|Prophet, Seer, Apostle to Thamud|
|Major shrine||Nabi Salih|
|Influenced||Many Muslim saints|
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Saleh (//) or Salih (//; Arabic: صالح Șāliḥ, meaning "Pious") was an Arabic prophet of ancient Arabia mentioned in the Qur'an, who prophesied to the tribe of Thamud. He is mentioned nine times throughout the Qur'an and his people are frequently referenced as a wicked community who, because of their sins, were ultimately destroyed. Saleh is sometimes equated with Salah, a figure from the Hebrew Bible, although the two have little in common save for their names. The preaching and prophecy of Saleh is linked to the famous Islamic story of the She-Camel, which was the gift given by God to the people of Thamud when they desired a miracle to confirm the truth of the message Saleh was preaching.
Thamud people are believed to have been the successors to the ancient tribe of ʿĀd. Their ancestral descendant may have been Eber, the great-grandson of Noah and their location is likely to have been in the Northwest corner of Arabia, between Madinah and Syria. In later Islamic history, when Muhammad led his expedition to Tabuk against the Romans, on a reported Roman invasion from Syria, the prophet - and his companions - walked past the land of Thamud. With the advance of material civilization, the people of Thamud became materialistic and arrogant as well as godless. Thus, God sent the prophet and seer Saleh, to warn them about the impending doom they would face if they did not mend their sinful ways.
Thamud cannot be equated with the Edomites at Petra. Salih was born before Abraham and the Edomites were a Semitic race. Historic Petra had several places of worship, and the main mountain at the site - Jebel al-Madhbah - is topped by two stone obelisks, suggesting the worship of deities via stone phallic symbols. The narrow gorge leading to the site - known as the Siq - can sometimes channel the wind to produce a loud trumpet-like sound, and it is known by local Bedouin as the trumpet of God. The Edomite occupants of Petra were, however, not obliterated, but instead just migrated to the Negev; neither were the subsequent Nabataean occupants of Petra destroyed by divine command, but instead were weakened by the Roman Emperor, Trajan, and reduced to mere peasants. The name of Saleh may originate in the name of the city, as it was historically known as Sela, a word deriving from the Hebrew term Se'lah, meaning rock; the Greek name Petra has the same meaning.
The prophet Saleh is not mentioned in any other Abrahamic scripture or contemporary historical text, and his account is only found in the Qur'an. However, the account of Thamud's destruction was well known in Pre-Islamic Arabia and among the Arabic tribes and their poets that they mentioned them (and the people of ʿĀd) in some of their poetry, as a moral lesson and a bad end. Arab Jews knew about the stories of Thamūd and ʿĀd from the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula, but mostly as an Arabian tradition, and not as a matter of belief and faith, because they were not mentioned in the Jewish sources, nor in the contemporary Roman or Christian ones.
Many years passed by after the torment that befell the people of 'Ad, and other generations came to succeed them. Among these were the Thamud people who were the successors of the believers who were saved with Prophet Hud. Once again, the people of Thamud, deviated from the right path and started to worship idols, and once again, Allah the Most Merciful decided to send them a prophet from amongst themselves to guide them back to the right path. This prophet was Prophet Saleh.
The people of Thamud were Arab tribes that lived in the area between Madinah and Syria. Their land was made of rocky mountains and spacious fertile plains. They lived in huge houses that they carved out of the huge rocks in the mountains - and the remains of these houses are still visible in northwest Saudi Arabia. The Thamud people were arrogant and they oppressed the poor among them. The rich exploited the plains and water resources and seldom did they permit others to equally profit from the bounty of Allah. Prophet Saleh, whom they respected very much for he was the most righteous among them, was sent to them as a warner. He said to them: "O my people! Worship Allah, you have no other god but Him" 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 ( note amalekites are the Imliq). — From Prophets and Patriarchs.
When Thamud in turn was destroyed, the remaining sons of Iram were called Arman — they are Nabateans. The origin of the Nabateans remains obscure, but they were Aramaic speakers, and the term "Nabatean" was the Arabic name for an Aramean of Syria and Iraq.
Saleh's life in his community had been so righteous that the people of Thamud virtually relied upon him for support. In fact, he might have been chosen as their leader or king if he had too followed their idolatrous ways. But Saleh was chosen by God as a prophet and he was born for a higher mission - to preach against the selfishness of the wealthy and to condemn the practice of idolatry. Although Saleh preached the message for a sustained period of time, the people for Thamud refused to hear his warning and instead began to ask Saleh to obtain a miracle for them.
Saleh kept telling his people to look around them and remember the numerous miracles God had bestowed upon them. In monologues of preaching, Saleh reminded his people of the countless castles and palaces they built, and of their technological superiority over neighboring communities. Furthermore, he told them about their ancestors - the ʿĀd tribe - and how they too were destroyed for their sins. As usually happened in such events, the poor and needy were the steadfast believers from the community and the suppressive were the rich and arrogant townsfolk. As Saleh took the side of the underprivileged, the chieftains of the tribe reviled the prophet and mocked his words.
Although Saleh had told his people about God's mercy, they argued and demanded that he obtain a miracle. This showed a weakness on the part of Thamud people, and represents in them a childish reliance on visual miracles rather than spiritual faith. Thus, God gave Thamud tribe a she-camel, to provide them with sustenance, as both a blessing and a test. Pasture was considered a free gift of God, and this camel would be a trial to see if the arrogant and greedy would let the camel graze peacefully or whether they would slay her. The rich and wealthy, instead of accepting the test of God, hamstrung the innocent she-camel and gruesomely slew her.
The people of Thamud had three more days for further repentance to God. But in the next three days, the people of Saleh asked for no repentance. Thus, a terrible earthquake came by night on the third day, preceded by a mighty blast in the sky. The explosion struck their community and, in a matter of minutes, the people were buried in the ruins of their own homes. While the majority of the people perished, Saleh and the believers were saved, being just and righteous people. Saleh left them lamenting over the destruction of his people for their sinning against God.