“And We did raise among every people a Messenger”
Jalees Ahmad, Al Hakam
Salihas was a Prophet of God who was sent to the people of Thamud, a tribe that lived after ‘Ad, located in the western part of Arabia. (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch.7: V.74) The people to whom Prophet Salihas was sent were known as Ashab al-Hijr. (Surah al-Hijr, Ch.15: V.81) The Holy Quran states that the tribe of ‘Ad, to whom was sent Prophet Hudas, were successors to the people of Noahas [Nuh]. (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch.7: V.70) Salihas, as stated in the article about Prophet Hudas, was a prophet after Hudas. Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra has explained that “Hudas, Salihas and Shu‘aybas, were in close association with their respective peoples.” (Introduction to the Study of the Holy Quran, p. 9)
Prophet Salih’sas character was so great, as evident from the Holy Quran, that the people of Thamud, prior to his call, relied on him greatly. His story has been linked and remembered with the she-camel he used for travelling and performing his preaching activities.
Prophet Salih’sas call
As every prophet was commanded to spread the message of Tawhid, i.e., divine unity and oneness, so too was Prophet Salihas. Addressing his people, he said, “O my people worship Allah; you have no God but Him. He raised you up from the earth, and settled you therein. So ask forgiveness of Him, then turn to Him [whole-heartedly].” (Surah Hud, Ch.11: V.62)
Prophet Salihas reminded his people of the favours of God that were bestowed upon them, being a lowly people and having been granted prosperity and a high position on earth.
His people, hearing his message, responded, “O Salih, thou wast among us one in whom we placed our hopes. Dost thou forbid us to worship what our fathers worshipped? And we are surely in disquieting doubt concerning that to which thou callest us.” (Surah Hud, Ch.11: V.63)
The people of Salihas had deemed him to be someone in whom they could place their trust. However, after hearing that Salih’sas message would stop them from following the erred ways of their forefathers, they turned against him. This is a very common theme in the lives of prophets of Allah. Before they are commissioned by God, they are held in great esteem by their people, however, when they call people to the Oneness of God, the same people stand against them. This also happened to the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa.
The people of Salihas led luxurious lives, judging by the standards of that time. Prophet Salihas addressed his people, “[Do you think] you will be left secure amid the things [that you have] here?” (Surah ash-Shu`ara’, Ch.26: V.147)
Prophet Salihas told his people, just as Hudas did, that their worldly power will not avail them anything from God’s wrath. His people found honour in their power and wealth.
Salihas was sent to people known as Ashab al-Hijr. Hijr was a place situated between Tabuk and Medina. The place was mainly built with stones, hence the name “Hijr”. On one occasion, when the Holy Prophetsa arrived at Hijr during the battle of Tabuk, he ordered his companions not to drink water from its well or reserve water from it (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Ahadithi l-Anbiya’, Hadith 3378), as “this settlement was the place of divine punishment.” (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 4, p. 104)
A party of nine mischief-makers plots to kill Salihas
Prophets of Allah, throughout their lives, face much opposition. Their bitter enemies, who simply reject guidance from the Lord, plot various schemes to halt their message and some even go so far as to plot to kill the prophet sent to them.
The Holy Quran states that there was a party of nine-mischief-mongers in Salih’sas city who would not reform themselves and were bent on their ways. These people planned to attack Salihas and his family at night. The Quran records them as having planned, “We will surely attack him and his family by night, and then we will say to his heir, ‘We witnessed not the destruction of his family, and most surely we are truthful.’” (Surah an-Naml, Ch.27: V.50)
These mischief-makers had made such a plan amongst themselves and thought it to be irretraceable, as they had said that they would simply tell others that they did not witness anything. This, too, is another common theme in the lives of prophets. There has always been a group of people who opposed and planned to kill the messenger sent to them. This also happened with the Holy Prophetsa the night before he migrated to Medina.
These nine mischief-mongers could not even fathom that God’s plan to protect his beloved prophet was set in motion.
The Holy Quran states that their evil plan failed and was “utterly destroyed.” (Surah an-Naml, Ch.27: V.57) These mischief-makers serve as a reminder to all those who reject and plot to halt the message of Allah’s prophets.
Prophet Salih’sas she-camel
Legends have been formed regarding Salih’sas she-camel; legends that hold no ground whatsoever.
First and foremost, we must understand that camels were the main means of transport in Arabia. Travelling without one would be no simple task, considering the heat and climate of Arabia. Prophet Salihas used his she-camel to travel from one place to another. Referring to his she-camel, he said to his people, “‘Leave her that she may feed in Allah’s earth, and do her no harm, lest a painful punishment seize you.’” (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch.7: V.74)
Prophet Salihas told his people to refrain from harming the she-camel or putting obstacles in her way, lest a punishment overtake them. As his she-camel was used for his work, any harm to his camel was equivalent to causing obstacles in the way of God’s work.
“The declaration by Salihas about the free movement of his she-camel was also in harmony with a time-honoured Arab custom.” (Five Volume Commentary, Vol. II, p. 1001)
Salih’sas people hamstrung the she-camel
When the arrogant enemies of Salihas saw that he was firm in his claim and message, they turned to those who believed and asked if they truly thought Salihas was a messenger sent by God. Very arrogantly did the chief men boast that they disbelieved in him and his message.
His people hamstrung the she-camel and boasted to Salihas, “‘bring us that which thou threatenest us with, if thou art indeed one of the Messengers.’” (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch.7: V.78) In this verse, his enemies said to bring the punishment. A very brazen act and a mistake many disbelievers make, as evident from the Quran.
The Holy Quran states: “The [tribe of] Thamud denied [the truth] because of their rebelliousness. When the most wretched among them got up, then the Messenger of Allah said, ‘[Leave alone] the she-camel of Allah, and let her drink.’ But they rejected him and hamstrung her.” (Surah ash-Shams, Ch.91: V.12-15)
The Holy Prophetsa is reported to have said, while referring to the person who had cut the legs of the she-camel of the Prophet Salihas, “The man who was appointed for doing this job, was a man of honour and power in his nation like Abu Zam‘ah.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Ahadithi l-Anbiya, Hadith 3377)
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra explained, in Tafsir-e-Saghir, that Salih’sas people did not hold any enmity towards the she-camel, nor does the killing of a camel warrant such a punishment. In fact, their hatred was directed at Salihas and his message. The she-camel was mainly used as a mode of transport from one place to another for his tabligh missions. They killed the she-camel so that the spreading of his message might come to a halt. (Tafsir-e-Saghir, p. 201)
Furthering this point, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh explained:
“One thing is very clear and that is the occurrence of the terrifying blast, whether you call it a volcanic eruption or a thunderbolt from the skies or a blast resulting from a geological movement. In short, no matter how you depict that single blast, it did not have the remotest physical connection with the hamstringing of the she-camel. No one can accept that the blast occurred as a direct result of the she-camel having been hamstrung. We conclude, therefore, that whatever natural phenomenon was chosen as a means of destruction of the people of Salihas, it was not a mere coincidence but an extraordinary divine decree. As long as the people of Salihas refrained from preventing the she-camel from taking water and tormenting her, God’s wish of restraining the forces of nature from manifesting themselves was fully complied with, but when the she-camel was withdrawn from water and hamstrung, the forces of nature were permitted to unleash themselves and show their might.” (“Natural Disasters or Divine Punishment?”, The Review of Religions, February 1994)
The punishment that befell Thamud
After the mischievous disbelievers assaulted the she-camel, Salihas said, “Enjoy yourselves in your houses for three days. This is a promise which is not a lie.” (Surah Hud, Ch.11: V.66) The three days were given as a last chance for repentance, however, they didn’t avail even this. (Five Volume Commentary, Vol. 3, pp. 1368-1369)
When God’s command arrived, apart from Salihas and those who believed, all perished in an earthquake that seized them in their homes.
With the study of the lives of Prophets, we realise that all those who acted arrogantly and opposed the divine message have been forgotten through the ages; however, prophets of God, it seems, have been immortalised and are now remembered by Muslims who often turn back to the Quran.
Salihas, grieved at his people and their actions, left the city, turning away from them, with a sorrowful heart, and said, “O my people, I did deliver the message of my Lord unto you and offered you sincere counsel, but you love not sincere counsellors.” (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch.7: V.80)