The Perished Nations Mentioned in the Holy Qur'an
These are some of the stories of communities which We relate unto thee: of them some are standing, and some have been mown down (by the sickle of time).
It was not We that wronged them: They wronged their own souls: the deities, other than Allah,
whom they invoked, profited them no whit when there issued the decree of thy Lord: Nor did they add aught (to their lot) but perdition! (Surah Hud: 100-101)
Allah creates man, and gives him a spiritual and physical form, lets him lead a certain course of life, and then will take him into His presence by bringing about his death. Allah creates man and according to the verse “Should He not know,- He that created?” (Surat al-Mulk: 14), He is the One Who knows and recognises him, who educates him and meets his needs. Therefore, the only real purpose man has in life is to praise Allah, supplicate Him and worship Him. For the same reason, the pure message, and the revelation of Allah communicated to people through His messengers is the sole guidance for man.
The Qur’an is the last book of Allah and His only unaltered revelation.
This is why we are responsible of assuming the Qur’an as our true guide, and for being extremely meticulous about all its judgements. This is the only way for salvation both here in this world and beyond.
Therefore, we need to explore very carefully and attentively what the Qur’an relates to us and contemplate it. In the Qur’an, Allah states that the purpose of the Qur’an’s revelation is to lead people to think:
Here is a Message for mankind: Let them take warning therefrom, and let them know that He is (no other than) One Allah: let men of understanding take heed. (Surah Ibrahim: 52)
The news of previous peoples which constitutes a great part of the Qur’an, is certainly one of the matters we ought to contemplate. A majority of these people rejected the prophets sent to them and, moreover, showed animosity towards them. Because of their audacity, they brought Allah’s wrath upon themselves and have been wiped off the face of the earth.
The Qur’an tells us that these cases of destruction should be a warning for succeeding generations. For instance, right after the description of the punishment given to a group of Jews who rebelled against Allah, it is said in the Qur’an; “So We made it an example to their own time and to their posterity, and a lesson to those who fear Allah.” (Surat al-Baqara: 66)
In this book, we will review some past societies that have been destroyed because of their rebellion against Allah. Our purpose is to highlight all these incidents, each of which is an “example to their own time”, so that they can set a “warning”.
The second reason we are examining these destructions is to show the manifestations of the verses of the Qur’an externally in the world and show the authenticity of the Qur’an’s account. In the Qur’an, Allah certifies that His verses are observable in the external world “Praise be to Allah, Who will soon show you His Signs, so that ye shall know them” (Surat an-Naml: 93), and to know and identify them is one of the primary ways leading to belief.
Nearly all the incidents of destruction related in the Qur’an have become “observable” and “identifiable” thanks to the current archive studies and archaeological finds. In this study, we will deal with the traces of some of the cases of destruction mentioned in the Qur’an. (It should be noted that some of the communities related in the Qur’an have not been included in the scope of this book, because in the Qur’an no specific time and place is given for some of them, which are only described for their rebellious conduct and antagonism towards Allah and His prophets, and for the disasters that befell them as a result. Thus, people are summoned to derive a warning from them)
Our purpose is to cast a light upon the realities of the Qur’an through contemporary discoveries and thus show the truth of Allah’s religion to everyone- both believers and unbelievers.
The People of Lut and the City which was Turned Upside Down
The people of Lut rejected (his) warning. We sent against them a violent Tornado with showers of stones, (which destroyed them), except Lut's household: them We delivered by early Dawn,- As a Grace from Us: thus do We reward those who give thanks. And (Lut) did warn them of Our Punishment, but they disputed about the Warning. (Surat al-Qamar:, 33-36)
Lut lived at the same time as Ibrahim. The Old Testament says that Lut was Ibrahim's nephew and that they travelled some distance together in Ibrahim's long journeys.
Lut was sent as a messenger to one of Ibrahim's neighbouring communities. These people, as the Qur’an tells us, practiced a perversion unknown to the world up to then, namely sodomy. When Lut told them to give up this perversion and brought them Allah's warning, they denied him, refused his prophethood, and carried on with their perversion. In the end, these people were destroyed by a dreadful disaster.
The city where Lut resided is referred to as Sodom in the Old Testament. Being situated at the north of the Red Sea, this community is understood to have been destroyed just as it is written in the Qur’an. Archaeological studies reveal that the city is located in the area of the Dead Sea which stretches along the Israel-Jordan border.
Before examining the remains of this disaster, let’s see why the people of Lut were punished in this fashion. The Qur’an tells how Lut warned his people and what they said in reply;
The people of Lut rejected the messengers. Behold, their brother Lut said to them: “Will ye not fear (Allah)? I am to you a messenger worthy of all trust. So fear Allah and obey me. No reward do I ask of you for it: my reward is only from the lord of the Worlds. Of all the creatures in the world, will ye approach males, And leave those whom Allah has created for you to be your mates? Nay, ye are a people transgressing (all limits)!”
They said: “If thou desist not, O Lut! thou wilt assuredly be cast out!”
He said: “I do detest your doings.” (Surat ash-Shuara: 160-168)
The people of Lut threatened him in response to his inviting them to the right way. His people detested him because of his showing them the right way, and wanted to banish both him and the other believers beside him. In other verses, the event is told as follows;
We also (sent) Lut: He said to his people: “Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practise your lusts on men in preference to women : ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.”
And his people gave no answer but this: they said, “Drive them out of your city: these are indeed men who want to be clean and pure!” (Surat al-Araf: 80-82)
Lut called his people to an obvious truth and warned them explicitly, but his people did not heed any warnings whatsoever and continued to reject Lut and to deny the penalty of which he told them.
And (remember) Lut: behold, he said to his people: “Ye do commit lewdness, such as no people in Creation (ever) committed before you. Do ye indeed approach men, and cut off the highway?- and practise wickedness (even) in your councils?” But his people gave no answer but this: they said: “Bring us the Wrath of Allah if thou tellest the truth.” (Surat al-Ankaboot: 28-29)
Receiving the above answer from his people, Lut asked for the help of Allah,
He said: “O my Lord! help Thou me against people who do mischief!” (Surat al-Ankaboot: 30)
“O my Lord! deliver me and my family from such things as they do!” (Surat ash-Shuara: 169)
Upon Lut’s prayer, Allah sent two angels in the form of men. These angels visited Ibrahim before coming to Lut. Giving Ibrahim the good news that his wife would give birth to an infant, the messengers explained the reason of their being sent: the insolent people of Lut were to be destroyed.
(Ibrahim) said: “And what, O ye Messengers, is your errand (now)?” They said, “We have been sent to a people (deep) in sin; To bring on, on them, (a shower of) stones of clay (brimstone), Marked as from thy Lord for those who trespass beyond bounds.” (Surat adh-Dhariyat: 31-34)
Excepting the adherents of Lut: them we are certainly (charged) to save (from harm),- All - Except his wife, who, We have ascertained, will be among those who will lag behind. (Surat al-Hijr: 59-60)
After leaving Ibrahim’s company, the angels, who were sent as messengers, came to Lut. Not having met the messengers before, Lut first became anxious, but then calmed down after talking to them;
When Our messengers came to Lut, he was grieved on their account and felt himself powerless (to protect) them. He said: “This is a distressful day.” (Surah Hud: 77)
He said: “Ye appear to be uncommon folk.” They said: “Yea, we have come to thee to accomplish that of which they doubt. We have brought to thee that which is inevitably due, and assuredly we tell the truth. Then travel by night with thy household, when a portion of the night (yet remains), and do thou bring up the rear: let no one amongst you look back, but pass on whither ye are ordered.” And We made known this decree to him, that the last remnants of those (sinners) should be cut off by the morning. (Surat al-Hijr: 62-66)
Meanwhile, his people had learned that Lut had visitors. They did not hesitate to approach these visitors perversely as they had approached others before. They encircled the house. Being afraid for his visitors, Lut addressed his people as follows;
Lut said: “These are my guests: disgrace me not: But fear Allah, and shame me not.” (Surat al-Hijr: 68-69)
The people of Lut retorted;
They said: “Did we not forbid thee (to speak) for all and sundry?” (Surat al-Hijr: 70)
Thinking that he and his visitors subjected to evil treatment, Lut said:
“Would that I had power to suppress you or that I could betake myself to some powerful support.” (Surah Hud: 80)
His “visitors” reminded him that they were the messengers of Allah and said;
(The Messengers) said: “O Lut! We are Messengers from thy Lord! By no means shall they reach thee! now travel with thy family while yet a part of the night remains, and let not any of you look back: but thy wife (will remain behind): To her will happen what happens to the people. Morning is their time appointed: Is not the morning nigh?” (Surah Hud: 81)
When the perversity of the city people reached its fullest extent, Allah saved Lut by means of the angels. In the morning, his people were destroyed by the disaster of which Lut had informed them in advance.
And they even sought to snatch away his guests from him, but We blinded their eyes. (They heard:) “Now taste ye My Wrath and My Warning.” Early on the morrow an abiding Punishment seized them: (Surat al-Qamar: 37-38)
The verses describe the destruction of this people as follows;
But the (mighty) Blast overtook them before morning, And We turned (the cities) upside down, and rained down on them brimstones hard as baked clay. Behold! in this are Signs for those who by tokens do understand. And the (cities were) right on the high-road. (Surat al-Hijr: 73-76)
When Our Decree issued, We turned (the cities) upside down, and rained down on them brimstones hard as baked clay, spread, layer on layer,-Marked as from thy Lord: Nor are they ever far from those who do wrong! (Surah Hud: 82-83)
But the rest We destroyed utterly. We rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): and evil was the shower on those who were admonished (but heeded not)! : Verily in this is a Sign: but most of them do not believe. And verily thy Lord is He, the Exalted in Might, Most Merciful. (Surat ash-Shuara: 172-175)
When the people were destroyed, only Lut and the believers, who were only as many as one “household”, were saved. Lut’s wife did not believe either and she was also destroyed.
We also (sent) Lut: He said to his people: “Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you?
For ye practise your lusts on men in preference to women : ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds.”
And his people gave no answer but this: they said, “Drive them out of your city: these are indeed men who want to be clean and pure!”
But we saved him and his family, except his wife: she was of those who legged behind.
And we rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): Then see what was the end of those who indulged in sin and crime! (Surat al-Araf: 80-84)
Thus, Prophet Lut was saved along with the believers and his family with the exception of his wife. As described in the Old Testament, he emigrated with Ibrahim. As for the perverted people, they were destroyed and their dwellings were razed to the ground.
“The Obvious Signs” in the Lake of Lut
The 82nd verse of Surah Hud, clearly states the kind of the disaster that befell the people of Lut. “When Our Decree issued, We turned (the cities) upside down, and rained down on them brimstones hard as baked clay, spread, layer on layer”
The statement of “turning (the cities) upside down” implies that the region was totally destroyed by a violent earthquake. Accordingly, The Lake of Lut, where the destruction took place, bears “obvious” evidence of such a disaster.
We quote German archaeologist Werner Keller as follows;
Together with the base of this mighty fissure, which runs precisely through this area, the Vale of Siddim, including Sodom and Gomorrah, plunged one day into the abyss. Their destruction came about through a great earthquake which was probably accompanied by explosions, lightning, issue of natural gas and general conflagration. (1)
As a matter of fact, the Lake of Lut, or the Dead Sea as it is otherwise known, is located right on the top of an active seismic region, that is, an earthquake zone:
The base of the dead sea is located with a tectonic rooted downfall. This valley is located in a tension stretching between the Taberiye Lake in the north, and mid of Arabah Valley in the south.(2)
The event was expressed as “we rained down on them brimstones hard as baked clay, spread, layer on layer” in the last part of the verse. This is in all probability meant to be the volcanic explosion that took place on the banks of the Lake of Lut, and because of which the rocks and stones that erupted were in a “baked form”. (The same event is related in the 173rd verse of Surat ash-Shuara as “We rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): and evil was the shower on those who were admonished (but heeded not)!”)
In relation to this subject, Werner Keller writes;
The subsidence released volcanic forces that had been lying dormant deep down along the whole length of the fracture. In the upper valley of the Jordan near Bashan there are still towering craters of extinct volcanoes; great stretches of lava and deep layers of basalt have been deposited on the limestone surface.(3)
These lava and basalt layers constitute the greatest evidence that a volcanic explosion and earthquake had once taken place here. The catastrophe depicted in the following expression as “we rained down on them brimstones hard as baked clay, spread, layer on layer” in the Qur’an most probably points to this volcanic explosion, and Allah knows best. The expression “When Our Decree issued, We turned (the cities) upside down” which occurs in the same verse, must be referring to the earthquake which caused volcanoes to erupt over the surface of the earth with devastating impact, and to the fissures and debris brought by it, and only Allah knows the truth of it.
The “obvious signs” conveyed by the Lake of Lut are indeed very interesting. In general, the events which are related in the Qur’an take place in the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt. Right in the middle of these lands, is the Lake of Lut. The Lake of Lut, as well as the incidents that have taken place around it, deserves attention geologically. The Lake is approximately 400 meters below the surface of the Mediterranean. Since the deepest place in the Lake is 400 meters, the bottom of the Lake is 800 meters below the surface of the Mediterranean.
The incident of Lut’s people, which is recounted in the Qur’an, occurred around 1800 B.C. according to estimates. Based on his archaeological and geological researches, the German researcher Werner Keller noted that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were in fact located in the Siddim Valley which was the region at the furthers and lowest end of the Lake of Lut, and that there were once big and widely inhabited sites in those regions.
The most interesting structural characteristic of the Lake of Lut is an evidence showing how the disaster incidence recounted in the Qur’an took place;
On the eastern shore of the Dead Sea the peninsula of el-Lisan protrudes like a tongue far into the water. El-Lisan means “the tongue” in Arabic. Unseen from the land the ground falls away here under the surface of the water at a prodigious angle, dividing the sea into two parts. To the right of the peninsula the ground slopes sharply down to a depth of 1200 feet. On the left of the peninsula the water remains remarkably shallow. Soundings taken in the last few years established depths of only fifty to sixty feet. That extraordinary shallow part of the Dead Sea, from the peninsula el-Lisan to the southernmost tip, was the Vale of Siddim. (4)
Werner Keller noted that this shallow part, which was discovered to have formed subsequently, was the outcome of the aforementioned earthquake and the massive collapse this earthquake had caused. This was the place where Sodom and Gomorrah were situated, that is, where Lut’s people lived.
Once, it was possible to cross this region by walking. However, now, the Vale of Siddim, where Sodom and Gomorrah were once situated, is covered by the flat surface of the lower part of the Dead Sea. The collapse of the base as a result of the dreadful catastrophe that came to pass in the beginning of the 2nd. millennium B.C., caused salt water from the north to flow into this recently formed cavity and filled the basin with salty water.
The traces of the Lake of Lut are visible… When one takes a rowing boat across the Lake of Lut to the southernmost point, if the sun is shining in the right direction, one sees something quite fantastic. Some distance from the shore and clearly visible under the surface of the water, there are the outlines of the forests which the extraordinarily high salt content of the Dead Sea preserved.
The trunks and roots in the shimmering green water are very ancient. The Siddim valley, where these trees were once in blossom green foliage covered their twigs and branches, was one of the most beautiful locations in the region.
The mechanical aspect of the disaster that befell people of Lut is revealed by the researches of the geologists. These reveal that the earthquake which destroyed the people of Lut, came about in consequence of quite a long crack in the earth (a fault line), along the 190 kilometres distance making up the bed of the River Sheri’at. River Sheri’at makes a fall of 180 meters in total. Both this and the fact that the Lake of Lut is 400 metres below sea level are two important pieces of evidence showing that an enormous geological event has taken place here.
The interesting structure of River of Sheri’at and the Lake of Lut make up only a small part of the crack or split passing from this region of the earth. The condition and length of this crack have only recently been discovered.
The fault starts from the outskirts of Mount Taurus, stretches to the southern shores of the Lake of Lut and proceeds over the Arabian desert to the Gulf of Aqaba and continues across the Red Sea, ending up in Africa. Along the length of it, strong volcanic activities are observed. Black basalt and lava exist in the Galilee Mountains in Israel, high plain regions of Jordan, the Gulf of Aqaba and other areas nearby.
All these remains and geographical evidences show that a catastrophic geological event took place in the Lake of Lut. Werner Keller writes,
Together with the base of this mighty fissure, which runs precisely through this area, the Vale of Siddim, including Sodom and Gomorrah, plunged one day into the abyss. Their destruction came about through a great earthquake which was probably accompanied by explosions, lightning, issue of natural gas and general conflagration. The subsidence released volcanic forces that had been lying dormant deep down along the whole length of the fracture. In the upper valley of the Jordan near Bashan there are still towering craters of extinct volcanoes; great stretches of lava and deep layers of basalt have been deposited on the limestone surface. (5)
National Geographic makes the following comment on December 1957;
The mount of Sodom, a barren wasteland, rises sharply above the dead sea. No one has ever found the destroyed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, but scholars believe that they stood in the Vale of Siddim across from these cliffs. Possibly flood waters of the Dead Sea engulfed them following an earthquake. (6)
Pompeii Had a Similar End
The Qur’an tells us in the following verses that there is no change in Allah’s laws;
They swore their strongest oaths by Allah that if a warner came to them, they would follow his guidance better than any (other) of the Peoples: But when a warner came to them, it has only increased their flight (from righteousness),- On account of their arrogance in the land and their plotting of Evil, but the plotting of Evil will hem in only the authors thereof. Now are they but looking for the way the ancients were dealt with? But no change wilt thou find in Allah's way (of dealing): no turning off wilt thou find in Allah's way (of dealing). (Surat al-Fatir: 42-43)
Yes, “no change will be found in Allah’s way (rules)”. Everybody, who stands against His laws and rebels against Him, is subject to the same divine law. Pompeii, the symbol of the degeneration of the Roman Empire, was also involved in sexual perversity. Its end was similar to that of the people of Lut.
The destruction of Pompeii came by means of the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius.
The volcano Vesuvius is the symbol of Italy, primarily the city of Naples. Remaining silent for the last two millennia, Vesuvius is named the “Mountain of Warning”. It is not without cause that Vesuvius is known as such. The disaster that befell Sodom and Gomorrah is very similar to the disaster that destroyed Pompeii.
To the right of Vesuvius lies Naples and to the east lies Pompeii. The lava and ash of a huge volcanic eruption, that happened two millennia ago, caught the inhabitants of that city. The disaster happened so suddenly that everything in the town was caught in the middle of its everyday life and remains today exactly as it was two millennia ago. It is as if the time had been frozen.
The removal of Pompeii from the face of the earth by such a disaster was not purposeless. The historical record shows that the city was exactly a center of dissipation and perversity. The city was marked by a rise in prostitution to such an extent that even the number of brothels was not known. Male organs in their original sizes were hung on the doors of the brothels. According to this tradition, rooted in Mithraic belief, sexual organs and sexual intercourse should not be hidden but displayed openly.
But the lava of Vesuvius wiped the whole city off the map in a single moment. The most interesting aspect of the event is that nobody escaped despite the terrible violence of the eruption of Vesuvius. It is almost like they did not even notice the catastrophe, as if they were charmed. A family eating their meal were petrified right at that moment. Numerous petrified couples were found in the act of intercourse. The most interesting thing is that there were couples of the same sex and couples of young boys and girls. The faces of some of the petrified human corpses unearthed from Pompeii were unharmed. The general expression on those faces was bewilderment.
Here lies the most incomprehensible aspect of the calamity. How did thousands of people wait to be caught by death without seeing and hearing anything?
This aspect of the event shows that the disappearance of Pompeii was similar to the destructive events mentioned in the Qur’an, because the Qur’an particularly points to “sudden annihilation” while relating these events. For example, the “inhabitants of the city” described in Surah Ya-seen died all at once in a single moment. The situation is told as follows in the 29th. verse of the surah;
It was no more than a single mighty Blast, and behold! they were (like ashes) quenched and silent.
In the 31st verse of Surat al-Qamar, again the “instantaneous annihilation” is emphasised when the destruction of Thamud is recounted;
For We sent against them a single Mighty Blast, and they became like the dry stubble used by one who pens cattle.
The death of the people of Pompeii took place instantaneously as just as the events recounted in the above verses.
Despite all these, things have not changed much where Pompeii once stood. The districts of Naples where debauchery prevails do not fall short of those licentious districts of Pompeii. The Island of Capri is a base where homosexuals and nudists reside. The Island of Capri is represented as a “Homosexual paradise” in tourist commercials. Not only on Capri and in Italy, but in nearly all the world, a similar moral degeneration is at work and people insist on not learning from the awful experiences of past peoples.
The People of ‘Ad and Ubar, the Atlantis of the Sands
And the 'Ad, they were destroyed by a furious Wind,exceedingly violent;
He made it rage against them seven nights and eight days in succession: so that thou couldst see the (whole) people lying prostrate in its (path), as they had been roots of hollow palm-trees tumbled down! Then seest thou any of them left surviving? (Surat al-Haaqqa: 6-8)
Another people who were destroyed and who are mentioned in various Surah of the Qur’an is ‘Ad, who are mentioned after the people of Nuh. Being sent to ‘Ad, Hud summoned his people, just like all the other prophets had done, to believe in Allah without ascribing partners to Him and to obey him, the prophet of that time. The people reacted to Hud with animosity. They accused him of imprudence, untruthfulness, and attempting to change the system their ancestors had established.
In Surah Hud, all that passed between Hud and his people is told in detail;
To the Ad People (We sent) Hud, one of their own brethren. He said: “O my people! worship Allah! ye have no other god but Him. (Your other gods) ye do nothing but invent!
O my people! I ask of you no reward for this (Message). My reward is from none but Him who created me: Will ye not then understand?
And O my people! Ask forgiveness of your Lord, and turn to Him (in repentance): He will send you the skies pouring abundant rain, and add strength to your strength: so turn ye not back in sin!”
They said: “O Hud! No Clear (Sign) that hast thou brought us, and we are not the ones to desert our gods on thy word! Nor shall we believe in thee!
We say nothing but that (perhaps) some of our gods may have seized thee with imbecility.”
He said: “I call Allah to witness, and do ye bear witness, that I am free from the sin of ascribing, to Him, Other gods as partners! so scheme (your worst) against me, all of you, and give me no respite. I put my trust in Allah, My Lord and your Lord! There is not a moving creature, but He hath grasp of its fore-lock. Verily, it is my Lord that is on a straight Path.
If ye turn away,- I (at least) have conveyed the Message with which I was sent to you. My Lord will make another people to succeed you, and you will not harm Him in the least. For my Lord hath care and watch over all things.”
So when Our decree issued, We saved Hud and those who believed with him, by (special) Grace from Ourselves: We saved them from a severe penalty.
Such were the Ad People: they rejected the Signs of their Lord and Cherisher; disobeyed His messengers; And followed the command of every powerful, obstinate transgressor.
And they were pursued by a Curse in this life - and on the Day of Judgment. Ah! Behold! for the 'Ad rejected their Lord and Cherisher! Ah! Behold! removed (from sight) were 'Ad the people of Hud! (Surah Hud: 50-60)
Another Surah mentioning ‘Ad is Surat ash-Shuara. In this Surah, some characteristics of ‘Ad are emphasised. According to this, ‘Ad were a people who “build a landmark on every high place” , and its members “get for themselves fine buildings in the hope of living therein (for ever)”. Besides, they did mischief and behaved brutally. 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 'Ad (people) rejected the messengers.
Behold, their brother Hud said to them: “Will ye not fear (Allah)?
I am to you a messenger worthy of all trust:
So fear Allah and obey me. No reward do I ask of you for it: my reward is only from the Lord of the Worlds.
Do ye build a landmark on every high place to amuse yourselves? And do ye get for yourselves fine buildings in the hope of living therein (for ever)? And when ye exert your strong hand, do ye do it like men of absolute power?
Now fear Allah, and obey me.
Yea, fear Him Who has bestowed on you freely all that ye know.
Freely has He bestowed on you cattle and sons,-
And Gardens and Springs.
Truly I fear for you the Penalty of a Great Day.”
They said: “It is the same to us whether thou admonish us or be not among (our) admonishers!
This is no other than a customary device of the ancients, And we are not the ones to receive Pains and Penalties!”
So they rejected him, and We destroyed them. Verily in this is a Sign: but most of them do not believe.
And verily thy Lord is He, the Exalted in Might, Most Merciful.
(Surat ash-Shuara: 123-140)
The people who showed animosity to Hud and rebelled against Allah, were indeed destroyed. A horrible sandstorm annihilated ‘Ad as if they had “never existed”.
The Archaeological Findings of the City of Iram
At the beginning of 1990, there appeared press-releases in the well-known newspapers of the world declaring “Fabled Lost Arabian city found”, “Arabian city of Legend found”, “The Atlantis of the Sands, Ubar”. What rendered this archaeological find more intriguing was the fact that this city was also referred to in the Qur’an. Many people who, since then, thought that ‘Ad recounted in the Qur’an were a legend or that their location could never be found, could not conceal their astonishment at this discovery. The discovery of this city, which was only mentioned in oral stories of Bedouins, awoke great interest and curiosity.
It was Nicholas Clapp, an amateur archaeologist, who found this legendary city mentioned in the Qur’an. (7) Being an Arabophile and a winning documentary film maker, Clapp had come across a very interesting book during his research on Arabian history. This book was Arabia Felix written by the English researcher Bertram Thomas in 1932. Arabia Felix was the Roman designation for the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula which today includes Yemen and much of Oman. The Greeks called this area “Eudaimon Arabia” and medieval Arab scholars called it “Al-Yaman as-Saida”. (8)
All of these names mean “Fortunate Arabia”, because the people living in that region in old times were known to be the most fortunate people of their time. Well, what was the reason for such a designation?
Their good fortune was in part due to their strategic location - serving as middlemen in the spice trade between India and places north of the Arabian peninsula. Besides, the people living in this region produced and distributed “frankincense”, an aromatic resin from rare trees. Being highly favoured by the ancient communities, this plant was used as a fumigant in various religious rites. In those times, the plant was at least as valuable as gold.
The English researcher Thomas, described these “lucky” tribes at length and claimed that he found the traces of an ancient city founded by one of these tribes.(9) This was the city known as “Ubar” by the bedouins. In one of the trips he made to the region, the bedouins living in the desert had shown him well-worn tracks and stated that these tracks led toward the ancient city of Ubar. Thomas, who showed great interest in the subject, died before being able to complete his research.
Clapp, who examined what the English researcher Thomas wrote, was convinced of the existence of the lost city described in the book. Without losing much time, he started his research.
Clapp tried two ways to prove the existence of Ubar. First, he found the tracks which the Bedoins said existed. He applied to NASA to provide the satellite images of the area. After a long struggle, he succeeded in persuading the authorities to take the pictures of the region.(10)
Clapp went on to study the ancient manuscripts and maps in the Huntington library in California. His aim was to find a map of the region. After a short research, he found one. What he found was a map drawn by the Greek-Egyptian geographer Ptolemy in 200. A.D. In the map was shown the location of an old city found in the region and the ways that led to this city.
Meanwhile, he received the news that the pictures had been taken by NASA. In the pictures, some caravan trails became visible which were difficult to identify with the naked eye, but could only be seen as a whole from the sky. Comparing these pictures with the old map he had to hand, Clapp finally reached the conclusion he was looking for: the trails in the old map corresponded with the trails in the pictures taken from the satellite. The final destination of these trails was a broad site understood to have once been a city.
Finally, the location of the legendary city which had been subject of the stories told orally by the bedouins was discovered. After a short while, excavations began and remains of an old city started to be uncovered under the sands. Thus, this lost city was described as “the Atlantis of the Sands, Ubar”.
Well, what was it that proved this city to be the city of the people of ‘Ad mentioned in the Qur’an?
Right from the moment remains started to be unearthed, it was understood that this ruined city belonged to ‘Ad and of Iram’s pillars mentioned in the Qur’an, because among the structures unearthed were the towers particularly referred to in the Qur’an. A member of the research team leading the excavation, Dr. Zarins, said that since the towers were alleged to be the distinctive feature of Ubar, and since Iram was mentioned as having towers or pillars, this then was the strongest proof so far that the site they had unearthed was Iram, the city of ‘Ad described in the Qur’an. The Qur’an mentions Iram as follows;
Seest thou not how thy Lord dealt with the 'Ad (people),-
Of the (city of) Iram, with lofty pillars,
The like of which were not produced in (all) the land? (Surat al-Fajr: 6-8)
The People of ‘Ad
So far, we have seen that Ubar could possibly be the city of Iram mentioned in the Qur’an. According to the Qur’an, the inhabitants of the city did not listen to the prophet Hud, who had brought a message to them and who warned them, and so they perished.
The identity of ‘Ad who found the city of Iram has also created much debate. In historical records, there is no mention of a people having such a developed culture or of the civilisation they established. It might be thought quite strange that the name of such a people is not found in historical records.
On the other hand, it shouldn’t be so surprising not to come across the presence of these people in the records and archives of old civilisations. The reason for that is that these people lived in South Arabia, which was a region distant from other people living in the Mesopotamia region and the Middle East, and which only had a restricted relationship with them. It was a common situation for a state, which is scarcely known, not to be recorded in the historical records. On the other hand, it is possible to hear stories among people in the Middle East about ‘Ad.
The most important reason why ‘Ad have not been mentioned in the written records is that written communication was not common in the region at that time. Therefore, it is possible to think that ‘Ad founded a civilisation but this civilisation had not been mentioned in the historical records of those other civilisations that kept documentation. If this culture had existed a little longer, maybe much more would be known about these people in our day.
There is no written record of ‘Ad, but it is possible to find important information about their “descendants” and to have an idea about ‘Ad in the light of this information.
Hadramites, the descendants of ‘Ad
The first place to be looked at while searching for the traces of a probable civilisation established by ‘Ad or their descendants, is South Yemen, where “The Atlantis of the Sands, Ubar” is found and which is referred to as “Fortunate Arabia”. In South Yemen, four peoples have existed before our time who are named “Fortunate Arabs” by the Greeks. These are the Hadramites, Sabaeans, Minaeans and Qatabaeans. These four peoples reigned for a while together in territories close to each other.
Many contemporary scientists say that ‘Ad entered into a period of transformation and then re-appeared on the stage of history. Dr. Mikail H. Rahman, a researcher at the University of Ohio, believes that ‘Ad are the ancestors of the Hadramites, one of the four peoples who lived in South Yemen. Appearing around 500 B.C., The Hadramites are the least known among the people called “Fortunate Arabs”. These people reigned over the region of South Yemen for a very long time and disappeared totally in 240 A.D. at the end of a long period of decline.
The name of Hadrami hints that those may be the descendants of ‘Ad. The Greek writer Pliny, living at the 3rd Century B.C. referred to this tribe as “Adramitai” - meaning the Hadrami.(11) The termination of the Greek name is a noun-suffix, the noun being “Adram” which immediately suggests that it is a possible corruption of “Ad-i Iram” mentioned in the Qur’an.
The Greek geographer Ptolemy (150-100 A.D.) shows the south of the Arabian Peninsula as the place where the people called “Adramitai” lived. This region has been known by the name of “Hadhramaut” until recently. The capital city of the Hadrami State, Shabwah, was situated at the west of the Hadhramaut Valley. According to many old legends, the tomb of the prophet Hud, who was sent as a messenger to ‘Ad, is in Hadhramaut .
Another factor which tends to confirm the thought that the Hadramites are a continuation of ‘Ad, is their wealth. The Greeks defined the Hadramites as the “richest race in the world…”. Historical records say that the Hadramites had gone very far in the agriculture of “frankincense”, one of the most valuable plants of the time. They had found new areas of usage for the plant and widened its usage. The agricultural production of the Hadramites was much higher than production of this plant in our day.
What has been found in the excavations made in Shabwah, which is known to have been the capital city of the Hadramites, is very interesting. In these excavations which started in 1975, it was extremely difficult for archaeologists to reach the remains of the city due to the deep sand dunes. The finds obtained by the end of the excavations were astonishing; because the uncovered ancient city was one of the most overwhelmingly interesting found until then. The walled town that was revealed was of a larger extent than of any other ancient Yemeni site and its palace was remarked to be a truly magnificent building
Doubtless, it was very logical to suppose that the Hadramites had inherited this architectural superiority from their forerunners, ‘Ad. Hud said to the people of ‘Ad while warning them;
Do ye build a landmark on every high place to amuse yourselves? And do ye get for yourselves fine buildings in the hope of living therein (for ever)? (Surat ash-Shuara: 128-129)
Another interesting characteristic of the buildings found at Shabwah was the elaborate columns. The columns that were at Shabwah seemed to be quite unique in being round and arranged in a circular portico, whereas all other sites in Yemen so far had been found to have square monolithic columns. The people of Shabwah must have inherited the architectural style of their ancestors, ‘Ad. Photius, a Greek Byzantine Patriarch of Constantinople in the 9th. Century A.D., made vast research on the Southern Arabs and their commercial activities because he had access to the old Greek manuscripts no longer extant in our day, and particularly the book of Agatharachides (132 B.C.), Concerning the Erythraean (Red) Sea. Photius said in one of his articles; “It is said that they (South Arabians) have built many columns covered in gold or made of silver. Spaces between these columns are remarkable to behold” (12)
Although the above statement of Photius does not directly refer to the Hadramites, it does give an idea of the affluence and building prowess of the people living in the region. Greek classical writers Pliny and Strabo describe these cities as “adorned with beautiful temples and palaces”.
When we think that the owners of these cities were the descendants of ‘Ad, it is clearly understood why the Qur’an defines the home of ‘Ad as “the city of Iram, with lofty pillars” (Surat al-Fajr: 7).
The Springs and the Gardens of ‘Ad
Today, the landscape that someone, who travels to Southern Arabia, would most frequently come across is the vast desert. Most of the places, with the exception of the cities and regions that have been later afforested, are covered with sand. These deserts have been there for hundreds and maybe thousands of years.
But in the Qur’an, an interesting information is given in one of the verses recounting ‘Ad. While warning his people, Prophet Hud draws their attention to the springs and gardens with which Allah had endowed them;
Now fear Allah, and obey me. Yea, fear Him Who has bestowed on you freely all that ye know. Freely has He bestowed on you cattle and sons,- And Gardens and Springs. Truly I fear for you the Penalty of a Great Day. (Surat ash-Shuara: 131-135)
But as we have noted before, Ubar, which has been identified with the city of Iram, and any other place which is likely to have been the residence of ‘Ad, is totally covered with desert today. So, why did Hud use such an expression while warning his people?
The answer is hidden in the climatic changes of history. Historical records reveal that these areas which have turned into desert now, had once been very productive and green lands. A great part of the region was covered with green areas and springs as told in the Qur’an, less than a few thousand years ago, and the people of the region made use of these endowments. The forests softened the harsh climate of the region and made it more habitable. Deserts existed, but did not cover such a vast area as today.
In Southern Arabia, important clues have been acquired in the regions where ‘Ad lived, which could cast a light upon this subject. These show that the inhabitants of that region used a highly developed irrigation system. This irrigation most probably served a single purpose: agriculture. In those regions, which are not appropriate for life today, people once cultivated the land.
Satellite imaging had also revealed an extensive system of ancient canals and dams used in irrigation around Ramlat as Sab’atayan which is estimated to have been able to support 200.000 people in the associated cities.(13) As Doe, one of the researchers conducting the research, said; “So fertile was the area around Ma’rib, that one might conceive that the whole region between Ma’rib and Hadhramaut was once under cultivation.” (14)
The Greek classical writer Pliny had described this region as being very fertile, and mist-covered with forested mountains, rivers and unbroken tracts of forests. In the inscriptions found in some ancient temples close to Shabwah, the capital city of the Hadramites, it was written that animals were hunted in this region and that some were sacrificed. All these reveal that this region was once covered with fertile lands as well as desert.
The speed with which the desert can encroach can be seen in some recent research done by the Smithsonian Institute in Pakistan where an area known to be fertile in the middle ages has turned into sandy desert, with dunes 6 meters high, the desert being found to expand on average 6 inches a day. At this speed, the sands can swallow even the highest buildings, and cover them as if they had never existed. Thus excavations at Timna in Yemen in the 1950’s have been almost completely covered up again. The Egyptian pyramids were also entirely under sands once and were only brought to light after very long-lasting excavations. Briefly, it is very clear that regions known to be desert today could have had different appearances in the past.
How were ‘Ad ruined?
In the Qur’an, ‘Ad are said to have perished through a “furious wind”. In the verses, it is mentioned that this furious wind lasted for seven nights and eight days and destroyed ‘Ad totally.
The 'Ad (people) (too) rejected (Truth): then how terrible was My Penalty and My Warning? For We sent against them a furious wind, on a Day of violent Disaster, Plucking out men as if they were roots of palm-trees torn up (from the ground). (Surat al-Qamar: 18-20)
And the 'Ad, they were destroyed by a furious Wind, exceedingly violent. He made it rage against them seven nights and eight days in succession: so that thou couldst see the (whole) people lying prostrate in its (path), as they had been roots of hollow palm-trees tumbled down! (Surat al-Haaqqa: 6-7)
Though warned previously, the people had paid no attention to the warnings whatsoever and continuously refused their messengers. They were in such delusion that they could not even understand what was happening when they saw the destruction approaching them and continued with their denial.
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!”. Nay, it is the (Calamity) ye were asking to be hastened!- A wind wherein is a Grievous Penalty! (Surat al-Ahqaf : 24)
In the verse, it is stated that the people saw the cloud that would bring them calamity, but could not understand what it was and thought that it was a rain cloud. This is an important indication as to how the calamity was as it drew near to the people, because a cyclone proceeding along whipping up the desert sand also seems like a rain cloud from a distance. It is possible that ‘Ad were deceived by this appearance and did not notice the calamity. Doe gives a description of these sand storms (which seems to be from personal experience); “The first sign (of a dust or sandstorm) is an approaching wall of dust-laden air which may be several thousand feet in height lifted by the strong rising currents and stirred by a fairly strong wind.” (15)
Thought to be the remains of ‘Ad, “the Atlantis of the Sands, Ubar” has been recovered from under a layer of sand metres thick. It seems that the furious wind lasting for “seven nights and eight days” by the Qur’an’s description, accumulated tons of sand on top of the city and buried people under the earth alive. Excavations made in Ubar point to the same possibility. The French magazine, Ça M’Interesse states the same as follows “Ubar was buried under a sand of 12 meters thickness as a result of a storm”(16)
The most important evidence showing that ‘Ad were buried by a sand storm, is the word “ahqaf” used in the Qur’an to signify the location of ‘Ad. The description used in the 21st verse of Surat al-Ahqaf is as follows;
Mention (Hud) one of 'Ad's (own) brethren: Behold, he warned his people about the winding Sand-tracts: but there have been warners before him and after him: “Worship ye none other than Allah: Truly I fear for you the Penalty of a Mighty Day.”
Ahqaf means “sand dunes” in Arabic and it is the plural form of the word “hiqf” which means a “sand dune”. This shows that ‘Ad lived in a region full of “sand dunes”, which provided the most logical ground possible for the fact that they were buried by a sand storm. According to one interpretation, ahqaf lost its meaning of “sand hills” and became the name of the region in south Yemen where ‘Ad lived. This does not change the fact that the root of this word is sand dunes, but just shows that this word has since become peculiar to this area because of the abundant sand dunes in the region.
As a consequence, it can be said that historical and archaeological finds indicate beyond reasonable that ‘Ad and the city of Iram must have existed and were destroyed as described in the Qur’an. By later researches, the remains of these people have been recovered from the sands.
What one should do in looking at those remains buried in the sands, is to take warning just as the Qur’an stresses. The Qur’an states that ‘Ad went astray of the right path because of their arrogance and said “Who is superior to us in strength?”. In the rest of the verse, it is said “What! did they not see that Allah, Who created them, was superior to them in strength?” (Surah Fussilat: 15)
What a person has to do is bear this unchangeable fact in mind all the time and understand that the greatest and the most honoured is always Allah and that one can only prosper by adoring Him.
Fir’awn Who Was Drowned
(Deeds) after the manner of the people of Fir’awn and those before them": They treated as false the Signs of their Lord: so We destroyed them for their crimes, and We drowned the people of Fir’awn: for they were all oppressors and wrong-doers. (Surat al-Anfal:, 54)
Ancient Egyptian Civilisation, along with other city states established in Mesopotamia at the same time, is known to be one of the oldest civilisations in the world and it is recognised to have been an organised state with the most advanced social order of its age. The facts that they discovered writing around the 3rd millennium B.C. and used it, that they made use of the river Nile and were protected against dangers abroad on account of the natural setting of the country, greatly contributed to the Egyptians improving their civilisation.
But this “civilised” society was one in which “the reign of pharaohs” prevailed, which is the system of denial mentioned in the clearest and most straightforward way in the Qur’an. They puffed up with pride, turned aside, and blasphemed. In the end, neither their advanced civilisations, their social and political orders, nor their military successes could save them from being destroyed.
The Authority of the Pharaohs
The Egyptian civilisation was based on the fertility of the River Nile. Egyptians had settled in the Nile valley due to the abundant water of this river, and because they could cultivate the land with the water supplied by the river without being dependent on rainy seasons. The historian Ernst H. Gombrich states in his writing that Africa is very hot and sometimes it does not rain there at all for months. For this reason, many areas in this huge continent are extremely dry. Those parts of the continent are covered with vast desert. Both sides of the River Nile are also covered with deserts, and it hardly rains in Egypt. But in this country, rain is not needed so much, because the River Nile runs right down the middle of the whole country. (17)
The borders of Ancient Egypt during its most brilliant period. The country which grew around the River Nile succeeded in establishing an extremely powerful civilisation despite being surrounded by deserts and other natural impediments. It is the bountiful supply of water continuously provided by the River Nile, that underlie this fact. The systematically organised army, which was built up during a period of development lasting for centuries, allowed for the enlargement of the country so that it reached the borders of the states of Hittites and Mitanni.
So, whoever has control of the River Nile, which is of such great importance, is also able to control Egypt’s biggest source of commerce and agriculture. The Fir’awns were able to establish their dominance over Egypt in this way.
The narrow and vertical form of the Nile valley did not allow residential units situated around the river to expand much, and therefore Egyptians formed a civilisation made up of small-scaled towns and villages instead of big cities. This factor also fortified the dominance the pharaohs had over their people.
King Menes is known to be the first Egyptian Pharaoh who united the whole of ancient Egypt, for the first time in history, in a united state around the 3rd millennium B.C.. In fact, the term “pharaoh” originally referred to the palace where the Egyptian king lived, but in time, it became the title of Egyptian kings. This is why the kings, who were rulers of Old Egypt started to be called “pharaohs”.
Being owners, administrators and rulers of the whole state and its lands, these pharaohs were accepted as reflections of the biggest god in the distorted polytheistic religion of old Egypt. The administration of Egyptian lands, their division, their income, in short, all the estates, services and production within the country’s borders were managed on behalf of the pharaoh.
The absolutism in the regime had furnished the pharaoh ruling the country with such a power that he could have anything he wished. Right at the establishment of the first dynasty, at the time of Menes who became the first King of Egypt by uniting Upper and Lower Egypt, the River Nile started to be delivered to the public through canals. Beside that, production was taken under control and the entire production of goods and services were assigned to the king. The king distributed and shared these goods and services in the proportions his people needed. It was not hard for the kings, who had established such a power in the region, to reduce the people to submission. The King of Egypt, or with his future name, the pharaoh, was looked upon as a holy being who held great power and met all the needs of his people: and he was transformed into a god. The Pharaohs definitely believed in time that they were indeed gods.
Some of the words Fir’awn mentioned in the Qur’an used during his conversation with Musa prove that they held this belief. He tried to intimidate Musa by saying “If thou dost put forward any god other than me, I will certainly put thee in prison!” (Surat ash-Shuara: 29), and he said to the people around him “no god do I know for you but myself” (Surat al-Qasas: 38). He said all this because he regarded himself as a god.
According to the historian Herodotus, the Ancient Egyptians were the most “devout” people in the world. However, their religion was not the religion of Truth, but a perverse polytheistic one and they could not abandon their perverse religion because of their extreme conservatism.
The religious beliefs of the Egyptians were mainly based on serving their gods. The “intermediaries” between these gods and people were the priests who were among the leaders of the society. Dealing with magic and witchcraft at the same time, the priests made an important class whom the Pharaohs used in order to keep the people in submission. The priests seen in the pictures with shaved heads, were presenting gifts to their gods, and were playing music and performing rites to please them.
The Ancient Egyptians were largely influenced by the natural environment in which they lived. The natural geography of Egypt protected the country against external attacks perfectly. Egypt was surrounded by deserts, mountainous lands and seas on all sides. Attacks likely to be made on the country had two possible routes and it was very simple for the Egyptians to defend those routes. Thus, the Egyptians remained isolated from the external world thanks to these natural factors. But passing centuries transformed this isolation into a dark bigotry. Thus the Egyptians acquired a viewpoint which was locked against new developments and novelties, and which was extremely conservative about their religion. The “religion of their ancestors” mentioned frequently in the Qur’an became their most important value.
This is why Fir’awn and his close circle turned their backs on Musa and Harun when they announced the Religion of Truth to them, by saying. “Hast thou come to us to turn us away from the ways we found our fathers following - in order that thou and thy brother may have greatness in the land? But not we shall believe in you!” (Surah Yunus: 78)
The religion of Ancient Egypt was divided into branches, the most important of which were the official religion of the state, the beliefs of the people and belief in life after death.
According to the state’s official religion, Fir’awn was a holy being. He was a reflection of the people’s gods on earth and his purpose was to dispense justice and protect them on earth.
The beliefs widespread among people were extremely complicated, and the elements in item which clashed with the state’s official religion were oppressed by the reigns of the Pharaohs. Basically, they believed in many gods, and these gods were usually depicted as having animal heads on human bodies. But it was also possible to meet with local traditions which differed from region to region.
Life after death made up the most important part of Egyptian belief. They believed that the soul went on living after the body died. According to this, the souls of the dead were brought by particular angels to the God who was a Judge and forty-two other witness judges, a scale was set in the middle and the heart of the soul was weighed in this scale. Those with more goodness passed on to a beautiful setting and lived in happiness, those with more wickedness were sent to a place where they were subject to great torments. There, they were tormented throughout eternity by a strange creature called the “The Dead Eater”.
The belief of the Egyptians in the Hereafter clearly shows a parallelism with the monotheistic belief and the religion of Truth. Even their belief in the hereafter alone proves that the religion of truth and the message had reached ancient Egyptian civilisation, but that this religion was later corrupted, and monotheism was turned into polytheism. It is already known that warners calling people to the unity of Allah and summoning them to be His slaves were sent in Egypt from time to time, as they were to all the earth’s peoples at one time or another. One of these was the prophet Joseph whose life is told in detail in the Qur’an. The history of Joseph is also extremely important because it includes the arrival of the Children of Israel in Egypt and their settlement there.
On the other hand, in the historical resources, there are references to some Egyptians who invited people to monotheistic religions even before Musa. One of them is the most interesting pharaoh in the history of Egypt, that is, Amenhotep IV .
The Monotheistic Pharaoh Amenhotep IV
The Egyptian pharaohs were generally brutal, oppressive, belligerent and ruthless people. In general they adopted the polytheistic religion of Egypt and deified themselves through this religion.
But there is a pharaoh in Egyptian history who is very different from the others. This pharaoh defended belief in a single Creator and was subjected to great resistance by the priests of Ammon, who profited from the polytheistic religion, and some soldiers who supported them, and so he was finally killed. This pharaoh was Amenhotep IV who rose to power in the 14th Century B.C..
When Amenhotep IV was enthroned in 1375 B.C., he came across a conservatism and traditionalism which had been lingering for centuries. Until then, the structure of the society and the relations of the public with the royal palace had carried on without any change. The society kept all its doors firmly shut to all external events and religious innovations. This extreme conservatism, also remarked by ancient Greek travellers, was caused by the natural geographical conditions of Egypt as we have explained above.
Imposed on people by the pharaohs, the official religion required an unconditional faith in everything old and traditional. But Amenhotep IV did not adopt the official religion. The historian Ernst Gombrich writes;
He (Amenhotep IV) broke with many of the customs hallowed by an age-old tradition. He did not wish to pay homage to the many strangely shaped gods of his people. For him only one god was supreme, Aton, whom he worshipped and whom he had represented in the shape of the sun. He called himself Akhenaton, after his god, and he moved his court out of reach of the priests of the other gods, to a place which is now called El-Amarna(18)
After the death of his father, young Amenhotep IV was subjected to great pressure. This oppression was caused by the fact that he developed a religion based on monotheism by changing the traditional polytheistic religion of Egypt, and attempting to make radical changes in all fields. But the leaders of Thebes did not allow him to convey the message of this religion. Amenhotep IV and his folk moved away from the city of Thebes and settled in Tell-El-Amarna. Here, they established a new and modern city named “Akh-et-aton”. Amenhotep IV changed his name which meant the “Contentment of Amon” to Akh-en-aton, which meant “Submitting to Aton”. Amon was the name given to the greatest totem in Egyptian polytheism. According to Amenhotep, Aton is the “creator of the heavens and earth”, their equating the name with Allah.
Disturbed by these developments, the priests of Amon wanted to snatch Akhenaton’s power by profiting from an economic crisis in the country. Akhenaton was finally killed by being poisoned by conspirators. Succeeding pharaohs were careful to stay under the influence of the priests.
After Akhenaton, pharaohs with a military background came to power. These again caused the old traditional polytheism to become widespread and spent a considerable effort to return to the past. Nearly a century later, Ramses II, who was to have the longest rule in the history of Egypt, came to the throne. According to many historians, Ramses was the pharaoh tormenting the Children of Israel and fighting against Musa.(19)
The Coming of the Prophet Musa
Because of their deep bigotry, the ancient Egyptians would not abandon their idolatrous beliefs. Some persons came to them who announced the message of worshipping only Allah, but the people of the Fir’awn always turned back to their perverted beliefs. Finally, Musa was sent by Allah as a messenger (rasul) to them, both because they had adopted a system of falsehood contrary to the religion of truth, and also because they had enslaved the Children of Israel. Musa was instructed both to invite Egypt to the religion of truth, and to save the Children of Israel from slavery and show them the right way. In the Qur’an, it is stated;
We rehearse to thee some of the story of Prophet Musa and Fir’awn in Truth, for people who believe. Truly Fir’awn elated himself in the land and broke up its people into sections, depressing a small group among them: their sons he slew, but he kept alive their females: for he was indeed a maker of mischief. And We wished to be Gracious to those who were being depressed in the land, to make them leaders (in Faith) and make them heirs, To establish a firm place for them in the land, and to show Fir’awn, Haman, and their hosts, at their hands, the very things against which they were taking precautions. (Surat al-Qasas: 3-6)
Fir’awn wanted to prevent the Children of Israel increasing in number, by killing all new-born male babies. This was why, by inspiration from Allah, Musa’s mother placed him in a basket and left him in the river. This was the way that led him into the palace of Fir’awn. In the Qur’an, the verses on the subject are as follows;
So We sent this inspiration to the mother of Musa: “Suckle (thy child), but when thou hast fears about him, cast him into the river, but fear not nor grieve: for We shall restore him to thee, and We shall make him one of Our messengers.”
Then the people of Fir’awn picked him up (from the river): (It was intended) that (Musa) should be to them an adversary and a cause of sorrow: for Fir’awn and Haman and (all) their hosts were men of sin.
The wife of Fir’awn said: “(Here is) joy of the eye, for me and for thee: slay him not. It may be that he will be use to us, or we may adopt him as a son.” And they perceived not (what they were doing)! (Surat al-Qasas: 7-9)
Considered to be the Fir’awn mentioned in the Qur’an according to many historians, Ramses II is seen killing some of the slaves he has captured. As these wall pictures also reveal, the pharaohs had themselves idealised and depicted as strong warriors. They were presented as tall heroes with wide shoulders who could overcome a number of people at one time. Since they saw themselves as divine beings, they tried to seem superior to all other people.
Fir’awn’s wife prevented the murder of Musa and adopted him. This way, Musa spent his childhood in Fir’awn’s palace. With the help of Allah, his own mother was brought to the palace as his wet-nurse.
When he had become an adult, one day Musa intervened when he saw one of the children of Israel being tormented by an Egyptian and he struck the Egyptian one blow upon which the Egyptian died. Despite the fact he was living in the palace of Fir’awn, and he had been adopted by the Queen, the chiefs of the city decided that his punishment was to be death. Hearing this, Musa ran away from Egypt and came to Madyan. At the end of the period he passed there, Allah spoke directly to him and Allah gave him the station of prophethood. He was ordered to return to Fir’awn and convey the message of Allah’s religion to him.
Musa and Harun went to Fir’awn in obedience to Allah’s command and conveyed him the message of the religion of truth. They asked him to stop tormenting the Children of Israel and let them go with Musa and Harun. It was unacceptable to Fir’awn that Musa, whom he had kept near him for years and who most probably was to have been his successor on the throne, stood up to him and talked to him in this manner. For that reason, Fir’awn accused him of ingratitude;
(Fir’awn) said: “Did we not cherish thee as a child among us, and didst thou not stay in our midst many years of thy life? And thou didst a deed of thine which (thou knowest) thou didst, and thou art an ungrateful (wretch)!” (Surat ash-Shuara: 18-19)
Fir’awn was trying to play on Musa’s sentiments and affect his conscience. It was as if he was saying that since it was he and his wife who had brought him up, it was Musa who should obey them. Moreover, Musa had killed an Egyptian. All these acts required heavy penalties according to the Egyptians. This emotional atmosphere which Fir’awn tried to create, was also directed at influencing the leaders of his people, so that they would also agree with Fir’awn.
On the other hand, the message of the religion of truth proclaimed by Musa undermined Fir’awn’s power, and reduced him to the level of ordinary people. From then on, it would be revealed that he was not a god, and moreover he would be compelled to obey Musa. Besides, if he set the Children of Israel free, he would loose some important manpower and thus could fall in great distress.
For all these, Fir’awn did not even listen to what Musa said. He tried to make fun of him, and attempted to change the subject by asking meaningless questions. At the same time, he was tried to represent Musa and Harun as anarchists and accuse them of being politically motivated. Finally, neither Fir’awn nor the leaders of the people within his close circle, except for the magicians, obeyed Musa and Harun. They did not follow the religion of truth shown to them. Therefore Allah first of all sent some disasters to them.
The Disasters That Befell Fir’awn and His Close Circle
Fir’awn and his close circle were so deeply engaged in their polytheism and their idolatry, that is “the religion of their ancestors”, that they never considered leaving it. Even two of the main miracles of Musa, his hand appearing white and his rod turning into snake, were not enough to make them move away from their superstitions. Moreover, they expressed this openly. They said “Whatever be the Signs thou bringest, to work therewith thy sorcery on us, we shall never believe in thee.” (Surat al-Araf: 132)
Because of their conduct, Allah sent them a number of disasters as “separate miracles” to make them taste the torment in this world, before the eternal torment of the next world. The first of these was drought and scarcity of crops. In relation to the subject, it is written in the Qur’an: “We punished the people of Fir’awn with years (of droughts) and shortness of crops; that they might receive admonition.” (Surat al-Araf: 130).
Egyptians had based their agricultural system on the River Nile and, therefore, they were not influenced by changes in natural conditions. But an unexpected disaster befell them because Fir’awn and his close friends were proud and arrogant towards Allah and denied His prophet. Most probably, for various reasons, the level of the River Nile sank a great deal and irrigation canals running off from the river did not carry enough water to agricultural areas. Extreme heat caused the crops to dry up. Thus, the disaster came on Fir’awn and his circle from a very unexpected direction, from the River Nile upon which they relied. This drought dismayed Fir’awn who previously used to address his people as follows “O my people! Does not the dominion of Egypt belong to me, (witness) these streams flowing underneath my (palace)? What! see ye not then?” (Surat az-Zukhruf: 51)
However, instead of “taking heed”, as shown in the verses, they held all that had happened was because of ill fortune brought by Musa and the Children of Israel. They were overcome by such a conviction because of their superstitions and the religion of their ancestors. Because of this, they chose to suffer from great distress, but what befell them was not limited to these. This was just a beginning. Afterwards, Allah sent to them a series of disasters. These disasters are described as follows in the Qur’an;
So We sent (plagues) on them: Wholesale death, Locusts, Lice, Frogs, And Blood: Signs openly self-explained: but they were steeped in arrogance - a people given to sin. (Surat al-Araf: 133)
These disasters Allah sent on Fir’awn and the people around him who also denied were also described in the Old Testament in agreement with the Qur’an:
And there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.
And if thou refuse to let [them] go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs: And the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into thine house, and into thy bedchamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thine ovens, and into thy kneadingtroughs.
And the LORD said unto Moses, “Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt.”
And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous [were they]; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.
Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This [is] the finger of God: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.
Awful disasters kept happening to Fir’awn and his close circle. Some of these disasters were caused by the objects worshipped as gods by the idolatrous people. For example, the River Nile and frogs were sacred for them and had been deified by them. As they expected guidance from their “gods” and called for their help, Allah punished them through their own “gods” so that they could see their mistakes and pay for the wrongs they had done.
According to interpreters of the Old Testament, the “blood” was the turning of the River Nile into blood. This was explained as a metaphor for the River Nile’s turning solid red. According to an interpretation, what gave the river this colour was a type of bacteria.
The Nile was the main source of life for the Egyptians. Any harm done to this source could mean death for the whole of Egypt. If the bacteria had covered the River Nile so fully as to turn it red, this would cause every living thing using this water to be infected by these bacteria.
Recent explanations of the cause for the red colouring of water has favoured protozoan, zooplankton, both salt - and fresh - water algal (phytoplankton) blooms, and dinoflagellates. All of these various blooms -- plant, fungal or protozoan -- deoxygenate water and produce noxious toxins for both fish and frogs.
Citing the Exodus account in the Bible, Patricia A. Tester of the National Marine Fisheries Service, writing in the Annals of the New York Academy of Science , noted that while fewer than 50 out of approximately 5,000 known phytoplankton species are toxic, those which possess toxins can be dangerous to aquatic life. In the same publication, Ewen C. D. Todd of Health Canada, referring to historic and prehistoric data, cited nearly two dozen examples of specific phytoplanktons causing various outbreaks throughout the world. W. W. Carmichael and I. R. Falconer listed diseases associated with fresh-water blue-green algae. Aquatic ecologist Joann M. Burkholder, of North Carolina State University, described a dinoflagellate, Pfiesteria piscimorte (found in estuary waters) that is capable of, as the species name implies, killing fish. (20)
In Fir’awn’s time, this kind of chain of disasters appears to have occurred. According to this scenario, when the Nile was contaminated, fish also died, and the Egyptians were deprived of an important source of nutrition. Without predator fish, the frogs could initially breed freely in both ponds and the Nile and thus overpopulate the river, eventually escaping the anoxic, toxic, and putrefying environment by migrating to land, hence dying on land and decomposing along with the fish. The Nile and adjacent lands thus became fouled, and the waters dangerous to drink or to bathe in. Moreover, the extinction of frog species causes bugs such as locusts and lice to reproduce excessively.
Finally, no matter how the disasters took place, and what effect they left, neither Fir’awn, nor his people turned to Allah by paying heed, and they went on in their arrogance.
Fir’awn and his close circle were so hypocritical that they thought to deceive Musa and, thus, Allah (Allah forbid
. When the dreadful penalty fell upon them, they at once called for Musa and asked him to save them from it:
Every time the penalty fell on them, they said: “O Musa! on your behalf call on thy Lord in virtue of his promise to thee: If thou wilt remove the penalty from us, we shall truly believe in thee, and we shall send away the Children of Israel with thee.” But every time We removed the penalty from them according to a fixed term which they had to fulfil,- Behold! they broke their word! (Surat al-Araf: 134-135)
Exodus from Egypt
Allah explained to Fir’awn and his close circle through Musa that which they had to take heed of, and thus warned them. In response, they rebelled and accused him of being possessed and untrue. Allah prepared a humiliating end for them. He revealed to Musa what was to happen.
By inspiration we told Musa: “Travel by night with my servants; for surely ye shall be pursued.”
Then Fir’awn sent heralds to (all) the Cities,
(Saying): “These (Israelites) are but a small band,
And they are raging furiously against us;
But we are a multitude amply fore-warned.”
So We expelled them from gardens, springs,
Treasures, and every kind of honourable position;
Thus it was, but We made the Children of Israel inheritors of such things.
So they pursued them at sunrise.
And when the two bodies saw each other, the people of Musa said: “We are sure to be overtaken.”
(Surat ash-Shuara: 52-61)
In such circumstances, when the Children of Israel thought that they were trapped, and Fir’awn’s men thought that they were about to catch them, Musa said, never loosing faith in Allah's help: “By no means! my Lord is with me! Soon will He guide me!” (Surat ash-Shuara: 62)
At that moment, Allah saved Musa and the Children of Israel by dividing the sea. Fir’awn and his men were drowned under the waters which closed over them after the Children of Israel had safely crossed.
Then We told Musa by inspiration: “Strike the sea with thy rod.” So it divided, and each separate part became like the huge, firm mass of a mountain.
And We made the other party approach thither.
We delivered Musa and all who were with him;
But We drowned the others. Verily in this is a Sign: but most of them do not believe. And verily thy Lord is He, the Exalted in Might, Most Merciful.
(Surat ash-Shuara: 52-68)
Musa's rod had miraculous qualities. Allah had turned it into a snake in His first revelation to him, and then this same rod had turned into a snake again and swallowed the sorceries of Fir’awn’s magicians. Now, Musa divided the sea with the same rod. This was one of the greatest miracles given to the prophet Musa.
Did the incident take place on the Mediterranean Coasts of Egypt, or in the Red Sea?
There is no common agreement on the place where Musa divided the sea. Since no detail is given on the subject in the Qur’an, we cannot be sure of the correctness of any of the views on the subject. Some sources show the Mediterranean shores of Egypt as the place where the sea was divided. In the Encyclopedia Judaica, it is said;
The majority opinion today identifies the Red Sea of the Exodus with one of the lagoons on the shores of the Mediterranean (21)
David Ben Gurion said that the event could have taken place during the reign of Ramses II, possibly after the Kadesh defeat. In the Book of Exodus in the Old Testament, the event is said to have happened in Migdol and Baal-Zephon, which are located to the north of the delta.(22)
This view is based on the Old Testament. In the translations of the Book of Exodus chapter from the Old Testament, it is said that Fir’awn and his men were drowned in the Red Sea. But according to those who hold this view, the word translated as “The Red Sea” is really “The Sea of Reeds”. The word is identified with the “Red Sea” in many sources, and used for that location. However, “The Sea of Reeds” is actually used to refer to the Mediterranean coast of Egypt. In the Old Testament, while mentioning the route followed by Musa and those following him, the words Migdol and Baal-Zephon are mentioned, and these are located to the north in the Nile Delta, on the shore of Egypt. The Sea of Reeds, by implication, supports the possibility that the incident may have happened on the Egyptian shores, because in this region, in agreement with the meaning of the name, reeds are produced thanks to the delta alluvions.
The Drowning of Fir’awn and His Men in the Sea
The Qur’an informs us about the most important aspects of the event of the division of the Red Sea. According to the account of the Qur’an, Musa set out to leave Egypt with the Children of Israel who obeyed him. However, Fir’awn could not accept their departure without his permission. He and his soldiers followed them “in insolence and spite” (Surah Yunus: 90). By the time Musa and the Children of Israel reached the shore, Fir’awn and his soldiers had caught up with them. Some of the Children of Israel, who saw this, began to complain to Musa. According to the Old Testament, they said to Musa “why did you take us away from our homeland, there we were slaves but we could lead our lives, now we will die”. This weakness of the community is also described in the Qur’an in the following verse: “And when the two bodies saw each other, the people of Musa said: "We are sure to be overtaken.” (Surat ash-Shuara: 61)
As a matter of fact, this was neither the first nor the last time that the Children of Israel displayed such behaviour in which they showed no submission. The people of Musa had complained to him once before saying: “We have had (nothing but) trouble, both before and after thou camest to us.” (Surat al-Araf: 129) Contrary to the weak conduct of his people, Musa was extremely confident, since he had profound trust in Allah. Right from the beginning of his struggle, Allah had informed him that His help and support would be with him: “Fear not: for I am with you: I hear and see (everything).” (Surah Ta-Ha: 46)
When Musa first met the sorcerers of Fir’awn, he felt “a sort of fear” (Surah Ta-Ha: 67). Thereupon, Allah revealed to him that he should not fear at all and that he would definitely overcome in the end. (Surah Ta-Ha: 68). Thus, Musa was educated by Allah and acquired a full maturity in respect to His ways. Consequently, when some of his people feared being overtaken, he said: “By no means! my Lord is with me! Soon will He guide me!” (Surat ash-Shuara: 62)
Allah revealed to Musa that he should strike the sea with his rod. Upon this, “it divided, and each separate part became like the huge, firm mass of a mountain.” (Surat ash-Shuara: 63) In ordinary circumstances, at the moment when Fir’awn saw such a miracle, he should have understood that there was something extraordinary about the situation, and that he was seeing Divine intervention. The sea opened for the people whom Fir’awn wanted to destroy. Moreover, there was no guarantee that the sea would not close back after they passed across. Still, he and his army followed the Children of Israel into the sea. Most probably, Fir’awn and his soldiers had lost their ability to think reasonably because of their insolence and spite, and were unable comprehend the miraculous nature of the situation.
The Qur’an describes the last moments of Fir’awn as follows:
We took the Children of Israel across the sea: Fir’awn and his hosts followed them in insolence and spite. At length, when overwhelmed with the flood, he said: “I believe that there is no god except Him Whom the Children of Israel believe in: I am of those who submit (to Allah in Islam).” (Surah Yunus: 90)
Here, it is possible to see another miracle of Musa. Let us remind ourselves of the following verse:
Musa prayed: “Our Lord! Thou hast indeed bestowed on Fir’awn and his chiefs splendour and wealth in the life of the present, and so, Our Lord, they mislead (men) from Thy Path. Deface our Lord, the features of their wealth, and send hardness to their hearts, so they will not believe until they see the grievous penalty.”
Allah said: “Accepted is your prayer (O Musa and Harun)! So stand ye straight, and follow not the path of those who know not.” (Surah Yunus: 88-89)
It is clearly understood from this verse that Musa was thus informed in answer to his supplication that Fir’awn would believe in Allah at the time he faced the painful punishment. Indeed, Fir’awn said that he believed in Allah when the waters started to cover. Yet, it was very clear that his behaviour was insincere and false. Fir’awn most probably said so to save himself from dying.
Certainly, the last-moment acceptance of faith of Fir’awn, and his asking for forgiveness were not accepted by Allah. Fir’awn and his army could not be saved from death by drowning.
(It was said to him): “Ah now!- But a little while before, wast thou in rebellion!- and thou didst mischief (and violence)! This day shall We save thee in the body, that thou mayest be a sign to those who come after thee! but verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs!” (Surah Yunus: 91-92)
We are also informed that his men, as well as Fir’awn himself, received their share of the punishment. Since the soldiers of Fir’awn were men of “insolence and spite” (Surah Yunus: 90), “men of sin” (Surat al-Qasas: 8), “did wrong” (Surat al-Qasas: 40), and “thought that they would not have to return to Allah” (Surat al-Qasas: 39) just like Fir’awn, they well deserved the punishment of Allah. Thus, Allah seized both Fir’awn and his hosts and flung them into the sea. (Surat al-Qasas: 40)
So Allah exacted retribution from them and drowned them in the sea, because they rejected His signs and failed to take warning from them. (Surat al-Araf: 136)
Allah describes in the Qur’an in the following verses, all that happened after the death of Fir’awn:
And We made a people, considered weak (and of no account), inheritors of lands in both east and west, - lands whereon We sent down Our blessings. The fair promise of thy Lord was fulfilled for the Children of Israel, because they had patience and constancy, and We levelled to the ground the great works and fine buildings which Fir’awn and his people erected (with such pride). (Surat al-Araf: 137).