Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
When the Holy Quran describes past people or archaeological details it gives a very precise and accurate description. The Holy Quran particularly describes the past nations that were punished by God in the Sura Hud and among the details it also says, “This is of the tidings of the unseen which We reveal to thee (Muhammad). Thou didst not know them, neither thou nor thy people, before this. So be thou patient; for the end is for the God-fearing.” (Al Quran 11:50)
Information about the Arabian tribe of ‘Ad was not recorded in history. However, it was mentioned in the Holy Quran. Recent archeological discoveries have established the truth of the Holy Quran. The discovery of ruins of Iram was a two step process, firstly, the discovery of the people of Ebla in Syria, who traded with Iram (habitation of the ‘Ad) and then the discovery of Iram in southern Arabia.
The people of the ‘Ad were surrounded by sand dunes, as is mentioned in the Holy Quran, “Make mention of the brother of ‘Ad, when he warned his people among the sand-hills — and Warners there have been before him and after him — saying, ‘Worship none but Allah. I fear for you the punishment of a great day.’” (Al Quran 46:22) There is a fairly detailed mention of the ‘Ad and the Thamud in the Holy Quran as these tribes were in the neighborhood of Makkah and Madinah, the towns that were the first recipients of the message of Islam. The Holy Quran says, “And We did destroy townships round about you; and We have varied the Signs, that they might turn to Us. Why, then, did not those help them whom they had taken for gods besides Allah, seeking His nearness through them? Nay, they were lost to them. That was the result of their lie, and of what they fabricated.” (Al Quran 46:28-29)
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The ‘Ad were eventually destroyed by a sand storm. According to the Holy Quran the sand storm blew for 7 nights and 8 days. The Quran not only preserves an accurate account of the lost ‘Ad but its description also guided the expedition in the archaeological discovery, as described in this article.
The mention of the punished nations is not for story telling but for moral guidance through examples. The Holy Quran has issued a general warning for everyone also:
So travel through the earth and see what was the end of those who rejected the messengers. (Al Quran 16:37)
All ruins are not preserved overtime, and the Holy Quran describes that principle by saying, “That is of the tidings of the ruined cities that We relate to thee; the ruins of some are visible and others have been obliterated altogether. We did not wrong them, but they wronged themselves; and their gods on whom they called besides Allah, availed them naught when the decree of thy Lord went forth; they only augmented their ruin, Such is the chastisement of thy Lord which He inflicts upon corrupt cities.” (Al Quran 11:101-102)
We sent to the people of Median their brother Shuaib, …
But they rejected him, and a violent calamity seized them and they were left prostrate on the ground in their homes. The same happened to ‘Ad and Thamud, and their fate are discernible by you by looking at their dwelling places. Satan made their ways appear good to them, and thereby turned them away from the straight path, for all that they were intelligent people. (Al Quran 29:29-39)
Cuneiform clay tablets from Syria — Ebla
Ubar, a name of a region or a name of a people, was mentioned in ancient records, and was spoken of in folk tales as a trading center of the Rub’ al Khali desert in the southern part of the Arabian peninsula. It is estimated that it lasted from about 3000 B.C. to the first century A.D. According to legends, it became fabulously wealthy from trade between the coastal regions and the population centers of the Arabic peninsula and Europe. The region became lost to modern history, and was thought to be only a figment of mythical tales. Some confusion exists about the word “Ubar”. In classical texts and Arabic historical sources, Ubar refers to a region and a group of people, not to a specific town. Ptolemy’s second century map of the area shows “Iobaritae”. It was only the late Medieval version of The One Thousand and One Nights, in the fourteenth or fifteenth century, that romanticized Ubar and turned it into a city, rather than a region or a people.
The Holy Qur’an (1,400 years ago) mentions a certain city by the name of Iram (a city of pillars) [Qur’an 89:7], which was not known in ancient history and which was non-existent as far as historians were concerned. The December 1978 edition of the National Geographic Magazine records that in 1973, the city of Ebla was excavated in Syria. The city was discovered to be 4,300 years old. Researchers found in the library of Ebla a record of all of the cities with which Ebla had done business. On the list was the specific name of the city of “Iram” (and not the name of the general region of Ubar). The people of Ebla had apparently done business with the people of ‘Iram’.
Hast thou not seen how thy Lord dealt with ‘Ad — The tribe of Iram, possessors of lofty buildings, The like of whom have not been created in these parts — And with Thamud who hewed out rocks in the valley. (Al Quran 89:7-10)
A sandstorm in Iraq
The Holy Quran states:
To ‘Ad We sent their brother Hud. He admonished them: O my people, worship Allah alone; you have no god beside Him. In attributing partners to Him, you do nothing but fabricate lies. I demand from you nothing in return for that with which I admonish you. My recompense is with Him Who has created me. Will you not then understand? O my people, ask forgiveness of your Lord and turn wholly to Him; He will send over you clouds pouring down abundant rain, and will add strength to your strength. Turn not away from Him guiltily. They retorted: Thou hast brought us no clear proof of that which thou dost urge upon us Hud, and we shall not forsake our gods merely because of thy urging, nor shall we believe in thee. All we can say is that some god of ours has afflicted thee with evil. He rejoined: I call Allah to witness, and do you also bear witness, that I reject all that which you associate with Allah beside Him. you consider I am in error, then devise your plans against me all together, and grant me no respite. I have put my whole trust in Allah, my Lord and your Lord. There is no creature that moves on the earth but He holds it completely in His power. Surely, my Lord stands along the straight path to guide and protect the believers. If now you should turn away, I have conveyed to you that with which I have been sent to you, and my Lord will make another people your successors and you can in no wise do Him any harm. Surely, my Lord is Guardian over all things. (Al Quran 11:51-58)
‘Ad were a people who built a landmark on every high place. They also lived in a fertile land of gardens and springs. When Hud warned his people, they commented that his words were ‘a customary device of the ancients.’ They were very confident that nothing would happen to them. The Quran says:
The’ Ad rejected the Messengers, when their brother Hud said to them: Will you not be righteous. I am sent to you as a trusty Messenger. So be mindful of your duty to Allah, and obey me. I ask of you no recompense for it; my recompense is with the Lord of the worlds. Do you build monuments on every eminence out of vanity, and erect palaces as though you will live for ever When you lay hands upon anyone you do so as tyrants. So fear Allah, and obey me. Fear Him Who has helped you with that which you know. He has helped you with cattle, and sons, and gardens, and springs. I fear for you the torment of an awful day. They retorted: It is the same to us whether thou admonish us or not, this is a habit which has been current among the ancients, and we shall never be punished. So they rejected him; and We destroyed them. In that indeed there is a Sign; but most of these would not believe. Surely, it is thy Lord Who is the Mighty, the Ever Merciful. (Al Quran 26:124-141)As already mentioned, a horrible sandstorm annihilated ‘Ad as if they had never existed.
According to the Holy Quran:
Then, when they saw the (penalty in the shape of) a cloud traversing the sky, coming to meet their valleys, they said, ‘This cloud will give us rain!’ Indeed not! It is the (calamity) ye were asking to be hastened! A wind wherein is a Grievous Penalty! (Al Quran 46:24)
ARCHEOLOGICAL SEARCH GUIDED BY THE HOLY QURAN
According to Nicholas Clapp:
Juri’s hunch to excavate the site’s north ridge could not have been more on target. We had uncovered the north wall and towers of an ancient fortress.As, at dusk, Baheet issued a call to prayer from Shisur’s minaret, I was prompted to read, as I had read many times before, the Koran’s sura “The Dawn” . . . “Have you not heard how Allah dealt with ‘Ad? The people of the many-columned city of lram, whose like has never been built in the whole land?”If this was Iram/Ubar, where were the columns? One explanation, I thought, lay in the Arabic word pronounced عماد imad. In contem¬porary usage, it means pillar, but older definitions were broader. In George Sale’s 1782 edition of the Koran, the first in English, the line in question is translated as “The people of lram, adorned with lofty buildings.” In the ancient world, lofty buildings would most likely have been what Juri was finding: towers.The prophet Muhammad, incidentally, decried “lofty buildings.” In a saying regarding “Signs of the End” (that is, the end of the world) he condemns them for presuming to soar higher than mosques. Given Ubar’s mythical repute for arrogance, how fitting that it be known for its “lofty buildings,” its towers.As the week progressed, Juri and his students unearthed the footing of a third tower and more of the fortress wall.
This pair of images from space shows a portion of the southern Empty Quarter of the Arabian Peninsula in the country of Oman. On the left is a radar image of the region around the site of the fabled Lost City of Ubar, discovered in 1992 with the aid of remote sensing data. On the right is an enhanced optical image taken by the shuttle astronauts. Ubar existed from about 2800 BC to about 300 AD. and was a remote desert outpost where caravans were assembled for the transport of frankincense across the desert. The actual site of the fortress of the Lost City of Ubar, currently under excavation, is too small to show in either image. However, tracks leading to the site, and surrounding tracks, show as prominent, but diffuse, reddish streaks in the radar image. Although used in modern times, field investigations show many of these tracks were in use in ancient times as well. Mapping of these tracks on regional remote sensing images provided by the Landsat satellite was a key to recognizing the site as Ubar. The prominent magenta colored area is a region of large sand dunes. The green areas are limestone rocks, which form a rocky desert floor. A major wadi, or dry stream bed, runs across the scene and appears as a white line. The radar images, and ongoing field investigations, will help shed light on an early civilization about which little in known.
“At a more abstract level, Petra’s history allows us to contemplate the vulnerability of even the most successful and technologically assured society. Petra existed over a period of time equivalent to that between today and the mediaeval period in Europe. Like inhabitants of our modern world, the people of Petra would not have considered the possibility that their city would eventually be abandoned and their nation scattered. The disastrous effects of an earthquake on Petra’s buildings and water system could not have been calculated. The sudden rise of a religion among their southern neighbors, and its consequences for changing trade patterns throughout the known world, was impossible to predict.Archaeology’s most valuable contribution may be its demonstration of the transience of cities and civilizations — the realization that even the most successful eventually find themselves vulnerable to catastrophes that cannot be foreseen. Contemplating the ruin of Petra may well be an opportunity for us all to further cherish the present moment in our own ways of life.”
The case of those who take helpers besides Allah is like the case of the spider, who builds itself a house, but the frailest of all structures is the house of the spider, if they but knew. Surely, Allah knows whatever they call upon beside Him. He is the Mighty, the Wise. These are illustrations that We set forth for people, but only those who possess knowledge comprehend them. Allah has created the heavens and the earth for a purpose. In that surely is a Sign for the believers. (Al Quran 29:42-45)&Does it not lead those, who have inherited the earth in succession to its former inhabitants, to realize that if We please, We can smite them also for their sins and seal up their hearts, so that they would not listen to words of guidance. Such were the towns some of whose news We have related to thee. And verily the Messengers came to them with clear Signs. But they would not believe what they had rejected before. Thus does Allah seal up the hearts of the disbelievers. (Al Quran 7:101-102)
- Nicholas Clapp. The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999. Pages 189-190.
- Nicholas Clapp. The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999. Page 276.