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
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
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 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:
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
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.