Dhūl-Kifl, upon him peace

Kamil Uddin

Dhūl-Kifl is mentioned by name twice in the Qurʾān in two Makkan suras (Q 21:85 and 38:48), each time together with other prophets. In Sūrat al-Anbiyāʾ (“The Prophets,” a sura that names sixteen prophets), he appears in the company of “steadfast” Prophets (And Ismāʿīl and Idrīs and Dhūl-Kifl—all were of the steadfast (al-ṣābirīn) Q 21:85). The next verse declares, And we admitted them unto Our mercy. Truly they are among the righteous (al-ṣāliḥīn). In Sūrat Ṣād (also known as Sūrat Dāwūd; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 38:1), he is mentioned in the company of Ismāʿīl and al-Yasaʿ, upon them all peace: And recall Ismāʿīl and al-Yasaʿ and Dhūl-Kifl—and all [of them] were elect (al-akhyār) (Q 38:48) (see Idrīs; Ismāʿīl; Prophethood; al-Yasaʿ). In addition to these two explicit occurrences, certain major exegetes hold that the miracle of this-worldly resurrection recounted in Q 2:243 pertains to him (see Anonymous Mentions), for which see more below.

His Name

Dhūl-Kifl is a genitive construct comprising the singular masculine possessive particle dhū and the substantive kifl. Such constructs, often employed as an honorific or a title, refer to a characteristic feature or trait. Kifl may mean a grand share (ḥaẓẓ) from Allah, in which case the title refers to his being blessed; or it may refer to a “doubling”, in that Dhūl-Kifl is said to have received a manifold (or double) recompense (ḍiʿf thawāb) due to his performing twice the righteous actions of the prophets of his time (Abū al-Suʿūd, Irshād; Māwardī, Nukat; and Abū Hayyān, Bahr, all sub Q 21:85; Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub k-f-l) (for Qurʾānic reference to a “double share” (kiflayn) of mercy, see Q 57:28); or, per reports of al-Ḥasan (21-110/642-728) and Muqātil (d. 150/767), the title may refer to Ḥizqīl “standing surety” (takaffala) for seventy other prophets, thereby saving them from being killed by the Israelites (al-Ṭabarānī, al-Tafsīr al-kabīr, sub Q 2:243). Al-Thaʿlabī (d. 427/1035) writes that Ḥizqīl was named Dhūl-Kifl because he did not disclose the whereabouts of these seventy prophets to their persecutors (Kashf, sub Q 2:243) (for the Israelites killing prophets (qatl al-anbiyāʾ), see Q 2:61, 87, 91; 3:21, 112, 183; and 5:70, and their commentaries). Other Qurʾānic usages of the term kifl include foster-care (kafāla; see Adoption; Guardianship) (cf. Q 3:37; 3:44; 20:40; 28:12; 38:23) or, in a more juristic sense, attaching liability (whether a person, debt, or value) of the person standing surety (kafīl) to the principal without restriction (for kifl as a share (of sin), see Q 4:85; for God as guarantor (kafīl), see Q 16:91) (Ālūsī, Rūḥ and Māwardī, Nukat, sub Q 21:85; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub k-f-l; ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam, sub k-f-l; al-Saḥāranfūrī, Ḥāshiya, Kafāla).

Other similar constructs in the Qurʾān include dhūl-qarnayn (Q 18:83, 86, and 94: “owner of two horns”); dhūl-nūn (Q 21:87: “man of the whale,” i.e. Prophet Yūnus ); dhūl-awtād (Q 38:12: “owner of lofty structures,” i.e. Pharaoh (see Firʿawn); dhūl-ayd (Q 38:17: “owner of great prowess,” i.e. Prophet Dāwūd); dhū mirra (Q 53:6: “owner of great strength,” i.e. the angel Jibrīl (see Angels)); and dhū quwwa (Q 81:20: “possessor of great power,” i.e. the angel Jibrīl). Certain companions (namely Abū Bakr, ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān, and Jaʿfar b. Abū Ṭālib) also received appellations of similar form, each alluding to some accomplishment of special significance (see al-Suyūṭī, al-Muzhir, sub al-Adhwāʾ).

There is no lexical or exegetical mention of the name Dhūl-Kifl having been arabicized from the Hebrew proper name Yeḥezqêl (namely “whom God will strengthen”: see Gesenius, Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon p. 345, i.e. Ezekiel, Arabic Ḥizqīl/Ḥizqiyāl), although Jewish sources are said to regard the two figures as one and the same (Muqātil, Tafsir; Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb, both sub Q 2:243). According to the polymath Murtaḍā al-Zabīdī (1145-1205/1732-1790) the name Ḥizqīl is of Hebrew or Syriac (suryānī) origin and means “slave of God” (ʿabd Allāh) or “gift of God” (hibat Allāh), also adding that it was a name of a prophet from the Children of Isrāʾīl. In his expansive lexicon Tāj al-ʿarūs he lists this name under both ḥ-z-q-l and k-f-l, indicating that Dhūl-Kifl and Ḥizqīl name the same individual. Although al-Zabīdī does not correlate his explanation to the Hebrew etymology, these variant names can be reconciled by interpreting Ḥizqīl/Ḥizqiyāl as his proper name (ism), rendered into Arabic from Hebrew, and Dhūl-Kifl as his Arabic honorific appellation (laqab) (Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb, sub Q 21:85; al-Shirbīnī, Sirāj, sub Q 2:243). See below for details and other identifications of the Qurʾānic Dhūl-Kifl.


Dhūl-Kifl as a Prophet

Most exegetes hold that Dhūl-Kifl was a prophet (Muqātil, al-Samarqandī, al-Baghawī, al-Rāzī, al-Bayḍāwī, al-Nasafī, Abū Ḥayyān, al-Khāzin, Ibn Kathīr all sub Q 4:163, Ibn ʿĀdil, Abū al-Suʿūd, al-Maẓharī, al-Ṣāwī, al-Ālūsī, Sayyid Quṭb, Ibn ʿĀshūr sub Q 6:84, al-Ṣābūnī, al-Zuḥaylī, sub Q 21:85). In support of this opinion, the early exegete Muqātil glossed “mercy” (raḥma) as “prophethood” (nubuwwa) in Q 21:86 (And We admitted them unto Our mercy—namely, Ismāʿīl, Idrīs, and Dhūl-Kifl) (Tafsīr). In the two Qurʾānic mentions, his name appears in the company of prophets, suggesting he was one of them. He is, in fact, included among the steadfast, the righteous (Q 21:85-86) and the elect (akhyār) (Q 38:48).

Some exegetes report the weak opinion (qīla) that Dhūl-Kifl is a title referring to the Prophet Ilyās (Elijah) (or the Prophet Yushaʿ (Joshua) or the Prophet al-Yasaʿ (Elisha)), but his name in the Qurʾān is like certain other Prophets with more than one names: Muḥammad as Aḥmad, Yūnus as Dhūl-Nūn,  Īsā as al-Masīḥ, and Yaʿqūb as Isrāʾīl , upon them all peace (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr; Ālūsī, Rūh; Abū Ḥayyān, Bahr, all sub Q 21:85). In more specific support of this view, al-Mātūrīdī states that it was Ilyās who was entrusted (kaffala) with a host of one hundred prophets (not Ḥiqzil protecting seventy, per al-Ṭabarānī ) after three hundred were killed, and thus received the title Dhūl-Kifl (Taʾwīlāt, sub Q 38:45). Ibn al-Jawzī (508-597/ca.1116-1201) notes that the profusion of prophets during this time accounts for the confusion as to the eras of Hizqīl and Ilyās (al-Muntaẓam 1:382, Dhikr al-mulūk allatī kānat fī zaman Ḥiqzīl). Others hold Dhūl-Kifl to be a title of the Prophet Zakariyyā which refers to his foster-care (kafāla) of Maryam, upon them both peace (al-Kalbī, al-Tashīl and Ālūsī, Rūh, sub Q 21:85). In his history, al-Ṭabarī (224-310/839-923) provides an alternative lineage and identity, asserting that, after the passing of Ayyūb, Allah appointed as a prophet his son Bishr, naming him Dhūl-Kifl. He resided in Syro-Palestine  and passed away at the age of seventy-five. Al-Ṭabarī mentions these details towards the end of his chapter on Ayyūb and before the chapter on Shuʿayb, implying that Dhūl-Kifl lived in the era between them (Tārīkh 1:109, Dhikr Ayyūb nabī Allāh). Others claim he was either the son of Ayyūb or the cousin of al-Yasaʿ (Tafsīrs of Bayḍāwī and Maẓharī, sub Q 21:85). Despite these varying opinions as to his identity, there is general acceptance that Dhūl-Kifl was a prophet (Ibn al-Jawzī, Talqīḥ, Dhikr tartīb kibār al-anbiyāʾ).

Al-Ḥasan and ʿAṭā (27-114/647-732) hold that the title Dhūl-Kifl refers to another prophet altogether (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād, sub Q 21:85). This opens the possibility, as noted above, that it is the Arabic appellation of the Hebrew Prophet Ezekiel (Ḥizqīl/Ḥizqiyāl). Lending some support to this opinion, commentators Muqātil (Tafsīr), al-Ṭabarānī (260-360/821-918) (al-Tafsīr al-kabīr), al-Thaʿlabī (Kashf), al-Baghawī (d. 516/1122) (Tafsīr), and al-Khāzin (678-741/1280-1341) (Lubāb al-taʾwīl), among others, mention this possibility in discussing Q 2:243: Have you not considered those who fled their homes in the thousands, fearing death? Thereupon Allah said unto them, Die! and then He restored them to life. Indeed, Allah has Bounty (la-dhū faḍl) over humankind, but most of humankind do not give thanks. This passage recounts a story that, Ibn ʿĀshūr (1296-1393/1879-1972) notes, bears some resemblance to the Valley of Dry Bones pericope of Ezekiel 37:1-14:

The hand of the Lord came upon me. He took me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the valley. It was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many of them spread over the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “O mortal, can these bones live again?” I replied, “O Lord God, only You know.” And He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Thus said the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live again. I will lay sinews upon you, and cover you with flesh, and form skin over you. And I will put breath into you, and you shall live again. And you shall know that I am the Lord!” (Ezekiel 37:1-6: JPS Tanakh)

Ibn ʿĀshūr clarifies that some refer to the vision (ruʾya) of Ezekiel 37 in interpreting Q 2:243 as referring to Israelites whom Allah restored to life following the supplication (daʿwa) of Hizqiyāl, while others maintain that the narrative in question is not a factual account but a parable (mathal) (see Parables of the Qurʾān) (Tafsīr). He then refers to the dominant (aẓhar) exegetical opinion: al-Rāzī (544-606/1150-1210) and Ibn Kathīr (700-774/1300-1372) relate that the thousands mentioned in Q 2:243 fled a plague until they reached a place called Dāwardān, where Allah decreed death for them. Much later, the corpses having long decayed (baliyat ajsāmuhum), Ḥizqīl approached that valley and, observing the dry bones strewn about, began to reflect upon those who had perished there. Allah revealed (awḥā) to him that, if he wished, He would revive those dead bones as a sign for him. He accepted, and so they were revived before his very eyes (Rāzī, Tafsīr; Ibn Kathīr, Qaṣaṣ, Ḥizqīl; Ibn Kathīr, Bidāya, Qiṣṣat Ḥizqīl; Yāqūt, Buldān, sub b-r-m) (see Signs of Allah). Ibn ʿĀdil (d. 880/1475) gives preference to an alternate narration, according to which certain Israelites fled battle (qitāl), and Allah caused them to die for their cowardice. Eight days later, Ḥizqīl miraculously brought them back to life. Ibn ʿĀdil considers this account more likely, because  the next verse reads Fight in the path of Allah (Lubāb, sub Q 2:243).

The reputed grave-shrine of Prophet Ezekiel has long been venerated and visited by both Muslims and Jews in Kifl (previously known as Bar Malāḥa), a town in present-day Iraq south of ancient Babylon on the Euphrates. The geographer and polymath Yāqūt al-Ḥamawī (574-626/1179-1229) states, “Ḥizqīl, famously known as Dhūl-Kifl, is buried in this city.” Yāqūt adds that the town houses the graves of other prominent figures: Bārūkh the teacher (ustādh) of Ḥizqīl, Yūsuf al-Rabbān, Yūshaʿ (not b. al-Nūn), and ʿAzra (not the Scribe, nāqil al-Tawrāt) (Muʿjam, sub b-r-m). The synagogue (once boasting a major endowment) stands adjacent to the northern wall of the tomb (Stillman, “Ezekiel’s Tomb”); control of the shrine itself was taken from the synagogue by the Ilkhanid ruler Öljeitü (r. 703-716/1304-1316), who erected a mosque complex at the site (Meri, Cult of Saints p. 237 citing historian and geographer Ḥamdallāh Mustawfī Qazwīnī (680-740/ca.1281-1339)). The varying exegetical interpretations surveyed above stand against the claims of some modern scholars that the Muslim identification of Dhūl-Kifl with Ḥizqīl emerged as a reaction to Jewish claims (e.g., Schussman, “Prophet Ezekiel” p. 330).

Dhūl-Kifl as Righteous or Repentant Israelite?

In contrast to the exegetical identifications surveyed above, reports from the Companion Abū Mūsā al-Ashʿarī (d. 44/ca.664) and the Follower (tābiʿī) Mujāhid (21-104/642-722) state that Dhūl-Kifl was not a prophet but a righteous man who was appointed, on certain rigorous conditions, as a successor to the Prophet al-Yasaʿ, upon him peace, who sought in his old age to choose and test his successor (al-Ṭabarānī, al-Tafsīr al-kabīr and Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 21:85). Al-Ṭabarī and Ibn Kathīr explicitly state these conditions, announced in public (fast through the day, keep prayerful vigil throughout the night, and not to become angry when judging the Children of Isrāʾīl) and go on to narrate the story (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr and Khāzin, Lubāb, sub Q 21:85; Ibn Kathīr, Qaṣaṣ, Dhūl-Kifl). A report from the Companion Ibn ʿUmar (d. 73/ca.692) consider him a repentant Israelite. Even though the report has been classed as ḥasan by al-Tirmidhī, and of sound transmission (ṣaḥīḥ al-isnād) by al-Ḥākim: al-Mubārakfūrī, Tuḥfa 7:243, hadith 2496), Ibn Ḥajar (773-852/1371-1449) states that one of the transmitters (Saʿd or Saʿīd Mawlā Ṭalḥa) is unknown (majhūl) (al-Mubārakfūrī, Tuḥfa); the editor of al-Qurṭubī’s exegesis, ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Mahdī, explains that there is “inconsistency” (iḍtirāb) in these narrations’ transmission (isnād) and text (matn), which earns them the classification “weak” (ḍaʿīf) (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 21:85).

This hadith criticism aside, the man in the narration is described as being “engrossed in sin” (lā yatawarraʿ min dhanb ʿamilahu), a description incompatible with the belief in the inerrancy of prophethood (ʿismat al-anbiyāʾ), even prior to their appointment as a Prophet of Allah. Moreover, Ibn al-ʿArabī al-Mālikī concludes, the end of the hadith states, “Verily Allah has pardoned al-Kifl,” whereas if referring to the prophet it would have been more appropriate to say “Verily Allah granted prophethood to al-Kifl” (ʿĀriḍat al-aḥwadhī 9:224, hadith 2496). Ibn al-Jawzī adds, “The two verses in the Qurʾān state three characteristics of Dhūl-Kifl: [that he was] righteous, steadfast, and good. The quality of steadfastness cannot apply to al-Kifl [of the hadith reports] since he did not survive but rather passed away immediately following his repentance to Allah” (Zād, sub Q 21:85) (see Repentance).


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See also

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