One, Hakim Mirza Mahmood Irani, in his letter dated 2nd September, 1902, has asked me to explain the meaning of the verse:
First of all, let it be clear that this verse holds so many secrets that it is impossible to encompass them all, and under the apparent meaning of this verse lie meanings that are not so easily understood. The meaning which God has disclosed to me is that when this verse is read along with the preceding and following verses, it constitutes a prophecy about the Promised Messiah and specifies the time of his advent. To elaborate this point, let me say that the Promised Messiah is also Dhulqarnain, because the Arabic word qarn connotes a century, and this verse indicates that the birth and advent of the Promised Messiah will span two centuries. And this clearly applies to me, for I have lived in two centuries according to every calendar I know of, be it Islamic, Christian or Bikrami, and my birth and advent have not been confined to a single century, and, in this sense, I am Dhulqarnain. In some Traditions, too, the Promised Messiah has been called Dhulqarnain in this very sense.
The interpretation of the rest of this verse, which is in the form of a prophecy, is that two major nations have been given the glad tidings of the Coming of the Promised Messiah, and it is to them that the Messiah will primarily address himself. God Almighty says, in the form of a metaphor, that the Promised Messiah, or Dhulqarnain, will encounter two nations in the course of his journey. First, he will find a nation sitting in the dark alongside a foul smelling pool of water that is not fit to drink, and is so full of stinking mud that it can hardly be called water. This metaphor refers to the Christians who are in the dark and have turned the Messianic spring into a pool of stinking mud due to their misdeeds. In the second part of his journey, the Promised Messiah, or Dhulqarnain, comes upon a people sitting directly under the blazing sun with no shelter. Though they do not partake of the light of the sun, its heat scorches their bodies and darkens their skins. These are the Muslims, who, despite being blessed with the sun of Divine Unity — Tauhid — have not derived any real benefit from it, and have only been scorched by its blaze. In other words, they have lost the true beauty and true moral qualities of faith and have instead partaken of bigotry, malice, fierceness and barbarity.
Thus, God Almighty has indicated that the Promised Messiah, who is Dhulqarnain, will appear at a time when the Christians will be in darkness, and stinking mud — which is hama’ in Arabic — will be their lot, and the Muslims will have only a superficial belief in the Unity of God, and will suffer from the sunburns of bigotry and barbarity, with no spiritual values left intact.
Then, the Messiah, who is Dhulqarnain, will come across a third people who will be suffering at the hands of Gog and Magog. These people will be deeply religious and pious by nature, and will seek the help of Dhulqarnain (the Promised Messiah) against the aggression of Gog and Magog. He will erect a bright rampart for them, i.e., he will teach them strong arguments in support of Islam which will finally repulse the attacks of Gog and Magog. He will wipe their tears, help them in every way and will stand by them. These are the people who accept me.
This is a grand prophecy which tells about my advent, my time and my Jama‘at. Blessed is he who reads these prophecies with care. The Holy Qur’an contains many prophecies of this kind whereby it speaks about someone in the past, but its purpose is to give news about the future. Surah Yusuf, for instance, is only a narrative on the face of it, but it contains the hidden prophecy that just as Joseph was initially looked down upon by his brothers but was made their chief in the end, the same will happen to the Quraish. They rejected the Holy Prophet(sa) and expelled him from Mecca, but he who had been rejected became their leader and their chief.
Although the Holy Quran contains repeated prophecies about the Promised Messiah, i.e., myself, people who lack spiritual insight still say that the Holy Book does not mention the Promised Messiah at all. Such people are much like the Christians who to this day insist that the Bible contains no prophecy about the Holy Prophet(sa).
MIRZA GHULAM AHMAD OF QADIAN