Jalees Ahmad, Al Hakam
When we study the history of ancient Arabia, specifically during the era of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, we see that camels held immense importance. Often, camels were referred to as the “ships of the desert,” alluding to and highlighting their role in the Arabian Peninsula’s harsh and dry conditions. It was, in fact, a taxing task to travel without one.
For a glance at the history of Arabia, specifically, prior to the advent of Islam, historians draw upon the Sab‘ Mu‘allaqat, meaning the seven suspended poems. These poems, or odes, were, in fact, hung in the Holy Ka’bah, prior to the advent of Islam. The reason why they are consulted by historians is because they provide an overview of the nature and environment to which the Arabian land was accustomed.
For example, we find verses and references from the Sab‘ Mu‘allaqat that showcase the importance and significance of camels to Arabs:
جـمالية وجناء تـردي كـأنهـا سـفنـجـة تبـري لأزعـر أربـد
“A she-camel, strong as a male-camel, strong-bodied, who trots as though she were a female ostrich, who is avoiding a male, scanty of feathers and of an ashen grey colour.” (Qaseedah al-Sania, Verse 13; The Seven Poems Suspended in the Temple at Mecca, p. 36)
Further, we also read:
فأصبح يجري فيهم من تلادكم مغانم شتى من إفال مزنم
“Then there was being driven to them from the property you inherited, a booty of various sorts from young camels with slit ears.” (Qaseedah al-Salisa, Verse 25; The Seven Poems Suspended in the Temple at Mecca, p. 72)
Reading the above, it becomes clear the role and significance of camels in the Arabian Peninsula, such that we can infer that life itself could not be imagined without these ships of the desert.
Thus, when we read in the Holy Quran:
وَاِذَا الۡعِشَارُ عُطِّلَتۡ
“And when the she-camels, tenmonth pregnant, are abandoned.” (81:5)
Hearing this in 7th-century Arabia would have only caused confusion and wonder among the Arabs as to how such a thing could even be possible. Note that the Holy Quran does not merely mention camels. It specifies she-camels that are ten months pregnant. Camels were usually in high demand in Arabia, but a she-camel was even more valuable due to its ability to reproduce. Furthermore, the Holy Quran states that a ten-month pregnant she-camel, meaning a she-camel about to give birth to more camels, shall be suspended. For a person from 7th-century Arabia, it would not be surprising to learn that this was a lot to take in and imagine.
In Arabic, عشار is the plural form of عشراء, referring to she-camels that have been pregnant for ten months. This term is used for all such she-camels, whether they have already given birth or are still expecting. These animals, as mentioned, were highly valued by the Arabs due to their significance.
The verse of the Holy Quran alludes to the suspension of camels with more advanced and faster modes of transportation such as railway trains, steamships, motor cars, and aeroplanes. Indeed, we are living in an era where whenever we travel from one place to another, we are witnessing the fulfilment of the prophecy made 1500 years ago.
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, in his grand exegesis, Tafsir-e-Kabir, writes that the Holy Quran was revealed in Arabic among the people of Arabia. Therefore, the Quran prioritises the needs and sentiments of the Arab people. This ensures that they grasp the Quran’s teachings thoroughly before spreading them worldwide. The Arab nation, as the primary recipient of divine inspiration, finds its idioms and customs featured prominently in the Quranic discourse. This emphasis is crucial because if they fail to comprehend the message, how can they propagate it?
It is worth noting that in Arabia, both transportation and sustenance were closely tied to camels. Camels served as their means of transportation and provided milk for sustenance. In terms of the ten-month-old pregnant she-camel, whether it was a young camel or one expecting offspring, it held significant value for the people. They hoped that the offspring born from them would be suitable for riding and producing sustenance. Additionally, they relied on camel’s milk for nourishment, and the ten-month-old camels were highly prized because they were expected to give birth. (Tafsir-e-Kabir , Vol. 11, pp. 303-306)
Another point we must bear in mind is that the Holy Prophetsa has linked this era, in which camels shall be suspended or lose their significance, with the advent of the Promised Messiahas in a hadith recorded in Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Iman, Hadith 155c.
Referring to the above-referenced hadith, Hazrat Ahmadas states: “[…] In the era of the Promised Messiah, the riding of camels will be abandoned. Hence, no one will mount them and make them run. This alluded to the train, after the invention of which there would be no need for making the camels run. And the camel is mentioned because it was the principal means of transport in the Arab world, onto which they could load all their household items and ride, too.” (Testimony of the Holy Quran, p. 20)
Harat Musleh-e-Maudra, explaining the verse – prophecy – of discussion, said that Allah the Almighty highlights that as material wealth and advancements rise, a time will come when such camels will become redundant. As mentioned earlier, wisdom implies abandoning something to waste and severing all connections with it. In this context, nobility can have two interpretations:
i) New modes of transportation will render camels obsolete, leading to a decline in the value of pregnant ten-month-old camels that are about to give birth. Meaning that people will forsake them.
ii) Swift modes of transport will emerge, facilitating the import of various types of food to Arabia, diminishing the need for camel milk. Consequently, the worth of these camels, particularly those ready to give birth, will decrease significantly.
Remarkably, these two scenarios have materialised in our era. Inventions like rail, motor vehicles, and aeroplanes have transformed travel in Arabia. Initially, when motor vehicles were introduced in Arabia, the Bedouins resisted, fearing that it would harm their trade. Nevertheless, motor vehicles prevailed, and camel riding gradually became obsolete. Presently, motor vehicles are the preferred mode of travel to Mecca. (Tafsir-e-Kabir , Vol. 11, pp. 303-306)
And so, with such a prophecy consisting of only four words, we have a wealth of knowledge that we see has come to reality. This is yet another sign of the truthfulness of the Holy Quran.