PERISHED NATIONS II
THE PEOPLE OF SABA AND THE ARIM FLOOD
Saba, built in southern Arabia in the 11th century BC, was a great civilization.
The Qur’an relates the story of the Queen of Saba and the Prophet Sulayman in considerable detail.
However, there is another story in the Qur’an regarding this people, who appear before us in a violent act of destruction.
The oldest texts to refer to the People of Saba are the annual war chronicles from the time of the Assyrian King Sargon II. According to these inscriptions, Sargon mentions Saba as one of the states that pays tribute to him. This record is the oldest text giving firm information about the state of Saba.
Ancient texts that speak of the people of Saba say that like the Phoenicians they were a state that engaged in wide commercial activities, and that some of the most important trade routes in northern Arabia were in their hands.
The Sabaeans were known in history as a civilized people. The inscriptions of the Sabaean rulers frequently speak of “restoring,” “endowing,” and “building.”
The Ma’rib Dam, the ruins of which have survived down to the present day, is a major indication of Sabaean technology. Thanks to that dam, a bright green world was built in the middle of the desert.
The capital, that benefited from the dam, was Ma’rib, which had grown wealthy because of its many geographical advantages.
The capital stood close by the Adhanah River. The Sabaeans made use of this and built a dam here as they were constructing their civilization and began irrigating the area. Agriculture prospered, and they were thus able to enjoy high levels of well-being.
The capital Ma’rib was one of the most beautiful cities of the time. The Greek writer Pliny who travelled in the area and had great praise for this land, spoke in his works of the way it was all so verdant.
The dam at Ma’rib was 16 metres high, 60 metres wide and 620 metres long. Calculations have shown that two wide plains on both sides of the city could be watered by means of it.
These two plains are sometimes described on Sabaean inscriptions as “Marib and the twin plains.” The expression “two gardens to the right and to the left” in the Qur’an in all probability refers to the impressive vineyards and gardens in these two valleys. Thanks to the dam and its watering facilities, the region became famous as the best irrigated and most fertile in Yemen.
When we examine the verses in the Qur’an in the light of these historical facts we can see enormous compatibility between them. Archaeological discoveries and historical facts are totally compatible with what is written in the Qur’an. The people refused to heed the warnings of the prophet who was sent to them and were ungrateful for the blessings of God, and were eventually punished with a terrible catastrophe.
There was also a sign for Saba in their dwelling place: two gardens—one to the right and one to the left. “Eat of your Lord’s provision and give thanks to Him: a bountiful land and a forgiving Lord.” But they turned away so We unleashed against them the flood from the great dam and exchanged their two gardens for two others containing bitter-tasting plants and tamarisk and a few lote trees. That is how We repaid them for their ingratitude. Are any but the ungrateful repaid like this? (Qur’an, 34: 15-17)
The People of Saba lived in a strikingly beautiful area with fertile vineyards and gardens.
The country of Saba lay across trade routes and thus enjoyed a high level of prosperity, making it one of the most prominent cities of the age.
What the people of Saba needed to do under such agreeable conditions was to “eat of the sustenance provided by their Lord and be grateful to Him”. Yet they did not do so. As a verse puts it, “they turned away from God…”
Their arrogance in their well-being caused them to lose it. The whole country was flattened in a terrible flood.
The vineyards and gardens of the people of Saba were suddenly left under the waters.
The punishment visited on the people of Saba is described in the Qur’an as “Seyl al-Arim,” or the Arim Flood. This term in the Qur’an also tell us the way this disaster occurred. The word “Arim” means “dam” or “dike.” “Seyl al-Arim” describes the way a flood occurs after a dike has been breached.
The Christian archaeologist Werner Keller agrees that the Arim flood came about in line with the description of the Qur’an, and writes:
For 1,500 years this garden of spices bloomed around Marib. That was until 542 B.C.—then the dam burst. The importunate desert crept over the fertile lands and destroyed them. “The people of Sheba”, says the Koran, “had beautiful gardens in which the most costly fruits ripened.” But then the people turned their backs upon God, wherefore he punished them by causing the dam to burst. Thereafter nothing but bitter fruit grew in the gardens of Sheba. (Werner Keller, The Bible as History, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1981, p. 216)
The dam, that may be considered the most important source of the People of Saba’s wealth and well-being, was also the means of that ungrateful people’s destruction.
After the disaster of the Arim flood, the area turned into a desert, and as the agricultural fields disappeared the People of Saba lost their most important source of revenue.
The People of Saba, who ignored God’s call to believe in Him and give thanks, were thus chastised.
Following the terrible damage wreaked by the flood, the people of Saba began to fall apart. They abandoned their homes and migrated to Northern Arabia, Mecca and Syria.
Ma’rib, where the People of Saba had once dwelt, was now a desolate ruin, and is most definitely a warning to everyone who commits the same mistakes as the People of Saba.
THE PHARAOH BURIED UNDER THE WATERS
One of the most ancient civilizations in the world is that of Egypt. Their discovery of writing around the 3rd millennium BC, the use they made of the River Nile and the way they defended themselves from attack all played a major role in allowing that civilization to advance.
Ancient Egypt rested on one of the world’s great natural wonders: The River Nile.
Thanks to the fertility of this river, which stretches from one end of the continent of Africa to the other, the Egyptians were able to engage in agriculture without having to depend on the rainy seasons. The historian Ernst Gombrich makes the following comments on the subject:
Africa is hot. It does not rain for months. Many parts of the continent are therefore arid. Those regions are covered in desert. That is the case to the right and left of Egypt. It rains very infrequently in Egypt. But there is not that much need for rain, because the River Nile flows right through the middle of the country.
Given its enormous strategic importance, he who controlled the Nile also controlled Egypt’s most important source of trade and agriculture, in other words its very life. Ancient Egyptian rulers built a mighty kingdom by that means. They would later come to be known as “pharaohs.”
The Ancient Egyptians possessed a deviant belief in a great many gods. They were fiercely devoted to that belief because of their terrible bigotry.
The people of Ancient Egypt were greatly influenced by their natural environment. The country’s physical geography protected it very well from external threats. Egypt was surrounded by deserts, mountainous lands and seas on all sides. There were two routes for an attacker to enter the country, and it was a simple task for the Egyptian Army to defend them.
The Egyptians remained isolated from the external world thanks to these natural factors. Over the centuries, that separation turned into harsh bigotry. Closed to new developments and reform, they clung fiercely to their beliefs.
Life after death formed the most important component of Egyptian belief. It was believed that the soul survived after the death of the body and that the soul of the deceased was held to account. Scales were brought and witnesses summoned, and the good and bad deeds of the deceased were discussed. Then the judge/god reached his verdict. Those whose good deeds weighed heaviest in the scales would lead a life of endless joy, and those whose evil deeds weighed heaviest would suffer eternal torment.
It is impossible not to see that the Egyptians’ belief in the afterlife shows parallels with monotheistic belief and the true religion. This shows that Ancient Egyptian civilization had once been part of the true religion and its revelation. That religion was later corrupted, however, and belief in one god turned into belief in many.
We know that from time to time messengers were sent to warn people of the oneness of God and to serve Him. One of these was the Prophet Yusuf, whose life is set out in the Qur’an in some detail. The Prophet Yusuf migrated to Egypt with the People of Israel and settled there. After his death there began a period of enslavement of the Children of Israel. That age would end with the sending of the Prophet Musa as an ambassador and his leading the Children of Israel out of Egypt.
The pharaohs of Egypt were cruel, oppressive, warlike and ruthless. One thing they had in common was that they all regarded themselves as great beings within the twisted Egyptian polytheistic system, and could shed blood without a moment’s remorse.
However, one pharaoh in Egyptian history was different to the others. That pharaoh maintained that there was but one Creator. For that reason alone, he was subjected to terrible pressure by the Priests of Amon, and eventually killed. That pharaoh was Amenhotep IV, who rose to power at the beginning of the 14th century BC.
When Amenhotep assumed the throne in 1375 BC, he encountered a conservativism that had grown over the centuries, and was subjected to great strife. The reason for that pressure was that he changed the polytheistic Egyptian religion, installing a belief in one god in its place, and embarked on wide-ranging changes in all areas. However, the leaders in the capital, Thebes, fought Amenhotep. Those who supported him left the city and migrated to another region. Here, Amenhotep changed his name to Ahk-en-aton, which meant the “servant of Aton.” Aton, according to Amenhotep, was “the creator of the heavens and the earth,” which indicates that he believed in God alone.
Other cruel pharaohs ascended the throne after Amenhotep. They set about spreading their traditional polytheistic religion once again, and did all in their power to return to the past. A century or so later, Rameses II came to the throne, who would enjoy the longest reign in the history of Egypt. According to a great many historians, it was Rameses who oppressed the Children of Israel and struggled against the Prophet Musa.
The Ancient Egyptians refused to give up their pagan beliefs because of their blind fanaticism. Messengers had come to warn them to believe in one god, but the people of Pharaoh had always returned to their old beliefs. Eventually, God sent the Prophet Musa as His messenger, at a time when the Children of Israel had been enslaved. The Prophet Musa was charged with both calling the Egyptians to the true religion and with guiding them to the true path by freeing them from slavery.
We recite to you with truth some news of Musa and Pharaoh for people who believe. Pharaoh exalted himself arrogantly in the land and divided its people into camps, oppressing one group of them by slaughtering their sons and letting their women live. He was one of the corrupters. We desired to show kindness to those who were oppressed in the land and to make them leaders and make them inheritors and establish them firmly in the land and to show Pharaoh and Haman and their troops the very thing that they were fearing from them. (Qur’an, 28: 3-6)
In obedience to God’s commandment, The Prophet Musa and his brother Harun went to Pharaoh and told him of God’s commands. What they wanted was for Pharaoh to cease oppressing the Children of Israel and set them free.
On the other hand, the religion proclaimed by the Prophet Musa was undermining Pharaoh’s power, and portraying him as a being on the same level as everyone else. Furthermore, if he freed the Children of Israel he would lose some important manpower.
For all these reasons then, Pharaoh refused to listen to what the Prophet Musa told him. He accused the prophet and his brother Harun of trying to disturb the established order and portrayed them as criminals.
Leading members of the people of Pharaoh also refused to obey the Prophet Musa and Harun. They refused to abide by the religion that had been revealed to them. They had no intention of abandoning the religion of their ancestors.
At that point, God visited a number of disasters on their heads.
Pharaoh and those close to him were so fanatically devoted to their polytheistic system and pagan beliefs, in other words “the religion of their ancestors,” that they were totally unwilling to give it up. Not even the miracles performed by the Prophet Musa could turn them from their superstitions. They openly stated the fact. According to Sura 7, verse 132:
They said, “No matter what kind of Sign you bring us to bewitch us, we will not believe in you.”
In the face of that obstinacy, God visited a number of disasters on them so they could have a taste of suffering while still in this world. The first of these was drought and scarcity of crops.
We seized Pharaoh’s people with years of drought and scarcity of fruits so that hopefully they would pay heed. (Qur’an, 7: 130)
The Egyptians had based their agricultural system on the Nile, for which reason changes in natural conditions did not affect them. However the arrogance of Pharaoh and his close circles towards God and their refusal to recognize His prophet led to a totally unexpected disaster being inflicted on them. In all probability, water levels in the River Nile dropped enormously for various reasons, and the irrigation canals from the river were unable to carry enough water to the fields. Extreme heat led to crops drying up. In this way, Pharaoh and his prominent followers encountered a disaster stemming from a most unexpected source—the River Nile itself. Sura 43, verse 51 reveals how this catastrophe dismayed Pharaoh who previously used to call to his people saying, “My people, does the kingdom of Egypt not belong to me? Do not all these rivers flow under my control? Do you not then see?”
Yet that was not the end of their problems. In fact, it was only the beginning. A whole string of other disasters followed the drought and the failure of the crops. These consisted, as the Qur’an tells us, of floods, locusts, lice, frogs and blood.
Despite all these things that had happened to them, Pharaoh and his people still refused to take the advice given to them and turn to God. In other words, they remained fixed in their arrogance.
Yet that would not last long!…
Since Pharaoh still refused to accept the might of God, despite everything that had happened, God told the Prophet Musa to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt. They obeyed the Prophet Musa and set out with him to leave Egypt. But Pharaoh could not accept their departure without his permission. He therefore gathered his army together and set out to follow the Children of Israel.
Pharaoh and his army caught up with the Children of Israel just as they reached the sea. When the Children of Israel saw this, some of them began to rise up against the Prophet Musa. According to the Old Testament, they said, “why did you take us away from our homeland, there we were slaves but we could lead our lives, now we will die.” The Qur’an describes that weakness of theirs in these words:
And when the two hosts came into sight of one another Musa’s companions said, “We will surely be overtaken!” (Qur’an, 26: 61)
According to Sura 26, verse 62, the Prophet Musa reassured those people who were afraid they would be recaptured, saying,
Never! My Lord is with me and He will guide me.
At that point God again showed his support for the Prophet Musa. What happened next is described in the Qur’an:
So We revealed to Musa, “Strike the sea with your staff.” And it split in two, each part like a towering cliff. And We brought the others right up to it. We rescued Musa and all those who were with him. Then We drowned the rest. There is certainly a Sign in that yet most of them do not believe. Truly your Lord is the Almighty, the Most Merciful. (Qur’an, 26: 63-68)
As Pharaoh and his men began to enter the sea, God miraculously closed the waters over their heads. The Qur’an states that as Pharaoh realized that he was about to die he stated that he believed in God:
…When he was on the point of drowning, he [Pharaoh] said, “I believe that there is no god but Him in whom the tribe of Israel believe. I am one of the Muslims.” (Qur’an, 10: 90)
Yet Pharaoh and his army were not saved from drowning. This fact is reported in the verses thus:
What, now! When previously you rebelled and were one of the corrupters? Today we will preserve your body so you can be a Sign for people who come after you. Surely many people are heedless of Our Signs. (Qur’an, 10: 91-92)
So God exacted retribution from them and drowned them in the sea, because they rejected His signs and failed to take warning from them.
Following Pharaoh’s violent death, the people of Israel set out for the land promised them by God:
And We bequeathed to the people who had been oppressed the easternmost part of the land We had blessed, and its westernmost part as well. The most excellent Word of your Lord was fulfilled for the tribe of Israel on account of their steadfastness… (Qur’an, 7: 137)
As we have seen, historical and archaeological discoveries regarding the peoples mentioned in the Qur’an reveal once more that the Qur’an is the word of God. People must learn from what befell these peoples and look for means to draw closer to God. Only in that way can they hope to be successful in the hereafter.