Surat al-Kahf, 81-90
We wanted their Lord to give them, in exchange, a purer son than him, one more compassionate. (Surat al-Kahf, 81)
Many people find it hard to see the reason and goodness behind a family member's death, and death in general. However, as with everything else, there is much wisdom and goodness in this. One of these is stated to be "… giving them in exchange a purer son than him, one more compassionate." In this verse, Allah warns those who renounce their faith that He will replace them with more sincere believers:
O you who believe. If any of you renounce your religion, Allah will bring forward a people whom He loves and who love Him, humble to the believers, fierce to the unbelievers, who strive in the Way of Allah and do not fear the blame of any censurer. That is the unbounded favor of Allah, which He gives to whoever He wills. Allah is Boundless, All-Knowing. (Surat al-Ma'ida, 54)
Your Lord is the Rich Beyond Need, the Possessor of Mercy. If He willed, He could remove you and replace you with anything else He willed, just as He produced you from the descendants of another people. (Surat al-An`am, 133)
"As for the wall, it belonged to two young orphans in the town, and there was a treasure underneath it that belonged to them. Their father was one of the righteous, and your Lord wanted them to come of age and then to unearth their treasure as a mercy from Him. I did not do it of my own volition. That is the explanation of the things about which you were not able to restrain yourself." (Surat al-Kahf, 82)
The last wisdom behind his action, as explained by Khidhr (as), has to do with the orphans' wall. The verse discusses caring for the orphans of faithful parents. As we read elsewhere:
… They will ask you about the property of orphans. Say: "Managing it in their best interests is best." If you mix your property with theirs, they are your brothers. Allah knows one who plunders from one who improves. If Allah had wanted, He could have been hard on you. Allah is Almighty, All-Wise. (Surat al-Baqara, 220)
The believers, as pointed out here, take the utmost care to protect the orphans' rights and ensure their moral education, because of their good character and strict adherence to Allah's commands and recommendations. Muslims are generous to orphans: "Any wealth you give away should go to your parents and relatives, to orphans and the very poor, and travellers. Whatever good you do, Allah knows it" (Surat al-Baqara, 215). Even if the Muslims are in need, they give priority to these other people: "They give food, despite their love for it, to the poor, orphans, and captives" (Surat al-Insan, 8). Allah warns those who wrong orphans, as follows:
People who consume the orphan's property wrongfully consume nothing in their bellies except fire. They will roast in a Searing Blaze. (Surat an-Nisa', 10)
As the morals of Islam recommend, Khidhr (as) considers the orphans' welfare and invests in their future. If he had not restored the wall, it would have collapsed and revealed the treasure belonging to their father. As a result, they would have lost their treasure to the wrongdoers. Khidhr (as) repairs the wall so that it will last until the children grow up, thus keeping the treasure concealed so that they might benefit from it in the future, as their father had intended.
As we mentioned earlier, Khidhr's (as) compassion and devotion to orphans and the poor reflects Allah's attribute of compassion. By repairing the wall, Khidhr (as) points out the importance of taking precautions to protect the property of children. Khidhr (as) trusts Allah and builds a solid wall that will remain for as long as Allah wills.
Furthermore, the wall's collapse could have caused great injury or damage to passers-by, the surrounding plant and animal life, or be the apparent cause of someone's death. In addition, this verse could be indicating the importance of doing a professional job when restoring damaged walls.
In the verse, Khidhr (as) says: "I did not do it by my own volition." In other words, he is aware that Allah does everything within its predetermined destiny, and makes clear thereby, and in the best possible way, that none of his actions are the result of his own decision.
They will ask you about Dhu'l-Qarnayn. Say: "I will tell you something about him that is worthy of remembrance and mention." (Surat al-Kahf, 83)
Throughout history, many scholars have interpreted the narrative of Dhu'l-Qarnayn (as) in many ways. The verse says that it was revealed as a reminder to believers and is connected with the revelations of hidden meanings and reasons.
The Qur'an uses the narrative of Dhu'l-Qarnayn (as) to give more examples of Islamic values for the benefit of the believers, and relates events from which they can learn lessons. Their meanings are so clear and easily understandable that they can be taken literally and reflected upon in order to comprehend and learn. As Allah says:
Alif Lam Ra. A Book whose verses are perfected and then presented in detail from One Who is All-Wise, All-Aware. (Surah Hud, 1)
Believers need to read the Qur'an with a pure heart and the intention to learn, for Allah states in Surat al-Hajj 16 that the verses are "Clear Signs." Other verses on this subject are the following:
The month of Ramadan is the one in which the Qur'an was sent down as guidance for mankind, with Clear Signs containing guidance and discrimination… (Surat al-Baqara, 185)
… A Light has come to you from Allah, and a Clear Book. By it, Allah guides those who follow what pleases Him to the ways of Peace. He will bring them from the darkness to the light by His permission, and guide them to a straight path. (Surat al-Ma'ida, 15-16)
We gave him power and authority on Earth, and granted him a way to everything. So he followed a way. (Surat al-Kahf, 84-85)
This verse mentions power and authority. A nation's government must be powerful in politics, economics, and defense. If the government is weak, the country might come face-to-face with critical situations, especially via foreign powers who try to weaken it further as well as its internal opponents who accelerate their efforts toward the same goal. As a consequence, economic problems, rebellion, and revolts will occur and force the country into chaos. But Dhu'l-Qarnayn's (as) nation is far from this situation, for its government's rule is solid, rational, and strong.
"We granted him a way to everything" suggests that Dhu'l-Qarnayn (as) has been given the ability to solve every problem, which means that he is a very intelligent, sagacious, and perceptive believer. With these Allah-given faculties, he solves all complex issues quickly and removes the obstacles. Allah clears his path and supports him with superior knowledge. As will be seen later on, his qualities are well known and, because of this, his opinion, advice, and help are sought by others.
Until he reached the setting of the Sun, and found it setting in a muddy spring and found a people by it. We said: "Dhu'l-Qarnayn, you can either punish them or else you can treat them with gentleness." (Surat al-Kahf, 86)
We understand from the verse that first Dhu'l-Qarnayn (as) heads west, for where the sun sets could be the westernmost place on Earth. If the intended meaning is Europe, this could be Portugal, Spain or the Strait of Gibraltar. If the verse refers to Africa, its westernmost countries are Senegal and Mauritania. (Allah knows best.)
The verse also mentions that this western place is a "muddy spring." In Arabic, this phrase is `aynin hami'ah. `Ayn means "eye, spring, fountain, and source"; hami'ah means "black mud, smudged, and muddy."
Dhu'l-Qarnayn (as) could have been heading for Africa, as Bediuzzaman Said Nursi indicated. According to him:
Someone watching, from a great distance, the sunset on the horizon, will see this as the Sun dipping into the sea or as descending into the mountain depending behind what it sets. This obviously depends on the person's standpoint and the angle from which this event is being viewed.
Dhu'l-Qarnayn (as), upon reaching this land, meets its inhabitants. Allah tells him how to react to them: If they swear allegiance to him and lead a Muslim way of life, he is to treat them well; if they revolt against Allah's law, do not accept Islam, and do evil, he is to act accordingly.
Dhu'l-Qarnayn's (as) response will be according to the law. Those who do good and behave well will receive the same good treatment; those who choose evil, wickedness, and revolt will be treated appropriately. As only a judge has the authority to determine the appropriate response, we can deduce that Dhu'l-Qarnayn (as), besides being his nation's leader, was also empowered to judge. According to the law of that time, he could choose among imprisonment, arrest, and other forms of punishment.
The expressions in this verse can be interpreted to mean that Dhu'l-Qarnayn's (as) nation has a ruler who serves as the head of state, sole authority, and judge of the legal system. At this point in time, he is that person.
If the wrongdoing person or people revolt, resist, and attack, the nation will defend itself with all its might. The expression "you can punish them" could suggest that the nation can defend itself. While we are considering these means of punishment, Dhu'l-Qarnayn's (as) security and military forces must be mentioned too.
Scholars interpret "spring" in different ways. According to one, Dhu'l-Qarnayn (as), by means of a "cause," made a journey through space and saw the Sun fall into a black hole.2 Dying suns collapse within and form black holes. This type of star condenses, and the density of their matter increases dramatically. Stars three times the size of our Sun shrink to a diameter of a few kilometers, and their gravitational force increases so much that they swallow up light, sound, and even time. Their gravity pulls in other stars, and each star they swallow increases the gravitational force proportionately.3
Since they swallow up anything that comes within their gravitational pull, they are thought of as "black swamps." And, because they do not reflect light, they are called "black holes."
He said: "As for those who do wrong, we will punish them. Then they will be returned to their Lord, and He will punish them with a dreadful punishment." (Surat al-Kahf, 87)
From the expressions used in the verse, we understand that Dhu'l-Qarnayn (as) was a Muslim leader who ruled a Muslim nation. When he spoke, he reminded his people of Allah and the Hereafter. He spoke in a Muslim manner.
Dhu'l-Qarnayn (as) makes it clear that the wrongdoers will be punished according to the law of that time. Allah ordained that he would punish the unbelievers in this life; however, this is only the part of their punishment, for as our Lord states: "… And the punishment of the Hereafter is much greater, if they only knew" (Surat al-Qalam, 33).
Everyone who denies Allah's existence and the Hereafter, and who rejects the precepts of the Qur'an, will receive exactly what they deserve in this life as well as in the Hereafter. Many nations throughout history were punished severely in this life, for they rejected the Messengers' invitation to believe. The verses, which reveal the destruction of these nations, also reveal that the punishment of the Hereafter is far worse and should be more feared by people. As Allah says:
So We sent a howling wind against them on disastrous ill-fated days to make them taste the punishment of degradation in this world. The punishment of the Hereafter is even more degrading. They will not be helped. (Surah Fussilat, 16)
That is how We repay anyone who is profligate and does not believe in the Signs of his Lord. The punishment of the Hereafter is much harsher and longer lasting. (Surah Ta Ha, 127)
The punishment awaiting the unbelievers in Hell is described as "dreadful." Various descriptions in the Qur'an inform us that such suffering is far more painful than what we experience in this world. For this reason, people should ponder and fear the punishment in the Hereafter before they worry about their suffering here, for that fear could lead them to repent, turn away from denial, and submit to Allah.
"But as for him who believes and acts rightly, he will receive the best of rewards, and We will issue a command, making things easy for him." (Surat al-Kahf, 88)
We understand from this verse that Dhu'l-Qarnayn (as) is not just his nation's leader and judge, but also a preaching Muslim calling to faith. It is clear that he educates and rules his people according to Allah's good pleasure.
Dhu'l-Qarnayn (as) immediately calls the people he meets to believe in Allah, devotion, the good deeds prescribed by the Qur'an, and to perform the prayers and acts of worship. He draws their attention, in order to encourage them, to the rewards that they are promised in this world and the next. Every Messenger makes this call to his nation. The Prophets incessantly called the people to guidance, and developed various strategies to stir their consciences.
In addition, the verse indicates that whatever the people's responses may be, the believers are to act with determination and to obey Allah's order to "command the right and forbid the wrong." This is an important responsibility for sincere believers, just as it was for the Prophets, as the following verse points out:
Let there be a community among you who call to the good, enjoin the right, and forbid the wrong. They are the ones who have success. (Surah Al `Imran, 104)
Another important piece of information here is to make things easy for the Muslims and not to complicate matters for them. Things should be made easy, comfortable, and pleasant for good people in their actions, decisions, and everyday affairs. Our Lord reminds the believers of this by saying: "… Allah desires ease for you; He does not desire difficulty for you…" (Surat al-Baqara, 185) and: "We have made the Qur'an easy to remember. But is there any rememberer there?" (Surat al-Qamar, 17). Therefore, the believers must know that choosing the easier path is a requirement of the Qur'an. In addition, they must not let Allah's promise, "We will ease you to the Easy Way" (Surat al-A`la, 8), slip their mind. As Allah says:
Strive for Allah with the striving due to Him. He has selected you and not placed any constraint upon you in the religion—the religion of your forefather Ibrahim. He named you Muslims before and also in this, so that the Messenger could be a witness over you and so you could be witnesses over all mankind. So establish prayer, pay the alms, and hold fast to Allah. He is your Protector—the Best Protector, the Best Helper. (Surat al-Hajj, 78)
Then he followed a way until he reached the rising of the Sun, and found it rising on a people to whom We had not given any shelter from it. We had encompassed that he had "knowledge comprising essence" near him [or all that he had in knowledge]. (Surat al-Kahf, 89-91)
The second time Dhu'l-Qarnayn (as) sets off, he goes east. Applying the verse to a map, he could have gone to Korea, China, or Manchuria (northern China). The verse mentions "a people to whom We had not given any shelter from the Sun." The Arabic word for shelter is "sitr" (to cover, to hide). It is derived from the root "satara." Thus, in the context of this verse, it means "a cover in the form of cloths or a building."
Therefore, it can be assumed that these people did not live in houses but rather in the open, wide land. They had no forms of shelter or devices like umbrellas. They may have been nomadic, or a people who worked at night and spent the days in underground shelters. Or, they might have been a people who had no clothes or civilization. Omer Nasuhi Bilmen interprets the verse in this way:
Surat al-Kahf 91 speaks of Dhu'l-Qarnayn's (as) knowledge of the essence of things. The Arabic word for "knowledge comprising the essence" is "khubr," which means "to know thoroughly, to be fully acquainted with the truth."
This knowledge is a special knowledge that Allah gives only to His chosen few. As Surat al-Kahf 68 indicates above, Khidhr (as) also was graced with this special knowledge.