This surah ends with one more story and a final warning to believe.

The key figure in this last story is Dhu ‘l-Qarnayn, translated “the two-horned one” or “the King of Two-Horns.”  There is no clue from the text who this might be, especially as this is a parable, but Alexander the Great has most often been suggested.  What is clear is that this king has great power over both the East and the West.  Still, he does not presume that he is Master of all; he knows his power comes from God.

In the first of three episode, Dhu ‘l-Qarnayn travels as far as he can to the west (Europe, if this is Alexander the Great).  Here he finds people he must choose to rule in the right manner.  With all imaginable power, his options were wide open.  Appropriately, he chooses to rule with justice, punishing or rewarding as merited.  With as much power as he possessed he could have assumed an arrogance whereby he declared himself a god, but instead he acknowledged that supreme power and judgment rested with God.

Next, Dhu’l-Qarnayn heads East to the “rising of the sun” where he meets a primitive people with little in the way of technology.  At the same time, they possess a contentment the first people did not have.  The king leaves them as they are, resisting the urge to change their way of life to adhere to his own sensibilities.  Abdullah Yusuf Ali describes the point of this short segment this way:

Power is apt to be intolerant and arrogant, and to interfere in everything that does not accord with its own glorification. Not so Dhu al Qarnayn. He recognised his own limitations in the sight of God: man never completely understands his own position, but if he devoutly looks to God, he will live and let live. This is the spiritual lesson from the second episode.

16th Century Persian miniature of Dhu 'l-Qarnayn building the wall

Finally, the King comes to a town nestled in a valley between the protection of two tall mountains.  This group of people are skilled in metalwork but have been oppressed by Gog and Magog.  They plead with the King to build an impassable barrier that would shield them from their oppressors and offer tribute in return. Dhu ‘l-Qarnayn agrees, but refuses tribute knowing that the power he has been given by God requires the responsibility to care for the oppressed as well.  He leads the people in building a massive metal and iron wall to close off the mountain pass.  This third episode ends with the point we are supposed to gather: human power can accomplish great feats, but there is a Power that can demolish even the mightiest of walls. 

Power is given to be used to bring justice and never as a vehicle for oppression.  Power must be wielded with humility and understanding, resisting the urge to impose one’s own way of doing things (ironically, the exact opposite to what Alexander did with his agenda of Hellenism).  True power knows there is a power greater than itself.

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