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Thamudi dwellings carved into the cliffs at Mada'in Saleh

The archaeological vestiges of Mada'in Saleh are often compared with those of Petra, the Nabatean capital situated 500 km (310.7 mi) north-west of Mada'in Saleh.[1]

The Thamūd (Arabic: ثمود) were a people of ancient Arabia who were known from the 1st millennium BC to near the time of Muhammad. Although they are thought to have originated in southern Arabia, Arabic tradition has them moving north to settle on the slopes of Mount Athlab near Mada'in Saleh. According to the Qur'an, the Thamud were punished and destroyed by a soundwave[2] (rajfa).

Numerous Thamudic rock writings and pictures have been found on Mount Athlab and throughout central Arabia.[3]


The oldest known reference to Thamud is a 715 BC inscription of the Assyrian king Sargon II which mentions them as being among the people of eastern and central Arabia subjugated by the Assyrians.[2]

They are referred to as "Tamudaei" in the writings of Aristo of Chios, Ptolemy, and Pliny.[4]

The Qur'an


Migration towards north.

The Qur'an mentions Thamud in Sura Al-A'raf in the context of several prophets who warned their people of coming judgement. Verse 74 says of Thamud, "Ye build for yourselves palaces and castles in (open) plains, and carve out homes in the mountains".[5] This could refer to the rock-cut tombs of Mada'in Saleh (the Cities of Saleh)

In the Qur'an, ʿĀd and Thamud are generally mentioned together as a matter of context. The verses advise Thamud to take warning from the destruction of ʿĀd.

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. Now hath come unto you a clear (Sign) from your Lord! This she-camel of Allah is a Sign unto you: So leave her to graze in Allah's earth, and let her come to no harm, or ye shall be seized with a grievous punishment.
"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."
Qur'an, Sura 7 (Al-A'raf), ayat 73-74[6]

This verse suggests some kind of relationship between ʿĀd and Thamud, and ʿĀd may even have been a part of Thamud's history and culture. Just as Nuh's (Noah) people were seen as the ancestors of ʿĀd, it seems ʿĀd were seen in a similar relation to Thamud.

The ʿĀd were a people living in southern Arabia. Some remains of Thamud were found in the region where ʿĀd had lived, especially around the region where capital city of the Hadramites, the descendants of ʿĀd, stood.

A bit further on from the passage quoted above, the Qur'an says,

Then they ham-strung the she-camel, and insolently defied the order of their Lord, saying: "O Salih! bring about thy threats, if thou art a messenger (of Allah)!"
So the earthquake took them unawares, and they lay prostrate in their homes in the morning!
Qur'an, Sura 7 (Al-A'raf), ayat 77-78[7]

In Sura Al-Qamar it says " For We sent against them a single Mighty Blast, and they became like the dry stubble used by one who pens cattle."[8]


`Abd Allah ibn `Umar (ca. 614–693) narrated that while Muhammad was passing by Thamud's houses on his way to the Battle of Tabouk, he stopped together with the people there. The people fetched water from the wells from which the people of Thamud used to drink. They prepared their dough (for baking) and filled their water skins from it (the water from the wells). Muhammad ordered them to empty the water skins and give the prepared dough to the camels. Then he went away with them until they stopped at the well from which the she-camel (of Salih) used to drink. He warned them against entering upon the people that had been punished, saying "Do not enter the house of those who were unjust to themselves, unless (you enter) weeping, lest you should suffer the same punishment as was inflicted upon them."[9]


The famous historian Ali ibn al-Athir mentions the Thamud in his book The Complete History (Arabic: الكامل في التاريخ - al-Kamil fi at-tarikh) composed ca. 1231.

Ibn Khaldun

Historian and scholar, Ibn Khaldun also mentions the Thamud several times in his great universal history al-Kitābu l-ʻibār ("Book of Evidence"), but only in passing, seldom giving much information.

Some examples from the Muqaddimah ("Introduction"):

This can be illustrated by what happened among the nations. When the royal authority of 'Ad was wiped out, their brethren, the Thamud, took over. They were succeeded, in turn, by their brethren, the Amalekites. The Amalekites were succeeded by their brethren, the Himyar. The Himyar were succeeded by their brethren, the Tubba's, who belonged to the Himyar. They, likewise, were succeeded, by the Adhwa'. Then, the Mudar came to power.
Ibn Khaldun , Muqaddimah Chapter II Bedouin civilization, savage nations and tribes and their conditions of life, including several basic and explanatory statements, 21 As long as a nation retains its group feeling, royal authority that disappears in one branch will, of necessity, pass to some other branch of the same nation.[10]
Yemen, Bahrain (historical region), Oman, and other parts of the Arabian Peninsula have long been in Arab possession, but for thousands of years, the rule of these areas has belonged to different (Arab) nations in succession. They also founded cities and towns (there) and promoted the development of sedentary culture and luxury to the highest degree. Among such nations were the 'Ad and the Thamud, the Amalekites and the Himyar after them, the Tubbas, and the other South Arabian rulers (Adhwa). There was a long period of royal authority and sedentary culture. The coloring of (sedentary culture) established itself firmly. The crafts became abundant and firmly rooted. They were not wiped out simultaneously with (each ruling) dynasty, as we have stated. They have remained and have always renewed themselves down to this time, and they have become the specialty of that area. Such (special Yemenite) crafts are embroidered fabrics, striped cloth, and finely woven garments and silks.
Ibn Khaldun , Muqaddimah Chapter V On the various aspects of making a living, such as profit and the crafts. The conditions that occur in this connection. A number of problems are connected with this subject, 20 The Arabs, of all people, are least familiar with crafts.[11]


A script graphically similar to the Semitic alphabet (called Thamudic) has been found in southern Arabia and up throughout the Hejaz.[12] The 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 Hadhramaut and to the west by Shabwah. The script was named after the place where it was first discovered, not for the people. Inscriptions in Thamudic come mostly from northern Saudi Arabia, but can be found throughout the Arabian peninsula.[13]


very little information is known about the Identity or the nationality of Thamud, but they are referred to as Arabs"àrabes" in the records of the Greek Historian Diodorus Siculus. [14]

The title and description given by Photius to Thamud indicates that they had a status similar to Qedarites who have been identified as Arabs. [15]

In 2003, Professor Jan Retsö in a research in his book "The Arabs in Antiquity" has finally concluded that Thamudic people were true Arabs. [16]

See also

  • Atlantis of the Sands


  1. "ICOMOS Evaluation of Al-Hijr Archaeological Site (Madâin Sâlih) World Heritage Nomination". World Heritage Center. Retrieved 2009-09-16.
  2. 2.0 2.1 M. Th. Houtsma et al., eds., E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936
  3. Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  4. Phillip Hitti, A History of the Arabs, London: Macmillan, 1970, p. 37.
  5. Qur'an 7:74
  6. Qur'an 7:73–74
  7. Qur'an 7:77–78
  8. Qur'an 54:31
  9. Template:Hadith-usc
  10. Muqaddimah Ch. 2.21
  11. Muqaddimah Ch. 5.20
  12. Brian Doe, Southern Arabia, Thames and Hudson, 1971, pp. 21-22.
  13. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History - Thamudic inscriptions exhibit
  14. Bibliotheca historica, Volume II, Book III, Page 219
  15. The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads, Page 299
  16. The Arabs in Antiquity: Their History from the Assyrians to the Umayyads, Page 299

External links

Template:Qur'anic people