In a very significant Quranic story about perished nations Quran mentioned the people called Aad, they had lived in a region called by Quran Al-ahqaf, and they had built a city with very huge pillars called iram.
Allah sent his messenger Hud to the "Aad's" people to call them not to worship Idols and believe in Allah the creator of the heavens and earth, but they denied and insisted on their ignorance and delusion. Hud said to them
O my people, worship God. There is no one other than Him. The other notions you have are all false. He is the only true God. I ask you to worship Him, I ask nothing for myself. My reward is with Him who has fashioned me. Will you not understand this? Seek His forgiveness and remember His bounties, and do not revert to your evil ways. [Quran 11:50-52]
But they persisted in their unbelief and told Hud: You have brought us no clear Signs save what you are telling us. How can we abandon our gods? It seems some of our gods have smitten you with evil so that you go on the wrong path. [Quran 11:53-54]
Hud answered them: I swear by my Lord that I am not guilty of your charge. I believe only in my Lord; To me no one else matters and none can delude me and make me go against Him. Nothing moves without His will; His path alone is the right path. If you do not respond to my call and turn away from the Lord, the loss will be yours, not His. In your place He will bring others, for He has control over all things, He watches over all that happens. [Quran 11:54-57]
Quran emphasis that these people had built a significant city with very huge pillars in Al-Ahqaf region which is thought to be at the south of the Arabic Peninsula.
Do you not see what your Lord did with 'Ad * Iram of the Columns whose like was not created in any land? (Qur'an, 89:6-8)
But at the time of Quran revelation from 1400 years there was no sign to this city, so some people have questioned this city and said it was a legendary city, but from about two decades there was a breakthrough in proving the facts mentioned by Quran a bout this amazing city.
THE CITY OF IRAM
At the beginning of 1990, press-releases in the well-known newspapers of the world declared "Fabled Lost Arabian city found," "Arabian city of Legend found" and "The Atlantis of the Sands, Ubar." What rendered this archaeological find particularly intriguing was the fact that this city is mentioned in the Qur'an. Many people had previously suggested 'Ad was a legend or that the location in question could never be found. Such people could not conceal their astonishment at this phenomenal discovery.
It was Nicholas Clapp, a noted documentary filmmaker and a lecturer on archaeology, who found this legendary city mentioned in the Qur'an. Being an Arabophile and a winning documentary film maker, Clapp had come across a very interesting book during his research on Arabian history. This book was Arabia Felix, written by the English researcher Bertram Thomas in 1932. Arabia Felix was the Roman designation for the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula which today includes Yemen and much of Oman. The Greeks called this area "Eudaimon Arabia" and medieval Arab scholars called it "Al-Yaman as-Saeed." All of these names mean "Happy Yemen," because the people living in that region used to serve as middlemen in the lucrative spice trade between India and places north of the Arabian Peninsula. In addition, the people living in this region produced and distributed "frankincense," an aromatic resin from rare trees.
The English researcher Thomas described these tribes at length and claimed that he found the traces of an ancient city founded by one of these tribes. This was the city known as "Ubar" by the Bedouins. In one of the trips he made to the region, the Bedouins living in the desert had shown him well-worn tracks and stated that these tracks led toward the ancient city of Ubar. Thomas, who showed great interest in the subject, died before being able to complete his research.
Whole societies have passed away before your time, so travel about the earth and see the final fate of the deniers. (Qur’an, 3:137)
Clapp, who examined what the English researcher Thomas wrote, was convinced of the existence of the lost city described in the book. He quickly started his research, attempting to carry on from where Thomas had left the project. Clapp took two different approaches in his mission to prove the existence of Ubar. First, he found the tracks which the Bedouins said existed and in order to aid his work, he applied to NASA to provide the satellite images of the area. After a long struggle, he succeeded in persuading the authorities to take the pictures of the region he so craved.
Clapp went on to study the ancient manuscripts and maps in the Huntington library in California. Here, he quickly found a map covering the region he was studying so intensely. He found a map drawn by the Greek-Egyptian geographer Ptolemy in 200, which showed the location of an old city found in the region and the paths which actually led up to this city.
Meanwhile, his research received a further boost when he received the news that satellite photographs had been taken by members of NASA. In the pictures, caravan trails, which were virtually invisible to the naked eye, caught Clapp's attention. They could only be seen as a whole from the sky. Comparing these pictures with the old map he had in hand, Clapp immediately realised that the trails in the old map corresponded with the trails in the pictures taken from the satellite. The final destination of these trails was a broad site understood to have once been a city.
Finally, thanks to the work of Clapp and Thomas before him-along with a helping hand from NASA researchers-the location of this legendary city, which had been subject of the stories told orally by the Bedouins, was discovered. After a short while, excavations began and remains of an old city were brought to light. This lost city was dubbed "Ubar, the Atlantis of the Sands."
But let us ask: What was it that proved this to be the city of the people of 'Ad mentioned in the Qur'an?
From the very beginning of the study of the site, it was understood that this ruined city belonged to 'Ad. Researchers discovered Iram's pillars, which were specifically mentioned in the Qur'an, in the form of towers in the land of the people of 'Ad. Dr. Juris Zarins, a member of the research team leading the excavation, said that since the towers were alleged to be the distinctive feature of Ubar and since Iram was mentioned as having towers or pillars, this then was the strongest proof so far that the site they had unearthed was Iram, the city of 'Ad described in the Qur'an:
Do you not see what your Lord did with 'Ad * Iram of the Columns whose like was not created in any land? (Qur'an, 89:6-8)
As seen, that the information provided by the Qur'an about the events of the past is in total agreement with historical information is another evidence of the fact that the Qur'an is the Word of Allah.
The Springs and the Gardens of ‘Ad
Today, the landscape that someone who travels to Southern Arabia would most frequently come across is vast desert. Most places, with the exception of the cities and regions that have been later afforested, are covered with sand. These deserts have been there for hundreds and maybe thousands of years.
But in the Qur’an, interesting information is given in one of the verses recounting ‘Ad. While warning his people, Prophet Hud (as) draws their attention to the springs and gardens with which Allah had endowed them:
Now fear Allah, and obey me. Yea, fear Him Who has bestowed on you freely all that ye know. Freely has He bestowed on you cattle and sons,- And Gardens and Springs. Truly I fear for you the Penalty of a Great Day. (Surat ash-Shuara: 131-135)
But as we have noted before, Ubar, which has been identified with the city of Iram, and any other place which is likely to have been the residence of ‘Ad, is totally covered with desert today. So, why did Hud (as) use such an expression while warning his people?
The answer is hidden in the climatic changes of history. Historical records reveal that these areas which have turned into desert now, had once been very productive and green lands. A great part of the region was covered with green areas and springs as stated in the Qur’an, less than a few thousand years ago, and the people of the region made use of these endowments. The forests softened the harsh climate of the region and made it more habitable. Deserts existed, but did not cover such a vast area as today.
In Southern Arabia, important clues have been acquired in the regions where ‘Ad lived, which could cast a light upon this subject. These show that the inhabitants of that region used a highly developed irrigation system. This irrigation most probably served a single purpose: agriculture. In those regions, which are not appropriate for life today, people once cultivated the land.
Satellite imaging has also revealed an extensive system of ancient canals and dams used in irrigation around Ramlat as Sab’atayan which is estimated to have been able to support 200,000 people in the associated cities. As Doe, one of the researchers conducting the research, said; "So fertile was the area around Ma’rib, that one might conceive that the whole region between Ma’rib and Hadhramaut was once under cultivation."
A satellite picture of dry rivers near Ubar
The Greek classical writer Pliny had described this region as being very fertile, and mist-covered with forested mountains, rivers and unbroken tracts of forests. In the inscriptions found in some ancient temples close to Shabwah, the capital city of the Hadramites, it was written that animals were hunted in this region and that some were sacrificed. All these reveal that this region was once covered with fertile lands as well as desert.
The speed with which the desert can encroach can be seen in some recent research done by the Smithsonian Institute in Pakistan where an area known to be fertile in the Middle Ages has turned into sandy desert, with dunes six metres high. The sands can swallow even the highest buildings, and cover them as if they had never existed. Thus excavations at Timna in Yemen in the 1950’s have been almost completely covered up again. The Egyptian pyramids were also entirely under sands once and were only brought to light after very long-lasting excavations. Briefly, it is very clear that regions known to be desert today could have had different appearances in the past.
How were ‘Ad ruined?
In the Qur’an, ‘Ad are said to have perished through a "furious wind". In the verses of the Qur’an, it is mentioned that this furious wind lasted for seven nights and eight days and destroyed ‘Ad totally.
The 'Ad (people) (too) rejected (Truth): then how terrible was My Penalty and My Warning? For We sent against them a furious wind, on a Day of violent Disaster, Plucking out men as if they were roots of palm-trees torn up (from the ground). (Surat al-Qamar: 18-20)
And the 'Ad, they were destroyed by a furious Wind, exceedingly violent. He made it rage against them seven nights and eight days in succession: so that thou couldst see the (whole) people lying prostrate in its (path), as they had been roots of hollow palm-trees tumbled down! (Surat al-Haqqa: 6-7)
Though warned previously, the people had paid no attention to the warnings whatsoever and continuously refuted their messengers. They were in such delusion that they could not even understand what was happening when they saw the destruction approaching them and continued with their denial.
Then, when they saw the (Penalty in the shape of) a cloud traversing the sky, coming to meet their valleys, they said, "This cloud will give us rain!". Nay, it is the (Calamity) ye were asking to be hastened!- A wind wherein is a Grievous Penalty! (Surat al-Ahqaf : 24)
In the verse, it is stated that the people saw the cloud that would bring them calamity, but could not understand what it was and thought that it was a rain cloud. This is an important indication as to how the calamity was as it drew near to the people, because a cyclone proceeding along whipping up the desert sand also seems like a rain cloud from a distance. It is possible that the people of ‘Ad were deceived by this appearance and did not notice the calamity. Doe gives a description of these sand storms (which seems to be from personal experience): "The first sign (of a dust or sandstorm) is an approaching wall of dust-laden air which may be several thousand feet in height lifted by the strong rising currents and stirred by a fairly strong wind."
Thought to be the remains of ‘Ad, "The Atlantis of the Sands, Ubar" has been recovered from under a layer of sand metres thick. It seems that the furious wind lasting for "seven nights and eight days" by the Qur’an’s description, accumulated tons of sand on top of the city and buried people under the earth alive. Excavations made in Ubar point to the same possibility. The French magazine, Ça M’Interesse states the following: "Ubar was buried under a sand of twelve metres thickness as a result of a storm."
The most important evidence showing that ‘Ad were buried by a sand storm, is the word "ahqaf" used in the Qur’an to signify the location of ‘Ad. The description used in Surat al-Ahqaf is as follows:
Mention (Hud) one of 'Ad's (own) brethren: Behold, he warned his people about the winding Sand-tracts: but there have been warners before him and after him: "Worship ye none other than Allah: Truly I fear for you the Penalty of a Mighty Day." (Surat al-Ahqaf: 21).
Ahqaf means "sand dunes" in Arabic and it is the plural form of the word "hiqf" which means a "sand dune". This shows that ‘Ad lived in a region full of "sand dunes", which provided the most logical ground possible for the fact that they were buried by a sand storm. According to one interpretation, ahqaf lost its meaning of "sand hills" and became the name of the region in south Yemen where ‘Ad lived. This does not change the fact that the root of this word is sand dunes, but just shows that this word has since become peculiar to this area because of the abundant sand dunes in the region.
The destruction that befell ‘Ad from a sandstorm must have annihilated the entire people in a very short time, people who were until then living by cultivating fertile lands and building dams and irrigation channels for themselves. All of the fertile and cultivated fields, irrigation canals and dams of the community living there were covered by sand, and the whole city and its inhabitants were buried alive under the sand. After the people were destroyed, desert spread there in time and covered them leaving no trace.
As a consequence, it can be said that historical and archaeological finds indicate that ‘Ad and the city of Iram existed and were destroyed as described in the Qur’an. Through later research, the remains of these people have been recovered from the sands.
What one should do in looking at those remains buried in the sands, is to take warning just as the Qur’an stresses. The Qur’an states that ‘Ad went astray of the right path because of their arrogance and said: "Who is superior to us in strength?". In the rest of the verse, it is said: "What! did they not see that Allah, Who created them, was superior to them in strength?" (Surah Fussilat: 15)
What a person has to do is bear this unchangeable fact in mind all the time and understand that the greatest and the most honoured is always Allah and that one can only prosper by adoring Him.