DHUL-QARNAYN'S SPACE TRAVEL
 es-Suyûtî, ed-Dürrü’l-Mensûr, V.5, p.450
 Ibn Kathir, a.g.e., V.2, p.103
 Saheeh Ibn Maajah, 3298
 Transmitted by Wahb b.Munabbih
In every age, there have been certain verses of the Quran that could not be fathomed. Surah al-Kahf is one of the most interesting Surahs of the Quran. This surah is very ambiguous, in the sense that every story in this Surah contains subtle and profound meanings. The story of Moses and Khidr (pbut) is placed right before the story of Dhul-Qarnayn, and it recounts the patience of Moses who couldn’t make any sense of – even perceived as evil- the actions of Khidr, and it tells his learning of the true nature of those actions when his patience was exhausted. The main message of that story is: Even if you don’t comprehend the insights of certain things that came from God, keep holding on tenaciously to God and His religion. In order to test whether we have internalized this message or not, God narrates a very ambiguous story, story of Dhul-Qarnayn right after the story of Moses and Khidr (pbut). Since it is sprinkled with many weird phrases and expressions, some people have claimed that this story contradicts science and logic. Now, I am going to try to explain this story under the light of science. The framework of this study is taken from the Turkish theologian İskender Türe’s book which unfortunately has not been translated into English: “Zülkarneyn: Kur’an’da Uzaya Seyahati Anlatılan İnsan (Dhul-Qarnayn: The Man Whose Space Travel is Narrated in the Quran)”
Every piece of information I am going to give is underlain by a long and deep process of investigation, and not a superficial allegation. We are not the first people who claim that Dhul-Qarnayn’s journeys actually took place in the heavens. Kâ`b al-Ahbâr (r.a.) had claimed that Dhul-Qarnayn tied his horse to a star, and he was warned by Muawiya for saying so. Also, Ali ibn Abi Talib(r.a.) has stated that God the Almighty subjugated for Dhul-Qarnayn the clouds to carry him wherever he wished. The story begins with these verses:
83- And they ask you about Dhul-Qarnayn. Say, "I will recite to you about him a report."
84- Indeed We established him upon the earth, and We gave him to everything a way (SABAB).
85- So he followed (ATBAA) a way (SABAB).
Dhul-Qarnayn is granted SABAB by God. Although it is merely translated as “a way”, the word SABAB is crucial for understanding this story because of its versatile meaning and its repetition throughout the story. According to Tacu’l-Arus, the original meaning of SABAB is “a rope that is used to climb to a palm tree”. Namely, it is a means to reach something high and above. “Zayd bin Aslam” has explained the meaning of this word in the Quran as “a way to heaven.” The word SABAB is mentioned 5 times in the Quran and in 4 of them, it is used in the meaning of “a means to reach the heavens”.
Or is theirs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and what is between them? Then let them ASCEND through any ways of Access (SABAB). (Surah Sad, 10)
And Pharaoh said, "O Haman, construct for me a tower that I might reach the ways (SABAB), The ways (SABAB) into the heavens, so that I may look at the deity of Moses; (Surah Ghafir, 36-37)
Whoever has ever surmised that God will never give him victory in the present life and the Hereafter, then let him extend forth a means (SABAB) to the heaven, thereafter let him cut it off… (Surah Al-Haj, 15)
The usage of this word in this fashion throughout the Quran suggests that the SABAB that is followed by Dhul-Qarnayn led him to the heavens. Also, the word ATBAA that is used in the verse means “to obey, to be subject to”. This word implies that Dhul-Qarnayn had no control over this journey, rather, he was merely a passenger.
Before looking into the details about Dhul-Qarnayn’s journeys, we should have a look at the Milky Way Galaxy to envision the journeys more easily. This image depicts for us the Milky Way according to the latest scientific data and it is taken from a completely secular source:
86- Until, when he reached the setting-place of the sun (SHAMS), he found it setting in a spring of dark mud (AAYNIN HAMIAH), and he found near it a people…
The sun does not set on the earth. It is actually in space when we see it setting, so it is impossible to define anywhere where the sun sets on the face of the earth. In order to understand where the sun literally sets, we need to know where it bounds for. The Quran gives us the answer in Surah Yasin: “And the sun runs [on course] toward its stopping point. That is the determination of the Exalted in Might, the Knowing. (Surah Yasin 38)” According to this verse, the Sun is moving towards its stopping point which Surah Al-Kahf refers to as the “setting point”. This course is called the Solar Apex in astronomy and we can assume than Dhul Qarnayn went towards the Solar Apex until he reached its end. What he witnessed at its end is even more intriguing. He witnessed “Shams”(a word which can refer to any star although the translations usually use “the Sun”) setting in “AAYNIN HAMIAH”, which is usually translated as ‘a spring of dark mud’ but can correspond to the black hole in contemporary terms. Considering that there wasn’t any Arabic word for the black hole 1400 years ago, “AAYNIN HAMIAH” is a great expression to describe it. The word “AAYN” means “eye” in Arabic. Eyes and black holes are very similar in the sense that they both are holes that absorb light. We can think of the Solar Apex as a train that ends up in a black hole, and our Sun is in the middle of this train. The black hole that is mentioned in the verse most likely refers to the supermassive black hole that is located at the center of the Milky Way.
86- “…and he found near it a people. God said, "O Dhul-Qarnayn, either you torment [them] or else adopt among them [a way of] goodness."
The bizarre point in the second part of the verse is the word “adhaab” which is translated as “torment”. Why would God allow Dhul-Qarnayn to torment these people? The answer is simple. These people were approaching the black hole along with their star. They would’ve ended up in the black hole If Dhul-Qarnayn hadn’t saved them, and this surely would be a torment.
87- 88 He said, "As for one who wrongs, we will torment him. Then he will be returned to his Lord, and He will torment him with a terrible torment. But as for one who believes and does righteousness, he will have a reward of Paradise, and we will speak to him from our command with ease.”
89-90-91 Then he followed (ATBAA) a way (SABAB). Until, when he came to the rising-place of the Sun (Shams), he found it rising on a people for whom We had not made against it any shield. Thus. And We had encompassed [all] that he had in knowledge.
This verse talks about the second journey of Dhul-Qarnayn, and this time the journey is towards the opposite direction, towards the Solar Antapex. The expression of “having no shield against the Sun (star)” gives the impression that the planet of these people lacked an atmosphere, for atmosphere is a shield between creatures and the Sun. The atmosphere reflects back the harmful radiations emitted from the Sun, and therefore it is a shield between us and the Sun. Dhul-Qarnayn came to the birthplace of the Sun, and he probably visited a newly formed planet that doesn’t have an atmosphere yet. Another possible interpretation is that since God likens the night to a cover surrounding us in a couple of verses, having no shield against the star would mean living in a planet where it never gets dark. This is scientifically possible if there is a binary Star that revolves in a particular period. Most stars in the universe (approximately 85%) are in binary star systems. One thing that is certain is that he went to the star-forming region in our galaxy.
92-93 Then he followed(ATBAA) a way(SABAB). Until, when he reached between the two barriers (SUDDEYN), he found close to them a people who almost did not comprehend speech.
This is the third journey of Dhul-Qarnayn. If we probe into this verse, we can see that the word “SUDDAYN”, which is translated as “barrier” causes some controversy. Despite the fact that many translators assume this word to denote mountains, this is only a hypothesis. Since the Arabic language does not incorporate vowels, there is also controversy in how this word should be read. The qira’at scholars except Aasim have read this word as “SUDDAYN”, and it means the invisible barrier, cloud, fog etc. according to ancient dictionaries; and Aasim has read this word as “SADDEYN”, which means the concrete and visible barrier according to ancient dictionaries. In order to grip a more accurate insight, we can have a look at another verse from Surah Yasin that contains the same word.
“And We have put before them a barrier(SUDDE/SADDE) and behind them a barrier and covered them, so they do not see. (Surah Yasin 9)”
This verse also should be read as “SUDDE” because the barrier that God depicts here is an invisible barrier that obscures the vision of disbelievers’ hearts, we all know that disbelievers are not enclosed by concrete barriers. Since these two verses are subject to the same controversy, they should be read the same way and have the same meaning. Considering the above-mentioned meanings of “SUDDEYN”, we can now see that there is a term that corresponds exactly to “SUDDEYN” in astronomy: Nebula. Dhul-Qarnayn must have reached a planet between two Nebulas in space during his third journey. This two-sided Nebula may be the Double Helix Nebula that is located near the center of our galaxy.
94- They said, "O Dhul-Qarnayn, indeed Gog and Magog are [great] corrupters in the land. So may we assign for you an expenditure that you might make between us and them a barrier (SUDDE)?"
We come across the word “SUDDE” again in this verse. The people whom Dhul-Qarnayn spoke to in this planet asks him to make an invisible barrier (SUDDE) against Gog and Magog. The concept of invisible barriers may be represented by missile defense shields or anti-virus programs in contemporary terms. The word “Al-Ard” that is translated as “land” doesn’t have to refer to the Earth, it can refer to any place on which it is said. This is the opinion of the scholars of Islam.
95- He said, "That in which my Lord has established (MAKKANE) me is better, but assist me with strength; I will make between you and them a barrier (RADM).
The word “MAKKANE” is derived from “makaan” which means “place”. So this verse has a meaning “where God put me in is better” embedded in it. It alludes to the first verse of this story:
84- Indeed We established (MAKKANE) him upon the earth, and We gave him to everything a way (SABAB).
So by looking at these two verses, we can deduce that Dhul-Qarnayn thinks the Earth is better than their planet and he wants to return to the Earth after his job is over. Although people ask him to make SUDDE, Dhul-Qarnayn tells them that he is going to make RADM. RADM means multiple layers of barrier. One of the meanings of it mentioned in old dictionaries such as Lisan al-Arab is “a cloud with multiple layers”.
96- Bring me sheets of iron" - until, when he had leveled [them] between the two cliffs, he said, "Blow [with bellows]," until when he had made it [like] fire, he said, "Bring me, that I may pour over it molten copper."
This verse is supposed to describe how this barrier is built, however, it doesn’t resemble any of the walls on the earth. A number of scholars have stated that this wall is impossible to be built especially with the poor technology of those times, therefore this should be regarded as a miracle of Dhul-Qarnayn. Some scholars including Muhammed Hamdi Yazır have told that this barrier is probably figurative rather than a substantial one. We know that Gog and Magog will surmount their barrier in the End Times and attack whole mankind, as stated in the subsequent verses:
97- And (Gog and Magog) were not able to surmount, nor could they pierce (it).
98- He said, "This is a mercy from my Lord. Then when the promise of my Lord comes, He will make it pounded (into dust); and the promise of my Lord has (always) been true."
Also in Surah Al-Anbya, God says:
“Until the Gog and Magog are let through (their barrier), and they swiftly swarm from every elevated place (Al-Anbya 96).”
However, we know that there is no barrier on the earth that confines a huge number of people. Even if there were, it would have been surmounted by planes and technological equipment. According to a prophetic tradition, Gog and Magog outnumber the rest of the world population. So those who believe that this barrier is located on the earth have to accept that today there are billions of people on the earth who are confined in walls and are unknown to the rest of mankind. They also must believe that these people who don’t have any trace nor any technology will overpower the whole mankind during a war. One doesn’t have to be a genius to realize that the barrier of Gog and Magog is nowhere on the earth since we know every inch of the earth in this century.
The process being mentioned here is actually a chemical process. The hot iron is a great catalyst and its reaction with molten copper gives out methane and hydrogen gas as long as one blows oxygen to it. The verb in this verse also implies “blowing”, therefore we can infer that this process creates hydrogen and methane, two very flammable gases. Since these gases are very light, they immediately fly up and usually escape to other planets with bigger masses because of their force of attraction. This is called “atmospheric escape” in astronomy and this is the main reason why the Moon doesn’t have an atmosphere. The gases on the Moon can easily fly over to the Earth, that’s why the Earth’s atmosphere is partially imported from the moon. The gases that Dhul-Qarnayn created might have passed over to the planet of Gog and Magog and might have formed multiple layers of gases (methane and hydrogen) in this planet, just like the word “RADM” implies. We cannot know what kind of protection this atmospheric barrier would provide unless we acquire more knowledge about the planet of Gog and Magog, it is possible that this barrier obscures the vision of Gog and Magog by preventing the sunlight (starlight) from penetrating into their planet. Let’s have a look at a prophetic narration describing the barrier of Gog and Magog.
“ …Gog and Magog are digging every day until they can almost see sunlight, then the one who is in charge of them says, “Go back, we will dig again tomorrow.” Then God restores (the barrier) and makes it stronger than it was. (This will continue) until the appointed time…”
This narration favors the opinion that this barrier is made of gas. A concrete wall wouldn’t prevent sunlight from coming in because it wouldn’t engulf Gog and Magog completely. However, the narration suggests that Gog and Magog are deprived of sunlight. Moreover, restoring a concrete barrier every day would be impossible; on the other hand, a barrier that is made of gas would restore itself spontaneously since gases can flow and fill up every hole that is made in them.
Now, our planet might be approaching the planet of Gog and Magog; and their next target is going to be our planet when these two planets come close to each other and when God lets them penetrate through their barrier. You may think that this interpretation is overdependent upon interpretation rather than the Scripture; however, the conventional interpretation depends substantially on interpretation rather than the Scripture as well. Dhul-Qarnayn is conventionally regarded as a powerful king with huge armies although the Scripture doesn’t mention any of these. Now let’s mention some narrations that support our view in regards to Gog and Magog.
“Gog and Magog are people who have half the height of an average man; on their hands they have claws instead of nails; they have molars and canines like predators, large ears, one of which serves them as bed, the other as cover; there is no man or woman among them whose death is not known in advance. A woman does not die before having given birth to a thousand children; the same goes for men.”
They are from the unusual children of Adam. That is Adam had a wet dream, the semen intermingled with the earth and they were created from that earth."
These narrations illustrate that Gog and Magog have non-human features. The narrations that state they have only one parent (Adam (pbuh)) and they reproduce rapidly might allude to asexual reproduction. It is very likely that Gog and Magog are extraterrestrials as far as the descriptions of their physical appearances are concerned.
Describing space travel with the vocabulary that belongs to 1400 years ago, at the times when even the phenomenon of space wasn’t known is very difficult. On top of that this description must be so implicit that it shouldn’t bother nor confuse anyone who is reading it at those times. We should keep these facts in mind while evaluating the story of Dhul-Qarnayn. This perspective I tried to articulate here is one of the perceptions that cast light on the story of Dhul-Qarnayn. One can also argue that these journeys were not only space travels, but also time travels. I strived to present to you what I found most convincing among these opinions. I believe that Quranic verses contain infinitely many layers of meanings that cannot be understood by everyone reading them, and multiple different interpretations can be valid at the same time for a single verse. I do not claim that this is the only true interpretation of the verses describing Dhul-Qarnayn’s journeys, but at least it should upon up new perspectives in your mind. And God knows best...