Imam al-Ridha s Words on the People of the Ditch
Source: Uyun Akhbar Ar-Ridha Volume 1
16-1 Ahmad ibn Ziyad ibn Ja'far al-Hamadani - may God be pleased with him - narrated that Ali ibn Ibrahim ibn Hashem quoted on the authority of his father, on the authority of Abul Salt Abdus-Salam ibn Salih al-Harawi, on the authority of Ali ibn Musa Al-Ridha’ (a.s.), on the authority of his father Musa ibn Ja'far (a.s.), on the authority of his father Ja'far ibn Muhammad (a.s.), on the authority of his father Muhammad ibn Ali (a.s.), on the authority of his father Muhammad ibn Ali (a.s.), on the authority of his father Ali ibn Al-Husayn (a.s.), on the authority of his father Al-Husayn ibn Ali (a.s.) that a man called Amr, who was one of the noble men of Tamim clan went to see Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) three days before he was martyred and asked, “O Commander of the Faithful! Please inform me about the People of the Ditch. Which era did the People of the Ditch live in? Where were their homes? Who was their king? Did God the Almighty send a Prophet to them or not? How were they destroyed? Their name is mentioned in God's Book but there is no news about them there.” Then Ali (a.s.) said, “You have asked me about something that no one else had asked me about before. No one will tell you anything about it after me, unless they quote me. There are no verses in the Almighty God's Book that I do not know. I also know the interpretation of all the verses. I know were they have been revealed - in the mountain or in the valley. I know at what time they have been revealed - at night or in the daytime.” At this point, Imam Ali (a.s.) pointed at his chest and said, “Here there is a lot of knowledge. However, there are very few who seek it. Soon they will be sorry when they lose me.”
The Imam continued, “O Brother from the Tamim clan! This is their account. They were a tribe that worshipped a pine tree which they called Shah Derakht1. Yafith ibn Noah had planted it beside a spring called Dooshab. This spring had gushed out for Noah (a.s.) after the Flood. They were called the People of the Ditch because they dug their homes out of the ground.2 They lived after Soleiman ibn Dawood (Prophet Solomon) (a.s.). They had twelve towns next to a river from the Eastern lands called Ras. The river was named ‘Ras’ after them. At that time there were no other rivers on the Earth so overflowing with such delicious water. There were also no towns that were more developed than they were. The twelve towns were called Aban, Azar, Day, Bahman, Isfandar, Farvardin, Ordibehesht, Khordad, Mordad, Tir, Mehr, and Shahrivar, respectively. The largest of the towns was Isfandar in which their king lived. His name was Tarkoozabn Qaboorabn Yarashabn Sazanabn Nomroodabn Kan'an3. Kan'an was the Pharaoh of (the era of) Abraham (a.s.). The spring and the pine tree were located in this town. They had planted one of the seeds of that pine tree in each town. The seeds had grown into large trees. They had made it forbidden to use the water from the spring and the rivers. Neither the animals nor the people were allowed to drink it. They would kill anyone who drank it. They said, ‘This water is the source of life of our gods. It is not right for anyone to reduce their life span.’ They themselves and their animals used to drink from the ‘Ras’ River along which the towns were built. They had set up celebrations in each town every month of the year. The people of town would gather around the town's large pine, and set up a large silk tent that was full of colorful designs around the pine tree. Then they would bring sheep and cows and offer them for sacrifice to that tree. Then they would pile up wood on the animals that they had slaughtered, and set them on fire. Once the smoke from the fire filled up the air and blocked off the sky from their view, they would then fall in prostration to the tree. They would cry to please the tree. Satan would also come and shake the tree, and yell from the trunk of the tree like a child and say, ‘O my servants! I am pleased with you. Be happy and blessed.’ Then they would lift their heads from their prostration. They drank wine and played music with cymbals. They would spend the whole day and night this way and then leave.
The Persians adopted the names of those towns for their months and called them Aban, Azar, etc., since the people of those towns used to say that this is the day of celebration for that month. On the day of celebration all the people in the largest village - whether young or old - gathered together in the town and set up a silver tent full of colorful designs near the spring and the pine tree. The tent had twelve entrances - each assigned to the people of one of the towns. They would make prostrations to the pine tree in front of the tent, and sacrificed many more animals than they sacrificed for the pine tree in the smaller villages. Satan would come to that tree and shake the pine really hard. He would talk loudly from within the tree, and promise them a lot of fake promises - much more than all the other Satans did. The people would raise their heads from making prostrations and would pass out due to extreme happiness and pleasure. They could not talk since they drank too much and listened to too much music. They would spend twelve days and nights - as many days as they had celebrations during the year - celebrating that way. Then they would leave.
When disbelief in the Almighty God, and worship of others than God spread amongst them, the Almighty God sent them a Prophet from the Children of Israel - one of the sons of Yahooda ibn Yaqoob (Jacob’s son). He was among them for a very long time and invited them to recognize the Almighty God and worship Him. However, they did not obey him. When he realized that they were at a great loss and rejected his invitation to development and progress, he attended the celebrations held in the biggest town and said, ‘O God! These servants of yours do nothing but deny me and reject you. They worship a tree that neither harms them nor has any benefits. Please dry up all the trees and show them your power and grandeur.’ The next morning all the trees had withered. This scared the people. They felt hopeless and powerless and got divided into two groups. Some said, ‘This man who claims to be the Messenger of the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth has bewitched your gods in order to redirect your attention from our gods to his God.’ The other group said, ‘No. Your gods have seen this man find their faults and he says irrelevant things about them. They have become angry since he invites you to his God. Thus the gods have covered up the beauty of the trees from you so that you get angry and take their revenge against this man.’
Therefore, they all decided to kill him. They brought long, big, lead pipes and mounted them one on top of another from the depth of the spring up until the surface of the water. Then they emptied the water in them and dug a deep well in the bottom of the pipes with a narrow opening on top. They threw their Prophet in the well, put a big rock on top of the well and removed the pipes. They said, ‘Now our gods saw that we killed the person who talked bad about them and prevented us from worshipping them. They saw that we buried him under the greatest god so that he would be pleased. We hope our gods have become happy with us now, and the blossoms and the freshness return to us like before.’ The people could hear their Prophet moan all day and say, ‘O God! You see the tightness of this place and the extent of my discomfort. Have mercy on my weakness and my not having any way out. Please rush to take my life. Do not procrastinate the acceptance of my prayer.’ He (a.s.) finally died. The Almighty God asked Gabriel, ‘O Gabriel! Can these servants who have been fooled by My Patience imagine that they are secure from My Wrath having killed My Prophet, and worshipped gods other than Me? How can they imagine that they can withstand My Wrath and depart from the Domain of My Reign? How? I take revenge against whoever disobeys Me and does not fear My Chastisement. I have sworn by My Majesty and Honor that I will establish them as lessons for the people of the world to take heed of.’ God scared them with red winds and they were wandering about the storm. They were scared and sought refuge in each other. However, the ground turned into blazing sulphur under their feet, and a black cloud overshadowed them and dropped a molten dome - like fire over them. Their bodies melted in fire like lead. We take refuge in God the Almighty from His Wrath and Chastisement. And there is no power nor any strength but in God the Sublime the Great.
1. It means “King Tree” in Farsi.
2. “Ashab” means people of and “Ras” means digging or hiding something. They were called “Ashab ar-Ras.”
3. In Tafsir-I-Abul Fotooh we read, “Tarkoon ibn Amoor ibn Navosh ibn Shavoon ibn Namroodabn Kan’an” (v.8, p.273).