The community of Saba was one of the four biggest civilisations
which lived in South Arabia. This people is estimated to have been established
some time between 1000-750 BC and to have collapsed around 550 AD with
the two centuries-long attacks of the Persians and the Arabs.
The date of the establishment of the civilisation of Saba is a subject
of much discussion. The people of Saba started recording their governmental
reports around 600 BC. This is why there are no records of them prior
to this date.
The oldest sources which refer
to the people of Saba are annual war chronicles left from the time of
the Assyrian King Sargon II. (722-705 BC) While Sargon records about the
people that pay taxes to him, he also refers to the King of Saba, Yithâ€™i-amara
(Itâ€™amara). This record is the oldest written source that yields
information about the Saba civilisation. Yet, it would not be right to
draw the conclusion that the Saba culture was established around 700 BC
depending only on this source, for it is highly probable that Saba had
existed for quite some time before it was recorded in written records.
This means that the history of Saba may predate the above. Indeed, in
the inscriptions of Arad-Nannar, one of the latest kings of the state
of Ur, the word "Sabum", which is thought to mean "the country of Saba",
was used.(1) If this word does
mean Saba, then, this shows that the history of Saba goes back as far
as 2500 BC.
Historical sources telling about Saba usually say that this was a culture,
like the Phoenicians, particularly involved in commercial activities.
Accordingly, these people owned and administered some of the trade routes
passing across Northern Arabia. In order for the Sabaean traders to carry
their goods to the Mediterranean and Gaza, and thus pass across Northern
Arabia, they had to get permission from Sargon II, the ruler of all the
region, or pay a certain amount of tax to him. When the Sabaean people
started paying taxes to the Assyrian Kingdom, their name began to be recorded
in the annals of this state.
With the Maâ€™rib Dam, which they had
constructed with very advanced technology, the Sabaean people became
owners of a great irrigation capacity. The fruitful lands they thus
obtained and their control over the trade routes allowed them to
lead a magnificent and luxurious lifestyle. However, they "turned
away" from Allah to whom they should have been grateful for all
those bounties mentioned above. Therefore, their dam collapsed and
the "flood of Arim" destroyed all their attainments.
The Sabaeans are known to have been a civilised people in history. In
the inscriptions of the rulers of Saba, words such as "restore", "dedicate"
and "construct" are frequently used. The Maâ€™rib Dam, which is one
of the most important monuments of this people, is an important indication
of the technological level this people had reached. However, this did
not mean that the military power of the Sabaeans was weak; the Sabaean
army was one of the most important factors contributing to the endurance
of their culture over such a long period without collapse.
The Sabaean state had one of the strongest armies in the region. The
state was able to adopt an expansionist policy thanks to its army. The
Sabaean state had conquered the lands of the Old Qataban state. It owned
many lands on the African continent. During 24 BC, during an expedition
to Magrib, the Sabaean army utterly defeated the army of Marcus Aelius
Gallus, the Governor of Egypt for the Roman Empire which was definitely
the strongest state at the time. Saba can be portrayed as a state that
pursued moderate policies, yet did not hesitate to use power when necessary.
With its advanced culture and army, the Sabaean state was definitely one
of the "super powers" of the region at the time.
This extraordinarily strong army of the Sabaean
state is also described in the Qurâ€™an. An expression of the commanders
of the Saba army related in the Qur'an, shows the extent of the confidence
this army had in itself. The commanders call out to the female ruler (queen)
of the state: "We are endued with strength, and given to vehement war:
but the command is with thee; so consider what thou wilt command." (Surat
The capital city of the Sabaean
state was Maâ€™rib, which was quite wealthy thanks to the advantageous
position of its geography. The capital city was very close to the River
Adhanah. The point where the river reached Jabal Balaq was very suitable
for the construction of a dam. Making use of this condition, the Sabaean
people constructed a dam at this location at the time when their civilisation
was first established, and they began irrigation. They indeed reached
a very high level of prosperity. The capital city, Maâ€™rib, was one
of the most developed cities of the time. The Greek writer Pliny, who
had visited the region and greatly praised it, also mentioned how green
this region was. (2)
The Maâ€™rib Dam seen above in ruins was one
of the most important works of the Sabaean people. This dam collapsed
because of the flood of Arim mentioned in the Qurâ€™an and all
the cultivated areas were swamped. Its territory destroyed with
the collapsing of the dam, the Sabaean state lost its economic strength
in a very short time and was soon completely demolished.
The height of the dam in Maâ€™rib
was 16 metres, its width was 60 metres and its length was 620 metres.
According to the calculations, the total area that could be irrigated
by the dam was 9,600 hectares, of which 5,300 hectares belonged to the
southern plain, while the remaining part belonged to the northern plain.
These two plains were referred to as "Maâ€™rib and two plains" in
the Sabaean inscriptions (3) .
The expression in the Qur'an, "two gardens to the right and to the left",
points to the imposing gardens and vineyards in these two valleys. Thanks
to this dam and its irrigation systems, the region became famous as the
best irrigated and most fruitful area of Yemen. The Frenchman J. Holevy
and the Austrian Glaser proved from written documents that the Maâ€™rib
dam existed since ancient times. In documents written in the Himer dialect,
it is related that this dam rendered the territory very productive.
This dam was extensively repaired during the 5th and 6th centuries AD.
Yet, these reparations could not prevent the dam from collapsing in 542
AD. The collapse of the dam resulted in the "flood of Arim" mentioned
in the Qurâ€™an which caused great damage. The vineyards, gardens
and the cultivated fields of the Sabaean people, which they had cultivated
for hundreds of years, were completely destroyed. It is also known that
the Sabaean people quickly went into a period of recession after the destruction
of the dam. The end of the Sabaean state came at the end of this period
which had begun with the destruction of the dam.
The Flood of Arim which was Sent to the State of Saba
When we examine the Qurâ€™an in the light of the historical data
above, we observe that there is very substantial agreement here. Archaeological
findings and the historical data both verify what is recorded in the Qurâ€™an.
As mentioned in the verse, these people, who did not listen to the exhortations
of their prophet and who ungratefully rejected faith, were in the end
punished with a dreadful flood. This flood is described in the Qurâ€™an
in the following verses:
There was, for Saba, aforetime, a Sign in their
home-land - two Gardens to the right and to the left. "Eat of the Sustenance
(provided) by your Lord, and be grateful to Him: a territory fair and
happy, and a Lord Oft-Forgiving!" But they turned away (from Allah), and
We sent against them the Flood (released) from the dams, and We converted
their two garden (rows) into "gardens" producing bitter fruit, and tamarisks,
and some few (stunted) Lote-trees. That was the Requital We gave them
because they ungratefully rejected Faith: and never do We give (such)
requital except to such as are ungrateful rejecters. (Surah Saba: 15-17)
As emphasised in the above verses, the Sabaean people were living in
a region noted for its outstanding aesthetic, fruitful vineyards and gardens.
Situated on the trade routes, the country of Saba had quite a high standard
of living and was one of the most favoured cities of the time.
In such a country, where standards of living and circumstances were
so positive, what the Sabaean people should have done was to "Eat of the
Sustenance (provided) by their Lord, and be grateful to Him" as is said
in the verse. Yet, they did not do so. They chose to lay claim to the
prosperity they had. They thought that this country belonged to themselves,
that it was they who made all these extraordinary circumstances possible.
They chose to be arrogant instead of being grateful, and, in the expression
of the verse, they "turned away from Allah"…
Because they laid claim to all the prosperity they had, they lost it
all. As related in the verse, the flood of Arim destroyed everything they
In the Qurâ€™an, the punishment sent to the Sabaean people is named
as "Sayl al-Arim" which means the "flood of Arim". This expression used
in the Qurâ€™an also tells us the way this disaster occurred. The
word "Arim" means dam or barrier. The expression of "Sayl al-Arim" describes
a flood that came about with the collapse of this barrier. Islamic commentators
have resolved the issue of time and place being guided by the terms used
in the Qur'an about the flood of Arim.
Mawdudi writes in his commentary:
As also used in the expression, Sayl al-Arim, the word "arim" is derived
from the word "arimen" used in the Southern Arabic dialect, which means
"dam, barrier". In the ruins unearthed in the excavations made in Yemen,
this word was seen to be frequently used in this meaning. For example,
in the inscriptions which was ordered by Yemenâ€™s Habesh monarch,
Ebrehe (Abraha), after the restoration of the big Maâ€™rib wall
in 542 and 543 AD, this word was used to mean dam (barrier) time and
again. So, the expression of Sayl al- Arim means "a flood disaster which
occurs after the destruction of a dam."
"We converted their two garden (rows) into gardens producing bitter
fruit, and tamarisks, and some few (stunted) Lote-trees" (Surah Saba:
16). That is, after the collapse of the dam-wall, all the country
was inundated by the flood. The canals that had been dug by the Sabaean
people, and the wall that had been constructed by building barriers
between the mountains, were destroyed and the irrigation system fell
apart. As a result, the territory, which was like a garden before, turned
into a jungle. There was no fruit left but the cherry-like fruit of
little stumpy trees. (4)
The Christian archaeologist Werner
Keller, writer of "The Holy Book Was Right" (Und Die Bible Hat Doch
Recht), accepted that the flood of Arim occurred according to the
description of the Qurâ€™an and wrote that the existence of such a
dam and the destruction of the whole country by its collapse proves that
the example given in the Qur'an about the people of the garden was indeed
After the disaster of the Arim
flood, the region started to turn into a desert and the Sabaean people
lost their most important source of income with the disappearance of their
agricultural lands. The people, who had not heeded the call of Allah to
believe in Him and to be grateful to Him, were in the end punished with
such a disaster as this. After the great destruction caused by the flood,
the people started to disintegrate. The Sabaean people started to desert
their houses and emigrate to Northern Arabia, Makkah and Syria. (6)
Since the flood took place after the revelation of the Tawrah and the
Bible, this event is described only in the Qurâ€™an.
The Qurâ€™an tells us that the Queen of
Saba and her people were "worshipping the sun besides Allah" before
she followed Sulayman. The information on the inscriptions verify
this fact and indicate that they were worshipping the sun and the
moon in their temples, one of which is seen above.
On the pillars, there are inscriptions written in the Sabaean language.
The city of Maâ€™rib, which was once a residence for the Sabaean
people, but is now only a desolate ruin, undoubtedly is a warning to those
who repeat the same mistake as the Sabaean people. The Sabaean people
were not the only people that were destroyed by a flood. In Surat al-Kahf
of the Qur'an, the story of two garden owners is told. One of these men
possesses a very imposing and productive garden like those of the Sabaean
people. However, he makes the same mistake as them: turning away from
Allah. He thinks that the favour bestowed on him "belongs" to him himself,
i.e. he is the cause of it:
Set forth to them the parable of two men:
for one of them We provided two gardens of grape-vines and surrounded
them with date palms; in between the two We placed corn-fields. Each of
those gardens brought forth its produce, and failed not in the least therein:
in the midst of them We caused a river to flow.
(Abundant) was the produce this man had. He said
to his companion, in the course of a mutual argument: "more wealth have
I than you, and more honour and power in (my following of) men." He went
into his garden in a state (of mind) unjust to his soul: He said, "I deem
not that this will ever perish, Nor do I deem that the Hour (of Judgment)
will (ever) come: Even if I am brought back to my Lord, I shall surely
find (there) something better in exchange."
His companion said to him, in the course of the
argument with him: "Dost thou deny Him Who created thee out of dust, then
out of a sperm-drop, then fashioned thee into a man? But (I think) for
my part that He is Allah, My Lord, and none shall I associate with my
Lord. Why didst thou not, as thou wentest into thy garden, say: ‘Allah's
will (be done)! There is no power but with Allah!â€™ If thou dost
see me less than thee in wealth and sons, It may be that my Lord will
give me something better than thy garden, and that He will send on thy
garden thunderbolts (by way of reckoning) from heaven, making it (but)
slippery sand!- Or the water of the garden will run off underground so
that thou wilt never be able to find it."
So his fruits (and enjoyment) were encompassed
(with ruin), and he remained twisting and turning his hands over what
he had spent on his property, which had (now) tumbled to pieces to its
very foundations, and he could only say, "Woe is me! Would I had never
ascribed partners to my Lord and Cherisher!" Nor had he numbers to help
him against Allah, nor was he able to deliver himself. There, the (only)
protection comes from Allah, the True One. He is the Best to reward, and
the Best to give success. (Surat al-Kahf: 32-44)
As understood from the verses, the mistake of this garden owner was not
to deny the existence of Allah. He does not deny the existence of Allah,
on the contrary he supposed that "even if he is brought back to his Lord"
he would certainly find something better in exchange. He held that the
state he is in, was due to his own successful efforts.
Actually, this is exactly what associating partners to Allah means:
attempting to lay claim to everything that belongs to Allah and losing
one's fear of Allah thinking that one has some particular grace of his
own, and Allah will somehow "show favour" to one.
This is what the Sabaean people also did. Their punishment was the same
- all of their territory was destroyed - so that they could understand
that they were not the ones who were the "owners" of power but that it
was only "bestowed" on them…
1 "Seba" Islam Ansiklopedisi: Islam Alemi, Tarihi,
Cografya, Etnografya ve Bibliyografya Lugati, (Encyclopedia of Islam: Islamic
World, History, Geography, Ethnography, and Bibliography Dictionary) Vol.10,
2 Hommel, Explorations in Bible Lands, Philadelphia: 1903, p.739
3 "Marib", Islam Ansiklopedisi: Islam Alemi, Tarihi, Cođrafya, Etnođrafya
ve Bibliyografya Lugatý, Volume 7, p. 323-339.
4 Mawdudi, Tefhimul Kuran, Cilt 4, Istanbul: Insan Yayinlari, p.517.
5 Werner Keller, Und die Bibel hat doch recht (Tbe Bible as History; a Confirmation
of the Book of Books), New York: William Morrow, 1956, p.207.
6 New Travellerâ€™s Guide to Yemen, p.43.
TAKEN FROM "PERISHED NATIONS"
BY HARUN YAHYA, TA-HA PUBLISHERS, UNITED KINGDOM, 1999