Prophet Saleh (Alayhis salaam)
Saleh (Alayhis salaam) has been mentioned in the following eight verses of the Quran:
7:73, 75, 77; 11: 61, 62, 66, 89; 26: 142
Hadrat Saleh (Alayhis salaam) was born in the nation of Thamud. The scholars of lineage have a difference of opinion regarding his lineage. Imam Baghawi, the famous Muhaddith, has mentioned his lineage as follows:
Saleh ibn Ubayd Ibn Asif Ibn Mashikh Ibn Ubayd ibn Harith Ibn Thamud, while according to Wahab Ibn Munabbah, the famous Tab’i, his lineage is Saleh ibn Ubayd ibn Jabir ibn Thamud. Although Imam Baghawi’s era is much later than that of Wahab Ibn Munabbih, the scholars of lineage are of the opinion that the ancestral chain mentioned by Baghawi seems to be historically correct and the more preferable view. From this genealogy it becomes clear that the nation of Thamud was named after its ancestor Thamud. There are two narrations regarding the genealogy from Thamud till Nuh (Alayhis salaam).
The first is Thamud ibn Aamir ibn Iram ibn Saam and the second is Thamud ibn Aad Ibn Ous ibn Iram ibn Saam Ibn Nuh (Alaihis salaam). The author of Tafsir Ruhul Ma’ani, Sayed Mahmood ibn Alusi has commented that Imam Tha’labi prefers the second narration. Nevertheless, it can be unanimously deduced from the two narrations that the nation of Thamud is a branch of the Sami tribes, and they, most likely are the ones who survived with Hud (Alaihis salaam) at the time when Aad Ula were destroyed. This generation was called Aad Thaniyah and they are undoubtedly from the Arabs who were destroyed.
The land of Thamud
They inhabited a place called Hijr, between Hijaz and Syria up till Wadi Qura. Today, this area is called Fajjun Naaqah. The remnants of their villages are there till today. Some Egyptian researchers who have seen these remnants have described a building which is called “The Royal House”. It has several chambers. There is a massive pond adjacent to this building which has been carved out of a mountain. The famous Arab historian, Mas’ood narrates: “These remains lie on the road between Syria and Hijaz.”
Hijr which is known as Hijre Thamud is situated south-east of the city Madyan directly opposite the gulf of Aqaba. Just as Aad have been called Aade Iram, so too are they called Thamude Iram or Aad Samiyah.
The orientalists have a difference of opinion as to the origin of this nation. One group is of the view that they were Jews who did not enter Palestine and lived here. This claim is totally baseless because all the historians are unanimous that the nation of Thamud was totally annihilated before the exit of Moosa (Alaihis salaam) with the Bani Israeel from Egypt. The Quran clearly states that when the people of Pharaoh rejected Moosa (Alaihis salaam), a person from the nation of Pharaoh warned them that if they did not obey him, their consequence may be the same as what happened to the nations of Nuh, Aad, Thamud and others thereafter.
The second group is of the opinion that they were from the Amalekites and migrated from the western bank of the Euphrates to settle in Arabia. Some of them hold the view that they are from amongst those Amalekites who the Egyptian king Ahmas had banished. During their stay in Egypt, they mastered the art of sculpture. Thereafter they carved mountains and rocks into magnificent palaces in Hijr and also constructed mansions in the normal way. However, we have already proven in the story of Aad that Aad and Thamud are from the Sami tribes and the Arabs, following the Jews have incorrectly regarded them as Amalekites. Amleeq Ibn Ud has no connection to this race and therefore this opinion is incorrect. Contrary to all the above views, the correct view regarding them is that they are part of the nation of Aad.
The period in which Thamud lived is uncertain. History does not provide us with any facts. However this much is certain that they lived before Ibrahim (Alaihis salaam) and were destroyed long before his advent. It is also essential to note that some graves having Aramaic epitaphs are to be found near the remains of their dwellings. The dates on these epitaphs refer to the era before Hadrat Isa (Alaihis salaam). This can give the wrong impression that this nation came into existence after Hadrat Musa (Alaihis salaam) whereas this is not the case.
These are actually the graves of those people who coincidentally came to live here thousands of years after Thamud. They wrote the epitaphs on the tombs of their elders in Aramaic which is an ancient script, to show the antiquity of their tombs. These are not the tombs of Thamud nor was this their era. The famous Egyptian historian, Georgie Zaydan holds a similar view. (The Arabs before Islam page 80)
Like their ancestors, Thamud were pagans. Consequently Saleh (Alaihis salaam) who was from amongst them, was sent as a prophet to guide them to the straight path, remind them of Allah’s innumerable favours, clarify the unity of Allah and expose their total misguidance.
The aim of narratives in the Quran
The style of the Quran is to mention the narratives of past nations in order to serve as a guidance and advice to mankind. The aim is not to narrate stories, but to indicate to mankind the correct path to choose in the light of his intelligence. Allah Taala sends down messengers from amongst the people to guide and admonish them. They relate the tales of previous nations to serve as a reminder that those people who obeyed their messengers succeeded whereas those who rejected or mocked them were destroyed. Sometimes Allah Himself or at the request of the people, revealed certain miracles as a testification of the messenger’s truth. If a nation persisted in rejecting the messenger even after witnessing the miracle, then the wrath of Allah descended and annihilated that nation as a lesson for their successors.
“Your nourisher does not destroy villages unless he sends a messenger to their main areas to recite Our verses to them. We only destroy villages if their residents exceed all bounds.” (28:59)
Mu’jizah literally means to render helpless and to exhaust. In Islamic terminology it refers to an act which comes into existence without any cause. Another word generally used for a miracle is “unnatural”, hence giving rise to the question whether the law of Allah can change or not. In other words, is it possible to have a change in a natural law?
This question can be solved by saying that the word unnatural which is used to describe a miracle is incorrect because the laws of Allah are divided into two categories: (1) general laws and (2) specific laws.
The general laws are those which have a cause and effect e.g. fire burns. The specific laws are those where the power of Allah due to some reason, removes the relationship between cause and effect or gives the effect existence without any cause e.g. for a body not to burn in fire even though all the causes are present, or to feed 200 persons with food that is sufficient for two persons and yet the amount of food remains as it originally was.
Since these two factors seem contrary to natural laws in the general eye, they are regarded as unnatural and in conflict with Allah’s law. However this is not the case. They may contradict the general pattern of the first category but will conform to the second category which is also a link in the chain of divine laws manifested for a particular reason. By means of such acts, the truthfulness of a Nabi is consolidated and the rejectors are made to realize that if this messenger was not true, Allah’s assistance would not have been with him. It therefore follows that such acts in reality are not the doings of messengers but are the acts of Allah which are manifested on the hands of his chosen ones.
The general masses do not believe in a messenger unless he portrays such miracles which manifest divine assistance. Accordingly, it is incumbent on every individual to believe in those miracles of the messengers which have been indisputably proven. To reject any of them is tantamount to rejecting the reality of Islam.
However, it should not be forgotten that the perpetration of a supernatural act by any person does not make it a Mu’jizah (miracle), nor does such a person become a prophet. A prophet’s whole life has to be tried and tested and no faculty should be deficient or objectionable. He has to be a paragon of virtue and untainted by any sin. After possessing such attributes, if he makes a claim to prophethood and besides presenting literary proof, he exhibits miracles, then undoubtedly he is a prophet and his act will be a miracle.
We have previously mentioned that a Mu’jizah in reality is not the act of a Nabi, but is Allah’s act manifested on the hand of a Nabi. The reason for this is that a Nabi is human and no human being can interfere in the laws of Allah. It is entirely dependent on Allah’s wish. If he desires and thinks that the moment is opportune, He will manifest it on a prophet’s hand. Without His wish, it is impossible to do so.
During the battle of Badr when a fully equipped army of one thousand strong came in opposition to the ill-equipped 313 Muslims, Nabi (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) threw a handful of sand in their direction due to which sand particles reached every soldier’s eye and they all began to rub their eyes. The Muslim army then attacked and were victorious. This incident, narrated in the Quran is a certain proof of our claim.
“And you (O Muhammad), did not fling (that handful of sand) when you flung it, but it was Allah (in reality) that did so.” (17:8)
This act of the Nabi has been called a miracle. Undoubtedly the sand was thrown by the Nabi because it was in his hand, but the effect it had of blinding such a large army that was at a distance was not possible for the Nabi. This was in reality the act of Allah who at once removed all obstacles to make the sand effective.
“No messenger has the power to manifest any miracle without the permission of Allah. When the command of Allah comes, the correct decision is made while at this juncture the rejectors are at a loss. (40:78)
“They take firm oaths in the name of Allah that if any sign comes to them, they will most certainly believe in it. Tell them (O Muhammad), that the signs are in Allah’s control. And you (O Muslims), don’t know that when the signs come, they will not believe in them. (6:109)
Our discussion regarding miracles can only satisfy one who has this fundamental religious belief that the characteristics of everything are not their own but are granted to them by a Creator. Accordingly, whoever has this belief can easily understand that the Creator has specified the law of burning for fire i.e. whatever touches it will burn. However it is possible that He (the Creator) removes this characteristic of fire for some important purpose under special circumstances. This will be regarded as His law or habit.
On the contrary, one who believes that every entity has its own characteristic and it is impossible for this characteristic to be separated from it, should first decide whether an entity, which is entirely dependent on something else for its existence, can have a non-separable characteristic.
In 1361 A.H. Khuda Baksh Kashmiri demonstrated walking on fire and made others do so as well in London and America. Thereafter many scientists conducted experiments on him to determine whether he was fire-proof or not but were unsuccessful. They had to admit that his body and that of the others had no special characteristics, but was the same as any normal person. They expressed amazement and admitted that it was beyond their comprehension why the fire did not burn the flesh. (London Times)
Man, after possessing such abundant knowledge is still so helpless. How can he reject a miracle which is explained by knowledge of certainty (wahi – revelation) simply because he is not accustomed to witnessing an effect without any cause.
Nonetheless, such a person should first reflect upon the attributes of the Creator, especially the attribute of power, then only should he tackle the problem of miracles.
The camel of Allah
Saleh (Alaihis salaam) continued advising his nation but it had absolutely no effect on them. On the contrary, their malice and obstinacy increased. Besides a handful that accepted Islam, the leaders and the wealthy of the nation remained steadfast idol-worshippers. Instead of expressing gratitude for the bounties which Allah bestowed upon them, they became grossly unthankful. They used to mock Saleh (Alayhis salaam) saying, “Had we been misguided, we would not have obtained such abundant wealth, fertile orchards, excessive gold and silver, impressive mansions, an abundance of fruits and sweet rivers. Look at yourself and your impoverished followers and examine their pitiable condition. Then decide whether you are chosen one or we?”
Saleh (Alaihis salaam) used to reply: “Do not be arrogant and proud of your luxuries nor mock the true Rasul of Allah or his correct Deen. If you continue denouncing Deen in this manner, neither will you remain nor your affluence. Undoubtedly these are all the bounties of Allah if the recipients express their gratitude and submit to his will. On the contrary, if they display arrogance then these favours will become the cause of punishment and curse.”
The tribe of Thamud was also perplexed and could not understand how a person from amongst them could be chosen as a messenger. Out of surprise they used to say “Does revelation dawn upon him in our midst”, (54:25) as if to say they were more entitled to it than him.
This used to anger the proud disbelievers and they used to say: “We totally disbelieve the message which you have believed in.” (7:76 )
Hafiz ibn Kathir has narrated the incident of the camel, not based on the principles of hadith, but as an historical event. The detailed description of this event is thus:
When the tribe of Thamud became frustrated with Saleh’s (Alayhis salaam) propagation, they requested a miracle. Saleh (Alaihis salaam) told them it does not behove a person to persist in his disbelief after the manifestation of the miracle. The leaders of the nation emphatically insisted that if the miracle appeared, they would immediately accept it. Saleh (Alayhis salaam) then asked them what kind of miracle they wanted. They requested that a pregnant camel emerge from the mountain or from a rock on the outskirts of the village and that it should give birth immediately.
Saleh (Alaihis salaam) supplicated to the Almighty and immediately a pregnant camel emerged from the rock or mountain and gave birth. Upon witnessing this, one of the leaders, Junda’Ibn Amr immediately embraced Islam. When the other leaders wanted to follow suit, their leader Zawib ibn Amr and Khabbab and their fortune-teller Rubaab ibn Safr prevented them from doing so. Saleh now warned his people that this miracle was shown at their request. Allah had decreed the distribution of water – one day for the camel and one day for the people and their animals. No one should harm it. If it is harmed, then destruction awaits all. The Quran has called this camel “the camel of Allah” (6:73) to show that although the entire creation belongs to Allah, it has been blessed with this title due to its special significance and honour because Thamud have requested this camel as a sign of Allah.
Although the people did not accept Islam, they refrained from harming the camel. The camel used to drink water on its appointed day while all the people benefitted from its milk and on the following day it was the people’s turn. The camel and its calf used to graze freely in the pastures. This eventually perturbed the people and they began mutual consultations in order to plan its destruction and be freed from having to wait for every alternate day to partake of the well-water. Although these consultations continued, no one could muster the courage to kill the camel. However, an extremely wealthy and beautiful woman, Sadooq enticed Misda’ and presented herself as a reward for him while another wealthy lady Unairah was prepared to hand over her pretty daughter to Qudar ibn Salif if they killed the camel. Eventually Misda’ and Qudar were persuaded to commit the act. They devised a plan to ambush and attack the camel as it passed by on the way to the pastures Some other individuals also promised to assist.
The plan went into action and the camel was killed. Thereafter they all took an oath to murder Saleh (Alaihis salaam) and his family and behave innocently after the crime. On seeing this, the baby camel fled to the mountains screaming and hid away there.
When Saleh (Alaihis salaam) received the news, he addressed the people with extreme sorrow saying: “What I feared has taken place. Now wait for a punishment of Allah which will annihilate you after three days.” A flash of lightning and thunder destroyed them during the night and left a lesson for the coming generations
Together with this incident, Muhaddith ibne Kathir has narrated several ahaadith e.g. on the occasion of the battle of Tabuk, when Nabi (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) passed Hijr, the Sahaba drew water from the well of Thamud and began kneading the dough to make bread. When Nabi (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) came to know of this, he gave the order to throw the water away, empty the pots and to discard the dough. He said, “This is the village on which the punishment of Allah descended. Do not alight here nor use the things of this place. Go further and alight, otherwise you will also be afflicted by a calamity.” In another narration Nabi (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) told them to enter the villages of Hijr fearing Allah and crying with humility. He said, “Do not make yourself a target for punishment because of your negligence.”
In another narration it is mentioned that when Nabi (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) entered Hijr, he said, “Do not ask Allah for miracles. Look at how the nation of Saleh (Alaihis salaam) sought a miracle and a camel emerged from the mountain. It used to drink and return to its place. It provided milk for the nation of Thamud, but they rebelled and cut its legs. As a result, Allah totally annihilated them. Only one person viz. Abu Rughal was saved because he went to the Haram. However when he went beyond the boundaries of the Haram, he also became a victim of the punishment. Hafiz ibn Kathir has narrated the above three narrations from Musnad Ahmad and has regarded them as authentic.
Allama Sayed Aloosi has written in his exegesis, Ruhul-Ma’ani “The sign of punishment on Thamud became apparent from the following morning. On the first day everyone’s faces became pale like the countenance of a person who is in fear. On the second day their faces turned red. This was the second stage of their fear and trepidation. On the third day their faces were black and darkness had encompassed them. This is the third stage of their fear after which remains the stage of death.”
After three days the appointed time came and a horrifying sound in the darkness of the night destroyed every person in whatever condition he was. This sound has been described with different words in the Quran to show the different aspects of the same punishment. Ponder over a flash of lightening which bedazzles continuously, shines, erupts and thunders sometimes in the cast and sometimes in the west. What will be the condition of a place attacked by such a lightening together with a deafening and thundering sound. This is a simple estimation of the punishment which descended on Thamud.
On the other hand, Allah Ta!ala protected Saleh (Alaihis salaam) and his followers from this agonizing punishment. Saleh (Alaihis salaam) with anguish and remorse addressed the victims of Allah’s wrath in the following words:
“O my nation. I have indeed conveyed the message of my Lord to you and have advised you but you do not love the advisors.”
The Ulama have expressed the following opinions with regards to this type of address:
- This type of address is a speciality of the Messengers because Allah Ta’ala undoubtedly conveys these words to the dead even though they are not capable of responding. It is for this reason that when Nabi (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam) addressed the polytheists who were killed in Badr, Umar (Radiallahu anhu) asked with surprise, “Do they hear you?” to which Nabi (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) responded, “Yes, they can hear better than you although they cannot reply.”
- This type of denunciation is for expressing grief and sorrow, e.g. you warned a person not to go to a particular orchard because of an abundance of snakes and the likelihood of being stung. However the person went and was bitten by a snake. When the warner reaches the corpse, he spontaneously says, “Woe to you. Did I not warn you not to go there. Whatever I feared has occurred.”
- Such a monologue is actually meant for those living people who are observing these corpses. It is a lesson for them not to commit the same error.
Saleh (Alaihis salaam) after the destruction of his nation
The question arises as to where did, Saleh (Alaihis salaam) and the believers live after Thamud was destroyed? It is impossible to answer this question with total certainty. However, it is most probable that they resided in Palestine because this was the most fertile land adjacent to Hijr.
The exegetists of the Quran have suggested the following possibilities:
- They lived near Ramallah in Palestine. Allamah Khazin holds this view.
- Hadramaut is also a likely place because it was their original homeland. There is a grave here which is regarded as the grave of Saleh (Alaihis salaam)
- They remained in the same villages after Thamud was destroyed. This is the opinion of the historians.
- They came to Makkah, resided and passed away there. Their graves are in the Haram, west of the Kabah. Sayed Alusi has preferred this view. He has also mentioned in his exegesis that the followers of Thamud were approximately 120 while those that were destroyed were approximately 1500.
Lessons to be learnt
- Although the camel was a sign of the truthfulness of Saleh’s prophethood, it was also a test for the nation of Thamud. “Indeed we are sending the camel as a test for them. Therefore wait for them and persevere,” (54:27)
- It is not necessary that a disbelieving nation be destroyed. However, a nation that requests a miracle on condition that they will believe after observing it, will most certainly be annihilated if they subsequently do not accept. Unless they do not repent, Allah does not forgive them.
- The message of Nabi Sallallahu alaihi wasallam is an exception to this practice of Allah. This is because Nabi Sallallahu alaihi wasallam made dua to Allah not to punish his ummah with a general punishment that is all-encompassing and Allah accepted this dua. “And Allah will not punish them while you are among them.” (8:33)
- It is a pernicious error and a deception of the self to regard a nation endowed with affluence and a good life as being in the shadow of Allah’s favours. There is an explicit reference on several occasions in this narrative that sometimes an abundance of wealth results in greater punishment and doom.
“Indeed the power of your lord is severe.” (85:12)
However if most of the individuals of a nation are thankful, just and benevolent, they will be the accepted servants of Allah and for them is the following glad tiding:
“Allah has promised those among you who brought faith and did good actions that He will make them vicegerents on earth as He made those before them. He will also fortify their Deen which He has chosen for them and change their rear to tranquillity.” (24:55)
“We have written in the Zabur after recording (it the Sacred Tablet) that my pious servants will inherit the earth.” (21:105)
This verse explicitly states that only those who are believers and who enter the group of the pious are promised the inheritance of the earth.