Saleh (prophet)

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Resting placeHasik (present day Oman)

Saleh (/ˈsɑːli/; Arabic: صَالِحٌ, romanizedṢāleḥ, lit.'Pious'), also spelled Salih (/ˈsɑːlə/), is a prophet mentioned in the Quran[1][2] who prophesied to the tribe of Thamud[3][4][5] in ancient Arabia, before the lifetime of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The story of Salih is linked to the story of the She-Camel of God, which was the gift given by God to the people of Thamud when they desired a miracle to confirm that Salih was truly a prophet.

Historical context[edit]

Mada'in Saleh or Al-Hijr in the Hijazi mountainous region of Saudi Arabia

The Thamud were a tribal confederation in the northwestern region of the Arabian Peninsula, mentioned in Assyrian sources in the time of Sargon II. The tribe's name continues to appear in documents into the fourth century CE, but by the sixth century they were regarded as a group that had vanished long ago.[6]: 81 

According to the Quran, the city that Saleh was sent to was called Al-Hijr,[7] which corresponds to the Nabataean city of Hegra.[8] The city rose to prominence around the 1st century AD as an important site in the regional caravan trade.[9] Adjacent to the city were large, decorated rock-cut tombs used by members of various religious groups.[6]: 146  At an unknown point in ancient times, the site was abandoned and possibly functionally replaced by Al-'Ula.[10] The site has been referred to as Mada'in Salih since the era of Muhammad and was named after his predecessor Salih.[11]

Saleh is not mentioned in any historical texts or in any of the Abrahamic scriptures that precede the Qur'an, but the account of Thamud's destruction may have been well known in ancient Arabia. The tribe's name is used in ancient Arabian poetry as a metaphor for "the transience of all things".[6]: 223–24 

In Islam[edit]


Salih Inviting His People to See the She-Camel
Illuminated collection of Stories of the Prophets

According to Muslim tradition, the people of Thamud virtually relied upon Saleh for support.[12] He was chosen by God as a Messenger and sent to preach against the selfishness of the wealthy and to condemn the practice of shirk (idolatry or polytheism). Although Saleh preached for a sustained period of time, the people for Thamud refused to hear his warning and instead began to ask Saleh to perform a miracle for them. They said: "O Salih! Thou hast been of us! A centre of our hopes hitherto! Dost thou forbid us the worship of what our fathers worshiped? But we are really in suspicious (disquieting) doubt as to that to which thou invitest us."

Saleh reminded his people of the castles and palaces they built out of stone,[13] and of their technological superiority over neighbouring communities. Furthermore, he told them about their ancestors, the ʿĀd tribe, and how they too were destroyed for their sins. Some of the people of Thamud believed Saleh's words, but the tribal leaders refused to listen to him and continued to demand that he demonstrate a miracle to prove his prophethood.[14]

In response, God gave the Thamud a blessed she-camel, as both a means of sustenance and a test. The tribe was told to allow the camel to graze peacefully and avoid harming her.[15] But in defiance of Saleh's warning, the people of the tribe hamstrung the camel.[16] Saleh informed them that they had only three more days to live before the wrath of God descended upon them.[17] The people of the city were remorseful,[18] but their crime could not be undone, and all the disbelieving people in the city were killed in an earthquake. Al-Hijr was rendered uninhabited and remained in ruins for all time thereafter.[19] Saleh himself and the few believers who followed him survived.[20]

The story is expanded upon in Sūrat an-Naml, whilst the she-camel is not mentioned explicitly here, it states that nine men plotted to kill Salih and his whole family,[21][22] a crime for which they were struck down by God three days later.[17]

Muslim tradition[edit]

Muslim writers have elaborated upon the story of Saleh and the she-camel. Early Islamic tradition often involved a motif of the camel miraculously emerging from stone, often accompanied by a calf, and the production of milk from the camel. Al-Tabari states that Saleh summoned his people to a mountain, where they witnessed the rock miraculously split open, revealing the camel. The she-camel had a young calf. Saleh informed the Thamud that the older camel was to drink from their water source on one day, and they were to drink from it the next day. On days when they were not allowed to drink water, the camel provided them with milk. But God informed Saleh that a boy who would hamstring the camel would soon be born to the tribe, and that child was evil and grew unnaturally fast. The camel was indeed killed, and its calf cried out three times, signaling that the Thamud would be destroyed in three days. Their faces turned yellow, then red, then black, and they died on the third day as predicted.[23]

According to some Islamic scholars, the mother of Ismail, Hajar, was a granddaughter of Saleh.[24]

A similar tradition is related in an eighth-century commentary on Islam by John of Damascus[25][26] and is also mentioned in the works of Ibn Kathir.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Lawḥ-i-Burhán (Tablet of the Proof)". Baháʼí Reference Library. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  2. ^ "Kitáb-i-Íqán (The Book of Certitude)". Baháʼí Reference Library. Retrieved 9 January 2022.
  3. ^ Quran 7:73–79
  4. ^ Quran 11:61–69
  5. ^ Quran 26:141–158
  6. ^ a b c Hoyland, Robert (2001). Arabia and the Arabs. Routledge. ISBN 978-0415195355.
  7. ^ Quran 15:80–84
  8. ^ Can Aksoy, Omer (2009). "Framing the Primordial: Islamic Heritage and Saudi Arabia". In Rico, Trinidad (ed.). The Making of Islamic Heritage: Muslim Pasts and Heritage Presents. Springer. p. 69. ISBN 978-981-10-4070-2.
  9. ^ Fiema, Zbigniew T. (2003). "Roman Petra (A.D. 106–363): A Neglected Subject". Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins. 119 (1): 38–58.
  10. ^ Nehme, Leila. "Ancient Hegra, a Nabataean Site in a Semi-arid Environment. The Urban Space and Preliminary Results from the First Excavation Season" (PDF). Bollettino di Archeologia. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2018-09-03. Retrieved 2018-09-02.
  11. ^ Hizon, Danny. "Madain Saleh: Arabia's Hidden Treasure – Saudi Arabia". Archived from the original on 2008-07-24. Retrieved 2009-09-17.
  12. ^ Q11:62: "They argued, “O Ṣâliḥ! We truly had high hopes in you before this.1 How dare you forbid us to worship what our forefathers had worshipped? We are certainly in alarming doubt about what you are inviting us to.” " (Khattab translation)
  13. ^ Quran 7:74: "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 care 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"
  14. ^ Quran 7:75: "The leaders of the arrogant party among his people said to those who were reckoned powerless - those among them who believed: "Know ye indeed that Salih is a messenger from his Lord?"
  15. ^ Quran 7:73: "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.'"
  16. ^ Quran 7:77
  17. ^ a b Quran 11:65
  18. ^ Quran 26:157
  19. ^ Quran 7:78
  20. ^ Quran 7:79: "So Salih left them, saying: 'O my people! I did indeed convey to you the message for which I was sent by my Lord: I gave you good counsel, but ye love not good counselors!'"
  21. ^ Quran 27:48
  22. ^ Quran 27:49
  23. ^ al-Tabari, Muhammad ibn Yarir. The History of al-Tabari, Volume 2. Translated by William Brinner. pp. 41–44.
  24. ^ Fatani, Afnan H. (2006). "Hajar". In Leaman, Oliver (ed.). The Qur'an: an encyclopedia. London: Routeledge. pp. 234–36.
  25. ^ Hoyland, Robert (1997). Seeing Islam As Others Saw It A Survey And Evaluation Of Christian Jewish And Zoroastrian Writings On Early Islam. Darwin Press. pp. 480–485.
  26. ^ John of Damascus (1958). The Fathers Of The Church: A New Translation, Vol 37. Translated by Frederick H Chase Jr. Catholic University of America Press. pp. 158–159.
  27. ^ Ibn Kathir. "Prophet Salih". Stories of the Prophets. Translated by Muhammad Mustapha Geme’ah. Darussalam.

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