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 BC, 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 AD 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 BC, referred to this tribe as "Adramitai" - meaning the Hadrami.1 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 AD) 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 AD, 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 BC), 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" 2

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..3 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."4

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 metres 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.

1. Nigel Groom, Frankincense and Myrrh, Longman, 1981, p. 81.
2. Ibid., p. 72
3. Joachim Chwaszcza, Yemen, 4PA Press, I992.
4. Ibid.