Allah sent many prophets to various people and nations. According to some Islamic traditions, the number is 124,000. However, while these narrations aren’t authentic, we do know that there were many prophets of Allah. He has mentioned 25 prophets in the Quran. Among them is Prophet Saleh, and his story relates to the people of Thamud. The report refers to the story of the she-camel, which was a gift from Allah for the people of Thamud.
And We have already sent messengers before you. Among them are those [whose stories] We have related to you, and among them are those [whose stories] We have not related to you. And it was not for any messenger to bring a sign [or verse] except by permission of Allah. So when the command of Allah comes, it will be concluded [i.e., judged] in truth, and the falsifiers will thereupon lose [all].(Quran 40:78)
Allah says in the Quran that He sent prophets and messengers to every nation that lived. He tells us that He sent these messengers with the same message, which is to worship Allah without committing shirk. All of the prophets aimed to make their people submit to the will of Allah. As Allah tells us in the Quran, He created humans and jinns for one purpose alone, which is to worship him.
Most of the prophets in the Quran are very well-known, including the likes of Nuh, Ibrahim, Musa, Isa, and Muhammad (PBUT). These prophets are also known in Christianity. However, Prophet Saleh was an Arab prophet, and, therefore, his story isn’t as well known as some of the others. It is not among those stories that are in the Bible.
The People of Thamud
Before the people of Thamud, there were the people of Ad. These were in the area of Southern Arabia. They were a tribe of despicable disbelievers, who Allah destroyed with a violent storm. The people of Ad were a great civilization of their time. However, Allah destroyed them due to their persistence in disbelief. First, he sent a prophet to warn them, but they failed to pay heed to his advice.
According to what we know, Prophet Saleh lived in the Al-Hijr region of Arabia. His people came after Ad, and they were known as Thamud. These people were very wealthy and wielded great power. They built buildings on the land and also carved them in hills. Moreover, they cultivated fertile land and gained lots of benefit from it. Hence, they had become very rich. But at the same time, they also lost their sense of right and wrong.
The people of Thamud committed the worst kinds of shirk. They associated various partners with Allah. They would worship many gods and lived lives completely contrary to Allah’s teachings. Additionally, they oppressed various people. They weren’t kind to the poor and instead took advantage of them. They were very vain in their behavior and were very selfish in their behavior. Hence, they took advantage of others for their own gain.
Prophet Saleh Warns His People
Saleh was a righteous man of his community amongst the people of Thamud. Hence, Allah sent him to preach to the people of Thamud. He commanded them to give up their evil ways and instead start worshiping Allah alone, which is the purpose of life. Prophet Saleh condemned all their sinful habits, including the oppression of the poor by the rich. He also denounced the way Thamud worshiped multiple gods and committed shirk.
“And remember when He made you successors after the ʿAad and settled you in the land, [and] you take for yourselves palaces from its plains and carve from the mountains, homes. Then remember the favors of Allah and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.” Said the eminent ones who were arrogant among his people to those who were oppressed – to those who believed among them, “Do you [actually] know that Ṣāliḥ is sent from his Lord?” They said, “Indeed we, in that with which he was sent, are believers.” Said those who were arrogant, “Indeed we, in that which you have believed, are disbelievers.”(Quran 7:74-76)
Prophet Saleh also warned the people about their ancestors. He told them to remember how a huge storm destroyed them after constantly defying Allah’s commands. However, only a few of the people believed and accepted his message. Most of them remained obstinate in their defiance of Allah and the message brought by Prophet Saleh. They didn’t want to disrupt their way of living for something new or give up all the things that they did, which brought them benefit (while harming others).
The Response of the People of Thamud
And to Thamūd [We sent] their brother Ṣāliḥ. He said, “O my people, worship Allah; you have no deity other than Him. He has produced you from the earth and settled you in it, so ask forgiveness of Him and then repent to Him. Indeed, my Lord is near and responsive.” They said, “O Ṣāliḥ, you were among us a man of promise before this. Do you forbid us to worship what our fathers worshipped? And indeed we are, about that to which you invite us, in disquieting doubt.”(Quran 11:61-62)
The people of Thamud had previously known Saleh as an honorable and respectable man. He was a wise and pure man who only engaged in goodness. They took this as him asking to do something controversial. They weren’t willing to give up the ways of their ancestors for something new. While they had no proof or reason to worship the idols, they did so just because their ancestors had done the same.
Allah Blesses Saleh’s People With a She-Camel
He said, “O my people, have you considered: if I should be upon clear evidence from my Lord and He has given me mercy from Himself, who would protect me from Allah if I disobeyed Him? So you would not increase me except in loss. And O my people, this is the she-camel of Allah – [she is] to you a sign. So let her feed upon Allah’s earth and do not touch her with harm, or you will be taken by an impending punishment.”(Quran 11:62-64)
Thamūd denied the warning. And said, “Is it one human being among us that we should follow? Indeed, we would then be in error and madness. Has the message been sent down upon him from among us? Rather, he is an insolent liar.” They will know tomorrow who is the insolent liar. Indeed, We are sending the she-camel as a trial for them, so watch them and be patient.(Quran 54:23-27)
The people of Thamud had no intention of listening to the Prophet’s command. However, they asked him to provide proof of his prophethood in the form of a miracle. Allah tells us in the Quran that He sent them a unique she-camel. However, it would be a trial for them, not just simply a means of proof.
We know from the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir that the she-camel was a miraculous creature. It appeared in a miraculous way from the rocks. Allah also said in the Quran that the animal would consume a lot of water, which it did. However, it was also able to produce plentiful milk to feed all the people in the area daily.
The People of Thamud Harm the She-Camel
Prophet Saleh told his people that this she-camel was a sign from Allah. He gave them explicit instructions to let the animal feed upon the earth. Additionally, he told them not to harm her in any way. If they did that, they would have to face Allah’s punishment. This was Allah’s test; the people must let the animal live and not harm it in any way.
And nothing has prevented Us from sending signs [i.e., miracles] except that the former peoples denied them. And We gave Thamūd the she-camel as a visible sign, but they wronged her. And We send not the signs except as a warning.(Quran 17:59)
But they called their companion, and he dared and hamstrung [her].(Quran 54:29)
Allah narrates in various parts of the Quran how the people of Thamud disobeyed His command, despite Him granting them a unique miracle. They harmed the she-camel and committed a grave injustice. It began when the disbelievers began to complain that it would consume too much water, etc. Hence, they hatched a plot and aimed to rid themselves of this miraculous creature in the most heinous ways.
So they hamstrung the she-camel and were insolent toward the command of their Lord and said, “O Ṣāliḥ, bring us what you promise us if you should be of the messengers.”(Quran 7:77)
After they had killed the she-camel, they dared Prophet Saleh to bring what he had promised them, i.e., Allah’s punishment. Saleh gave them three more days and warned them of a great punishment for their grave sins.
But they hamstrung her, so he said, “Enjoy yourselves in your homes for three days. That is a promise not to be denied [i.e., unfailing].”(Quran 11:65)
The Destruction of Saleh’s People
Indeed, We sent upon them one shriek [i.e., blast from the sky], and they became like the dry twig fragments of a [animal] pen.(Quran 54:31)
So the earthquake seized them, and they became within their home [corpses] fallen prone.(Quran 7:78)
And the shriek seized those who had wronged, and they became within their homes [corpses] fallen prone as if they had never prospered therein. Unquestionably, Thamūd denied their Lord; then, away with Thamūd.(Quran 11:67-68)
But they were insolent toward the command of their Lord, so the thunderbolt seized them while they were looking on.(Quran 51:44)
These are only a few of the verses in the Quran regarding the destruction of Thamud. Allah tells us that He destroyed the people. He mentions a shriek, an earthquake, a blast, and a thunderbolt. This acts as a lesson for future generations regarding what happens when we defy Allah. Allah saved Prophet Saleh, but He punished his people. If any disbelievers escape Allah’s punishment in this life, they must be ready for the consequences in the Hereafter. Shirk is, after all, the gravest sin that any human being can ever commit.
Prophet Story Lessons and Conclusion
And he [i.e., Ṣāliḥ] turned away from them and said, “O my people, I had certainly conveyed to you the message of my Lord and advised you, but you do not like advisors.”(Quran 7:79)
Allah saved the people of Saleh who believed in Him and worshiped Him, but He destroyed the rest of the obstinate disbelievers.
There are many lessons we can gain from this story. One of them is that seeking proof is futile; the nature of belief is such that we must believe that all creation exists only because of Allah. Without Him, nothing would exist.
Additionally, the story of Saleh shows us how important it is to obey Allah’s prophets and messengers. Under no circumstances can we reject their message. We can accept it and fall short in our efforts to obey Allah, but we would only be culpable of making a mistake. By denying and rejecting the message, however, we are guilty of rejecting Allah, one of the ways of committing shirk.
Last but not least, we should be aware that this whole life is a test. People live lives in their preferred ways, thinking that they are doing what they need to do. However, when Allah resurrects them, they won’t feel the same way if they didn’t worship and obey Him. It’s never too late to start; if a person accepts Islam from the bottom of his heart, he gets to start all over from a clean slate.
This is a great chance that Allah provides all disbelievers with. The wise move for them is to take it. We can use all types of technology and invent all kinds of amazing things, but we will never be able to defy Allah’s decree or avoid the reality of the afterlife, plus heaven and hell.