Archaeological Finds about Thamud

Of those peoples mentioned in the Qur'an, Thamud are some of the people about whom we have the most extensive knowledge today. Historical resources reveal that a people called Thamud indeed existed.

The community of al-Hijr mentioned in the Qur'an are thought to be the same people as Thamud. The other name of Thamud is Ashab al-Hijr. So, the word "Thamud" is the name of a people, while the city of al-Hijr is one of those cities founded by these people. The Greek geographer Pliny's descriptions agree with this. Pliny wrote that Domatha and Hegra were the locations where Thamud resided, and this latter makes up the city of Hijr today.

The oldest sources known referring to Thamud, are the victory annals of the Babylonian King, Sargon II (8th Century BC), who defeated these people in a campaign in northern Arabia. The Greeks also refer to this people as "Tamudaei", i.e. "Thamud", in the writings of Aristo, Ptolemy, and Pliny.2 Before the Prophet Muhammad, approximately between 400-600 AD, they totally disappeared.

In the Qur'an, 'Ad and Thamud are always mentioned together. Moreover, the verses advise Thamud to take warning from the destruction of 'Ad. This shows that Thamud had detailed information on 'Ad.

To the Thamud people (We sent) Salih, one of their own brethren: He said: "O my people! worship Allah: ye have no other god but Him" "And remember how He made you inheritors after the 'Ad people and gave you habitations in the land: ye build for yourselves palaces and castles in (open) plains, and carve out homes in the mountains; so bring to remembrance the benefits (ye have received) from Allah, and refrain from evil and mischief on the earth." (Surat al-Araf: 73-74)

As understood from the verse, there is a relationship between 'Ad and Thamud, and 'Ad may even have been a part of Thamud's history and culture. Salih ordered Thamud to remember the example of 'Ad and to take warning from them.

'Ad were shown the example of Nuh's people who had lived before them. Just as 'Ad had a historical importance for Thamud, Nuh's people also had an historical importance for 'Ad. These people were aware of each other and possibly came from the same lineage.

However, the places where 'Ad and Thamud lived were geographically quite far from each other. There does not seem to be a relationship between these two communities; so why is it said in the verse addressed to Thamud for them to remember 'Ad?

The answer reveals itself after a short investigation. The geographical distance between the 'Ad and Thamud is deceptive. Historical sources reveal that there is indeed a very strong connection between Thamud and 'Ad. Thamud knew 'Ad, because these two peoples most likely came from the same origin. Britannica Micropaedia writes about these people as follows under the title of "Thamud".

In ancient Arabia, tribe or group of tribes that seem to have been prominent. Although the Thamud probably originated in Southern Arabia, a large group apparently moved northward at an early date, traditionally settling on to the slopes of Jabal (Mount) Athlab. Recent archaeological work has revealed numerous Thamudic rock writings and pictures not only on Jabal Athlab, but also throughout Central Arabia.3

The Nabataeans, which was an Arab tribe, had established a kingdom in the Rum Valley in Jordan. In this place, also called the Valley of Petra, it is possible to see the best examples of the stone-carving work of these people. Also in the Qur'an, Thamud are mentioned with their mastery of masonry. However, today, what is left of both of these communities is some remains that give us an idea of the art of that time. In the pictures, various examples of the stone-carving work in Petra Valley are seen..

A script graphically similar to the Smaitic alpabet (called Thamudic) has been found in southern Arabia and up throughout the Hidjaz.4The script was first identified in a region in north central Yemen that is known as Thamud, which is bound to the north by the Rub'al Khali, to the south by the Hadramaut and to the west by Shabwah.

Before, we had seen that 'Ad were a people living in South Arabia. It is very significant that some remains of Thamud were found in the region where 'Ad had lived, especially around the region where the Hadramites, the descendants of 'Ad, lived and where their capital city stood. This situation explains the 'Ad-Thamud relationship noted in the Qur'an. This relationship is explained as follows in the prophet Salih's words when he said that Thamud came to replace 'Ad.

To the Thamud people (We sent) Salih, one of their own brethren:
He said: "O my people! worship Allah: ye have no other god but Him..." (Surat al-Araf : 73)

And remember how He made you inheritors after the 'Ad people and gave you habitations in the land (Surat al-Araf: 74)

A view of excavation in the region.

Briefly, Thamud paid the price for not obeying their messenger and they were destroyed. The buildings they had built and the works of art they had produced could not protect them from punishment. Thamud were destroyed with a terrible punishment just like all the other peoples both before and after them who denied the Truth.

1. "Hicr", Islam Ansiklopedisi: Islam Alemi, Tarihi, Cografya, Etnografya ve Bibliyografya Lugati,
(Encyclopedia of Islam: Islamic World, History, Geography, Ethnography, and Bibliography Dictionary) Vol. 5/1, p. 475
2. Phillip Hitti, A History of the Arabs, London: Macmillan, I970, p. 37.
3. "Thamuds", Britannica Micropaedia, Vol. 11, p. 672.
4. Brian Doe, Southern Arabia, Thames and Hudson, 1971, pp. 21-22.