|The Dam of Ma'arib and the Flood|
The story of the dam is about the water which used to come to them from between two mountains, combined with the floods from rainfall and their valleys. Their ancient kings built a huge, strong dam and the water reached a high level between these two mountains. Then they planted trees and got the best fruits that could ever be harvested, plentiful and beautiful. A number of the Salaf, including Qatadah, mentioned that a woman could walk beneath the trees, carrying a basket or vessel -- such as is used for gathering fruit -- on her head. And that the fruit would fall from the trees and fill the basket without any need for her to make the effort to pick the fruit, because it was so plentiful and ripe. This was the dam of Ma'arib, a land between which and San`a' was a journey of three days. Others said that in their land there were no flies, mosquitoes or fleas, or any kind of vermin. This was because the weather was good and the people were healthy, and Allah took care of them so that they would single out and worship Him alone, as He says:
﴿لَقَدْ كَانَ لِسَبَإٍ فِى مَسْكَنِهِمْ ءَايَةٌ﴾
(Indeed there was for Saba` (Sheba) a sign in their dwelling place) Then He explains this by saying:
﴿جَنَّتَانِ عَن يَمِينٍ وَشِمَالٍ﴾
(two gardens on the right and on the left;) meaning, the two sides where the mountains were, and their land was in between them.
﴿كُلُواْ مِن رِّزْقِ رَبِّكُمْ وَاشْكُرُواْ لَهُ بَلْدَةٌ طَيِّبَةٌ وَرَبٌّ غَفُورٌ﴾
((and it was said to them: ) "Eat of the provision of your Lord, and be grateful to Him.'' A fair land and an Oft-Forgiving Lord!) means, `He would forgive you if you continue to worship Him alone.'
(But they turned away,) means, from worshipping Allah alone and from giving thanks to Him for the blessings that He had bestowed upon them, and they started to worship the sun instead of Allah, as the hoopoe told Sulayman, peace be upon him:
﴿فَمَكَثَ غَيْرَ بَعِيدٍ فَقَالَ أَحَطتُ بِمَا لَمْ تُحِطْ بِهِ وَجِئْتُكَ مِن سَبَإٍ بِنَبَإٍ يَقِينٍ - إِنِّى وَجَدتُّ امْرَأَةً تَمْلِكُهُمْ وَأُوتِيَتْ مِن كُلِّ شَىْءٍ وَلَهَا عَرْشٌ عَظِيمٌ - وَجَدتُّهَا وَقَوْمَهَا يَسْجُدُونَ لِلشَّمْسِ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ وَزَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الشَّيْطَـنُ أَعْمَـلَهُمْ فَصَدَّهُمْ عَنِ السَّبِيلِ فَهُمْ لاَ يَهْتَدُونَ ﴾
("I have come to you from Saba' (Sheba) with true news. I found a woman ruling over them, she has been given all things, and she has a great throne. I found her and her people worshipping the sun instead of Allah, and Shaytan has made their deeds fair seeming to them, and has barred them from the way, so they have no guidance.'') (27:22-24)
﴿فَأَرْسَلْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ سَيْلَ الْعَرِمِ﴾
(so We sent against them flood released from the dam,) Some, including Ibn `Abbas, Wahb bin Munabbih, Qatadah and Ad-Dahhak said that when Allah wanted to punish them by sending the flood upon them, he sent beasts from the earth to the dam, large rats, which made a hole in it. Wahb bin Munabbih said, "They found it written in their Scriptures that the dam would be destroyed because of these large rats. So they brought cats for a while, but when the decree came to pass, the rats overran the cats and went into the dam, making a hole in it, and it collapsed.'' Qatadah and others said, "The large rat is the desert rat. They gnawed at the bottom of the dam until it became weak, then the time of the floods came and the waters hit the structure and it collapsed. The waters rushed through the bottom of the valley and destroyed everything in their path -- buildings, trees, etc.'' As the water drained from the trees that were on the mountains, to the right and the left, those trees dried up and were destroyed. Those beautiful, fruit-bearing trees were replaced with something altogether different, as Allah says:
﴿وَبَدَّلْنَـهُمْ بِجَنَّـتِهِمْ جَنَّتَيْنِ ذَوَاتَىْ أُكُلٍ خَمْطٍ﴾
(and We converted their two gardens into gardens producing bitter bad fruit (ukul khamt),) Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, `Ikrimah, `Ata' Al-Khurasani, Qatadah and As-Suddi said, "It refers to Arak (Zingiber officinale) and bitter bad fruit.''
and Athl, Al- Awfi and Ibn Abba0s said that this means tamarisk. Others said that it means a tree that resembles a tamarisk, and it was said that it was the gum acacia or mimosa. And Alla0h knows best.
﴿وَشَىْءٍ مِّن سِدْرٍ قَلِيلٍ﴾
and some few lote trees. Because the lote trees were the best of the trees with which the garden was replaced, there were only a few of them.
﴿وَشَىْءٍ مِّن سِدْرٍ قَلِيلٍ﴾
and some few lote trees. This is what happened to those two gardens after they had been so fruitful and productive, offering beautiful scenes, deep shade and flowing rivers: they were replaced with thorny trees, tamarisks and lote trees with huge thorns and little fruit. This was because of their disbelief and their sin of associating others with Alla0h, and because they denied the truth and turned towards falsehood. Alla0h said:
﴿ذَلِكَ جَزَيْنَـهُمْ بِمَا كَفَرُواْ وَهَلْ نُجْزِى إِلاَّ الْكَفُورَ ﴾
(Like this We requited them because they were ungrateful disbelievers. And never do We requite in such a way except those who are ungrateful.) meaning, `We punished them for their disbelief.' Mujahid said, "He does not punish anyone except the disbelievers.'' Al-Hasan Al-Basri said, "Allah the Almighty has spoken the truth: no one will be punished in a manner that befits the sin except the ungrateful disbelievers.''
﴿وَجَعَلْنَا بَيْنَهُمْ وَبَيْنَ الْقُرَى الَّتِى بَارَكْنَا فِيهَا قُرًى ظَـهِرَةً وَقَدَّرْنَا فِيهَا السَّيْرَ سِيرُواْ فِيهَا لَيَالِىَ وَأَيَّاماً ءَامِنِينَ - فَقَالُواْ رَبَّنَا بَـعِدْ بَيْنَ أَسْفَارِنَا وَظَلَمُواْ أَنفُسَهُمْ فَجَعَلْنَـهُمْ أَحَادِيثَ وَمَزَّقْنَـهُمْ كُلَّ مُمَزَّقٍ إِنَّ فِى ذَلِكَ لاّيَـتٍ لِّكُلِّ صَبَّارٍ شَكُورٍ ﴾
(18. And We placed, between them and the towns which We had blessed, towns easy to be seen, and We made the stages (of journey) between them easy (saying): "Travel in them safely both by night and day.'') (19. But they said: "Our Lord! Make the stages between our journey longer,'' and they wronged themselves; so We made them as tales (in the land), and We dispersed them all totally. Verily, in this are indeed signs for every steadfast, grateful (person).)
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