THE CROWN OF ALEXANDER
And they ask you questions about Dhu’l-Qarnain. Say:
‘I’ll recite to you a remembrance of him’.
Sikandar Rumi often was lonely, but not alone. Friendship was very valuable to him, but, as it is with everyone, he had few friends. Once he received a letter wherein he was told that one of his best friends, his personal physician was poisoning him.
He received this letter at the same time that this very friend offered him something to drink. He showed the letter to his friend, while immediately drinking from the cup offered by his friend.
Was not this to express a resolution, that if his friends had a mind to send him out of the world, he was willing to give them opportunity to do it?
Sikandar summoned an Indian physician, who was able to diagnose your health from a drop of urine, and asked him about the cause of illness that makes you weep with pain. The Indian hakim answered:
“When you overeat and aren’t mindful of what you consume during meals, you’ll grow ill. A healthy person will not eat too much. A great human being is the one who seeks to be healthy”.
“Now I’ll prepare an ointment for you from herbs picked in various places and by using it you’ll stay in good health. Your appetites will increase, but if you overeat there will be no harmful results. If you do as I instruct you, your blood and marrow will grow strong and your body more energetic, your heart will feel the happiness of springtime, your cheeks will flush with health and you’ll be eager to do noble acts. Your hair won’t turn white”.
“The eloquent hakim then made his way into the mountains, with a few of his companions. His knowledge of plants was extensive, and he knew both poisons and their antidotes. He gathered a great many mountain herbs, throwing away the useless ones and choosing those that were beneficial. These he used to prepare the ointment. He rubbed Sikandar’s body with the concoction. For years the king’s body remained healthy”.
“Then Sikandar began to devote his nights to carousing rather than to sleep. His mind was filled with the desire for women. He sought out soft, enticing places to be with him. This way of life weakened the king, but he gave no thought to the harm he was doing his body”.
“One day the physician noticed signs of weakness in Sikandar’s urine and said to him: ‘There is no doubt that a young man grows old quickly by sleeping with women. It looks to me as though you haven’t slept properly for three nights. Tell me, am I right?”
“Sikandar answered: “I am perfectly well. My body hasn’t a trace of weakness in it”. The Indian physician did not agree with him. That night the hakim studied his books and prepared a remedy against bodily infirmities”.
“That very night the king slept alone, unaccompanied by any of his beautiful womenfolk. At sunrise the doctor came to examine his urine. He discovered that there were no harmful signs in it this time and threw away the medication he’d mixed”.
“Sikandar Rumi asked him why. The hakim replied: “Last night the ruler of the world gave no thought to finding a companion. You’ve slept alone through the darkness. That is why, my lord, you need no medicine”.”
“Sikandar laughed and was pleased to be free of the danger of illness. He presented the physician a robe of honour, a purse of gold and a black horse with golden bells attached to its bridle. He said to the hakim: “May wisdom always guide your noble soul! May the world never be without India!””
Sikandar received a proposal to bring about peace. The opposing king offered him a marriage with one of his daughters.
Parmenio said to Sikandar: “If I’d be Sikandar, I’d accept this proposal”.
Sikandar said to Parmenio: “If I’d be Parmenio, I’d accept this proposal”.
Sikandar gave the order that a certain golden goblet be filled with cold water. Everybody then drank therefrom, from dawn to dusk, but the water therein didn’t decrease. Sikandar Rumi said to the wisest philosopher of his time: “You mustn’t hide from me what’s happening here! Explain to me how it is that the water in this cup is always replenished! Is it something to do with the stars? Is it a skill the Indians possess?”
“The sage answered: “Your majesty! This goblet isn’t something to make light of. It took the makers many years and a great deal of toil to fashion this. Astrologers from every country worked on it through bright days and dark nights, consulting their tables for days on end. Think of what happens here as analogous to magnetism, which attracts iron. In a similar way this cup attracts moisture from the turning heavens, but it does so in such a subtle fashion that human eyes cannot see the process”.”
Sikandar Rumi made use of the research data of Aristotle about urban politics. Aristotle had made case studies about 150 cities (sing.: polis). Sikandar was very much interested in a note about Thebes.
He found out that Epaminondas was a man of exceptional virtue and political capability. Epaminondas had created a victorious army and, for quite some time, was able to harvest the fruits of this victory in Thebes. It is more difficult to properly organize peace after a war, than winning this war.
Sikandar gave a remarkable response to Polypercon, who was persuading him to take the advantage of the night’s obscurity to fall upon his Persian adversary, Darius. “By no means,” said he. “It is not for such a man as I am to steal a victory”.
Malo me fortunae poeniteat, quam victoria pudeat.
I had rather complain of ill-fortune,
Than be ashamed of victory.
Some great men have been able to remain serene and calm in the highest enterprises and most important affairs. Sikandar Rumi, on the day assigned for that furious battle betwixt him and Darius, slept so profoundly and so long in the morning, that Parmenio was forced to enter his chamber, and coming to his bedside, to call him several times by his name, making it clear that the time to go to the fight had come.
Aristotle did not so much trouble Sikandar with the knack of forming syllogisms or with the elements of geometry. He, instead, taught him good precepts concerning valour, prowess, magnanimity, temperance and the contempt of fear. With this ammunition he sent him into the world, whilst yet a young man.
And they ask you questions about Dhu’l-Qarnain.
Say: ‘I’ll recite to you a remembrance of him’.
Who is Sikandar Rumi? The historical and the legendary person get mixed in the mists of time. Is he a world conqueror? Is he a disciple of the philosopher Aristotle? Is he an initiate in the Egyptian mystery schools? Is he a companion of Khwaja Khidr? Is he a nabi (prophet) and/or a wali (friend of God)? Is he a seeker of the water of eternal life? Is he a member of the Society of Mystics and/or a member of the Society of Mistakes?
The story of Sikandar Rumi is a tale of a traveller whose travels encompassed the east and the west. In a hadith Dhu’l-Qarnain was visited by an angel who ascended with him through the sky until he could see the whole of the earth and the fathomless sea that surrounds the world. A hadith identifies Dhu’l-Qarnain as a youth from Rum.
Some consider him to be simply a righteous servant of God to whom God granted sovereignty over the world along with knowledge and wisdom. He is described as one who loved God and whom God loved.
As you can imagine about a legendary figure, remarkable things are told about them, but perhaps these legends are in symbolic language. It is said that light and darkness have been placed at his service, so that if he travelled by night, a guiding light would illuminate the path before him, while darkness would protect him from behind.
Much interpretation and legend surrounds the meaning of his title Dhu’l-Qarnain, ‘the one of the two horns’. Some suggest that he had on his head what appeared to be two horns. After calling people to the One God, he was struck in the right horn and killed, but then resurrected by God. Then he was struck in the left horn, died, and, according to some, was resurrected again.
Other accounts say that this title refers to his being the king of both Rum (i.e. the western lands) and Persia. According to a hadith it points to his journeys, which are said to have circled around both ‘horns’ of the earth: the east and the west. Some report that he had a dream in which he drew near to the sun, until he seized in his grasp the eastern and western horns of it. After that the people called him Dhu’l-Qarnain.
Still others mention that the two sides of his head were made of copper or that he wore a headdress or helmet with two horns at the side. Some state that the title means that he lived for two centuries (qarnain), but this is not consistent with the remark that he died when he was only 32 years and 8 months old. Finally, some suggest that it was simply a title he was given as a means of explaining that he was brave and fearless.
Hakim Nizami writes this about Sikandar who went into ‘darkness’ during his quest for the water of life:
Biyaa saaqi aan khaak zolmaat rang
Be-jui o biyar aab-e-heywaan be-chang
Be-daan aab rawshan nazar kon maraa
Wazin zendegi zenda tar kon maraa.
O Saqi, come with me to the earth in the darkness!
Find and fetch me the water of eternal life!
Give me that water, which will enlighten my vision
And moisten my life with that higher life!
Last night they relieved me of all my sorrows,
In the darkness I was given the water of life.
It so happened that Sikandar led his army to the west. He came to a large town called Jabalqa, which was inhabited by a savage population. These people had red faces and blond hair. All of them were excellent warriors.
When their leaders were asked what marvels there were in that country, one answered: “O king favoured by fortune and conqueror of cities, on the other side of our town there is an unique body of water. When the shining sun reaches that place it plunges into the water’s depths. Beyond the water the world is dark and the things of the world become hidden. We have heard endless tales about that darkness”.
“A God-fearing man, who is a sage, says: ‘How can you die, when you drink the water of life? The water there comes from heaven. When you take a bath therein, it washes away all your sins’.”
Sikandar asked: “How can a horse get to this dark place?” He was told that he must ride on a young mount to get there. Sikandar ordered that the local herdsmen bring their herds of horses to his camp. He chose ten thousand of them, all four years old and capable of work.
With happiness in his heart, Sikandar started his quest for the water of eternal life. He set out, calling his shrewdest chieftains about him. Sikandar travelled until he reached a town that appeared to have no centre or limit. The town was well appointed with gardens, open spaces, palaces and public buildings. He dismounted, and dawn he went without his army to the water’s edge. He stayed there until the yellow sun descended into the dark blue waters and saw God’s marvel, the sun disappearing from the world. His mind filled with endless speculation, while Sikandar returned to his camp.
In the dark night he was mindful of God and thought too of the water of life. He chose his most patient warriors to accompany him, packed provision sufficient for forty days and then set out impatient to see his wonder.
He lodged his men within the town, then tried
To find a capable and willing guide:
Khidr was preeminent in all that land.
Sikandar placed himself at his command.
Khwaja Khidr is a traveller. He travels over land and sea, mountains and valleys searching and longing to meet the friends of God. It is said that Khwaja Khidr knew from the beginning of time what would happen to these friends of God. He wished to see in his own life what would become of their works. That is why Khwaja Khidr received such a long life that he would experience all of it up to the Day of Resurrection.
What is the value of eternal life? This question receives an answer in the meeting of Khwaja Khidr with a fool of God:
There was this fool of exalted position.
Khidr asked him: “O perfect human being,
Would you like to be my friend?”
He answered: “I’ve got nothing to do with you,
Because you’ve drunk of the water of life,
So that your life might be forever prolonged.
My aim is that I might give up life,
For without the Beloved I cannot bear it.
While you’re halted in maintaining life,
I’m every day active to sacrifice it.
Better it would be that, like birds avoiding a snare,
We remain far from one another, so goodbye to you!”
The quest of Sikandar continued:
For the next stage Khidr said that they ought
To leave behind them all the food they’d brought,
And for two days and nights the soldiers went
With mouths that never tasted nourishment.
The road split into two the following day.
And in the dark Sikandar lost his way.
Khwaja Khidr travels on alone. After a few days of wandering he finds a jewel that gives him the necessary light in the surrounding darkness. This light guides him to the goal of his journey:
Khidr’s head then reached Saturn’s sphere
And when he saw life’s glittering stream appear
He bathed his head and body there, and prayed
To God, the only Guardian he obeyed.
Khwaja Khidr also drinks from this water and then hears a voice that says: “You’ve now attained to eternity (khold) and you’ll have a long life (tul al-‘omr). O, Khidr you’ve now become a heavenly and spiritual human being. God has given you knowledge about six of the heavens, except for the seventh, which is in Paradise. He has also instructed you about the six earths, except for the seventh, which is in hell”.
Before continuing with the quest of Sikandar and Khwaja Khidr, let us tell a curious legend wherein the father of Sikandar is the most important astrologer of his time.
Sikandar’s father had discovered by carefully observing the stars, that during a specific night in the future a certain heavenly body would appear. He then had to sleep with his wife, so that a son would be born who would receive the gift of eternal life. However, when this very night came about he was too tired to stay awake. That is why he asked his wife to observe a certain part of heaven and to warn him when the star became visible.
The sister of his wife had heard everything and stayed awake herself. When she saw the star she asked her husband to have sex with her. Khwaja Khidr was the child that was born out of this union.
When Sikandar’s father awoke, he noticed that the star could be seen in another constellation than the expected one. He asked his wife why she had not woken him. She answered that she was ashamed before God to do so.
He said to her: “I have observed this star during forty years. I now wish that I’d have spent my life in a different way. At this moment another star is visible. After sleeping with you, you’ll get pregnant. A son will be born who possesses the two horns of the sun”.
Their son, Sikandar Rumi, was born in the same night as his cousin, Khwaja Khidr.
After his finding the water of eternal life Khwaja Khidr returns to Sikandar and tells him what has happened to him. He assures Sikandar that he’ll faithfully accompany him and will advise him until the end of his, i.e. Sikandar’s life.
Sikandar Rumi dies when he is only thirty-two years and eight months old. It is Khwaja Khidr, who then appears, to lead the prayer for the dead.
It’s not peculiar that Sikandar was a life member of the Society of Mistakes. He was young, and in the very meridian of success, when men usually act with insolence and violence. It’s also not abnormal that he started to behave himself like the Persian kings; that is to say in a disproportionate way. Nevertheless he has been of the very few rulers, who sincerely repented of his wrong acts. Those in power, in the past but also in modern times, defend themselves by considering the wrongs they’ve committed to be a righteous act.
A dervish is a friend of God and a friend of a friend is a friend,
so why not be a friend of a dervish?