promised you for doing awesome in the masjid today. May Allah grant you mountains of icecream in Jannah so big you can ski down them. Ameen.”
Non-parent tip: It’s not your job to discipline the children of others, but you can help praise them. Randomly compliment kids who are sitting nicely, sharing toys, playing quietly, or wearing cute headgear. Their parents will likely not mind.
Reinforce the rules – but define them first.
“Be Good In the Masjid” is a vastly different instruction depending on who you’re instructing. For a teenager, praying with the congregation is reasonable. For a two-year-old, not climbing the congregation is reasonable.
Define your rules and frame them in a positive context that your children can remember. Remind them of what they’re supposed to be doing rather than calling them out for what they are not. For example, no running in the masjid vs. please walk in the masjid.
Avoid saying this:
Try saying this instead:
|Stay out of my purse||Please use the toys in your bag|
|Don’t draw on the walls||Crayons only on the paper|
|No yelling||Please use your “inside” voice|
|No food on the carpet||Please have your snack in the hallway|
|Don’t run off||Stay where I can see you, which is from [here] to [here.]|
|No peeing the carpet||We’re taking a potty break now, and we’ll go again after the 4th rakah’.|
|No hitting||Hands nicely to yourself.|
While it might look like semantics, putting your energy into “To-Do’s” versus the “To-Don’ts” has long-term benefits. If your child is going to hear the same thing from you a hundred times before they get it right, you can help them by telling them what the right thing is. Think of the difference between the To-Do statement “Please use a tissue,” versus the To-Don’t statement of “Don’t pick your nose.” You can tell you kid a hundred times not to pick his or her nose, but if you never tell them to use a tissue, you’re missing the opportunity to replace bad behavior with its functional alternative.
Plan for Failure
Kids don’t walk the first time they try. They won’t sit nicely the first time you ask them to either. Decide what your exact plan is in case you have to retreat & regroup for another day.
- How much noise is too much? Do your kids know what you expect of them?
- Where are the physical boundaries you want your kids to remain in? Do they know what those boundaries are?
- For kids too small to recognize boundaries, how far are you ok with a little one toddling before you decide that the potential danger may not be worth it?
- Talk to your spouse or other children and get everyone on board. Being on the same page can look like different things according to different age groups. A plan of action can be “If we lose Junior Ibn Abu, we’re taking turns in prayer,” or “If you kick the Imam again, we’re all going home.”
- If your child is too small, too rowdy, or too grumpy to sit quietly at the masjid, please take turns with your spouse. The masjid is a sweet spiritual experience that both parents should be able to enjoy, even if that means taking turns.
Don’t Give up
If you find yourself frustrated with being unable to enjoy the masjid the way you did before your child starting sucking on prayer rugs, remember this:
Raising your children with love and patience is an act of worship, even if it’s not the act of worship you thought you were coming to the masjid for. No matter what your expectations are of them – or how far they are from meeting them – the ultimate goal is for your child to love Allah and love the House of Allah.
Aaaaaameeeeeeen.When they get things right, praise them and reward them, and remind them that Allah’s reward is coming too. When they get it wrong, remind them and forgive them, and don’t give up. The only way children learn to walk is by falling down over, and over, and over again.
Avoiding the masjid because your kids don’t behave correctly is like not allowing them to walk because they keep falling down. The key is to hold their hand until they get it right, and maintain close supervision until you can trust them to manage on their own, InshaAllah.
Etiquettes of Praying For Your Brother And Sister | Imam Omar Suleiman
Level up your duas by including those who least expect to be in your most private moments and get angels to say Ameen
It’s very common to find in the stories of the pious predecessors those who kept lists of people they prayed for on a nightly basis. This was a testimony to their sincerity, selflessness, and sacrifice. The basis of the act comes from a famous hadith:
“The supplication of a believer for his brother in his absence will certainly be answered. Every time he makes a supplication for good for his brother, the angel appointed for this particular task says Ameen! May it be for you too’.” [Sahih Muslim].
Since the supplication of the fasting person is accepted, this is the best time to do it. But it’s also important to be intentional about how you pray for someone. Any prayer for your brother or sister is accepted if sincere, but it becomes even more blessed when made personal and customized. Under normal circumstances, It’s also best to keep your personal prayers to yourself and without the knowledge of the person you’re praying for. Sometimes it’s ok to tell someone you’re praying for them for the sake of solidarity. But the general rule is that it’s best to conceal it even from them for the sake of sincerity. Also, make sure to include in your prayers people who would never expect you to pray for them.
Then as you start to make dua for someone, think about how you can diversify the supplications and people you make dua for so that you are 1. Touching numerous lives 2. Covering different issues and ailments 3. Guaranteeing that the return on your prayers is also comprehensive.
So, in particular, think of a person in each of the following categories and make dua for them daily:
- A person who has good qualities but hasn’t been guided to good faith. Make dua for guidance for that person so that perhaps Allah grants you further guidance.
- A person who is involved in good work, that Allah accepts from them and keeps them sincere so that perhaps Allah uses you for His cause and keeps you sincere.
- A person who is committing a public sin. Make dua that Allah forgives that person. Imagine if the dua is accepted for a major public sin, then the angels will say Ameen for you also and perhaps Allah will forgive you for both your public and private sins.
- A person who is ill, that Allah grants him or her full health so that perhaps Allah will either heal you if you are sick or preserve your health for you if you are healthy.
- A person who is struggling financially or suffering a worldly hardship, ask Allah to help that person so that perhaps Allah will help you in that same situation.
- A person who has a particular blessing that you wish for, that Allah maintains that blessing upon that person without making it a means of taking him or her away from goodness in the hereafter so that perhaps Allah will grant it for you or maintain your blessings upon you without making them a means of harm for you.
This is how you bring together the Prophetic tradition of praying for your brother/sister, and the other tradition about not truly believing until you love for your sister or brother what you love for yourself.
May Allah accept your Ramadan and Laylatul Qadr, as well as all of your good deeds. And may He forgive you for your sins, and distance you from all that distances you from Him. Ameen
Lesson 12 From Surah Al-Kahf
Tafsir of Verses 83-98
Alhamdulillah last session we were able to explore the meanings of verses 71-82. InshAllah tonight we’ll cover the meanings and lessons of verses 83-98. Just as a quick reminder the last passage of the Surah dealt with a very unique and interesting episode from the life of Musa ; the story of his encounter and journey with a man of God known as Khidr or Khadir. There are a number of very beneficial and practical lessons that we can learn from this particular story. That’s why it’s important for us to recite it, reflect over it and try to relate it to our daily lives.
In this next set of verses, Allah tells us the story of Dhul Qarnain, a just and righteous king who ruled over the entire known world of his time. He was a righteous servant of Allah to whom Allah granted might, power and sovereignty over the world along with knowledge and wisdom. He was a special servant of God. We’re told about his journeys to the east, west, and north as well as his building of a huge wall to prevent Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj from escaping. This narrative is the answer to the third question that the Quraysh asked the Prophet ﷺ after consulting with the Jews of Madinah. If you remember at the beginning of the Surah we talked about the sabab al-nuzūl or the circumstances and background in which the Surah was revealed.
Ibn ‘Abbas narrated that the Quraysh sent two men, Al-Nadr ibn Al-Hartih and ‘Uqbah ibn abi Mu’ayt, to the Jewish scholars of Madinah. The Quraysh told these two men to ask the Jews about Muhammad (saw), his characteristics and to inform them about some of his teachings because they knew more about Prophets since they were people of the book. So they arrived in Madinah and told the Rabbis about Muhammad (saw), about his characteristics, his message and his teachings. They said ask him three questions; if he answers them correctly then he is a prophet and a messenger. If he doesn’t answer them then he is a fake.
- سلوه عن ثلاث، فإن أخبركم بهن فهو نبي و إن لم يفعل فالرجل متقول
Ask him about the young men who left their city in the distant past and what happened to them, because this is a unique event. Ask him about the person who traveled the East and the West and what happened to him. Ask him about the spirit and what it is.
So they came back and posed these three questions to the Prophet ﷺ. The Prophet ﷺ told them that he would reply to them the next day expecting Allah ﷻ to send down revelation, but he forgot to say inshAllah. Allah ﷻ didn’t send down any revelation for the next fifteen days (one narration says 3) and the Quraysh began to assume that he didn’t know the answers and that his claims to prophethood were false. After 15 days Allah ﷻ revealed the entire Surah and reminded the Prophet ﷺ to always say InshAllah.
This is the fourth story mentioned in the Surah after the story of the people of the cave, the owner of the two gardens and the story of Musa (as) and Khidr. Allah ﷻ introduces the story by saying,
Verse 83: They ask you about Dhul-Qarnain. Say, “I shall now recite to you an account of him.”
Meaning the Quraysh asked you about Dhul Qarnain after consulting with the Jews of Madinah so tell them you will now recite some of his story to them that will answer their question.
Who was Dhul Qarnain?
The Quran doesn’t tell us the exact identity of Dhul Qarnain, why he was given that name, and what time period he lived in or the exact location of his travels and rule. All these details are extra and unnecessary and immaterial; no aspect of our belief or action depends on knowing these details. However, the commentators do get into discussions regarding these details in an attempt to present historical facts. So we’ll go through a brief discussion about who he was and his time period.
Some historical narratives mention that there were four people who ruled over the entire known world of their respective times, 2 believers and 2 non-believers. Throughout history, there have been a few people who were given the name Dhul Qarnain and interestingly they all had the title Alexander as well. Some people held the opinion that the Dhul Qarnain mentioned in the Quran is the famous Alexander the Great, the Greek who had Aristotle as his teacher. Although he fits the description of having ruled the East and the West he can’t be the Dhul Qarnain mentioned in the Quran because he was a non-believer. This is the conclusion of ibn Kathīr.
According to ibn Kathīr, Dhul Qarnain lived during the time period of Ibrahim (as) and he also mentions that Khidr was his minister. Other researchers are of the opinion that the Dhul Qarnain mentioned in the Quran is the ancient Persian king Cyrus the Great. In modern times this theory has been given more weight because of supporting evidence. As for the name Dhul Qarnain, it literally means “the person with two horns”. The name is due to his having reached the two ‘Horns’ of the Sun, east and west, where it rises and where it sets” during his journey. The following is what the Quran tells us about him.
Verse 84: Surely, We gave him power on earth and gave him means to (have) everything (he needs).
Meaning, Allah gave him all the material instruments and resources, knowledge, insight, and experience needed to be an effective ruler. Allah gave him everything he needed to maintain just rule, establish peace and extend his area of influence.
Verse 85-86: So he followed a course until when he reached the point of sunset, he found it setting into a murky spring, and found a people near it. We said, “O Dhul-Qarnain, either punish them or treat them well.”
He traveled towards the West until he reached where the sun sets, to the extreme west beyond which there was only an Ocean, which was most likely the Atlantic. There he found the sun setting into dark, muddy spring, meaning that it looked as if the sun were setting into the Sea. Depending on our own geographic location the sun seems to set into different places within the horizon. For example, from our perspective sometimes it looks like the sun is setting into the ocean, or behind a mountain or into the sand.
At this location, there was also a nation of disbelievers. So Allah told him through Ilham (inspiration) that he has a choice. He can either punish them for their disbelief or he could deal with them kindly, invite them to the truth and teach them. Then reward those who believe and punish those who choose to disbelieve. He chose to invite them to belief first and then reward the believers and punish the non-believers.
Verse 87-88: He said, “As for him who does wrong, we shall punish him, then he will be sent back to his Lord, and He will punish him with severe punishment. As for the one who believes and acts righteously, he will have the best (life) as reward, and we shall speak to him politely in our directions.”
This is an expression of his justice; Dhul Qarnain was a just ruler who ruled according to the dictates of faith, belief, and righteousness. Those who were presented with the truth, Islam, and then chose to consciously reject it would be punished in this world and then Allah will punish them in the next. And as for those who accept Islam, who affirm faith in Allah, His prophets and the last day and do righteous deeds will be rewarded. When those who do well in the community, pursuing a fair line of action in all their pursuits, receive a good reward for their actions, and when the unjust and oppressors receive a fair punishment and humiliation, then the whole community is motivated to follow the line of goodness. But when matters go wrong, and the unjust, oppressor and corrupt people are the ones who enjoy favor with the ruler, while those who are good and fair are persecuted, then the ruler’s power becomes no more than a tool of corruption and misery for the whole community. Nothing remains fair. The whole society sinks into chaos. He established peace and justice and this location and then decided to travel towards the East.
Verse 89-90: Thereafter, he followed a course until when he reached the point of sunrise; he found it rising over a people for whom We did not make any shelter against it.
Then he travelled towards the East and there he found a group of people who were not used to the ways of advanced people. They didn’t have homes or shelter or clothes to protect against the sun. These people were also non-believers so he dealt with them in the same way as he dealt with the previous people. He employed the same policy of fairness and justice and building a society on faith.
Verse 91: Thus it was, and Our knowledge fully comprehends whatever (wealth and equipment) he had with him.
Ibn Kathīr writes that the early commentators Mujahid and As-Suddi said, “This means that Allah knew everything about him and his army, and nothing was hidden from Him, even though they came from so many different nations and lands. For, ﴿لاَ يَخْفَى عَلَيْهِ شَىْءٌ فِي الاٌّرْضِ وَلاَ فِى السَّمَآءِ﴾ truly nothing is hidden from Allah in the Earth and in the heaven. After establishing justice and peace he decided to move north.
Verse 92-93: Thereafter he followed a course until he reached between the two mountains, he found by them a people who were almost unable to understand anything said.
Then he traveled towards the North until he reached a point between two mountains. There he found a nation of people who were barely able to understand what he was saying because of their foreign language. They said to him through a translator or through some other means.
Verse 94: They said, “O Dhul-Qarnain, the (tribes of) Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj (Gog and Magog) are mischief-makers on the earth. So, should we assign a payment for you on condition that you make a barrier between us and them?”
These people recognized that Dhul Qarnain was a fair and just ruler so they asked him for help against the menace of Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj. Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj is the name of a tribe of people. There’s a lot of speculation regarding who exactly they are and what area or region they’re from, but nothing can be said with certainty. They complained to Dhul Qarnain saying that they spread mischief and corruption in our lands by killing and destruction. If we pay you some money will you build a barrier between them and us to prevent them from reaching our town?
Verse 95: He said, “What my Lord has (already) given in my control is better (for me than the payment you are offering to me), so help me (only) with strength, and I shall make a barrier between you and them.
Basically, he told them that he doesn’t need their money, but he will need their help. Meaning, Allah ﷻ had given him such great wealth and power that he had no need of what they could offer him. He would provide this service simply for the sake of righteousness and doing good.
Verse 96: Bring me big pieces of iron.” (They proceeded accordingly) until when he leveled (the gap) between the two cliffs, he said, “Blow.” (They complied) until when he made it (like) fire, he said, “Bring me molten copper, and I will pour it upon this.”
So they brought pieces of iron and filled the space between the two mountains with it. Then they made this iron really hot and poured molten copper over it making a huge metal structure.
Verse 97: So they (Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj) were not able to climb it, nor were they able to make a hole in it.
They weren’t able to climb it because of its height nor were they able to make a hole in it because of its depth and strength. After building this giant barrier Dhul Qarnain said,
Verse 98: He said, “This is a mercy from my Lord. Then, when the promise of my Lord will come, He will make it leveled to the ground. The promise of my Lord is true.”
Meaning his ability to build such a strong and impenetrable barrier was a mercy from Allah ﷻ; it had nothing to do with his own strength or ability. The “promise of my Lord” is referring to the onset of the events that will lead to the Hour; the Day of Judgment. This includes the trials of Dajjāl and the return of ‘Isa . One of these events will be that the barrier will crumble to dust and Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj will wreak havoc across the Earth. And once their barrier is opened and they’re let loose they will descend from every elevation, attacking humanity from every single corner and angle. They will come rushing down the mountains in huge groups like waves crashing down upon the people while destroying and killing everything in sight.
There are many sings of the Day of Judgment mentioned in the Quran and Ahādīth of the Prophet . Some of them are minor and some of them are major. Some of them will happen further away from the Day of Judgment and others will happen very close to the Day of Judgment. For example, the Prophet being appointed the last and final Messenger is one of the signs that the Day of Judgment is near. As the Prophet told us, “I and the Last Hour have been sent like this and (he while doing it) joined the forefinger with the middle finger.”
- عَنْ أَنَسٍ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم “ بُعِثْتُ أَنَا وَالسَّاعَةُ كَهَاتَيْنِ ” . قَالَ وَضَمَّ السَّبَّابَةَ وَالْوُسْطَى .
Hudhaifah narrated that once the Companions were sitting together in the middle of a discussion and the Prophet (saw) came and asked what they were talking about. They said they were talking about the Day of Resurrection. The Prophet said, “Indeed the Hour will not come until you see 10 signs before it.” He mentioned the smoke, Dajjal, the beast, the rising of the sun from the west, the return of ‘Isa ibn Maryam (as), Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj and three land-slides (sink holes); one in the East, one in the West and one in the Arabian Peninsula, at the end of which fire would burn forth from Yemen, and would drive people to the place of their assembly.”
Two of the greatest trials, greatest fitnahs, this Ummah will face before the Day of Resurrection is the fitnah of Dajjal and the attack of Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj. Both of these are major signs of the Day of Judgment and will happen very close to each other. There’s a very lengthy hadīth recorded in Sahīh Muslim narrated by Al-Nawwās ibn Sam‘ān that gives the details of these two specific trials, meaning the trial of Dajjal and Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj. Basically, the narration tells us about the details of the fitnah of Dajjal; his description, how long he will stay and how exactly he’s going to test us. He will stay in this world for a period of forty days; but the first day will be equivalent to one year, the second day to one month and the rest of the days will be normal. He will move extremely swiftly across the Earth spreading his mischief and asking people to believe in him. He will continue to misguide and test people until ‘Isa (as) is sent back to this world. ‘Isa (as) will search for him until he catches up with him at the eastern gate of Ludd, located in Palestine, where he will kill him.
Allah will then reveal to him, “I have brought forth from amongst My creatures people against whom none will be able to fight. Take My servants safely to mount (Tūr).” Then Allah will send Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj, as Allah says: “And they, from every elevation, will descend.”
Another narration from Abu Sa’eed Al-Khudri describes what they will do when they descend upon the people. They will be seen coming down from the mountains like waves of people overwhelming humanity, killing and destroying everything in sight. ‘Isa (as) along with his companions will take refuge on Mount Tūr and the other Muslims will retreat to their own cities and strongholds. They (Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj) will drink all the water of the land until some of them will pass a river and drink it dry, then those who come after them will pass by that place and will say, “There used to be water here once.” Then there will be no one left except those who are in their strongholds and cities. Then one of them will say, “We have defeated the people of the earth; now the people of heaven are left.” One of them will shake his spear and hurl it into the sky, and it will come back stained with blood, as a test and a trial for them.
The narration of Al-Nawwās tells us that while this is happening, ‘Isa (as) and his companions will turn to Allah asking him to remove their distress. Allah will answer their prayer and send an epidemic that will completely wipe Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj out. Allah will send some sort of insect that will attack their necks, and in the morning they will all perish as one. Then `Isa and his companions will come down and they will not find a single spot on earth that is free from their putrefaction and stench. Then `Isa and his companions will again beseech Allah, and He will send birds with necks like those of Bactrian camels, and they will carry them and throw them wherever Allah wills. Then Allah will send rain continuously for forty days to cleanse and purify the earth. The earth will be washed clean until it looks like a mirror. Then it will be said to the earth: bring forth your fruit and restore your blessing. On that day a group of people will be able to eat from one pomegranate and seek shade under its skin, and everything will be blessed. A camel will give so much milk that it will be sufficient for a whole group of people, and a cow will give so much milk that it will be sufficient for a whole clan, and a sheep will be sufficient for an entire household. (This period of extraordinary peace, protection, and blessings will last for forty years) At that time Allah will send a pleasant wind which will reach beneath their armpits and will take the soul of every Muslim — or every believer — and there will be left only the most evil of people who will commit fornication like mules, and then the Hour will come upon them.”
From other narrations, we learn that Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj have already made a hole in their wall. Zainab bint Jahash narrated that once the Prophet woke up from sleep saying, “There is no being worthy of worship except Allah; there is a destruction in store for Arabia because of turmoil which is at hand, the barrier of Gog and Magog has opened so much. And Sufyan made a sign of ten with the help of his hand (in order to indicate the width of the gap) and I said: Allah’s Messenger, would we perish in spite of the fact that there would be good people amongst us? Thereupon he said: Of course, but only when the evil predominates.”
- عَنْ زَيْنَبَ بِنْتِ جَحْشٍ، أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم اسْتَيْقَظَ مِنْ نَوْمِهِ وَهُوَ يَقُولُ ” لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ وَيْلٌ لِلْعَرَبِ مِنْ شَرٍّ قَدِ اقْتَرَبَ فُتِحَ الْيَوْمَ مِنْ رَدْمِ يَأْجُوجَ وَمَأْجُوجَ مِثْلُ هَذِهِ ” . وَعَقَدَ سُفْيَانُ بِيَدِهِ عَشَرَةً . قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أَنَهْلِكُ وَفِينَا الصَّالِحُونَ قَالَ ” نَعَمْ إِذَا كَثُرَ الْخَبَثُ ” .
In a narration recorded in Tirmidhi Abu Hurairah narrated that the Prophet (saw) said: Ya’jūj and Ma’jūj continue digging through the wall built by Dhul Qarnain. Every day the dig so much that they reach the farthest part of the iron wall. They’re so close that light from the other side is almost visible. But at that point, they stop digging and decide that they will complete the task the following day. However, Allah makes the wall just as thick and strong as it was before so when they come back they have to start all over again. This cycle of digging and re-building will continue as long as Allah wills. Then one day when it has been decreed for them to be released they will dig all the way to the end and say, “If Allah wills we will cross it tomorrow. So when they return the next day they will find the wall just as they left it and break through wreaking havoc on the Earth.
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