Allah has named only 25 prophets in the Quran, and of them, only four are Arabs. However, Muslims believe that there are many more prophets who graced the earth over time. They all came to preach Allah’s message and to tell humanity to worship Him alone. One of the few prophets Allah has referred to in the Quran is Prophet Shuaib (AS). The story of Prophet Shuaib (AS) doesn’t have too many details. However, whatever there is shows us what a virtuous man he was, a true believer and worshiper of Allah.
The Quranic story of Prophet Shuaib (AS) closely relates to that of Prophet Musa (AS). Musa (AS) went on to take the hands of one of his daughters in marriage. Shuaib (AS) was an excellent speaker, and Allah gave him the talent to be able to convey what he wanted to say with ease. His people were cruel and unfair in their dealings with others. Hence, the prophet spent a lot of time trying to make them give up their evil ways and turn to the worship of Allah. In the Bible, Shuaib (AS) is known popularly as Jethro.
The Encounter With Musa (AS)
Musa (AS) left his land after he struck a man, without meaning to kill him. However, the man died, and as a result, Musa (AS) was unjustly at the mercy of the people of Egypt, who were determined to punish him. He decided to make a run for it and made his way to Madyan, the place where Prophet Shuaib (AS) and his people resided. Allah narrates the incident in Surah al-Qasas.
In this land, he came across a group of men watering their flocks. Alongside them, he found two women as well who were staying back. Becoming curious, he asked them why they kept saying back, letting the men water as much as they wanted to without getting their share. They said they would do it after the men finished, stating that their father was an old man. Hence, he helped them and then asked Allah for something good.
Later, one of the two women returned and said her father would like to reward him for his actions. Musa (AS) went to the old man, who was Shuaib (AS), and told him what had happened to him, and the man said he did the right thing. Then, he made an offer to Musa (AS). He told him to work for him for a period, and he could marry one of his daughters. He agreed. In this manner, Musa (AS) joined the family of Shuaib (AS).
Shuaib (AS) and the People of Madyan – (Prophet Shuaib Story)
Allah narrates in the Quran in Surah al-A’raf that He sent Prophet Shuaib (AS) to the people of Madyan. This contained a tribe of people who lived between Hijaz and Shaam, according to Ibn Kathir. Then, He narrates what the prophet preached to his people.
O my people, worship Allah; you have no deity other than Him. There has come to you clear evidence from your Lord. So fulfill the measure and weight and do not deprive people of their due and cause not corruption upon the earth after its reformation. That is better for you, if you should be believers. And do not sit on every path, threatening and averting from the way of Allah those who believe in Him, seeking to make it [seem] deviant. And remember when you were few and He increased you. And see how was the end of the corrupters. And if there should be a group among you who has believed in that with which I have been sent and a group that has not believed, then be patient until Allah judges between us. And He is the best of judges.(Quran 7:85-87)
From this passage, we can tell that the people of Madyan were unfair in one very specific way. Prophet Shuaib (AS) commanded them to ‘fulfill the measure and weight,’ meaning that they cheated, most likely with business transactions. He told them to worship Allah and give up their evil deeds. Otherwise, they would face a painful punishment at Allah’s hands. He also told them not to cause mischief and corruption in the land. In his Tafsir, Ibn Kathir says that the people of Madyan would engage in highway robbery along paths.
The People’s Reply to Shuaib (AS)
Said the eminent ones who were arrogant among his people, “We will surely evict you, O Shuʿayb, and those who have believed with you from our city, or you must return to our religion.”(Quran 7:88)
They said, “O Shuʿayb, does your prayer [i.e., religion] command you that we should leave what our fathers worship or not do with our wealth what we please? Indeed, you are the forbearing, the discerning!”(Quran 11:87)
His people were arrogant in their ways. They absolutely refused to entertain the words of the prophet. In fact, they went a step further and threatened to drive him out of the land alongside his followers. They flatly refused to change their ways and their methods of cheating people. Similarly, they showed no interest in worshiping their one true God, Allah. According to the Tafsir of the Quran, the statement about Shuaib (AS) being forbearing and discerning was a sarcastic, mocking one.
Shuaib (AS) Continues His Efforts
He said: “Even though we hate it!? We would have invented against Allah a lie if we returned to your religion after Allah had saved us from it. And it is not for us to return to it except that Allah, our Lord, should will. Our Lord has encompassed all things in knowledge. Upon Allah we have relied. Our Lord, decide between us and our people in truth, and You are the best of those who give decision.”(Quran 7:88-89)
He said, “O my people, have you considered: if I am upon clear evidence from my Lord and He has provided me with a good provision from Him…? And I do not intend to differ from you in that which I have forbidden you; I only intend reform as much as I am able. And my success is not but through Allah. Upon Him I have relied, and to Him I return.(Quran 11:88)
The prophet was firm in his rejection of their message, saying that he would not bow down to falsehood. Since Shuaib (AS) knew what the truth was, he would only respond to that. Unlike the disbelievers, he was a true worshiper of Allah and understood the obligation he had to fulfill toward him. He stated that he firmly relied upon Allah for everything. Furthermore, he asked Allah to decide between them and the disbelievers.
Warnings of a Painful Punishment
And O my people, let not [your] dissension from me cause you to be struck by that similar to what struck the people of Noah or the people of Hūd or the people of Ṣāliḥ. And the people of Lot are not from you far away. And O my people, let not [your] dissension from me cause you to be struck by that similar to what struck the people of Noah or the people of Hūd or the people of Ṣāliḥ. And the people of Lot are not from you far away.(Quran 11:89-90)
This was a severe warning by Shuaib (AS). He gave the example of some of the past prophets and the punishments their people endured. Indeed, he gave fairly specific examples in the forms of Prophet Nuh (AS) and the people of Hud and Saleh. Yet, his people were stubborn in their ways and arrogant. They showed no inclination to change the ways they conducted themselves, and it was only a matter of time…
The Destruction of the People of Madyan
So the earthquake seized them, and they became within their home [corpses] fallen prone. Those who denied Shuʿayb – it was as though they had never resided there. Those who denied Shuʿayb – it was they who were the losers.(Quran 7:91-92)
And when Our command came, We saved Shuʿayb and those who believed with him, by mercy from Us. And the shriek seized those who had wronged, and they became within their homes [corpses] fallen prone as if they had never prospered therein. Then, away with Madyan as Thamūd was taken away.(Quran 11:94-95)
And they denied him, so the punishment of the day of the black cloud seized them. Indeed, it was the punishment of a terrible day. Indeed in that is a sign, but most of them were not to be believers.(Quran 26:189-190)
Allah mentions the terrible punishment He sent down among these people in three surahs. He stated that an earthquake struck them, and they became extinct and lifeless in their own home. In another surah, He also says that a terrifying cry overtook Shuaib’s (AS) people. Moreover, He also says that they were seized by a black cloud. Hence, they suffered multiple punishments because of their obstinance and refusal to accept Allah’s message, alongside being cheaters and engaging in despicable forms of robbery.
Lessons and Conclusion
They said, “You are only of those affected by magic. You are but a man like ourselves, and indeed, we think you are among the liars. So cause to fall upon us fragments of the sky, if you should be of the truthful.”(Quran 26:185-187)
Instead of appreciating that Allah had sent a prophet with guidance for them, the people of Madyan’s attitude became even worse. They insulted Shuaib (AS) and even dared Allah’s punishment. With such a callous attitude, they were truly deserving of the fate that they encountered. Allah punished them with something that not many would have experienced before or after that. Disbelievers should take this event as a lesson of what can happen if they defy Allah’s commands. Even if Allah doesn’t punish people in this life for their transgressions, He will do so in the Afterlife. Shirk is an unpardonable offense in Islam.
After his people passed, Shuaib (AS) turned away from them. He expressed that he had done his best to help them. He invited them to Allah’s path and told them to worship Him alone. Yet, they were arrogant. He warned them, but they rejected his warnings. Hence, Allah destroyed them completely, and they were not worthy of him showing any sadness for them.
This story shows us the importance of obeying Allah. Just as was with the people of Nuh (AS) and the people of Hud and Saleh, Shuaib (AS)’s people deserved their fate. Had they listened to Allah and stopped their evil deeds, they would have fared much better. Indeed, this applies to all of humanity. Allah created us for a purpose, and we have to fulfill that purpose by obeying Him. We can only do that once we follow the way of the Quran.