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Saleh (//) or Salih (//; Arabic: صالح Ṣāliḥ, meaning "Pious") was a prophet of ancient Arabia, mentioned in the Qur'an, who prophesied to the tribe of Thamud. Saleh is sometimes equated with Shelakh, a figure from the Hebrew Bible. 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.
The Thamudi people are believed to have been the successors to the ancient tribe of ʿĀd. Their ancestor may have been ‘Eber ibn Shelakh the descendant of Noah. According to the Qur’an, their location was Al-Hijr, which likely refers to the archaeological site in the northwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, between Madinah and Ash-Sham, in the Hijaz, Saudi Arabia. With the advance of material civilization, the people of Thamud became materialistic, as well as arrogant and 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. In later Islamic history, when Muhammad led his expedition to Tabuk against the Romans, on a reported Roman invasion from the Levant, he and his companions walked past the land of Thamud.
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 phalluses. 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 Petrans were, however, not obliterated but instead just migrated to the Negev, and the subsequent Nabataeans were not 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 found only 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 who 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, not as a matter of belief and faith because they were not mentioned in Jewish sources or in the contemporary Roman or Christian ones.
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 king or leader 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 informing 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 the 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, which showed a weakness on the part of Thamud people, 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 the camel would be a trial to see if the arrogant and greedy would let the camel graze peacefully or they would slay her. The rich, instead of accepting the test of God, hamstrung the she-camel and slew her. Nine of the worst people were involved in the slaying of the camel, which invited the wrath of God.
The people of Thamud had three more days to repent to God. 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.
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